aka: Everything’s Alright
Juarez Barata (Paulo Gracindo) and his wife Elvira (Fernanda
Jabor aims his machine-gun at various issues: fascism, capitalism, imperialism, mysticism, chauvinism, racism, the bourgeoisie, the military regime, the mixed-up relations among social classes in
The film benefits immensely from a great cast: veteran Gracindo gives a tour-de-force performance (probably his best on film), alternating a respectable façade when he's sober with nostalgic bravura when he's drunk, at once funny and pathetic; Montenegro (Oscar-nominee for "Central do Brasil") shines as the hysterical Elvira with her inimitable vocal delivery and on-target comic tempo; Luiz Linhares, Fernando Torres and especially Jorge Loredo make a terrific trio of ghosts; Stenio Garcia, José Dumont and Anselmo Vasconcellos have a ball as the workers; Zezé Motta gets to show her callipygian nudity, fascinating energy and fine singing voice. Then-beginners Regina Casé (in her film debut) and Luiz Fernando Guimarães (his 2nd film) sometimes fall back to stage tricks, but they already knew how to strut their stuff and it's nice to see them so young and thin!
Allegoric, loud, intelligent, funny, fast and furious, "Tudo Bem" got a DVD release with so-so quality (they could have remixed the sound: some dialogs get lost under loud music or the workmen's whamming and pounding), but it's one of the best Brazilian comedies of the 1970s and one of Jabor's best -- only the ending is rather flat and disappointing (and Paulo César Pereio hamming it up doesn't help). My vote: 8 out of 10.
Brazil Film Update Robert Stam from Jump Cut
TUDO BEM crowds all of
A decision to have workers redo the apartment becomes a
pretext for Jabor to expose the explosive class contradictions of
A cinematic tour de force, TUDO BEM is never
visually boring, despite its spatial constrictions, thanks to its virtuoso
variation of cinematic styles and to the visual interest of the decor itself.
The film ends with a hilarious allegorical sequence in which a
A Palestinian woman agonises over her roots and national identity in Annemarie Jacir's much-anticipated but disappointingly minor Salt Of This Sea. The director's feature debut is clearly made with passion and fuelled by a keen resentment at the plight of the Palestinian people. And the film has an authentic, colour-saturated sense of place. But this is not enough to turn an overlong travelogue-cum-manifesto with a flat romantic subplot into a convincing drama.
With no less than seventeen sources of finance, Salt Of This
Sea was always going to be a commercially fragile prospect. In the end, it
will play best to indulgent liberal audiences and the Palestinian diaspora in
The film starts where its heart lies – in documentary mode, with black and white archive footage of Israeli tanks and bulldozers knocking down Arab homes. But we're soon back in colour and the present day, as feisty politicised Soraya (Hammad) arrives at an Israeli airport on her first visit to what she considers her homeland – only to be interrogated and strip-searched at customs, despite her US passport, when she reveals her Palestinian origins. Arriving eventually in Ramallah, she tries and fails to recover money left in a bank by her grandfather in 1948. Adrift in the city, Soraya meets an intense, bitter young Palestinian, Emad (Bakri), who is working as a waiter while he waits for his Canadian study visa to come through.
The idea is that Soraya is looking for a
The tension is suddenly upped when Soraya, Emad and their film-maker
friend Marwan (Ideis) rob the bank to get back what she feels is hers. But the
pace soon drops again as the threesome escape into
Benoit Chamaillard's carefully-framed photography gives the film's handheld aesthetic a tonal richness and depth, and the use of popular Palestinian music is nicely judged. But there's still a sense that Annemarie Jacir would have done better to make the serious full-length documentary that her fine early shorts seemed to herald.
WITHOUT C+ 78
This is for the most part a surprisingly uninvolving film, shot entirely on Whidbey Island located at the northern end of Puget Sound and about 30 miles north of Seattle, attainable by ferryboat, where the location alone may be of some interest to viewers, yet nearly the entire film is shot indoors, with just a handful of views of the area. While shot on video, which dulls the natural colors, part of the problem appears to be the lead actress, Joslyn Jensen, who turns out to be something of a despicable character, seen all along as something of a ditz, a shallow 19-year old girl with few redeeming values, one of which seems to be her willingness to display herself naked on the Internet without any thought of the consequences. She arrives on the island to look after Frank (Ron Carrier), an elderly man confined to a wheelchair living in a vegetative state, allowing the family to take a week’s vacation together. Initially, Joslyn receives audience sympathy, as it’s exceedingly difficult to care for such a severely disabled individual, though there are early signs she’s in over her head as she finds it especially difficult to move him in and out of his chair. Eventually, however, the director simply omits these shots, showing Joslyn instead casually running on an Exerciser, performing other fitness routines, while also making a daily run for coffee in the owner’s car. There’s very little interaction between Joslyn and Frank, where he may as well be left to fend for himself parked in front of the cable Fishing Network while she spends nearly all of her idyll time by herself, with Frank completely out of the picture.
It should be stated that Frank’s family left explicit instructions on how to care for Frank, listing pages of details, including how to set the remote to the proper channel and sound level, how to reprogram the TV if something goes wrong, what he likes to eat, how to use the dishwasher, washer, dryer, and other appliances, all contained in what they like to call The Bible. Initially, Joslyn stares at The Bible religiously, not really knowing what she’s expected to do, but over time she’s simply on her own, ignoring Frank as much as possible. Due to the remote location, there is no cell phone service and the family never plugged in the Internet, something she’s able to hook up with little problem, so she spends most of her time bored, staring at photos on her cell phone, where one in particular is seen over and over, including YouTube videos of the two of them together kissing. There is an amusing routine of Joslyn waking up to her loud and overly aggravating cell phone alarm every morning, where day after day, her phone is never where she left it, except the one day she tapes it down to the desk overnight. What evolves is next to nothing about Frank, the reason why she’s there, and almost everything about her, where the movie starts to feel like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007), where things tend to move in the night, where the story fits the horror profile of a girl left alone in a secluded wood, where bad things are expected to happen.
The director belatedly pulls things together by the end, where there is a strange side story concerning the girl in the picture, as her mom owns an art gallery on the island, revealing yet another side of this girl who’s blend of the real and the imagined are all a blur to her at times, where Joslyn actually starts suspecting Frank is locking the doors behind her or getting up in the middle of the night and moving her phone, getting aggravated that he’s really faking his disability, yelling and accusing him, though Frank’s given no reason to suspect him. The whole mood shifts into a bizarre interior world, where Joslyn gets naked on the Internet and talks filthy dirty, looks at herself repeatedly in the mirror, begins to see scars or rashes that are gone by the next day, grows overly paranoid about Frank playing games with her, obsesses about the girl on her cell phone, goes out with a guy on the island that she knows is a creep, starts sneaking sips out of the liquor cabinet, and in just a few short days of utter monotony she’s already exhibiting signs of cabin fever. One starts to wonder where they ever found this girl, as she seems utterly irresponsible and uniquely unqualified. The viewer fully expects Joslyn to lose Frank by the end of the week, where he’d be found mangled among some dead logs in a nearby creek, his face half eaten by wolves, or perhaps even murder him herself out of spite for having to put up with him all week. After all, he was no help to her. Whatever the expectations are, this first time writer, director, editor, and producer does not disappoint with the way matters resolve themselves, where there’s always a tinge of underlying ambiguity, but also a loathsome and unsympathetic feel throughout most of this film for a girl so out of her depth.
That's right, yet another low-budget indie film made in the Northwest. But boy, is it memorable. Winning a Special Jury Mention at this year's Slamdance Film Festival for Joslyn Jensen's "creative, nuanced and moving performance", you can't help but feel isolated and even trapped in this character study's life. The almost-silent film follows a young girl as she tends to every detail for an invalid over a three-day period; it captures that alone time that for many is the ultimate fear. Warning: this film is not what it seems. A truly chilling and meditative experience all at the same time!
The Locarno Film Festival—known as the smallest of the big and the biggest of the small festivals—has, for the last 64 years, lived by the ethos of seeking out and promoting emerging talent. They’re a festival more interested in art than celebrity, and the fact that the festival is so elegant and organized makes one endeared to it even more; they do it well for the sake of art.
This year was no exception—their line up of features by first-time directors
was impressive. One of these feature films was Without, the debut of
The beauty of this film lies in how emotionally connected we become to Jocelyn in such a seemingly simplistic and small filmic world, and how Jackson manages to create tension and develop a relationship between two people, one of whom doesn’t speak or move.
The Hollywood Reporter [Neil Young] longer article
Part psychological thriller and part minimalist art movie, Without isn't an easy sell (that forgettable title doesn't exactly help) but overall is sufficiently distinctive to perhaps gain limited domestic theatrical exposure. Overseas festivals receptive to genuinely independent American cinema should certainly check it out.
The set-up is familiar from the horror/suspense genres: A young woman arrives in a remote location to look after a house for its holidaying owners, and is unnerved by a series of eerie experiences. Here Joslyn (Jensen shares her character's name) is simultaneously housesitter and caretaker, tending to the needs of the family's wheelchair-bound, near-catatonic grandfather Frank (Ron Carrier) while they're away.
quietly spoken 19-year-old, Joslyn struggles to cope with the very limited
Internet access on this scenic, leafy island in
The film's achievement is, as with Roman Polanski's 1965 Repulsion, one obvious influence, to leave us wondering to what extent Joslyn might be in actual physical danger, and to what extent she's the principle source of that danger — both to herself and to others. She's certainly far from the model caretaker. Her increasingly insensitive and cavalier treatment of helpless Frank crosses various lines of inappropriateness in a film which is frank in its presentation of nudity and feminine sexuality.
Biting fearlessly into a role that offers a terrific showcase for a younger performer, Jensen manages to retain our interest and sympathy even when her character's eccentricities shade towards madness. She's especially strong during the monologues - some delivered solo, some in Frank's vegetative presence. These punctuate the sparsely-written screenplay and are notable for their quicksilver unpredictability. The generally downbeat tone is leavened by moments of uneasy humor, as when Joslyn's employers pedantically delineate their exceedingly precise instructions about what she can and can't do in their absence.
Jessica Dimmock and Diego
Garcia's high-definition digital cameras get up close and very personal to
Jensen on many occasions. Their crisply lustrous imagery is a consistently
hypnotic element as Without — nothing
if not a mood-piece — establishes and develops its various sinister, chilly
atmospheres. Eric Strausser's sound design is a marvel of near-subliminal
effects (a wolf-howl here, a twig-crack there) and growling susurrations.
Without opens with a young and beautiful woman sitting on a ferry
that's heading to
A ferry employee cleans the tables behind her. She arrives on the island, enters town, and hires a ride to her destination. Her driver is clearly attracted to her beauty. She plays it cool, directs him to a driveway for a home on the left side of the road. She settles her business, gathers her things, shuts the door, walks up the driveway with a noisy roller suitcase, and, from the driver's perspective, disappears behind trees and bushes. After a moment of silence, the driver reverses, turns, and heads back to town. After a moment of silence, the young woman reappears from behind the greenery, makes sure the driver is gone, and noisily crosses the street to a home on the opposite side—her actual destination. It's at this moment that I fell in love with this movie. The timing of the editing and performances, the sound design, the photography—all made it clear that I was in very good hands and that the rest of the work would only deepen this initial love.
There is another scene, early in the movie—there are so many great scenes and sequences in this masterpiece of regional cinema—in which the young woman (Joslyn Jensen), wearing a black floral dress, is helping a catatonic elderly man (Ron Carrier) into bed. This is the job she came to the island to do. The job involves caring for the old man while his family is away on vacation. The house is ordinary, the rules of the house are a little odd but not eccentric, and this is the young woman's first night with the wheelchair-bound man. The difficult task of lifting him from the wheelchair to the bed is shown in such a way that makes her ass very prominent. Each pull of the man's limp waist or legs causes, from our perspective, her ass to rise, round, and expand invitingly. Though the old man can't see her ass (it's on the other side of him), we can't help wondering if he is secreting pleasure from her exertions.
Later in the film, yet another scene. This time it's with an animal, a deer. It walks out of the forest and begins to eat the grass in the home's backyard. The young woman sees the animal through a window. The light, the fur, the black hooves, the chewing, the eyes, the stares. It's a moment filled with something that can only be described as cosmic sensuality, a transanimal field of desire. Without is the region's first erotic tour de force—the cleaning of the old body, the surprise erection, the computer orgasm, the horny visitor, her longing for a lover who is seemingly trapped in the hard drive of her signal-less iPhone. (Humpday was certainly a fine film, but it was not erotic.)
Without is a regional film. Its director, Mark Jackson, though
currently living in
The movie was shot entirely on
Without, which premieres this week at Slamdance (it really is scandalous that it's not in competition in Sundance), reinforces the natural cinematic beauty of our part of the world. The quality of light, the sharpness of colors, the lowness of clouds, the closeness of mountains, and the meshing of rural and urban codes. It is now clearer than ever that a film made in this region must exploit its natural wonders and beauty.
Tribune (Locarno Film Festival report) Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge (capsule)
Your Mother Ate My Dog! a Peter Jackson website
All-Movie Guide Rebecca
The Peter Jackson Guide Bob Bankard
Jackson, Peter They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
DGA Interview by Jerry Roberts, January 2002 from DGA magazine
Hollywood Reporter Interview (2004) by Philip Wakefield
Dark Horizons Interview
(2005) by Paul Fischer,
Time Out Interview (2005) by Dave Calhoun,
Young filmmakers, take heart; instead of feeling washed up because you haven’t made your Citizen Kane by the time you hit 25, consider this: Peter Jackson may be the lord of Lord of the Rings now, but when he was 25, he was making this scattershot, borderline-unwatchable (and yet still somehow strangely amusing) psychotronic splatter flick. Set in an unspecified and not particularly explained future, Bad Taste is mainly a collection of gross-out gags laid end to end. Defending the earth from an invasion of alien drones who aim to package human beings as intergalactic fast food — they particularly like the "chunky bits" — our human heroes find every possible way to dismember their human-looking foes, and Jackson lays on the fake blood (and brains, and guts) as thick as can be. Though it obviously prefigures the obsession with special effects and other worlds that piqued Jackson’s interest in LOTR, it’s hard to get through more than several minutes of this earliest feature without your attention wandering — and when a ravenous alien scooping brains out of a dead human’s half-exploded head can’t hold your interest, there’s something really wrong. Skip to the end and savor the truly bizarre climax, which features a colonial house blasting off into outer space, or savor the occasional deadpan zinger and Jackson’s borderline-insane performances — as both a ravenous E.T. and an alien hunter whose brain keeps falling out of his head. Disc two of the pricier two-disc limited edition features a half-hour making-of featurette that will no doubt please fans (and Bad Taste certainly has them — check out badtaste.iscool.net), but is hardly worth the twofold increase in price.
The fact that Peter Jackson, the director of this cheerfully repulsive alien-cannibal comedy, went on to win multiple Oscars fifteen years later is one of the finer ironies of Academy history.
It certainly makes good on its title. Ravenous
extra-terrestrials (“No glowing fingers on these bastards,” growls
Twenty-two when he first began shooting this on weekends in 1983,
Like Raimi, Jackson was never a horror director so much as a comedy director — even the most disgusting passages (“Aren’t I lucky,” beams an alien as he sucks down a bowl of steaming vomit, “I got a chunky bit”) and scenes of ultra-violence are timed for laughs, not shock.
I want this Peter Jackson back. The Peter Jackson who could make a fun, short movie for peanuts. Don't you?
DVD Times Mark Davis
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Epinions [Mike Bracken] a fanboy
Classic-Horror another fanboy review by Dellamorte
Play yet another, by
Mutant Reviewers from Hell Justin
Fangoria Michael Gingold
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
DVD Verdict Patrick Naugle
Needcoffee.com - DVD Review Doc Ezra
There are a handful of films that when they are over you are just forced to contend with the fact that you will never be the same again, such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, and Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small. The typical reaction to these works is “What the fuck?” before one begins seriously considering therapy in order to be able to return to society. Such is the case with Peter Jackson’s acid-laced, hyper real musical satire of Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show, as he issues his version of what happens between the time the curtain falls and the time it rises once more as only Marquis De Sade would have it. All this with the addendum that the Muppets are real, self-sustaining creatures. Creativity be damned, just get ready because I’m not making this up.
Here’s the roster: A self-conscious hungry hippo named Heidi who, natch, has a weight problem as well as perpetual THO; Wynyard, a mad Kermit parody in the form of a drug addled ’Nam vet who was forced to play Russian Roulette in a POW camp; a rat referred to as Trevor who is everyone’s boss and, to add insult to injury, has the voice of Peter Lorre; Harry, a hare whom, consistent with the reputation of his species, winds up with AIDS as a result; a paparazzi fly that figuratively stays on the wall while collecting all of his journalistic slime when not buzzing amid the actors trying to pry juicy bits for his next article; the production’s director, a fox named Sebastian, who sings an ode to sodomy on live television; a Hindu contortionist who gets his head lodged in his ass; and Daisy, an S & M porn queen who just happens to be a cow (all nipples pierced) with a hemorrhoid problem.
What you can expect to see during the film: excessive amounts of gratuitous Muppet nudity, coprophilia, fellatio, two botched suicide attempts, fornication (would this be considered bestiality?), a menage a trios, masturbation, urination, a drug overdose after an anteater mistakes cocaine for Borax, a homicidal killing spree, and a drug war involving crabs, a bulldog, a rat, and a razorback--is a plot really necessary at this point?
More importantly, does the film work as a satire? Some would say Jackson didn’t know where or when to stop but in the same motion I believe that is part of his deconstruction of the American entertainment industry and the media’s glossy eye, using our most innocent caricatures as a springboard.
I don’t really have any more comments because I can’t seem to find where exactly my jaw fell . . . probably around the appearance of the eleken or chiphant (the bastard child of an elephant and a chicken).
Absolute Horror The 30-Something Senior
I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask this question. Have you ever wondered what the Care Bears
Movie would have been like directed by David Lynch? What would have happened if Wes Craven had
written for Disney or if John Carpenter had shot The Barney Christmas Special?
What if The Devil’s Rejects had hosted an episode of
Oh wait, Peter Jackson already answered that last one.
That’s right, before the prodigal-celluloid-son of New Zealand went on to enthrall the masses with his homo-erotic trilogy about munchkins with hairy feet, he whiled away his younger years working at a photo shop, listening to LP’s of The Beatles and self-producing a hardcore BDSM puppet exploitation film.
MEET THE FEEBLES,
The story opens backstage, on the set of The Feebles Variety Hour, where Robert our shy, bumbling, hero of a hedgehog is starting his first day in the Feeble’s chorus, immediately falling head over heels for a dancing poodle named Lucile. Sparks fly and the film’s romance ignites. Not to worry though, while the underlying love story is the same as the Muppet’s in the most gut-wrenching sense, the world of MEET THE FEEBLES at least offers its visitors more shit, blood and spunk than a federal penitentiary.
As we “Meet” the Feebles, we find life behind the scenes of a hit television show to be endearingly similar to our own, and are instantly drawn into the drama of such characters as: Heidi the Hippo who fights to win back her big-shot producer, coke-dealing-drug-lord of a husband Belch the Walrus from the arms of a prostitute pussy; Harry the Hare who discovers that his years of humping like a rabbit have left him more diseased than a leper colony; and Trevor the Rat who desperately searches for the right leading lady to star in his next bovine-bondage fetish flick.
All that, plus it’s a musical to boot! Complete with such
unforgettable numbers like “I’ve Got One Leg Missing” and the tear jerking
“Sodomy”, which serves as the perfect backdrop for
It's all done in bad taste. Peter Jackson, way before being tamed by the voluminous epic of J. R. R. Tolkien, is a genius in low-budget filmmaking. With funds saved from the grant he got for Bad Taste (1987), he developed this idea (with collaborators Fran Walsh, Danny Mulheron, and Stephen Sinclair) of repulsive characters in repulsive situations. The idea of turning the characters into puppets and mascots is golden; it allows Jackson and his crew to up the depravity without being absolutely obnoxious to the middlebrow viewer. No matter how gross and amoral things become, it'll always be perceived as satirical and not pornographic or gratuitous.
I think that Meet the Feebles is a product mainly created for fun and laughs (yes, weird sex and pointless violence is funny). However, it's not completely depleted of sense --- in fact, the film makes more sense than most pretentious issue films. The subtext of the horrors of show business hinges on legends and stories of drug-inducing, sex-starved, and suicidal stars that have graced the entertainment business. The sleaze, treachery, sex, drugs, and all that jazz that surround the business are exaggerated for laughs and giggles; the disturbing bit here is that it's not necessarily far from the truth. That showbiz people are portrayed as worms, flies, rats, lizards and hogs ups the statement a few notches higher.
The miracle of the movie is that despite its overt trashiness,
Peter Jackson’s “Meet the Feebles” has probably the highest
“Oh, God” count of any movie I’ve ever seen. This means that he repeatedly
wheels his camera into rooms and we the audience witness some ghastly,
horrifying nastiness and we mutter “Oh, God” in disgust. This response, or
something like it, is pretty much universal from the audience. The great
divide, however, is whether you cackle helplessly after being repulsed, or you
leave the theater and pray for the souls of those responsible. Lord help me, I
cackled. Pray for my soul.
“Meet the Feebles” is unashamedly a gross-out movie, but, like
What’s surprising about “Meet the Feebles” is its actual quality as a film. Ghastly episodes are not simply paraded across the screen and then forgotten by
Many tasteful filmmakers lack
The overall experience is wild, raunchy fun. Most of this probably wouldn’t be as funny if there people instead of puppets. Certainly the
Badmovies.org review Andrew Borntreger
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Read the New York Times Review » Janet Maslin
If it's over-the-top comic horror you're wanting, forget the stupid, sadistic Scream; Peter Jackson's slapstick holocaust remains the all-time champion splatter flick. The bite of a "Sumatran rat monkey" triggers a contagion of walking death in a New Zealand town; it's up to the hero (Timothy Balme) to confront hundreds of bloodthirsty ghouls with the only weapon at hand--the whirring blades of a lawn mower. Avoid the R-rated version, which, oddly, is more distasteful for being less gruesome; the NC-17 edition is a Tex Avery cartoon of hyperbolic gore, which gets funnier with each disgusting new sight gag. Best of all, you won't feel, as in Scream, that the director made the movie in order to see women tortured. Wes Craven hates his characters; Peter Jackson just liquefies his.
The Citizen Kane of Oedipal zombie-cannibal-right to
death-comedy-love stories. Kiwi auteur Peter Jackson -- best known stateside as
the maniac behind the Muppet-perversion Meet the Feebles -- takes the
shopworn flesh-eating zombie genre by its rotting horns, adds a dash of Monty
Python, and comes up with a film so gleefully over-the-top that it's
decidedly hard not to gag while you're laughing yourself incontinent. Rivers of
gore, entrails, and ambulating body parts surround poor nebbish Lionel (Balme),
a mama's boy whose mama (Moody) just happens to have been bitten by a Sumatran
Rat Monkey and consequently degenerates into a flesh-hungry omnivore with a
keen knack for oozing pus in front of the houseguests. Before you can say
George Romero, she's snacking on the neighbors, and Lionel's up to his neck in
overly-mobile cadavers. Though he tries valiantly to keep them sedated (with a
big jar of “Sedative,” natch), it's not long before all hell breaks loose in a
30-minute climax that makes Re-Animator look like Captain Kangaroo on a
bad hair day. Add to this Lionel's newfound love interest, Paquita (Penalver),
his scheming uncle Les (Watkin), and a zombie infant that makes abortion seem
like a really, really good idea, and you have quite literally the most
disgusting comedy ever.
The hilarious prologue to this
The DVD case advertises "Dead Alive" (originally titled "Brain Dead") as the goriest movie ever made. I would have to agree that it is in contention, at least the 97 minute unrated version I saw. There is an 82 minute R-rated version available, but if you're going to watch a movie like this, you might as well watch it.
The story follows a hapless young man who lives with his domineering mother. He meets an ethnic girl who has been told by a fortune teller that he is the man for her. The two go on a date away from the prying eyes of the disapproving mother. However, she follows them to the zoo, and while spying on them, she is bitten by the Rat-Monkey, which she squishes with her foot in anger. The bite slowly turns her into a zombie-like mess of running sores and healthy appetite. A hilarious scene involves her attempting to serve lunch to members of her ladies' group while she slowly loses control of her facilities, including the loss of her ear, which she eats with her pudding. The terrified but loyal son tries to hide her from the public and his new girlfriend, which is hard after she escapes from the basement and is hit by a train. Even that won't kill her, and the disease spreads quickly as her son attempts to contain the epidemic.
Those familiar with Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" trilogy will appreciate this film, since it blends the same horrific gore and slapstick comedy. This film will make most people sick to their stomachs. It was hysterically funny at times, but the urge to laugh had to compete with the urge to vomit. Oh, and the director, Peter Jackson, also directed "Heavenly Creatures", and is directing the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. That's range, my friends.
Inside Pulse Brad Torreano
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Badmovies.org review Andrew Borntreger
Best-Horror-Movies.com Lee Roberts
Mutant Reviewers from Hell Justin
Best DVD SBG
Livejournal [I Hate Movies] Steve Clark
Mondo Digital also reviewing FORGOTTEN SILVER and THE FRIGHTENERS
Read the New York Times Review » Stephen Holden
Heavenly Creatures Mark Deming from All Movie Guide
After winning a cult following for several offbeat and darkly
witty gore films,
While watching Heavenly Creatures, we bring ourselves to
sympathize with two unlikely heroines, and then they betray our trust by
committing an unthinkable crime; by the time the film has ended, we feel as if
our emotions have been chewed up and spat back out to the degree where we don't
know WHAT to feel anymore. Heavenly Creatures is either the greatest act of
manipulation ever put on film or a brilliant masterpiece about the dark side of
life: personally, I think it's a little bit of both. Either way, I'm still
trying to get my pulse to return to its normal rate. Director Peter Jackson
(who before this had only made a number of cheap nasty horror movies -- Bad
Taste and Braindead being the most popular --, but later became one of the most
talked-about film-makers as a result of his film interpretation of The Lord of
the Rings) does some remarkable things with bringing this horrendous true story
to the screen: not only is this one of the most amazing motion pictures I've
ever viewed, but it is one of the most important films to date. Period. Pauline
(Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) have developed an inseparable
friendship whose intimacy is questioned by their strict parents -- Pauline's
being the most stern. As their lives (and our sentiments) are suddenly torn
apart, they decide to run off together -- but this could mean having to murder
someone. I will not go any further in describing the plot (and I fear that I may
already have said too much), not because I want it to surprise you, but because
this film is so powerful that I would be doing a disservice to it if I tried to
describe it in mere words. Written by Jackson and his real-life spouse, Frances
Walsh, the screenplay for Heavenly Creatures is nothing short of remarkable (it
even garnered the Academy's attention, earning the film's singular nomination).
We both hate and love the two main characters, but most of all we just want
them to be happy, to which Jackson and Walsh ask us the question, "at what
cost?" Their scenes together -- ESPECIALLY the joyous ones -- are drenched
with an unbearable amount of foreboding hopelessness that makes the inevitable
conclusion even more tense. In her debut film role, Kate Winslet displays much
of the potential she fulfilled later on in her career, but Melanie Lynskey (who
has only achieved modest success since) deserves an equal amount of praise --
if not more. By the time we're sucked into the story (which doesn't take long),
we forget that they're even acting, and our eyes are peeled to the screen with
a voyeuristic intensity that is utterly discomforting.
After a few gory items well-loved by the relative few who saw them, Peter Jackson decided to tackle more mature material. Except he didn't. 'Heavenly Creatures' is a quantum leap in substance from gleefully sick flicks like 'Meet the Feebles' and 'Dead Alive,' but it retains Jackson's restless devotion to the delirium of fantasy.
After a diabolically goofy prologue — a heartily square
travelogue of 1950s
Pauline, a defiantly frumpy girl (played by Lynskey with uncompromising unpleasantness that still manages to be likable), lives with her parents in a clean but cramped house, where boarders sometimes rent a room. The glamorous Juliet arrives from
Heavenly Creatures acquires emotional heft partly because of Sarah Peirse's honest performance as Pauline's unsophisticated but hardworking mother. Pauline despises her and is mortified by her very existence, but
On one level, Heavenly Creatures is a stellar true-crime story, which
I truly don't think
Classic Horror Nate Yapp
Read the New York Times Review » Janet Maslin
When was first shown on New Zealand television, it sparked a minor scandal when some viewers discovered that the film's protagonist, pioneering Kiwi filmmaker Colin McKenzie, didn't really exist, leading some wags to denounce director as the perpetrator of a fraud, which speaks volumes about just how well executed a satire is -- it's one of the most accomplished mock documentaries ever made, flawlessly re-creating "long lost" bits of silent cinema as well as offering a superbly deadpan spoof of television documentaries. While 's oddball humor provided a welcome subtext in horror films like and , here his sly wit is brought to the forefront, and if never clearly presents itself as a joke, in many ways that just makes it more potent as it bears the ring of possible truth. and co-director are also ably assisted by their crew (especially cameraman , who is asked to emulate nearly 80 years of cinematography technique and never misses a trick) and the cast (the actors in the silent segments capture the broad histrionics of -era filmmaking with commendable accuracy, and the contemporary interview subjects hit their marks just right). is crafted with so much attention to detail that it takes a fairly committed film buff to see through the surface and catch all the jokes, but anyone who loves movies will delight in it -- and if you take it at face value, it's still a fascinating story about a truly remarkable man.
Together with Costa Botes, Peter Jackson pulled the wool over
It's of course vastly more funny if you know it's all fake,
though it'd be interesting to watch it with someone who's not in on the joke.
The conceit is that
Quite aside from being perhaps the most elaborate prank in Jackson's career to date (or since), Forgotten Silver is a brilliant piece of moviemaking in and of itself; Jackson obviously relishes the opportunity to "re-enact" McKenzie's "work," dabbling in the language of silent film and paying tribute to the birth of cinema. This is easily the least-known must-see film in
This, of course, would come in handy when it came time for
Mondo Digital also reviewing BRAIN DEAD and THE FRIGHTENERS
Peter Jackson's follow-up after the critically acclaimed Heavenly Creatures is a surprisingly unambitious, B-style horror movie. Michael J. Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a "psychic investigator" who uses his genuine ability to commune with the dead to swindle the bereaved into using his services. Then a real, totally malevolent ghost shows up and begins knocking off townspeople left and right, and Bannister must finally use his powers for good. Part horror movie, part comedy, The Frighteners tries to play both ends against the middle and ends up not being consistently funny or consistently scary. The special effects are great though, and you can't beat that campy, seventies, B-movie feeling.
At last, a big-budget summer movie that actually delivers on its promise of
entertaining escapist entertainment, without insulting the audience's
intelligence in the process. While it's inevitably a bit of a disappointment,
coming as it does on the heels of Jackson's staggeringly brilliant Heavenly
Creatures, The Frighteners is nonetheless first-rate goofy fun,
marred only by a rather weak first act and a truly lame denouement (the final
five minutes or so seem to have been imported from some other, considerably
dumber summer movie...maybe that one with the tornadoes and Helen Hunt running
around in a flimsy white tank top...can't remember what it was called...). And
get this: the movie actually has a plot. You remember plots, don't you
-- those sequences of events that keep you wondering what might happen next?
(If you've forgotten, I can't say as I blame you, as it's been quite some time
since a film with a budget this big featured one worth paying attention to.)
Granted, it's a fairly derivative plot, incorporating elements from Ghostbusters,
Ghost, The Shining, and various other supernatural flicks, but
Jackson and his co-writer, Fran Walsh, manage to combine these influences into
a surprisingly satisfying blend of over-the-top comedy and ghoulish horror.
Ultimately, though, it's
Peter Jackson's The Frighteners is a rare thing, an intelligent, funny, dynamic movie. It even has ideas. It also has Michael J. Fox, but really, that's okay here. As "psychic investigator" Frank Bannister, Fox gives a deft and understated performance, no small feat in a film where he's interacting with bluescreens more often than he is with people or even machines (just think of all the dopey drop-jawed reaction shots you've seen in recent special effects-heavy films, and you'll get a sense of what I mean).
Frank's con is a trendy one (post-Ghostbusters and post-X Files): after a near-death trauma some years ago (one which involved the death of his wife, for which he feels extremely guilty), he can see and communicate with ghosts. So he and three of them (played by Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe and John Astin) scam neighbors and newcomers alike: the ghosts make ooky noises and shake up household appliances, the afflicted homeowner calls Frank, and he — after a lively, thingamajiggy-jazzed performance — declares the place "clean," for a fee of course. (The team also has a side business in allowing grieving relatives to speak to the recently departed: Frank shamelessly passes out his cards at funerals.)
While all this might provide the entire plot of someone
else's movie, for
It's hard to distill the plot to a few lines, it twists and turns so continually. Suffice to say that it involves a haunted house (really haunted, not by Frank's crew), a social worker (Trini Alvarado) who is trying to help the woman (Dee Wallace Stone, who is perfect, and it's good to see her again) trapped in that house, a serial killer (Jake Busey), and a terrifically goony FBI agent (Jeffrey Combs, playing what might be called the anti-Mulder) hot on the trail of Frank, whom he believes to be a ruthless murderer. In other words, there's too much going on here to lay out in a straight line. The slides between past and present, between bodies (the ghosts here are constantly renegotiating their relationship to the material world), between life and death, all make the movie pretty much nonstop, culminating in an especially trippy final action sequence.
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Mutant Reviewers From Hell Justin and Mike
Classic-Horror.com Brandt Sponseller
Mondo Digital also reviewing FORGOTTEN SILVER and BRAIN DEAD
Read the New York Times Review » Janet Maslin
DVDBeaver Yunda Eddie Feng
My favorite moment of the entire epic saga, which was rewritten from the book, and occurs early in this first film when Gandalf notices Sam Gamgee lurking outside Frodo's window while he was explaining the dangerous history of the ring. Asked what he heard, Sam blurts out: "Nothing important. That is, I heard a good deal about a ring, a Dark Lord, and something about the end of the world."
Michael Wilmington looks at the DVD from the Chicago Tribune (link lost):
"The Lord of the Rings" is one great literary achievement that
reached the screen without being much altered, diminished or betrayed. Instead,
Peter Jackson's faithful and elaborate three-film adaptation (comprising
"The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and
"The Return of the King") preserves and translates much of the
original's fantasy and thrill, along with its huge Middle Earth canvas. The
excitement is there and the supernatural beauty, but the complexity is there as
well: the sense of a whole magical world opening up before us.
You might wonder, with this embarrassment of riches, which DVD issue of "Lord of the Rings" you should own. I'm fond of the old extended edition, with the director's cuts and numerous documentaries. But the new "The Lord of the Rings" Limited Edition set, featuring DVDs of all three films, deserves the nod. These editions contain both the original theatrical releases and the extended director's cut versions, as well as three newly released behind-the-scenes documentaries by Costa Botes ((star)(star)(star))--all shot cinema verite-style. Even if you've got one of the "Rings" DVD sets, these issues are pure magic.
HERE Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge
The Lord of the Rings : The Fellowship of the Ring is three hours of
persuasive, exciting, heart-pounding, eye-popping, spectacular nonsense.
There’s nothing wrong with epic entertainment, of course, but you have to
wonder whether it’s worth lavishing so much time (theirs and ours), money,
talent and effort on the fatuous 50-year-old mental doodlings of an
Tolkien, of course, made no bones about his borrowing from Beowulf, Arthurian legend, Wagner’s Ring of the Valkyrie, Homer’s Odyssey and other sources to create his own legend as an excuse for a series of concocted languages and cultures. The book has been described as ‘an exercise in philology’ (the study of language), with the story pretty much secondary and arbitrary: Frodo Baggins (Wood) inherits an all-powerful ring from his cousin Bilbo (Holm). His wizard friend Gandalf (McKellen) realises that the ring must be destroyed before it can be reclaimed by its maker, the satanic Lord Sauron. But the ring can only be destroyed where it was made in Mordor, Sauron’s kingdom. Frodo and Gandalf set off on the perilous trek to Mordor, accompanied by hobbits Sam (Astin), Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd), dwarf Gimli (Rhys-Davies), human warriors Boromir (Bean) and Aragorn (Mortensen) and elf archer Legolas (Bloom): the nine-strong Fellowship of the Ring…
‘Rings’ caused little stir on its first appearance back in the 1950s –
Mervyn Peake’s ‘Gormenghast’ attracted much more interest and serious
consideration. It was only when ‘Rings’ was re-issued in American paperback
that it clicked with the same late-60s altered-states crowd that turned 2001
into a blockbuster, and its influence on impressionable prog-rock musicians
was immediate and profound. For years it lingered quietly on in the shadowy
world of Dungeons&Dragons fantasy-game playing - until now. But no matter
Watching Fellowship is like being teleported into a series of Roger
Dean mid-70s prog-rock album covers, with the occasional foray into the
sulphuric world of their bastard cousins, the sleeves of heavy metal LPs. In
movie terms, it’s like alternating between Ridley Scott’s Legend and
Michael Mann’s The Keep, except with worse music. Tolkien – whose
fantasy is strictly Anglo-Saxon – would have hated the movie’s relentless Celtic
pan-pipes soundtrack, but they’re perfect for the soft-rock mood
While the other actors avoid such embarrassment, it’s painful to watch classically-trained performers like McKellen, Holm and Bean dignifying Tolkien’s dialogue by treating it like Shakespearean battle poetry. No such problems with Christopher Lee – he’s been mouthing this kind of portentous nonsense for six decades, and actually thinks it’s good, important, psychologically intricate material. In fact, Rings has no more depth than Harry Potter, which, for all its faults, never took itself this seriously. As a movie, Rings is a more exciting experience – the opening battle against Sauron and the climactic confrontation with the demon Balrog in the ruins of Moria, are genuinely stunning moments. But to be the truly great film some viewers and critics have hailed, shouldn’t Rings do as much for the mind as it does for the eyes and the nerves?
If anything, the movie is anti-thought: the more you think about it,
the worse it gets. Leaving aside the very dodgy racial angle, Tolkien’s fable
is an anxiety dream about the industrialisation of the British countryside –
specifically, the growth of
And if Fellowship of the Ring actually is about anything, shouldn’t it at least be about fellowship? If so, who does Sam, who’s supposedly Frodo’s best friend and no kind of social inferior, keeps calling him ‘Mister Frodo’ all the time like he’s some kind of servant flunkey. At the end, after the pair have been through all manner of tribulations, Sam says it again - Frodo turns round with an understanding smile on his face and we think: at last, he’s going to say ‘Sam, just call me Frodo’. But no: “I’m glad you’re with me, Sam,” is all he can manage. As the credits roll and Enya’s warblings fill the cinema, you find yourself hating Frodo, Elijah Wood, Peter Jackson, John Tolkien, and everyone else involved in the whole damn palaver. Even as you impatiently start wondering what’s going to happen next.
"Much that once was is lost" is the poignant opening phrase in Peter Jackson's long-awaited, mega-million-dollar production of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Absent fidelity may be less the issue than temps perdu—there's an elegiac tone to this lavish first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's cult trilogy.
Robustly ranging from the cozy nook of a hobbit's parlor to the blasted pitch-pots of darkest Mordor, visualizing Nordic elves and subhuman, blue-faced orcs, staging wizard wars with the panache of a Hong Kong master and building slowly to a boffo ending, Peter Jackson's adaptation is certainly successful on its own terms. Like the animated skeletons in a Ray Harryhausen adventure flick, the relics have come to life. With the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, American critics of a particular age (and possibly gender) have their own Harry Potter.
Indeed, watching the smoky, twisted images of the computer-generated masses in hand-to-hand combat with decomposing goblins or listening to the wit and wisdom of Gandalf the Grey (an unrecognizable Ian McKellen), I was forced to acknowledge the degree to which Tolkien's imaginary universe had impressed itself on my 12-year-old brain—and, despite the timeless struggle between good and evil, how little that mattered to me now. For me, the trilogy's appeal was exemplified by its maps, the invented languages, and the hundred pages of appendices at the back of the final volume. Unlike C.S. Lewis's Narnia, Tolkien's Middle Earth has no discernible religion. The book itself is a sacred text—which is to say, it proposes the world as a text, a literary analogue to the abstract pleasures found in the purely statistical universe of baseball.
Back in the day, the whole idea of a Lord of the Rings
movie would have seemed a desecration. Where Ralph Bakshi's ill-fated and
largely forgotten animated version lacked gravitas,
Although the Elvish settlement of Rivendell resembles an
Alpine ski lodge for garden gnomes, and the more rustic Elves of Mirkwood would
appear to dwell in a kind of tree house expansion of the Enchanted Tiki Room,
the movie only rarely achieves a sense of kitsch grandeur—as in the image of
colossal statues in the river mist. More often, it's a cluttered attic of
cloying pre-Raphaelite visual notions. The equivalent of Tolkien's often turgid
descriptions, a single
The phantom zone where Frodo finds himself whenever he slips on the sinister ring he is charged to destroy is similarly restrained—a blurry, blustery realm of negative images. I was amused to see that these include noisily suggestive cutaways to the fiery slit of doom that is the object of the quest, but then I'm no longer a believer. (My faith was shaken back in high school when I flippantly referred to The Lord of the Rings as the greatest novel of the 20th century and a friend's older brother asked if I was talking about The Magic Mountain.) Still, it's a religion I remember, particularly as a spell cast over the more fanciful wing of the '60s counterculture. What happened to those "Frodo Lives" pins, the anti-war graffiti written in Elvish, the underground newspapers with names like Gandalf's Garden, the fey psychedelic troubadours singing songs of Middle Earth?
The metaphors were surely relevant. I doubt I'm the only one to survive a lysergic experience in which the world was unpleasantly divided between hobbits and orcs or who recognized Richard Nixon as some sort of miserable Gollum. How much fun it would have been to see a real desecration of Tolkien that periodized the trilogy's cosmic adventures by having them played out inside the brain of some acid-ripped hippie—the Fellowship leaving the snug communes of northern Vermont on a perilous mission to cast the "ring of power" into the boiler of some fetid East Village basement. But that would defeat the entire concept of timeless fantasy.
In the essay "On Fairy-stories," written in the late '30s at the time that the idea for The Lord of the Rings was taking shape, Tolkien argued that "the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds was the heart of the desire of Faërie." Some will surely find a parallel between Tolkien's cosmic struggle and our own current crusade, but reference to this world is the last thing that The Fellowship of the Ring wishes to make.
Fellowship of the Ring Phil Cooper from Bright Lights Film Journal
World Socialist Web Site Margaret Rees
Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez
DVD Verdict Bill Gibron
PopMatters Todd R. Ramlow
DVD Times Eamonn McCusker
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
feature Sam Adams from Philadelphia City Paper
Film as Art - Capsule reviews for all three films Danél Griffin
Behind the making of The Lord of the Rings John Braddock from the World Socialist Website
Read the New York Times Review » Elvis Mitchell
DVD Times [Extended Edition] Chris Kaye
Reel.com DVD review [Mary Kalin-Casey] Extended Edition
more rampant carnage
Can't prestige be coupled with something invigorating, like box-office clout? It can be, and it is in The Two Towers, the new installment of the immensely popular, award-winning The Lord of the Rings. I confess I was less than thrilled by the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, which amounted to a long series of fights and battles, interrupted by episodes of sexless mooning. The Two Towers is better, if only because it's got a single big battle, which it saves till the end. It's also brightened by the introduction of Gollum (voice of Andy Serkis), a pathetic, wasted creature who once possessed the evil Ring. Whenever Gollum struggles with his conscience, the movie twitches into life. For the most part, though, The Two Towers is preoccupied only with inanimate forces: the flood of water that engulfs a wizard's tower, or the flood of pixels that pour across the screen as computer-generated armies. I began to wonder, as the waves crashed about: Is it still possible for a movie to get excited about people?
The Empire Strikes Back notwithstanding, the middle parts of trilogies don't have the best of reputations, composed as they are mainly of connective tissue, the bits that fall inbetween the introduction and the conclusion. It's no surprise that the characters in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers spend an awful lot of time walking. Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) spend at least an hour of screen-time being carried through the forest by an ambulatory tree (known to Tolkien fans and crossword buffs as an Ent), while more intrepid Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) make it all the way to the gates of the dread forest Mordor before backing off and circling around to try an alternate route.
Even if you're not familiar with the scope of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, this can't come as much of a surprise. Having decided in The Fellowship of the Ring that all their hopes rest on the success of Frodo's quest to drop the ring of power into the molten heart of Mount Doom, destroying it and the dark lord Sauron with it, the characters have but one objective -- which is to say if they actually made it all the way to Mount Doom in part two, all that would be left for part three would be three hours of people standing around going, "Whew, that was a close one." But the reduced burden of plot actually allows The Two Towers to be a better realized and more satisfying experience than its predecessor (even in the superior, more leisurely version released on DVD). For all the sorcery and swordplay -- and, it should be noted, The Two Towers has plenty of both -- what the film really offers us is a chance to inhabit Tolkien's world, which this time we get to do without worrying about how we got there or where we're going next.
If you look back at the movie's end, you may realize that
very little has happened to the major characters, but it's hardly likely to
occur to you while you're watching the movie. It begins with a great bang, a
dream flashback to Gandalf's demise, this time expanded to show the
frail-looking wizard plummeting through space, grabbing a sword out of the air
and hacking at the flaming Balrog as they both descend. And it ends with one,
too: the battle to protect the human stronghold of Helms Deep, which in the
book occupies only a few dozen pages, but is here expanded to occupy most of
the movie's last hour, in one of the most elaborate and complex battle
sequences ever committed to film. Since all three films were shot concurrently,
there's no noticeable difference in style, but the digital effects, which
progress one film at a time, are noticeably improved, particularly when it
comes to Gollum, the shrivelled creature who once held the ring, and has been
reduced to a reptilian hulk by its loss. Entirely digital (though based on the
movements of actor Andy Serkis), Gollum seems nearly as real as the
furry-footed hobbits he shares scenes with -- which is to say, real enough, but
not too much so. And in essence, that's the secret to
When it comes to making trilogies, the second film is always
the hardest. While they often contain plenty of conflict and complications,
they can't offer any final resolutions. Repetition is also a problem — while
some background info is needed to bring newcomers up to speed, filmmakers can't
waste too much of well-informed series fans' time for fear of boring them.
The best solution is to hit the ground running. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers literally does, joining three of the Fellowship of the Ring's protagonists — the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) — as they sprint into the rolling hills of Rohan, a kingdom of noble cavalrymen. They're hot on the heels of a group of fearsome Uruk-hai orcs who kidnapped two hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), in Fellowship's finale.
However, instead of catching up to the wee abductees, the trio runs into the middle of a full-fledged war. The malevolent wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), creator of the Uruk-hai, is now openly allied with the dark lord Sauron, the once-omnipotent forger of the ring of power. While the latter is still massing his armies in the wasteland of Mordor, the former is on the move, dispatching a group of wild barbarians to burn Rohan's outlying villages. A 10,000-strong phalanx of Uruk-hai is also marching on the realm's capital, Edoras, the not-so-restful locale where Aragorn and his companions find themselves.
Meanwhile, hobbits Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) are trudging toward Mordor and the completion of their mission, the destruction of the ring in the volcano of
Frodo's fascination with the ring pales in comparison to that of Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis and based on his on-set movements), the twisted creature from whom Bilbo Baggins originally stole it. Seen only momentarily in Fellowship, the computer-generated character emerges from the shadows here. Unlike The Phantom Menace's poo-poo-joke-spouting abomination Jar-Jar Binks, Gollum delivers a full-fledged dramatic performance. On one hand, he's a poor wretch, his body withered and mind poisoned by centuries of contact with the ring. On the other, he's a devious psychopath, laying murderous plots to separate Frodo from his malevolent cargo. These two sides clash in brilliantly edited, schizophrenic internal dialogues during which Gollum's good and bad personalities argue, Raising Cain-style, as though they were different people. Although the CG creature isn't always 100% convincing in medium shots, in these close-ups, he's totally mesmerizing.
In J.R.R. Tolkien's book The Two Towers, Frodo's and Aragorn's tales are told separately in its first and second halves. In the film, co-writer/director Peter Jackson alternates between the plots, but ultimately gives the latter primacy. Hobbit-spotters may be disappointed by the ring-bearer's decreased role. However, this decision allows for spectacular amounts of action, particularly during the battle of Helm's Deep. Although it only took up a few pages in the book, the clash is the film's climax, a full 45 minutes of orc-hewing, elf-skewering action which make Gladiator's opening skirmish look like a Pee-wee soccer game. The battle is even more suspenseful because
There are plenty of other examples of effects wizardry besides Gollum and Helm's Deep. The film opens with a jaw-dropping continuation of the fight between the Balrog and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) which knocked the wizard down, but didn't necessarily take him out. Viewers get to see the impregnable gates of Mordor, the nattily dressed new villains the Easterlings, the seven-story-tall war pachyderms called Oliphaunts, and a group of old nemeses who return astride even more terrifying mounts. The film also introduces the Ents, a group of mighty tree-creatures straight out of a lumberjack's nightmare. Although their slow-moving gait looks odd (and elicited some chuckles from the crowd), these woodland guardians are depicted exactly as described in Tolkien's book — a testament to
The film's other main shortcoming is its pace. Although the build-up to Helm's Deep is methodical, the rest of
However, these faults are dwarfed by
DVD Times Eamonn McCusker
Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez
Nick's Flick Picks Nick Davis
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
digitallyObsessed! DVD Review Dan Heaton
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Crazy for Cinema Lisa Skrzyniarz
Film Freak Central Bill Chambers
Mutant Reviewers From Hell Poolman, Justin, and Lissa
The Sci-Fi Movie Page James O’Ehley
Movie House Commentary Mick Locke
The Boston Phoenix Peter Keough
New York Times (registration req'd) Elvis Mitchell
Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager] on the advantages of seeing the Extended Edition
DVD Times [Extended Edition] Chris Kaye
Slant Magazine - Special Edition DVD Review Ed Gonzalez
Fangoria Extended Edition, by Allan Dart
Dark Horizons (Garth Franklin) Extended Edition
DVD Verdict - Special Extended Edition David Johnson
Despite the obvious attention to detail, the natural settings, the set design, especially the look of immortality expressed by the world of the elves, always shot in a glowing, shimmering light, like a world of angels at play under the moonlight contrasted against the warlike swords and novel uses of armor, my biggest surprise in Lord of the Rings, other than the discovery in the opening of Pt III that Gollum was once a man, was that so much of it was about Sam, and not one of the more athletic "star" figures. Despite the epic battles, the legendary myth and lore, the endless battle sequences of human slaughter wrapped in superhuman strengths and spectacular imagery, this is really Sam's journey, a simple man who is called upon to endure one disaster after the next, yet is expected to maintain his bearings and all sense of reason. In the end, he's a good man surrounded in mythological subtext designed to take our eyes off him, but he is one of us. Like Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio, Sam is Frodo's conscience, a constant reminder of why they've left everything behind and must go on their perilous journey, against all odds, and why they have no choice – they must succeed. It's significant that this is not the voice of a wizard or a warrior, or a person possessing amazing traits, but simply an ordinary man (or Hobbit) that is willing to sacrifice all to protect a friend.
surprise was that so few of the original Fellowship died, only 2, and one,
Gandalf, came back to life. Throughout all the incessant battle sequences
of the 2nd and 3rd films, none of the others lost their lives. Had they,
as they did in SEVEN SAMURAI or THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which certainly came to
mind in comparison, it might have put into perspective the arduous journey at
the end for Frodo and Sam, where they were so exhausted they could only crawl
("like insects"), and even then only in short bursts. If those
around them in the original Fellowship had paid a price with their lives, their
final efforts may have felt more desperate, like a last breath of hope before
life was extinguished altogether. But it never felt that way.
Instead, they were like super heroes who were immune to death. Even
the elf that got shot in battle protecting the
Jackson utilized the same stereotypical imagery of John Ford's vision of battle
personified by his Westerns, begun in 1939 with STAGECOACH, where whites are
surrounded by "savage" Indians, and every shot by whites knocks an
Indian off their horse, and sometimes knocks the horse down as well – all with
a single shot, while the hordes of savages, who greatly outnumber the whites,
rarely hit their target. Throughout decades of westerns, this exact same
pattern reoccurs again and again. Likewise in Lord of the Rings, the blond elf (Legolas)
never runs out of arrows, never misses his target, always kills a foe, and
never receives so much as a scratch in return. More laughable in my eyes
were scenes after scenes where soldiers on horses rode into throngs of the
enemy on foot, on battlefields as well as narrow bridges, and the enemy
just dropped like flies, falling in all directions, while none of these
riders was ever pulled off a horse, or had their horses brought
down. I don't believe the book would be guilty of this same over-exaggeration
which typifies an unintended depiction of racist superiority of one race over
another. The grotesque and disfigured look of the enemy all too much
resembled H.G. Wells's depiction of the
In this film, the horrors of war, where all is lost and certain death appears imminent is immediately replaced with wish fulfillment, like the arrival of the wizard who resembles the cavalry ("Look for me at dawn – look to the East!") and instant victory occurs. This sudden turnaround was so amazing that the rotating battle sequences, especially in Part II, become inconsequential. For my part, having never read the book, I couldn't tell who was fighting who, who captured the 2 Hobbits or who captured Frodo. And while I understood the obvious metaphor of the talking trees as earth, the wearying back and forth editing from intense scenes of certain death in battle on the one hand to a leisurely paced conversation of a couple of Hobbits talking to trees felt all too ludicrous after awhile. (In battle, the trees resembled the Apple Bonkers in YELLOW SUBMARINE). Similarly, the importance placed on destroying the ring, where evil will be wiped off the face of the earth, is so overly simplistic that it discounts all the other human factors that contribute to disagreements, dissatisfaction, and war. Yes, this is a fantasy adventure story, perhaps spawned by how quickly humans surrendered their free will to the advancing age of industrialization (what, are we expected to return to the era of the Amish?), but if we think of the ring as an inevitable force that threatens to take away our freedom, I can think of a few living forces placed in leadership positions in our own country that are guilty of the same. Not all leaders are the personification of evil, nor are their destructive influences so easily wiped off the face of the earth. Some are just petty and make poor decisions, usually based on narrow interests and greed, yet we have to learn to live with these collective forces of poor judgment and wisdom all wrapped into one earth, a highly volatile and constantly changing equation, as things are not so rosy even in times of no war.
Some interesting similarities between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings:
Harry and Ron resemble Frodo and Sam
Dobby resembles Gollum
Dumbledore and Gandalf
Voldemort and his evil minions are like Sauron and the Dark Lord, with his legion of spies
The Flying Dementors and the Dark Riders, especially the Black Captain on the Winged Nazgul
Buckbeak the Hippogrif and the Flying Eagles
Harry's invisibility cloak and the ringbearers invisibility
Sirius Black fights to save Harry as Aragorn fights to save Frodo
Order of the
healing power of the
The back and forth struggle between good & evil taking place inside the scarred souls of Professor Snape and Gollum, both eventually succumbing to evil
The Sorcerer's Stone and the Ring, which make Nicholas Flimel and Bilbo Baggins ageless, yet both must eventually be destroyed
The invented language, the parsel tongue language of snakes and the subtitled language of the elves
Harry carries the scar of Voldemort on his forehead while Frodo feels the effects of his Spider wound for the rest of his life
Both feature themes of the old vs. the young, the ageless wisdom of wizards vs. the journeys and adventures of the young
Both feature recurring themes of rescues at the moment of peril, while at stake is the doom of the entire world
DVD Times - Extended Edition Mike Sutton in #5 Posted Comment from DVD Times
I personally think the LOTR trilogy is vastly overrated and
well made without being particularly interesting. They're impressive
adaptations in the sense of being close to the books but there's no real
cinematic imagination put into them, certainly not in the sense that Fritz Lang
reimagines Norse myth in his Siegfried films. The secret of great adaptation
lies in how well the filmmaker can escape the confines of the book rather than
simply recreating it on screen - and the incredibly badly edited
"Return" demonstrates how
I can think of several cinematic trilogies which are infinitely better in every respect - John Ford's majestic "Cavalry Trilogy', the Bergman "Trilogy of Faith", the Leone 'Dollars' trilogy immediately spring to mind. There's not a single moment in
Would you care to explain what makes any of the LOTR films better than, say, "Winter Light" or "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon?"
With Christmas rapidly approaching, I don't have adequate
time to give Peter Jackson's mesmerizing The Lord of the Rings: The Return
of the King its due. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to extol, however
briefly, the virtues of this series' awe-inspiring finale.
The most hallucinatory of war films, The Return of the King concludes the Lord of the Rings trilogy with a burst of smoky grandeur. As our suffering Frodo (Elijah Wood), his faithful Sam (Sean Astin), and the grotesque Gollum (Andy Serkis) continue on their mission behind enemy lines, Gondor is besieged. Will the United Nations of Middle Earth be too late? As a wizard tells an elf—or is it vice versa?—it's "the great battle of our time."
Be that as it may, Peter Jackson's hobbit epic is certainly
the greatest feat of pop movie magic since Titanic—albeit more boy's
tale than romance. Speaking as a deprogrammed, once-upon-a-time Tolkien
cultist, I imagine that fans will be ecstatic. The multifarious characters all
come to fruition; even if the movie hadn't had the mystical good fortune to
coincide with the wars against the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, its complex
mythology would still have the inevitability (and superior CGI) of a perfect
storm. Truly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; it's fruitless to
point out that
What else is there to compare this to? The Matrix trilogy imploded; the Star Wars series seems but a pale Tinkertoy Tolkien imitation. For three and a half hours, Jackson deploys multitudes of digital and digitally enhanced creatures—not just orcs and ents, but dive-bombing pterodactyls, Humvee mega mastodons, dragonic battering rams, lava ogres, and the scariest spider that ever spun a web. Conflict is eternal. The extravagant battle scenes are spiced with flash-forward telepathies and enlivened by stray shards of character psychology: Gollum's divided consciousness, Frodo's anxious paranoia, the filial conflict between the grand grouch of Gondor (John Noble) and his son Faramir (David Wenham), the fiery torch carried for Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) by the amazon Rohan babe (Miranda Otto).
Look, don't listen. (Aragorn's
In short, this Krakatoa is at once exhausting and riveting. It's a technological marvel, and for those not with the program, a bit of a bore. And that's before the interminable farewells, Celtic airs, longing looks, Shire celebrations, and expeditions into a New Age sea of light that make up the lugubrious closer. The Ring trilogy may be fiercely chaste, but its hobbituary denouement is gayer than anything in Angels in America. Now, there's a scenario worthy of Lang. Watching Angels on TV, I couldn't help but wonder how many people might be prepared to graduate from Tolkien's millennial fantasy to Kushner's.
To say that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a singular accomplishment in movie history is almost too timid praise; there are many things that have only been done once, and in many cases, it was one time too many. Likewise to say that it’s the great commercial trilogy of our day: There are decongestant commercials I’d sooner re-watch than all the Star Wars or Matrix movies. It may be exaggerating to say that Peter Jackson and his cast and crew of thousands have redefined the rules of moviemaking, but it’s probably closer to the truth, and if a three-film, nine-hour saga doesn’t inspire a bit of exaggeration, something has gone horribly wrong.
It's possible to single out sequences, like The Two Towers' breathtaking battle of Helm's Deep, or The Return of the King's equally stunning assault on the last human stronghold of Minas Tirith, or performances, like Sean Astin's surprisingly moving turn as the faithful hobbit Samwise, or the mind-blowing blend of computer animation and Andy Serkis' performance that brings tactile life to the malicious but tormented Gollum. But above all, the Rings cycle is a triumph of careful construction, an elaborate jigsaw puzzle whose pieces fall magically into place. (Compare the blithering incoherence of the simultaneously shot Matrix sequels.) And yet, like a jigsaw puzzle, completion becomes almost redundant after a certain point, and you know just how things will look in the end.
Having hit its stride with The Two Towers, the series continues apace with The Return of the King, whose three-hour, 20-minute running time shows the extent to which the DVD "extended editions" have colored Peter Jackson's approach to editing -- and even then, the film arrives with reports that a nine-minute prologue featuring Christopher Lee and Brad Dourif was cut at the last minute. (It will, of course, be on the DVD.) With the twists already twisted, the exposition exposed, there's not much left to do except suit up and dive in, and The Return of the King wastes no time (well, not much) before the first swords are crossed. As in the Helm's Deep sequence, the defense of Minas Tirith flawlessly balances hand-to-hand combat and battlefield tactics, never losing sight of the characters or the overall struggle. In the midst of a massive onslaught by Orcs and mercenary humans, there's still time for Legolas (Orlando Bloom) to climb a lumbering beast, dispatch the enemies from its back, slay the creature, then slide down its trunk as it crashes to the ground. It's the sheer audacity of such stunts that makes you cry out in joy, but it's the sense of the overall battle that makes you feel like you're not just being taken for a ride.
Still, The Return of the King seems to retreat somewhat from the moral complexity of The Two Towers. While that movie saw Frodo (Elijah Wood) being ever more tempted by the power of the ring he is charged to destroy, and Gollum and his schizophrenic better half, Smeagol, battle for control, The Return of the King draws the battle lines more clearly. Even the traitorous spirits Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) calls on for aid opt to join humanity for one last battle, while the humans who fight for the evil eye, Sauron, remain distant, masked figures. Jackson and his many collaborators have given us the battle to end all battles, but the battle between good and evil which the movie ultimately depicts has no real ending.
Any fantasy series that externalizes our internal demons ultimately dead-ends in the same cul-de-sac: How do you proclaim victory over something that we know will never be vanquished? (I mean, without lying.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer approached the subject in its final season, then turned away. Harry Potter may owe some of his power to Voldemort's sting, but it remains to be seen how close J.K. Rowling will bring the young wizard and his malignant counterpart in the final two installments. The Return of the King opens with a recapitulation of Gollum's story, how the once-lighthearted creature named named Smeagol was seduced and deformed by the ring's chance discover. But by the final scene's he's reduced to pure antagonism, a grasping caricature. The movie's lengthy postscript ends in a surprising place, with the simplest of characters, suggesting that all the great struggles we've seen were fought in defense not of some overarching good, but the ability to live a simple, undisturbed life. It's the perfect grace note, undercutting the story's mythic dimensions and replacing them with domestic needs. It isn't evil that's been defeated, it's instability.
World Socialist Web Site Margaret Rees
Reverse Shot Suzanne Scott
Bright Lights Film Journal Scott Thill
Tolkien Transcended Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge
DVD Journal Damon Houx
Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Reverse Shot Ken Chen
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Henry Sheehan
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
Crazy for Cinema Lisa Skrzyniarz
The Lumière Reader Tim Wong
The Boston Phoenix Peter Keough
New York Times (registration req'd) Elvis Mitchell
DVD Times - Extended Edition D.J. Nock
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Rich Rosell) Extended Edition
DVD Talk (Holly E. Ordway) Extended Edition
DVD Verdict Bryan Byun
The holiday movie season that began with the Narnia lion has reached its climax with the giant ape--and you can guess which beast I'm rooting for.
Writer-director Peter Jackson, relaxing after The Lord of
the Rings, has slacked off by making a King Kong that runs a mere
three hours, involves only a dozen or so major characters (plus uncounted
extras) and deploys just enough special effects to rebuild 1930s Manhattan,
with an entire prehistoric world thrown in.
She's so splendid, by the way, that she upstages the special
Well, that and the mammoth carnivorous worms.
Crazy for Cinema Lisa Skrzyniarz
Being a fan of both
Given that she had nothing to act against,
Edward Copeland on Film Josh R. from Review Comment #1
I agree with you that the fawning critical response to Peter
Jackson's King Kong has been, for the most part, disproportionate to the film's
actual merits. You've outlined in good detail exactly why the first third of
the film is pretty rough going - the limitations of Team Jackson's
screenwriting skills are painfully apparent in scenes that feature more talking
than running (or, in the case of the LOTR trilogy, decapitating Orks).
That said, I found more to enjoy in Kong than you did. It's obviously no match for the 1933 original, which retains a kind of beauty in its simplicity - the cutting-edge effects from the Meriam C. Cooper version look fairly primitive by modern standards, but they're executed with a kind of gonzo ingenuity that still elicits gasps. Peter Jackson has that same kind of breathtaking, barnstorming ability when it comes to the crafting of action sequences. In terms of the way they've been conceived and choreographed,
If there's one thing I would point to as...well, I won't call it an improvement, since that would be tantamount to sacrilege...but if there's one respect in which
The decision to humanize Kong to the point where he actually functions on the level of a human character yields a very unexpected and satisfying result. The bond between Kong and Darrow is rendered in such a way that it does manage to achieve the kind of mythic-romance proportions that
King Kong Kim Newman from Sight and Sound
DVD Times Eamonn McCusker
The Lumière Reader examines all the Kong releases
King Kong (2005) Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
World Socialist Web Site James Brewer
BeyondHollywood.com Andrew Mackenzie
Celluloid Dreams Simon Hill
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
New York Times (registration req'd) A.O. Scott
”What am I now? The dead girl? The lost girl? The missing girl? I’m nothing.” —Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan)
A gentle and loving portrait of death as seen through the eyes of a young 14-year old girl who is brutally murdered, Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, who’s not yet ready to let go of her life just yet, so after death she remains lingering in “the in between,” a hereafter between heaven and earth, still holding onto as much of her life as she can before finally moving on. It’s always interesting to hear narrations from characters that acknowledge they’re already dead, such as SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) or AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999), as it adds an eerie dimension of extra depth, as there’s a foreboding shadow that hovers over everything the audience sees. But unlike those others, Susie is a child, so her world is still decorated in a child-like fantasy of rainbow colors and wonderment. Ronan is really very good in the narration, as her knowledge about herself is wise beyond her years and challenges the audience to share her uncommonly sharp perceptions about the world from this place where none of us have ever been. Since a good deal of this film comes from the afterlife, where one can look down from above and sympathize with their own family trauma but they can’t see you, it’s interesting how much of our lives remain unfinished and incomplete even after death, as the questions and reverberations about our death may linger in people’s minds for a long time afterwards. In this way, the movie makes us appreciate the short time we have in life, as we never know when it could abruptly be taken away so unexpectedly.
Susie has an ordinary life, with loving parents and a younger brother and sister, and she’s discovered her first boy, Ray Singh, played by Reece Ritchie, who’s actually interested in her, that leaves her dreamily off-guard, a contributing factor in her death, as she was too easily distracted and missed visible signs that might have warned her away from her eventual killer. But as she points out, in the early 1970’s, there were no TV stories, no amber alerts or child hotlines, and no pictures on the sides of milk containers, as no one had any idea that these kinds of things actually happened, so she was totally caught off-guard by her life’s final chapter, which is menacingly suggested without being shown shown, deleting rape or other sexual deviations that occurred in the book, as this is a family picture. Her life suddenly turns into a dream world where she remains invisible, where she’s left to wander silently, having no impact on what she sees, where she hopes her family can figure out the clues, but the loathsome killer (Stanley Tucci), who lives just a few doors down the block, feels more comfortable every passing day believing he’s actually gotten away with it. The gist of the story becomes the dramatic contrast between her father’s grief and the killer’s compulsions, as the audience wonders if the killer will get his comeuppance and the father can avenge his daughter’s horrible murder. Moving back and forth between the two worlds, Susie discovers that while her own family’s life is in utter turmoil from the grief, despair and complete disbelief, there are also several other victims of the same killer.
While the film does feel overly long, and moving back and forth between worlds eventually does grow tiresome, the lyrical tone of the film remains appealing, as it’s hard not to feel for what Susie and her family are going through, as her experience fills us with the same regrets that she has. It’s interesting that even in the afterlife what she most regrets is never knowing the feeling of that first kiss. There is an offbeat side character living on the outskirts of town that no one likes, Ruth (Carolyn Dando), but Susie grows to appreciate her from the world beyond, as she’s a seer who senses the presence of dead souls and channels them into her life, while Susan Sarandon is weirdly introduced as the free spirited alcoholic family grandmother that supposedly holds the family together, an improbable notion and probably a completely unnecessary one, as her comic tone doesn’t fit with the devastation of the family loss. When the killer starts getting ready to strike again, this time targeting Susie’s younger sister, a certain panic sets in. Might he actually get away with it? The idea that different levels of awareness exist side by side is intriguing, as is the visual conception of the afterlife, suggesting there are stages to pass through before entering heaven, but even more compelling is the idea that the living could potentially interact with the afterlife, or vice versa. Certainly there are connecting thoughts, but this is one of the few films that blends a dialogue between both worlds.
One of the underlying subplots of the movie is the film’s history, where Lynne Ramsay was initially hired to adapt a screenplay from the Alice Sebold novel and direct the film. But once Stephen Spielberg came onboard to produce the movie, she was fired in favor of fellow blockbuster filmmaker Peter Jackson, who it turns out was probably the wrong choice, as while the interplay between worlds, the living and the in between, is miraculously conceived with some eye-popping computer imagery, the brightness of tone is all wrong for a story involving brutal victims of rape, serial killings, and even dismemberment. It’s missing the dark edge that Ramsay would no doubt have brought to the story. One would have to be familiar with the book to be aware of all the grisly details, which are completely omitted from the movie, and while the choice of narrator is excellent, all the rest feels oddly inconsistent with a strange reliance on a candy colored afterlife.
Loyal readers have waited since 2002 to see the movie
version of Alice Sebold's novel; the project has changed hands a few times,
unfortunately bypassing Lynne Ramsay and winding up in the hands of Peter
Jackson. I suppose that if
The New Yorker (David Denby) review (Page 2)
Of all human illusions, the hardest to give up is the belief that consciousness exists after death. This may seem a stiffly rational response to anything as shrewdly executed as Alice Sebold’s best-selling 2002 novel, “The Lovely Bones,” but it becomes inescapable when you see the bizarre and sentimental movie that Peter Jackson has made from the book. In the movie, as in the book, Susie (Saoirse Ronan), a fourteen-year-old girl, narrates her own murder, in 1973, at the hands of a neighborhood creep (Stanley Tucci). Then she watches him cover his tracks, and her father (Mark Wahlberg), her mother (Rachel Weisz), and her sister (Rose McIver) try to cope with her death. She is not merely present in their minds; they can’t quite see her, but she is there, prompting, warning, claiming a kiss from her handsome teen boyfriend.
The book was brought off with considerable delicacy—it’s really an
affectionately detailed portrait of a suburban girl’s life. Literalized in the
movie, the material is closer to a high-toned ghost story.
The Onion A.V. Club review [C] Tasha Robinson
Everything about Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s
bestselling book The Lovely Bones is worked out to an excruciating
fault. The décor is precise for the early-1970s middle-America setting, with
photo cubes, period knickknacks, and hideous wallpaper dominating the sets.
Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan stars as the story’s narrator, a murdered girl (and rape victim in the book, though the film elides that entirely) who refuses to move on to heaven; trapped in a beautiful between-realm shaped by her desires, she watches her sister and parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) struggle emotionally over her death, while her murderer (a convincingly creepy Stanley Tucci) plots his next crime. Her fixation on her incomplete life and the man who cut it short mirrors Wahlberg’s fixation on finding her killer; Wahlberg provides an early key to the story when he gives Ronan a banal primer on obsession. He also explains a snow globe in terms that will later become significant when she, too, is trapped outside of time, within a perfect world. It’s that kind of film, where every casual utterance later winds up draped in weighty significance or irony, and where Ronan, in a breathy little whisper of narration, spends nearly every moment of the film reminding viewers what they should be thinking or feeling.
And yet The Lovely Bones is often moving, almost in
spite of itself.
Let nobody say that Peter
Jackson doesn’t like a challenge. After filming Tolkien’s three ‘The Lord
of the Rings’ books and spending over $200 million on a new three-hour version
of ‘King Kong’, the New Zealand director who started out making splatter horror
in the late 1980s has turned to Alice Sebold’s hugely popular ‘The Lovely
Bones’, the 1970s-set American novel narrated from beyond the grave by Susie
Ronan), a 14-year-old who is raped and murdered by a neighbour in a field
near her suburban home . From a vantage point somewhere between heaven and
earth, Susie follows the reactions and behaviour of her parents (Mark
Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz),
her sister (Rose McIver) and her killer, Mr Harvey (Stanley
Tucci), as she struggles to gain the closure that will allow her to depart
this earth completely.
Not that we see anyone raped or even murdered in this $100 million, 12A version of the story:
However, these are mere niggles compared to the film’s fatal flaw: perspective. Who’s telling us this story? The answer, of course, should be Susie Salmon, and at points, we hear some of the book’s first-person narration as voiceover, including the well-known opening – ‘My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on
There are good points. Saoirse Ronan is a compelling presence as Susie Salmon, especially as she must have been acting alone and against a green screen for much of the shoot, and both her and the film are strong at capturing her burgeoning attraction to her schoolmate Ray (Reece Ritchie), a hint of adult sexuality cut short by tragedy. Stanley Tucci is creepy as Mr Harvey (even if he resembles a million movie paedophiles), and
I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: I was quite a bit more excited about the prospect of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones being made into a movie when Lynne Ramsay, the Scottish visionary behind Ratcatcher and the spectacular Morvern Callar, was attached to said adaptation. Not excited enough to go out and read the novel, which is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, the victim of a horrific rape and murder. I did wonder if Ramsay would jettison the book's first-person narration, as she did with Morvern Callar, also an adaptation of a novel, and find a new way to tell the story. I wondered quite a few things. And then, for reasons never made fully clear in the trades, at least to my knowledge, Ramsay was off the project, replaced by writer/director Peter Jackson and longtime partner and co-writer Fran Walsh, and longtime co-writer Philippa Boyens. At first I rather resented this, not least because it likely meant that I was going to wait that much longer for the next Lynne Ramsay film. (Morvern Callar came out in 2002; Ramsay, it appears, is currently preparing to shoot We Need To Talk About Kevin.) As my investment in the actual source material was minimal, I didn't feel much beyond that, except, you know: Peter Jackson, whose sensibility I like and whose films a largely admire, was going to direct it, and so I was probably going to want to see it on some level. Had a studio handed it over to Joel Schumacher we wouldn't be having this conversation.
And so, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, a film I found, well, enormously frustrating. I was not put off by the elaborate CGI visuals that many viewers of the film take to depict "Heaven" (and as a matter of fact, they don't depict Heaven, which you'll understand if you're paying attention; Jackson addresses the issue very diplomatically in the above-mentioned user-driven interview I conducted with him for The Auteurs' Notebook); and I don't think that it looks too much like What Dreams May Come, or some such—have you seen What Dreams May Come lately? Totally different thing, and bad.
No, my frustration stems from the picture's thoroughly inconsistent tone,
the way it can grab you by the throat one minute and make you throw up your
hands the next. A picture that can cut from a searing depiction of a father's
grief to a goofy montage of his tipsy mom moving in to "help," scored
to the tune of The Hollies' "Long Cool Woman," to cite the one
instance that doesn't involve dropping a major plot spoiler. The
sore-thumb-like lapse in judgment is not an entirely new feature for Jackson;
remember the depiction of the Skull Island natives in his King Kong,
or the ill-advised soft-show with which Naomi Watts entertains the titular lug
in that film? (Although
First, it's a fantasy/thriller, and as the film depicts Susie's awful death,
and how she sees her killer from the afterlife getting away with murder, the
thriller aspect here is particularly ferocious. Bones also wants to be
an intimate portrait of how a family heals, or doesn't heal, in the wake of
such a terrible trauma. And a little of it wants to be an affectionate
half-sendup of the American '70s. And of course there's no reason this film
can't be all three. But
And more I cannot say, without giving away major parts of the film's storyline. I will note that I had many of what I call "Deuce" moments watching the film; that is, times when I felt like yelling something up at the screen. Not in a good, excited way, like "Get out of that vent you stupid motherfucker the demon is crawling right up your ass," knowing all the while that the demon's gonna catch up with whoever anyway; but in a bad, irritated way, like "What the hell is wrong with you people why aren't you calling the goddamn police RIGHT NOW!" Of course you can't do that in a screening room. After the picture's been out for a while maybe we can get into it, and we can get into my...wait for it...philosophical objection to the film, too.
Before I go, though, a word about Brian Eno's score. Again, I am frustrated, and I'm a big Eno fan. Actually, I'm frustrated on account of being a big Eno fan; viewers who aren't familiar with the guy's work are simply not going to have this problem. Which is: about one-third of the score (at least) is adapted, mashed-up, or remixed from previously-released Eno work from the '70s. Mostly. Which meant that during crucial stretches of the picture, this viewer, and a colleague who's also similarly knowledgeable, were sucked into a game of "Name That Brian Eno Tune" for much of the movie. You're supposed to be galvanized, emotionally fraught, by some on-screen violence, and instead you're thinking, "Interesting how he staggered the intro to Robert Fripp's guitar solo on 'Baby's On Fire' so that the most frenzied part would hit just as [name redacted] is getting whalloped with a baseball bat..." But as I said, the majority of viewers won't have this problem, and nice for them.
Slant Magazine review Ed Gonzalez
Addictive Thoughts John
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
Lovely Bones" trailer gives us a glimpse of heaven ... Dorothy Snarker from After Ellen,
Gerald Peary - interviews - Lynne Ramsay April, 2003
Lynne: People quote your films at parties. Mike: Those are lousy ... Oscar contender Mike Leigh and Lynne Ramsay talk about what works on screen - and what doesn't, by Leo Benedictus from The Guardian, February 4, 2005
Entertainment Weekly review [C+] Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Hollywood Reporter review Kirk Honeycutt
Lovely Bones attracts most complaints in 2010 Ben Child from The Guardian,
Austin Chronicle review [1.5/5] Marjorie Baumgarten
The director is the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, but zeroes in on a fairly likeable Sundance indie feel with this film about a teenage social outcast Terri (Jacob Wysocki) who is continually teased about his enormous size. Little is made of the fact that he also wears pajamas around town (“because they fit”) as well as to public high school without anyone raising objection, which by itself suggests a certain tolerance for the character, which just doesn’t have the feel of credibility, as kids themselves would likely raise an uproar about broadening the acceptable dress code standards for one kid while adults would be sending him off to see the shrink. Instead the film focuses in on his gently attentive daily routines, where he lives with his eccentric and senile uncle, Uncle James (Creed Bratton), who has an extensive collection of books and old record albums, occasionally showing the clarity to impressively play the piano, much to the delight of Terri, who is something of a quiet recluse himself, used to taking care of him, making sure he takes his medicine, watching his moods and his behavior so he doesn’t do something he’ll regret, and also putting him to bed at night. His uncle is friendly enough, but has a tendency to easily forget things. With the film opening on their morning routine, making sure his uncle has what he needs before he sets out for school, it’s easy to see why Terri has a history of arriving late, which gets him sent to the Principal’s office, none other than the always offbeat John C. Reilly as Mr. Fitzgerald, who welcomes him as a buddy, suggesting they meet regularly just to see how things are going.
With Mr. Fitzgerald, one is never sure who’s weirder, him or the misfit kids that are sent to see him, which includes Terri, though he soon comes to question why he has been included with this group of outcasts. Fitzgerald appears to be sincere, but he is clearly unlike other school authority figures who would just as soon banish Terri from their classrooms or gymnasiums than have to look at him, as his unmotivated mild manner and seeming disinterest in school alarms them, as they think he’s just a big fat oaf, not bothering to see beyond that blank expression on his face. Terri is unusually clever, however, as he spends much of his time observing others as they continually try to annoy him or ignore him, developing a kind of third eye, sensing what’s going on around him even as he withdraws socially. What’s soon apparent is how the film quietly becomes fascinated exclusively with unconventional characters, where outsiderism becomes the norm, as there are few glimpses of anything resembling mainstream behavior. Instead what we see touches on the bizarre without ever actually going there, never fully exploring the ramifications. Outside of Terri, few other characters are fully explored, including Fitzgerald, as they are only seen within the context of their relations with Terri. One of the other misfit kids, Chad (Bridger Zadina), an angry kid who continually pulls his own hair out and is likely to do just about anything, having no cautionary feelings, attempts to befriend Terri, but the closeness catches him offguard and comes as something of a surprise, like why me? —something he’s perhaps not expecting or even ready for yet.
The heart of the film changes when Terri observes an attractive girl, Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), being taken advantage of sexually by a boy appropriately enough named Dirty Jack (Justin Prentice) during Home Economics, which quickly becomes the subject of unstoppable school rumors, where the girl is about to be expelled from school until Terri speaks up to the Principal, claiming it happened against her wishes, changing the entire perspective of the event. This sequence also changes the tone of the film, as the focus is finally on someone other than Terri, as the entire student body turns against the girl, except Terri, becoming even more ostracized than the previously identified group of misfits. This leads to a friendship, of sorts, which only proceeds in the most offbeat path imaginable, where for a moment, Terri, Heather, and Chad become a psychologically demented, John Hughes style BREAKFAST CLUB (1985), where they have to decide what to do when they have too much time on their hands. One thing is for certain, and that is the languid pace of Terri’s unhurried life, which allows this film to develop slowly, accumulating pertinent details and developing character traits, all of which combine to paint an unusual portrait of teenage alienation when seen under this probing miscroscopic scrutiny, where life on the edges stops feeling so miserablist and alone, where shared experiences, even the most atypical and bizarre, make these kids feel less like the monsters they have been portrayed as and more like something closer to their own skin. This film, perhaps overly optimistic and upbeat, has a way of taking the teenage spirit of rebellion and insurrection and somehow offering it a safe place in this world, where, in reality, one is not so assured that safe havens like this exist outside the realm of the imagination.
Review: Terri - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Gerald Peary
He's gawky, obese, and neither charming nor funny, so why would we want to spend a whole movie with Terri (Jacob Wysocki), an unpopular high-schooler who annoys the teachers with his lateness and lethargy? Credit indie director Azazel Jacobs for building a case for Terri, so that — without manipulation or sentimentality — we begin to appreciate the clumsy lad at the same time that he starts to shed his self-loathing. Maybe the respect begins with our enjoyment of Terri's wardrobe, a different pair of pajamas for every day of class. And we are warmed by Terri's weird friendship with his school's deeply out-to-lunch assistant principal (a superbly fruitcake John C. Reilly). Finally, Jacobs and co-screenwriter Patrick Dewitt manage the impossible, getting Terri involved, sort of, with the perkiest girl at school (Olivia Crocicchia). Terri is subtle, sweet, and eccentric, and marks Jacobs, who earlier succeeded with Mama's Man (2008), as an independent filmmaker of formidable talent.
interview with the director from
Azazel Jacobs’ profile has grown steadily since he made his striking, black-and-white debut feature, Nobody Needs to Know, in 2003. He followed it in 2005 with the delightfully quirky and inventive The GoodTimesKid, a film which found a devoted audience on the film festival circuit and was eventually released theatrically in 2007. Jacobs’ third feature, Momma’s Man, a poignant tale of adult regression into childhood, had its world premiere at Sundance. It became one of the hits of the 2008 festival, and played in theaters later that year to universal acclaim.
Jacobs, the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, grew up in
Azazel Jacobs' higher budget, much more conventionally polished follow-up to his 2008 Sundance hit Momma's Man, Jacob Wysocki stars as Terri, a fat kid loner who lives with his mildly mentally ill uncle and lumbers off to school wearing pajamas to school every day.
Chronically tardy and harassed by the other
kids for his "double ds," Terri is embraced as a problem case by his
high school's assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reily), who has
problems of his own. When Mr. Fitzgerald asks Terri to meet with him every
Monday, the grown-up bills it as a friendly gesture--"What's weird about
two guys sitting down, sharing snacks and shooting the shit?"
But Terri soon realizes that he's one of a half dozen other misfits who meet with the adult weekly, and that since the others are either physically deformed or obviously crazy, the tap from Fitzgerald only confirms that Terri is "part of a group of ... monsters."
Humanistic without being moralistic, and very funny, Terri is a measured, observational examination of the stratification of teenage loser-dom. It sketches out the steep learning curve of high school, in which the playing field between a mean-spirited burnout and a sweet kid who simply doesn't fit in is leveled with a single incident, and a lapse in self confidence can plunge a would-be mistress of the universe several levels down into the freakiverse. At the same time, Terri bitter-comically reveals that the disciplinary structure of teenage life is a farce compared to the muddled, endless purgatory of adulthood.
Its climax, a glorious extended three-hander in which Terri, his love interest and a frenemy get wasted and confront their basest impulses, is perfectly modulated. The kind of scene that would be played for nihilist shock in a typical Amerindie, Jacobs stages it to reveal depths, layers, and vulnerabilities to characters who couldn't reveal their vulnerabilities until forced by intoxicants. Crowd pleasing without being pandering, Terri above all else feels true.
Film Comment [Amy Taubin] at Sundance
Letters wasn’t the only movie where an enchanted
forest provided refuge for an outsider. In Azazel Jacobs’s Terri,
a shy, overweight adolescent (Jacob Wysocki) leaves the ramshackle house that
he shares with his only caring relative, an uncle in the early stages of
dementia, and walks to school through a wooded glen that we see though his eyes
as a place where he can lose his self-consciousness and even feel empowered. As
he pauses on a ridge to look down on the high school sports field, we know he
is trying to marshal the strength he gained from his brief idyll so that he can
face yet another day of not being accepted by a pitiless teenage hierarchy.
Working with a beautifully observed script by Patrick deWitt, perfectly pitched
between comedy and pathos, Jacobs makes the silence around dialogue come alive
through the gestures and gazes of his marvelously understated actors
and the way subtle changes in light can illuminate not only the outside
world but a shift in the inner life of the person on whom it falls. (Tobias
Datum’s 35mm cinematography is outstanding.) Neither sentimental nor
exploitative, Terri depicts high school as a place where, as the
assistant principal (John C. Reilly) explains, Terri has the opportunity to
come to terms with the fact that “life is a mess, dude, but we are all just
doing the best we can.” Terri bonds with this unusually honest adult and with
two other students who are also receiving counseling: anxiety-ridden
Jacobs made such brilliant use of concrete autobiographical materials in his previous feature, Momma’s Man, that one wondered if he could let go of the mother-lode. But Terri is every bit as personal to Jacobs’s filmmaking voice.
Filmcritic.com Chris Cabin
It is not unfair to look upon the story being told in Azazel
Jacobs's new film Terri on paper and groan heavily -- if not tear off
your clothes, curl up in a fetal position, and cry from sheer exhaustion. The
39-year-old Jacobs's sixth film concerns the titular overweight outsider (Jacob
Wysocki) as he is taken under wing by his friendly, odd, and oddly honest vice
principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (the great John C. Reilly), following a string of
homeroom tardies and general anti-social behavior. His home life with his
dementia-ridden uncle (Creed Bratton of The Office) is weird, to say the
least; he has a crush on a popular, damaged but essentially kind-hearted girl,
Heather (Olivia Crocicchia); the only people he could possibly call his friends
are Chad (Bridger Zadina), an outlandish deviant suffering from
trichotillomania, and Mr. Fitzgerald. The funk of presaged, quirk-heavy
familiarity is enough to make one pass out -- which makes Jacobs's sublime
triumph all the more surprising and riveting. This is a clear sign of a major
film artist breaking through the chrysalis.
Jacobs himself has spoken of the film as a break from the personal storytelling of his previous feature, the superb Momma's Man, though it doesn't seem that this has affected his highly intimate style. Even so, it's hard not to see the significance of Terri's jolly, energetic stroll through the woods in the morning, freed from the cluttered environs of his uncle's house, which is something like the loft the "hero" of Momma's Man shared with his parents transplanted to a
Jacobs embeds his film with pathos which blends beautifully with the film's robust humor, which can be attributed to both Patrick deWitt's witty, nuanced screenplay (based on his own short stories) and Jacobs's deft work with his talented cast. The humor derives from the inherent innocence and gentleness of our lumbering hero, contrasted against the cynicism, wisdom, hormones, and discipline he encounters at school. Heather's near-immediate fall from grace, precipitated by her willingness to get fingered publicly by a boy in home economics, is followed immediately by a scene in which the boy holds out his still-moist fingers for Terri to sniff. The scene is inherently raunchy, but Jacobs handles it with a sense of sincere discovery that befits the tenderness that Terri exudes. It's the same tenderness that everyone but Terri withholds from Heather when she returns to school and is essential to the friendship that blossoms between the two outcasts and, to a lesser extent, between Terri and
What is perhaps most striking about Jacobs's film is how perfectly he pitches it between waking life and real life, with Terri as his oversized Little Nemo and the dreadful age of maturity galloping towards him like a wild, haunted steed. The death of Mr. Fitzgerald's secretary, for example, begets a stirring speech about the small horrors and mediocre triumphs of adulthood, which Reilly delivers with his patented shaggy dog honesty. It's told by a man who has been disappointed by life, but the essential message is that of understanding, of doing your own thing while trying to tolerate what other people do.
Terri's relationships with Heather and
REVIEW: Terri Is More Than Just Another Fat-Kid Movie | Movieline Stephanie Zacharek
Terri : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical Jason Bailey
notcoming.com | Terri Katherine Follett
indieWIRE [Eric Kohn] at Sundance
Terri Review | "Angus" with a Side of Cruel, Brutal Truth | Pajiba ... Dustin Rowles from Pajiba
'Terri' Review | Screen Rant Kofi Outlaw
Film School Rejects [Robert Levin] at Sundance
Terri - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
HitFix [Daniel Fienberg] at Sundance
Terri | Film | Movie Review
| The A.V. Club Noel
Review: 'Terri' | KPBS.org Beth Accomando
2011. Azazel Jacobs's "Terri"
David Hudson at Sundance from Mubi,
Nick Dawson interview with the director from Filmmaker magazine, January 18, 2011
'Terri' review: a fresh adolescent misfit film - SFGate Walter Addiego
Terri Review | 'Terri': Review - Los Angeles Times Betsy Sharkey
Review - 'Terri' - 'Terri,' Directed by Azazel Jacobs ... A.O. Scott from The New York Times,
with Ken Jacobs, Film Artist 5-part
series by Harry Kreisler,
Jacobs, Ken They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
This special edition of Jacobs' classic work Tom Tom the
Piper's Son includes the two-hour film, which is recognized as a
structuralist masterpiece, as well as A Tom Tom Chaser (2002), Jacobs'
never-before-seen poetic riff on the transformation of his film from chemical
to electronic form during the telecine process.
Writes David Schwartz of the
Ken Jacobs writes: "Ghosts! Cine-recordings of the vivacious doings of persons long dead... I wanted to 'bring to the surface' that multi-rhythmic collision-contesting of dark and light two-dimensional force areas struggling edge to edge for identity of shape... to get into the amoebic grain pattern itself - a chemical dispersion pattern unique to each frame, each cold still... stirred to life by a successive 16-24 frame-per-second pattering on our retinas, the teeming energies elicited (the grains! the grains!) then collaborating, unknowingly and ironically, to form the always-poignant-because-always-past illusion. A movie about penetration to the sublime, to the infinite..."
The VHS (or 1/2") format editions also include a 214-page bilingual book. The publication is a special "Tom Tom" issue of Exploding, the French magazine of analysis in film experimentation, and includes articles by Xavier Baert, Nicole Brenez, Frédérique Devaux, Vincent Deville, Ken Jacobs, Emeric de Lastens, Loïg Le Bihan, Stéfani de Loppinot, Christophe Passemard, Emmanuel Siety.
I must confess; when I saw this legendary avant-garde
experiment in 1972, in some weirdo hippie church in
Thirty-odd years later, my aesthetic taste veers dangerously close to certain aspects of Jacob's work, and I see how brilliant, unique and revolutionary this film is. Jacobs turned me on to a radical new perspective that I wasn't ready to embrace until years later, as if he had planted an intellectual seed which took, in my case anyway, a long time to germinate. Better late than never!
By dissecting an old film, one not only explores and comments on it, one threatens to annihilate it. Jacobs eschewed the narrative structure of the old silent cinema by replacing it with the shockingly nihilistic uber-structure of post-modernism. This wildly revisionist exercise has the power to rewrite history itself, symbolized here by a simple children's yarn turned into sheer aesthetic mayhem. Brilliant, disturbing, frustrating, even frightening, Jacobs challenged the structure, indeed the very essence of the filmic experience as a fictional temporal reality, by deconstructing it with extreme prejudice. The results, although unnerving in the extreme, are revelatory.
User reviews Author: from United States
All in all, I thought this movie was fantastic. The plot
grabs you from the beginning and never lets go. I was expecting the movie to
deal with the daily rigors of life as a cop named 'Keaton', but the director
really took it in a different direction.
Helen Ackerman turns in an exceptional performance as the crying lady. She deserves her own starring role in a major
Kenny Freed loves the movie 'Waiting', not because it was funny, but because it gives him many opportunities to stare at guys' balls. He likes that.
The cinema of Ken Jacobs is most importantly about experiencing light, shadow, and motion on the screen, as stunning phenomena which don't require a "story" or a "plot" to thrill. "Opening the Nineteenth Century: 1896" is a Jacobs piece comprised of an 1896 tracking shot from a European train window, shot by the Lumiere brothers. In re-presenting this film, Jacobs distributes light-polarizing filters on wands, which audience members are asked to hold over one eye, then the other, and back again. This filter takes the "flat" information on the screen and imbues it with astonishing multi-planar depth. Trees, buildings, telegraph wires, all move horizontally across the screen in recessed space, all at different rates and in different three-dimensional spaces. The filter allows us to see this film in ways unimaginable to its makers. As Jacobs said at the conclusion of his presentation, "There it is, folks, 3D, 1896."
Having first seen In Praise of Love in
No less than his acerbic Swiss contemporary, Jacobs is a cine-philosopher whose continually innovative and richly eccentric movies mix heady formalism with deeply intuited film-historical and social concerns. Circling Zero is less focused on the attack than its aftermath. Jacobs, who lives on Chambers Street (formerly in the shadow, literally, of the Trades), was out of town the day the buildings fell, and much of Circling Zero concerns his and his wife Flo's attempt to slip past the police barricades that marked the militarized forbidden zone and re-enter their loft. (Amazingly, they get through. Pasted on a neighbor's door is the scrawled note, "I Just Started Walking North.")
Jacobs interpolates some footage of the WTC aflame that was
shot by his daughter Nisi from the building's roof. It's striking to note how
many other people are up on their roofs similarly documenting the unfolding
disaster. (One result is the real-time WTC Uncut, screening at AMMI
September 11.) Circling Zero is intensely personal—in visual terms, it's
totally first-person—but it's also a portrait of the body politic. The crowds
of cops, volunteers, vendors, and tourists that circle the absence are as
organic as antibodies surrounding a wound. The tape's last half explores
another fact of nature: the
[At the Q&A following this multimedia performance (film and video sequences along with Nervous System light objects), Jacobs noted that in his recent formal explorations, he's been increasingly interested in velocity. How can you generate effects by making abstract forms move in space? To be honest, the forms didn't seem to be hurtling by that quickly, but I will say that my mind was definitely lagging behind my eyes and ears, so perhaps Ramble's speed-demon intent impressed itself on my body. I always want to be more eloquent when addressing Jacobs' Nervous System works, for a number of not-very-original reasons. For one thing, these pieces move me more than just about any ongoing series of film explorations. I tend to sit before them in a state of slack-jawed amazement, a sort of "oh, fuuuuuuuck" disbelief in what I am witnessing. So when work is this enthralling, I would like to have something at least nominally intelligent to say about it. For another thing, not many people write about this work, and the reasons given are usually some variations of the same basic copout -- they are so abstract, so visceral in their impact, they defy description. But I think maybe we're just not trying hard enough. So here goes. Ahem.]
Interstellar Lower East Side Ramble consists of a
halting amalgam of four distinct components. The two non-Nervous System
elements are projections of single-channel film works that, if you will, "interrupt"
the main action of the other two components, the Nervous System "magic
lantern" play and a phenomenal (in both senses -- wonderful and physically
bone-rattling) electronic score performed live by Ikue Mori and John Zorn. If
you've seen Jacobs' recent video completion of Star Spangled to Death,
certain "remixed" portions of that piece will be familiar as they
reappear here. There are moments of
One of the last surviving giants of avant garde American cinema, Ken Jacobs spent 50 years assembling this six-hour epic video commentary on a half century of US mischief, mistakes and occasional downright madness. This found-footage feast of cartoons, information films, documentaries and musicals, given fresh context and impact when threaded with Jacobs' own sequences. Primarily from street-level late '50s NYC, these chart the emergence of a new cinema, society and way of being. It's a panoramic vision of a country's schizophrenic stumbling towards this delirious now. Moments to savour include a pre-presidential Nixon seeking the modest man's vote with a telling lift from Abe Lincoln: 'God must have loved the common people, he made so many of them.'
Finished—or perhaps abandoned—after nearly half a century of work, Ken Jacobs's monumental, monstrous Star Spangled to Death receives its first ever theatrical run this week at Anthology Film Archives. The movie is a six-hour assemblage of found audio-visual material ranging from political campaign films to animated cartoons to children's phonograph records, interwoven with gloriously eccentric original footage shot mainly on the streets (and in the dumps) of late-'50s New York.
Do these underdog antics gloss the evidence Jacobs has
gathered? Or is it vice versa? The movie is a vast, ironic pageant of
20th-century American history and consciousness. Fantastic street theater
alternates with classroom hygiene films or dated studies of behavioral
modification; Jacobs's performers, notably the young Jack Smith, hobnob with
Mickey Mouse, Al Jolson, and American presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to
George W. Bush. Obsession overflows as Jacobs's private mythology and outspoken
cultural criticism merge with relentless documentation of
Jacobs has availed himself of advancing technology by adding
all manner of annotation, some even subliminal. As a work of art, Star
Spangled to Death has as much in common with the
The Village Voice [J. Hoberman] October 2003
The ultimate underground movie, Star Spangled to Death, Ken Jacobs's epic, bargain-basement assemblage, annotates a lyrical junkyard allegory with chunks of mainly '30s American movies—or is it the other way around?
When Parker Tyler identified the cinematic desire to "provide a documentary showcase for the underdog's spontaneous, uncontrolled fantasy," he was surely thinking of Jacobs's desperately beautiful immersion in childish behavior and political despair. Jacobs began shooting Star Spangled in the late '50s, and the movie has become his life's work. Over the years, he's screened it in various versions—for the 1976 Bicentennial as Flop, heavily Reaganized in 1984, and a few years later for his AMMI retro. The movie has always been "too long," but this six-hour, possibly definitive, version, showing at the New York Film Festival, adds even more found footage—including a 30-minute prologue drawn from a documentary of Osa and Martin Johnson in Africa—while updating sections with references to the war in Iraq.
Jacobs alternates between marshaling evidence and showcasing
manic performance. The young Jack Smith appears variously as a sheikh, a
matador, a bishop, and an odalisque. Smith is fearless in making a public
spectacle of himself. Repeatedly mixing it up with his environment—erupting on
the Bowery in gauze-festooned splendor or materializing on St. Marks Place with
a paper-bag crown and brandishing a mop—he provides a constant Feuillade
effect, introducing wild fantasy into the sooty neorealism of '50s New York.
Jacobs provides him with a foil—an emaciated piece of human wreckage, Jerry
Sims, typically seen amid the creepy clutter of his
Jacobs uses movies throughout—a Warners short made to publicize the NRA; an early, scummy Mickey Mouse cartoon; an excerpt from Kid Millions in which Eddie Cantor opens a "free" ice-cream factory—to ground the action in Depression flashbacks. This found material, often layered with added sound, allows Jacobs to brood on human programming, military triumphalism, and—most insistently—American racism. There's a devastating progression from a virtual Nazi-toon version of Uncle Tom's Cabin through Al Jolson's infamous "Going to Heaven on a Mule" and an excerpt from Oscar Micheaux's God's Step Children to Khalid Muhammad's speech in praise of LIRR gunman Colin Ferguson. The Holocaust figures here as well—although Jacobs ultimately apologizes for typecasting the outcast Sims as suffering ghetto Jew.
Although the movie's collage structure is designed to boggle the mind, individual shots can be breathtaking. Jacobs's dynamic compositions use mirrors, scrims, and random debris in a manner anticipating Smith's Flaming Creatures. (Indeed, shown as performance, Star Spangled to Death provided the model for Smith's own unfinished epics—particularly No President.) In the end, the movie turns mournfully self-reflexive. With its intimations of aesthetic utopia amid the rubble of social collapse, this is a tragic meditation on what Jean-Luc Godard called "the film of history."
Star Spangled to Death Ken Jacobs’s own comments about his film from Cinematexas
New York Times (registration req'd) Dave Kehr
Ken Jacobs spends almost ninety minutes digitally taking
apart and exploring A.C. Abadie’s 1903 short for the Edison company Razzle
Dazzle in as many ways as one can imagine only to reach the conclusion that
there are nearly an infinite amount of details of motion, distortion, horror,
surprise, and secrets in any given amount of moving film. Abadie’s single-shot
short is of a fairground ride that is a gigantic suspended circle, upon which
ride mostly children and some adults, and is spun and tilted around and around
by men pushing the orbital ring. The oscillation of the ring as it approaches
the camera and recedes gives an almost three dimensional sense of space to the
film, one which Jacobs becomes fascinated with. He juxtaposes the false sense
of dimensionality of this short with stereopticon photographs (the ones where
binoculars combine two images taken adjacently to produce an optical illusion
of three-dimensionality) which he cleverly edits together, cutting rapidly back
and forth between the two images so that they appear animated. Coupled with
additional digital warping (the entire film is digitally made, processed, and
projected) makes these “still” photographs almost look like the camera is
moving around a three dimensional object, unlike the clips of Razzle Dazzle
which for all its false dimensions is but a flat projection. Meanwhile,
Abadie’s short is being endlessly explored: for the most part changing the
color scheme to a bleeding red, white and black, Jacobs deeply zooms in,
stutters motion, slows it down, performs picture in picture, overlaps the
footage with slower or faster footage, and so on. As in Lars von Trier’s
excerpts and remakes of Jørgen Leth’s short in The Five Obstructions we
never see the source material in its original form all the way through, though
a tantalizing glimpse of unaltered, unzoomed footage about fifteen minutes in
becomes an unexpected physical relief on the eyes. All the manipulations find
unique elements inside what seems like the limited motion and content of
Abadie’s beautiful but simple film, everything from miniscule human gestures to
abstractions of shapes and movement beyond recognition. These often tilt
towards the horrific; zoomed in so far, the colors saturated and warped, and
the footage slowed down to grotesque levels of distortion, often times the
human faces seem to melt, the eyes turning hollow and ghastly very much like a
nightmarish Edvard Munch character. These silent, screaming figures that seem
to erupt from the footage or more likely lurk beneath its surface gaiety are
reflected in the turn the film takes in its last third, moving most overtly
away from all the varied and repeated manipulation of Razzle Dazzle and
moving towards a montage of the stereopticon images, almost all dealing with
war (specifically the Spanish-American war of this proto-cinematic era), the
soundtrack quoting Edison’s “first” recording of his voice in giving his
support to what sounds like American intervention into World War I, and a final
use of the three dimension effect to bubble out a pile of skulls as eerie and
undercutting as Holbein’s implicitly referenced optical illusion in The
To what end is all this? It is not clear; the film’s burrowing absorption with Abadie’s short and experimentation with digital manipulation (much of it inspired, some of it unfortunately baring the marks of someone not used to the conventions of computer imagery—some of the three dimensional uses Abadie’s short with spheres, squares, and receding imagery looks awkward and dated) is indeed alarmingly painful, exhilarating, tiresome, revelatory, rhythmic, and fascinating in and of itself, as much about film texture (and the digital texture of film) as it is about Abadie’s specific photographic content. The connection with the optical view of the life inside the film with its digital manipulation, and its comparison to the more surreally paradoxical “still lives” from stereopticons, unreally animated into partial movement, lightly touches on phenomenological questions about cinema as a medium. There is a strange gap in the idea and perception that the still images, taking place over space (next to one another) cognitively approximate real life better than the two-dimensional Razzle Dazzle. Yet Abadie’s short, taking place over time, provides real movement that can only be simulated in Jacob’s manipulation of the stereopticon (just like the 3D effect of the short is likewise only approximated digitally). And it seems like it is movement in time rather than space that is most interesting overall, as Razzle Dazzle seems to provide an immense catalog of details and moments that the stereopticon lacks in its powerful spatial “thereness”. Yet it is these latter images that call into question most directly and literally the state of the world, both around the time of their creation and now, during another imperialist state of war. This theme’s connection to the
2007 New York Film Festival "Views from the Avant-Garde" Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
Much of Jacobs' recent post-Star Spangled to Death output has consisted of his finding new and unique ways of employing video to create permanent versions of the 2D / 3D pulse-and-flicker film-performances known as the Nervous System. Although the rate of flicker is different, and Jacobs has a slightly altered set of tricks at his disposal when sitting down to the editing console, video has served him well. The hypnotic, deeply physical character of the Nervous System has carried over, even if the specific quality of light and shadow is less tangible. However in many if not most of these new works, Jacobs is examining a concrete artifact of visual culture -- an early movie, a stereoscope card, a set of photos -- and this lends significant optical weight to the pieces in question. Surging Sea of Humanity is a fine example of this work. In it, Jacobs uses digital superimpositions, kaleidoscopic reverb and flange, and differential focus to take us around an image of a late 19th century crowd gathered at the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. Jacobs shatters the picture but always brings it back together with a tunnel-like focus on a single individual from the crowd, as though both the orthogonals of the image and the crowd itself were organizing and reorganizing itself around a single body. In time, figures becomes paneled excerpts which strobe and flicker, and the two parallax views of the stereoscope are presented in rapid succession, giving the visual field a 3D, hologrammatic feel. But Jacobs' continual realignment of "the mass" around shifting individual souls hints at a social theory, a radical democracy of both the image and the public sphere. Surging Sea provides a glimpse of how we might act collectively without sacrificing our subjectivities to the mob.
Dreams That Money Can't Buy Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
In all fairness, this is the sixth Nervous System-derived performance work I've seen, and while every single one of them entails dazzling effects and visceral thrills you will never find anywhere -- Jacobs is an American master in every meaningful sense of the word --, Dreams was the first that struck me as uneven and rather murky in its overall structure. One way through the piece, a productive one that offers some concepts without minimizing the pure phenomenology of the work itself, is to recall that Jacobs has dedicated Dreams to Phil Solomon. The performance has concrete correspondence to Solomon's work, particularly the thick, hovering tactility of his work in celluloid. Jacobs' work here produced fewer individual forms across time, instead opting for craggy sheets of visual material that allude to the surfaces of Solomon's films while also momentarily solidifying into semi-objects. Dreams is the most purely abstract Magic Lantern work I've seen from Jacobs, and it makes perfect sense here -- Jacobs is performing (no firm object or residue) and producing effects, not forms (nothing much to "apprehend" in an acquisitive, vicarious-ownership kind of way). As one might expect, the results are somewhat inconsistent across time, and Reed's soundtrack reflects this. It's more a series of musical snippets that a symphonic work, per se. All in all, Dreams is usually lovely, and often a dark, shimmering world in which it's a pleasure to lose oneself.
Nov Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
When confronted with experimental film or video, it's not an uncommon response for viewers to find themselves at a loss for words. This typically hasn't been a problem for me; in fact, I'd tend to say I throw rather too much verbiage at the avant-garde films I love. But for weeks now, I've been at a bit of a loss for just how to grapple with Ken Jacobs's Capitalism: Slavery, a videowork of deceptive simplicity. Like many of his recent videos, Capitalism: Slavery is a transcription of certain procedures Jacobs has adapted from his Nervous System performances. In this case, he has taken a stereoscope image of slaves in a field picking cotton, with a white overseer monitoring them on horseback, and zeroed in one certain portions of the image. Furthermore, he has once again chosen to alternate rapidly between the two parallax views, resulting in a twisting, pulsating 3D force field in which the image "moves" but does not progress. I have now seen this three-minute video three times, and only this time do I really feel prepared to comment on it in any substantive way.
The piece is quite remarkable, in part because its rather straightforward presentation of an emotionally volatile historical fact slowly reveals itself as a far more complex, more plangent work of art -- a silent threnody, if you will. At first I couldn't get past the content of what I was seeing -- the visual record of one of the most unfathomable injustices in human history. What's more, Jacobs's pairing of the piece with the longer Capitalism: Child Labor makes a larger, crucial political point, that our present New Gilded Age, and all wealth amassed since the foundation of the American nation, is borne on the backs of the oppressed, a ledger forever stamped in blood. No reparation, no monument, and no day of remembrance can change this. But Jacobs's video actually accomplishes something more. In the opening shot, we see a young woman, scarf-covered head down, in the airy, entwined tendrils of the cotton field. She is lovely, and in any other context her pose and poise would make her a candidate for immortalization by Vermeer. At this split second of the camera's click, her misery has accidentally assumed a classical pose. Jacobs allows us to admire her beauty and her dignity, and then slowly he reintroduces her surroundings -- the cotton field, the other slaves, the slavedriver. Near the middle of the film, Jacobs again isolates individuals, allowing them to come forth in their individual radiance and singularity before they are, in essence, forced to return to "the field" of visual generality. As with his other recent works, Jacobs has found abstract aesthetic means to promote a rigorous intellectual program that asks nothing less than a reimagining of our social relations. Like those earnest pamphleteers who tell us next to nothing, all he asks is a few minutes of your time. The rewards are immeasurable.
Pushcarts of Eternity Street Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
In his brief comments before the screening, Jacobs (tongue presumably in cheek) noted that since "everything is futile," he had given up on grand endeavors and was (temporarily?) restricting himself to "small gestures." I suppose this makes a lot of sense after spending decades completing Star Spangled to Death, a film so trenchant and anarchically righteous that should have brought about instant regime change. Working in an entirely different vein, Pushcarts is in every way a deliberately minor work, and although it is quiet and lovely, it is the sort of piece that might function more successfully as a gallery installation. Jacobs extends an early actualité of street vendors and their clientele milling about a city street, using video to introduce a periodic stutter into the footage. Naturally this allows us to see isolated gestures and fragments of the original film that, if it were moving at normal speed, we'd never notice. But Jacobs has been working with these strategies for quite some time, and Pushcarts is the first piece of his that seems limited in the spectatorial possibilities it could generate. From Tom, Tom through the Nervous System pieces, to say nothing of Jacobs' infamous pedagogical work with the analytical projector, there has been a trajectory of increased dispersal, "cinema" as an ever-expanding galaxy. Pushcarts, despite its beauty and built-in nostalgia, feels comparatively small -- not reductive, exactly, but certainly bounded tightly on all sides. The imagery flickers but doesn't lose its forms in abstraction. The stuttering advancement of the film is measured out, but no clear impact results from this structure. Jacobs asks us to see this short film with new eyes, but it would require a more expansive framework, or Jacobs himself at the podium, to really let the original film mutate into something new.
AUDIENCE OF ONE D- 52
When his overseas
adventure doesn’t work out, he sets up his film crew in an abandoned warehouse
on an island in the
Audience of One Andrea Gronvall from The Reader
Richard Gazowsky, pastor of San Franciso's Voice of Pentecost Church, saw his first movie at age 40 and, claiming a divine mandate to create "the greatest movie ever made," persuaded his small but loyal flock to pool their money and energies on what he described as a cross between Star Wars and The Ten Commandments. The flamboyant clergyman seems like an ideal target for cheap shots, but Michael Jacobs, who directed this rollicking 2007 documentary, treats him and his parishioners with compassion and restraint. Still, this is a chronicle of delusion and hubris: everything that can go wrong on a movie set does, from equipment failure to budget problems to disgruntled crew members who realize too late that Gazowsky's heavenly instructions don't include any pointers on directing. 89 min.
AUDIENCE OF ONE Facets Multi-Media
Near the end of the 20th Century, a Pentecostal pastor from San Francisco was praying on a mountain top, when he received a vision from God to "spread the Gospel through filmmaking." Using donations from his congregation, he slowly transformed his church into a fully functioning movie studio, and the production company Christian WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Filmworks was born. After experimenting on a number of small projects, Pastor Richard Gazowsky announced that he and his WYSIWYG crew were to begin production of the sci-fi epic, Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph – a biblical science fiction movie that would redefine the Hollywood epic! Audience of One chronicles a journey - from pre-production meetings in the church basement, to principal photography in Italy, to the leasing of a gigantic Bay Area studio –that would ultimately test the limits of everyone’s faith. Hilarious, provocative, and always entertaining, Audience of One, expertly documented by director Michael Jacobs, is a story of stupendous ambition, staggering inexperience and, ultimately, the sort of faith that few of us can muster for anything, much less a divinely ordained feature film in all its convoluted glory. Directed by Michael Jacobs, USA/Italy, 2007, 35mm, 88 mins.
San Francisco Pentecostal minister Richard Gazowsky received
word from God that he was to make a movie. Not just any movie, but an epic
science fiction, Biblical epic shot in 70mm, with a budget that eventually
swells past $100 million. Documentary filmmaker Michael Jacobs documents the
process, which -- to say the least -- goes slightly less well than Noah's
building the ark. The new documentary -- largely shot in my neighborhood --
breaks down into two main sections. We see all the planning, and all the aliens
and gizmos that Gazowsky dreams up for his movie, followed by a quick trip to
This film screened at the SXSW film
The film captured the incredibly bizarre story Reverend Richard Gazowsky's San Francisco-based
Despite persistence and dedication, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and are never able to come anywhere close to creating a real film. Audience of One is really a study of the meaning of fundamentalist faith and asks us where we should draw the line between reason/rationality and faith in God. Rational Modernists could view their actions as insane and irrational and wonder whether these people would actually "drink the Kool-Aid" if asked. The film is also a study of the power of charismatic leadership to make people act in ways that seem irrational to outsiders. Still, while their pursuit may seem wasteful and a little foolish it is ultimately fairly harmless compared to, for example, the Rev. Fred Phelps "God Hates Fags" ministry as portrayed in the brilliant documentary "Fall from Grace" (which also screened this year at SXSW).
Audience of One is a truly enjoyable film to watch. It is both humorous and sad at the same time. While Audience of One serves as a warning about the dangers of fundamentalism, it should also offer secular viewers people a useful window into the power of religious faith to inspire believers. Perhaps the real lesson is that faith is a powerful tool and if harnessed for the right means can actually inspire believers in many ways. Here the task that people are inspired to pursue is one that is beyond their means, but that should be contrasted with the vast amount of good deeds that is accomplished by religious believers on a daily basis. I hope that people don't take from this film only the message that faith is dangerous and destructive, but rather the message that faith needs to be balanced with rationality.
After the screening of Audience of One, much to the
surprise--nay, the horror--of viewers, Pastor Richard Gazowsky and some of his
congregation approached the stage with director Michael Jacobs. I, for one, had
my hand over my mouth; my eyes were widened; and I certainly didn't know what
to expect next.
But I'm getting ahead of myself--let's backtrack.
It took Gazowsky forty years to see his first feature film. Now the mission statement of his
Jacobs doesn't really interfere much, in this film. He simply sits back and watches the roller coaster that is WYSIWYG Filmworks. Throughout the documentary, we see a highly inexperienced crew, a director who treats the set as a dictatorship instead of a collaboration, and a train wreck of goofs, mix-ups and failures. Anyone outsourced--and with any experience--ends up leaving, due to the misguided creative vision of the wannabe director. The crew spends money they don't have, relying on "investors" we never see; who end up dropping the whole project in the grease. Yet, the troupe hold on to that crazy vision and pray like there's no tomorrow because they are bound by faith! Just about the entire film made me laugh out loud, but at the same time, I felt a little ill in my stomach. The real question here--despite all the buffoonery and delusion--seems to be of immense import: is all of this a tad bit dangerous? Going back to the Q&A session, after the film; one audience member asked the pastor if he'd immediately turn to operate, if God had asked him to be a surgeon. And while the pastor's answer is an obvious one, the question still lingers in the air. Is this man's ambitiousness capable of hurting others around him? I certainly don't doubt this man's determination or his conviction--he actually sold his house to help the project--however, I do have doubt in his ability to deliver. And while he may be blinded by his own ambition, it's simply no excuse to waste the hopes and aspirations--and money!--of true believers, on the weak foundation of a deluded dream. This problematic, cultish mentality might be funny from the outside; but as we've seen so many times over: fundamentalism can be a very dangerous thing.
The pastor's response to all of this?
"It's like watching yourself go to the toilet," he says with sincerity. "I don't like to see myself cry. I feel like a total idiot in front of you guys. But what if we end up getting funded, dude? Then I'm not so stupid. Maybe." Maybe. Or, perhaps you're just a charlatan, who's just wasted another large sum of money--and someone else's dreams--due to false promises, based on absurdity and lofty goals, impossible to meet.
Karate Party Steve McCleary
Audience of One is the documentary about Richard Gazowsky, pastor of the Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco (you know, the types of churches that tend to involve groups speaking in tongues and having dancing fits), and his belief that God spoke to him and told him to take his congregation on the path to creating the biggest Biblical epic in film history. It was to be entitled Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph and set in the future. This is the story of Pastor Richard and his goal that has shaped the life of his Church for the last ten years as they attempt to fight against all odds, with none bigger than their own naivety and ignorance. But then the question remains…is this any different than any other aspiring filmmaker?
This documentary is extremely fun to watch, although tinged
with sadness. If you remember the end of Borat, where he visited a
I’m a pretty big fan of documentaries like this one. And right from the get-go I think you already know whether there is any chance of you going to see it…if this type of thing doesn’t interest you then you're not going to go. If it does, the main questions are ‘will it be any good…will I be preached to…what angle is taken?’ Simply; yes, it’s a good one. And the pleasant thing about this filmmaker is that there is no preaching, or anti-religion message, from them. They remain completely neutral and you never get an idea for how they feel about the situation as it unfolds. That is a key point here, as you need an impartial eye to follow the Pastor and his dedicated flock, as well as follow the tales of the poor people taken along for a ride they never signed up for. Things, of course, are edited a certain way (as with all docos) to create a certain effect, but the events that take place are still things that actually happened. It’s a good job by all.
This is worth seeing for the bizarre people involved. From the poor actor (with no specific religious inclination-just looking for work) who gets trapped in their production, to the naming of their production company ‘WYSIWYG’ (What You See Is What You Get…catchy) to another main actor who I’m pretty certain is Tommy Chong’s illegitimate child. There is much humour and many awkward moments contained within for your viewing pleasure. And hey-you haven’t heard of this film taking the world by storm, so there’s an indication of how it all turns out...
Having seen a lot of these types of documentaries, ones about filmmaking and ones about religious groups, I found this quite entertaining and fascinating. I heartily recommend it for an enjoyable watching experience.
Cinematical James Rocchi
The Lumière Reader David Levinson
Ruthless Reviews review Matt Cale
Providence Journal Michael Janusonis
Hollywood Jesus Elisabeth Leitch
Slant Magazine review Keith Uhlich
Austin Chronicle James Renovitch
Jacobsen, Jannicke Systad
TURN ME ON, DAMMIT! (Få meg på, for faen) B+ 92
While the film title
reflects a whimsical, almost comic book style silliness, where there’s not
likely to be anything to take seriously, this is instead a hilarious,
surprisingly complex and insightful youth film, told from the point of view of
one 15-year old Norwegian girl, Alma (Helene Bergsholm), who is smart and
sarcastic as hell. Just the opening
segue introducing her tiny Norwegian town in the mountains as a place of empty
roads and sheep, where absolutely nothing ever happens, where the girls her age
give the village sign the finger every time they enter town, which is in stark
contrast to the majestic mountainside forests with a pristine lake down below
set in the rugged fjords of the region.
In fact, it looks like a perfect vacation destination, but every kid
loathes the town they get stuck in. Alma
hangs out with two sisters, Ingrid (Beate Støfring), a buxom Scandinavian
Brünnhilde with a love for lip gloss and Saralou (Malin Bjørhovde), an edgier
outcast with a social conscience closer to Thora Birch’s
Based on a novel by
Olaug Nilssen, about a girl in a small place with very active hormones, the
story could be anyone and is not unique to Alma, but the director wraps this
film around Alma’s snappy wit and personal charm, making this something of a
Scandinavian delight constantly poking fun at itself, a film that would never
be made in the United States, as the uninhibited sex scenes are scandalous
showing teenagers actually enjoying themselves—how novel an idea. For instance, in the opening scene, Alma gets
down and dirty on her kitchen floor, fingering herself while listening to
Stigge, an overfriendly phone sex operator from “Wet and Wild Dreams.” But the real object of
This is like every
15-year old’s worst nightmare, expressed in a laceratingly dark comic style
that also contains a touch of poignancy, as despite the fact her fantasies do
resemble the sexually hyper-exaggerated world of musicals, she is completely
devastated by the turn of events. Making
matters worse, her mom finds out about her phone sex bills and blabs about it
to everyone she knows all over town.
This is the true portrait of small towns where everyone knows everybody
else’s business, where you can’t do a thing without the whole world knowing
about it. In panic, Alma runs away to
Oslo to visit Saralou’s older sister Marie in college, hoping she can offer
some perspective, where after hearing Alma’s story one of her boyfriends
actually composes a tender tribute song on the spot called “Dick-Alma.” Wonderfully capturing the awkward age of
teenagers, this is a coming-of-age comedy where
The landscape of teenage daydreams
(the raunchy kind) are captured with titillating precision in this stylish
comedy about one girl’s explosive sexual awakening. Stuck in a tiny Norwegian
Finally, there is a coming-of-age teen comedy that addresses the
confused effects of horniness from a young girl’s perspective. That such an
inevitable viewpoint comes from Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, a Norwegian woman
filmmaker, seems fitting. Jacobsen’s debut film draws its twitching heart and
soul from its 15-year-old leading character
Momentarily addicted to masturbating with the aid of a paid phone
We’re halfway through Tribeca and “Turn Me On, Goddammit” still holds up as my favorite narrative film premiering at the fest. I wrote about it before in our pre-festival recommendation post, but in the context of the rest of the World Narrative Competition, I need to sound off a bit more. The first word that comes to mind when I think on the Norwegian sex comedy is “refreshing,” a point which I think can’t be over-stated when it comes to coming of age movies of this caliber.
Alongside “Turn Me On” in the competition is “She Monkeys,” a drama
that is a sort of understated companion piece from across the border in
There are a few obvious points to make first. The actors in the films are
roughly the age of their characters, none of this 20-something or even
30-something casting that seems to pervade every teen movie produced in the
More importantly, however, is the way that these two films take seriously the goal of creating well-constructed and genuine young women to lead their narratives. I acknowledge that I’m the kind of guy that just can’t turn off the Bechdel test in my head, but it is definitely worth pointing out that both “Turn Me On” and “She Monkeys” bring some much needed humanity and vitality to the generally boy-crazy teenage girls that populate their genre.
The two films and their protagonists, Alma (Helene Bergsholm) and Emma
(Mathilda Paradeiser), are very different.
The last few years have been pretty good for teen comedies. We've finally
evolved past the American Pie induced era of gross out fests, and have
been getting more choice offerings like Adventureland, Superbad
and last year’s terrific Youth in Revolt. It seems the trend is not
limited to the States, as
Based on a novel by Olaug Nilssen, Turn Me On tells the story of
Alma (played with poise by newcomer Helene Bergsholm), a relatively
unspectacular teenager whose overactive imagination and hyperactive hormones
only exacerbate her frustrations with a concerned mother, a nosy old neighbor,
and bitchy friends. Unlike many movie teenagers obsessed with sex,
An awkward pseudo-sexual encounter with her popular crush turns
Turn Me On acts out a number of
Turn Me On is the first narrative film from veteran documentary filmmaker Jannicke Systad Jacobsen. Her understated direction furnishes the film with a dry sense of humor and a melancholy appropriate for a bunch of kids who can’t wait to graduate high school but don’t know what they are going to do afterward. The laughs aren’t constant, but they’re well earned and Turn Me On’s atmosphere and story don’t require constant gags to hold the viewer’s interest. Consider it further evidence of the teen comedy renaissance.
TRIBECA REVIEW | Despite the Crude Title, “Turn me on, goddammit” Is a Delicate Drama Eric Kohn from indieWIRE
Tribeca Film Fest Review - “Turn Me On Goddammit” > Shadow and ... Tambay from the indieWIRE blog
Review: 'Turn Me On, Dammit!' A Fun Yet Uneven Look ... - indieWIRE Christopher Bell from the IndieWIRE Playlist
Turn Me On, Dammit! - BOXOFFICE Magazine Sara Maria Vizcarrondo
Jannicke Systad Jacobsen × Helene
Bergsholm “Turn me on ... Cool Bilingual Art Magazine, including
an interview with the director and lead
Me On, Goddammit! - The Hollywood Reporter
Hollywood could exist in no other place but Los Angeles, the city of dreams, a place malleable enough to accommodate fantasists of all stripes because it doesn't have a particularly strong identity of its own. In David Jacobson's strikingly beautiful Down In The Valley, Edward Norton stars as one of those fantasists, a pistol-slinging, 10-gallon-hat-wearing cowboy who turns contemporary Death Valley into his personal OK Corral, willfully oblivious to the times. And for as long as it can, the movie plays it straight: There's no suggestion of who he really is or how he came to embrace this persona, and Norton's enormous charisma sells him as a charming naïf, cheerfully out of step with an ugly, vulgar world. So, too, Down In The Valley, which recalls George Washington or The Brown Bunny in the way it looks and feels like nothing on the independent scene, and the way it owes more to idiosyncratic '70s films like Badlands, Taxi Driver, and Two-Lane Blacktop than to today's arthouse quirkfests. It's no wonder a film this accomplished took so long to find a distributor.
Lean and handsome, with an easy drawl that could pass for Montgomery Clift's, Norton first appears as a gas-station attendant, smiling his way through the veiled insults of a station wagon full of teenage girls en route to the beach. But one of those girls, a lithe beauty played forcefully by Evan Rachel Wood, takes an instant liking to him and invites him along, perhaps in part because she knows it'll tick off her domineering father (David Morse), who goes toe-to-toe with her every night. Though they seem mismatched, Norton and Wood connect deeply and palpably, in spite of—and in some ways because of—his anachronistic manner, which can be gentlemanly and full of surprising romantic gestures, like stealing a horse for a gentle gallop around an unspoiled landscape. Norton also takes a shine to Wood's young brother (Rory Culkin), a shy kid who feels empowered by a father figure who isn't so obviously disappointed in his weakness.
Of course, reality inevitably comes crashing down on Norton, whose beautiful vision curdles into a frightening obsession, and Wood, who's too fundamentally levelheaded to not see the cracks in his façade. Jacobson (Dahmer) makes their relationship work through exceptional direction, which turns the city's few undeveloped territories into a sun-dappled idyll, the only place where such an unlikely affair could flourish. It's almost a shame that the film has to shift into murkier psychological ground in its second half, when Norton's true nature starts coming into focus, because the film could just as easily be about the modern world encroaching on paradise. Either way, it's mysterious and bold at every turn, and refreshingly removed from the commonplace.
Set deep in the San Fernando — depicted here largely as an infertile crescent of looming power lines and anonymous housing tracts — David Jacobson's terrific new film probes the absurdities of contemporary suburbia in time-honored (and still potent) fashion: by introducing a walking anachronism. En route to the beach to escape her domineering sheriff father (David Morse) and her perpetually needy little brother (Rory "the talented Culkin" Culkin), rebellious hot-pants teen Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) meets up with a courtly, aw-shucks stranger in jeans and a Stetson. Harlan (Edward Norton) seems to have wandered into town directly from some long-forgotten B-Western. Creepy age difference notwithstanding (and bravely uncommented upon), Harlan and Tobe begin a passionate affair, much to the consternation of her dad, who's convinced that Harlan's genial twanginess has to be a put-on. And indeed, Harlan turns out to be something other than he seems, though not necessarily in the cut-and-dried way you might expect.
Mostly ignored when it premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival (in the smaller Un Certain Regard section), Down in the Valley has reportedly since been trimmed by about twenty minutes, though I didn't notice anything of import missing in the shorter cut. Still present, for better (aesthetically) and worse (pragmatically), is a key scene in which Harlan practices his gunslinging moves before his boarding-room mirror, which has prompted lazy critics to dismiss the character as a dime-store psycho and the film itself as a pale retread of Taxi Driver. But Harlan's reasons for creating his lone-warrior persona are far more personal than sociological, and Down in the Valley soon veers in a completely unexpected and fearsomely complex direction, making it clear that Jacobson's true interest is exploring the definition of masculinity, and, by extension, paternity. (Norton has repeatedly said in interviews that he sees the film as a companion piece to Fight Club.) Distinguished by dynamic widescreen compositions and a quartet of superlative performances, the movie is essentially an old-fashioned showdown between John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, duking it out over the soul of a small boy. That you're never entirely sure who you want to see prevail is a testament to its power.
Down in the Valley Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
Seeks Complex Character / Writer-Director David Jacobson ... Lily Percy interviews the director for MovieMaker Magazine,
TOSCA B+ 91
Filmed in Rome, while nearly impossible to transport opera to the screen, and this film version is NOT for the purists, as it's extremely stylized, but this is *the* emotional powerhouse of opera, and it's simply rapturous, here the heightened passion is delivered with in-your-face close-ups, capturing a much more intimate feel than you would ever get in an opera house, featuring a real-life husband and wife team as the lovers on screen, some wonderfully original set designs, which includes a few video asides, and stunning, luminous color – Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca is nothing short of breathtaking.
For those who enjoy kitsch, Just (Emmanuelle) Jaeckin's adaptation of Pauline Réage's S&M novel is a must. There's puffy, blank-faced O (Cléry) with cruel lover René, (Kier), the one with the husky eyes and 'I'm an arsehole' hairdo. So far, so risible. But then the film gets a story. It's Sir Stephen (Steel) who does it, the older man who brands O's bottom with his own initials. She suddenly seems madder, but not in a photogenic, wild child way; what she comes to resemble most is a raging bourgeois housewife, a role she's been prepared for from childhood. Having lived the modern life, complete with her own apartment and Vogue photoshoots, O gravitates towards a house with servants and lacy tablecloths and realises her taste for them. Thus, when she finally turns the tables on Sir Stephen it doesn't feel like a coda tacked on to appease feminists: she's just discovered what it means to be adult, and her attendant sensations rush over us too. As anyone who's seen Romance will know, the film has obviously been influential - but not enough so. Stanley Kubrick borrowed the visuals - the ornate face masks and the cloaks - but his orgy slaves were pure Barbara Cartland. The Story of O disturbs precisely because it takes us through the dumb mask, to the damaged, unpredictable human brain beneath.
filmcritic.com Christopher Null
This is old-school cheesy softcore porn. We're talkin' dinosaur
cheesy softcore porn. The standard, with Emmanuelle, against which all
late-night Cinemax films are measured. The start of it all. Well just about,
And now at last The Story of O (based on the classic, scandalous erotic novel) comes to DVD, 27 years after its introduction way the hell back in 1975. And it's just as salacious as ever. Filled with fuzzy lighting, soft focus, large hairdos, and sounds-like-classical synthesizer/vibraphone music, O set a benchmark for its genre.
As the film begins, O (Corinne Clery) finds herself abruptly dropped off by her boyfriend (Udo Kier) at a kind of brothel/dungeon, where she is to be educated in the ways of sex and servitude. Whippings, chains and handcuffs, easy-access outfits, and of course near-constant sex training sessions quickly fill the day. O takes this all in stride, philosophizing all the while. She's into it! Eventually she moves on to a series of five or six "masters," each with their own sexual proclivities. (And don't miss the final scene, aped nearly exactly in Eyes Wide Shut.)
As an NC-17 (originally rated X) movie, O is pretty tame save for the constant nudity. The bondage is tame, and the sex is off-camera. Only the subversion of an utterly submissive woman (and her companions in the castle/schoolhouse/whorehouse) as the film's star is cause for much alarm. Even that's kind of tongue-in-cheek jokey -- Clery doesn't exude the wanton idiocy of the women that have followed her into the hard-R and beyond. She's playing a role here as a subtle deviant, and she's doing a damn fine job of it -- even if it's unconvincing that anyone is actually even touching her with that whip.
The Story of O is hardly a great movie. It's completely silly and cornball, but it's that it's pioneeringly silly and overwhelmingly cornball -- and a true part of cult movie history -- that make it a must-own for any true movie buff. Not into naked chicks? Open a bottle of wine, warm yourself up to period pieces on a Jane Austen adaptation, and ease yourself into O.
You go, girl.
The Story of O Linda Ruth Williams from Sight and Sound
MediaScreen.com Paul Brenner
Pornography and doubleness of sex for women Joanna Russ from Jump Cut
Interview with women porn stars Annette Fuentes and Margaret Schrage from Jump Cut
James, Eugene S.
A FACE OF WAR
I not only saw this documentary but I served with Mike Co. during the filming of it.
This is an exceptionatly well made
film about the Vietnam war during 1966, during a time when we as Marines
thought we were doing something that was helping the people of
Time Magazine May 3, 19968
Combat photography has become almost a commonplace, an
adjunct to the
news and weather. A Face of War, though, has a rightful claim to be judged as
art: it is a documentary in the great tradition begun by Civil War Photographer
Matthew B. Brady when he took his cumbersome cameras to
What Jones and his crew caught in their cameras and microphones is a superbly balanced sampling of this war of snipers and booby traps, night patrols and burning villages, in which the enemy is almost always at hand and almost never seen. No commentator's rhetoric comes between the audience and the action. All that is on the sound track is the noise of what is happening —the tense silence of a patrol exploding into a racketing firefight, the terrible pleadings of wounded men, the ominous urgency of a chaplain's sermon about death. The men of Mike Company are not identified by name until the epilogue; by that time many of them have already established their personalities by what they say and do.
The excellence of A Face of War is not only in its fine
camerawork but also in its sense of completeness. Its 77 minutes encompass the
A Face of War grinds no axes, pleads no cause. The war it shows is the specific war of small and large necessities, braveries and sacrifices, and its record of this battleground should endure long after the agony is ended.
The winning and losing of hearts and minds: Vietnam, Iraq, and the claims of the war documentary Tony Grajeda from Jump Cut, Spring 2007
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4] who describes THE FACE OF WAR as he reviews THE ANDERSON PLATOON
Steve James' essential inner-city epic chronicles the lives of two young blacks growing up in a Chicago housing project. At 14, basketball prodigies Arthur Agee and William Gates win scholarships to a suburban high school, St Joseph's. Then their fortunes diverge. William looks set to follow in the footsteps of St Joe's favourite son, all-star Isiah Thomas. Arthur doesn't make the cut. Skinny and immature, he finds himself back in the inner city when his parents fall behind on the fees. Over the next four years, however, the boys' lives are to intersect more than once, and in unexpected ways. A three-hour documentary about basketball is probably not most people's idea of a night out, but this one rewards the effort. James and his collaborators shot more than 250 hours of footage, and the cumulative emotional power is simply devastating. Sport is the only dream Arthur and William are allowed, their only ticket out of the ghetto, but they also have to carry the weight of their parents' aspirations - and if they make it, they will become role models for thousands of kids just like them. Unforgettable.
Read full review Kim Newman from Empire magazine
In American Cinema, baseball is always associated with
nostalgia and fondly-imagined virtues of family and country, but the current
rash of basketball films (Blue Chips, White Men Can’t Jump etc.) are about a
divided, desperate American present. Easily outclassing the fiction films is
this extraordinarily compelling near three-hour documentary, which follows a
pair of black kids from Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project through four
years of high school, examining the assumption that their basketball talent is
a chance to get out of the ghetto and into college, and which is being heavily
talked up as a possible Oscar contender outside(ital) the documentary category.
Both Gates and Agee are spotted as 14-year-olds by a
recruiting man who arranges basketball scholarships for them at an up-scale
school. Both struggle, Gates with injuries and Agee with low academic
achievement, but continue to shine on the court. With exceptional skill at
distinguishing drama from the raw footage of fly-on-the-wall shooting, James
hits on a real irony: Agee’s presence peps up his no hope team into a winning
streak while Gates is troubled by doubts and a “good but not great” career.
Though there is plenty of hoop action, the film focuses on the various pressures on the heroes (and heroes they become) from families, schools, coaches, friends, sponsors, college recruiters and hanger’s-on. Confident enough to leave plenty to implication — both kids are fathers by the time they leave high school and Agee has a friend who seems to be leading him into a life of crime — this is the best type of documentary, giving an intensely personal story you can’t help but become involved in, and also raises fundamental issues about America in the 90s.
The documentary "Hoop Dreams" has the sprawling force of the best fiction. In fact, it's the closest movie equivalent to the great American novel I've seen in years.
If you're wary of a nearly three-hour film about basketball,
so was I, at first; sports bore me to tears. Yet I watched the movie in an
absolute trance of fascination. Hoop Dreams is less about hoop than
about dreams -- dreams nurtured, dreams annihilated. In its understated,
journalistic way, the movie is overwhelming in its cumulative impact. It's both
depressing and exhilarating; it's truth and it's life.
The film tracks two 14-year-old boys -- Arthur Agee and William Gates, both from squalid sections of
Pressure. We often take sports stars for granted, mumbling about their astronomic salaries. Hoop Dreams implicitly challenges our perception of athletes as spoiled rock stars. For these boys, the question of whether they have the skills to make it to the NBA is the least of their worries. The film suggests that grabbing the gold ring in the pitiless world of sports requires inhuman persistence and resilience -- the ability to weather constant blows to the body, the mind, the soul. William and Arthur are sent to the suburban school
Hoop Dreams makes the unsurprising point that the boys, who are both goof-offs in school, have been shaped into basketball machines -- incomplete people, who worship the game to the exclusion of almost everything else. (By the end, one of them will have learned that there are other things in life.) Who can blame their parents for pushing them? This is the boys' ticket out of the ghetto, and the film daringly focuses on family members -- Arthur's screw-up father and William's disillusioned brother, both former high-school hoop stars -- who hang over the boys' careers, experiencing their triumphs vicariously. (The boys' mothers, less sensuously obsessed with the game, encourage their sons but keep a hard eye on their grades. We come to love these women.)
The blame falls on the shoulders of the coaches and recruiters, themselves entrenched in the bizarre, punishing culture of high-school athletics. Gene Pingatore, the coach at
As Arthur bucks the odds and cracks the books, and William studies half-heartedly and grows disgusted with the game, Hoop Dreams pulls its themes together. The filmmakers -- Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert -- began this project as a study of playground hoop. What they came back with goes far beyond the usual sports movie. Passing awkwardly into manhood, the boys create themselves out of the rubble of their dreams. At the same time, the people who love them are either enjoying their own triumphs or destroying themselves.
Watching this documentary about basketball (which I don't care about, in and of itself), I kept brushing tears away. "Hoop Dreams" seems to encompass everything and resolve nothing. The metal hoops, so seductive and high, await the next generation of boys, ready to exalt or humble them.
Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]
A film like "Hoop
Dreams" is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make
us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of
having touched life itself.
"Hoop Dreams" is, on one level, a documentary about two African-American kids named William Gates and Arthur Agee, from
The movie spans six years in the lives of William and Arthur, starting when they are in the eighth grade, and continuing through the first year of college. It was intended originally to be a 30-minute short, but as the filmmakers followed their two subjects, they realized this was a much larger, and longer story. And so we are allowed to watch the subjects grow up during the movie, and this palpable sense of the passage of time is like walking for a time in their shoes.
They're spotted during playground games by a scout for
One image from the film: Gates, who lives in the Cabrini Green project, and Agee, who lives on
We know all about the dream. We watch Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas and the others on television, and we understand why any kid with talent would hope to be out on the same courts someday. But "Hoop Dreams" is not simply about basketball. It is about the texture and reality of daily existence in a big American city. And as the film follows Agee and Gates through high school and into their first year of college, we understand all of the human dimensions behind the easy media images of life in the "ghetto." We learn, for example, of how their extended families pull together to help give kids a chance. How if one family member is going through a period of trouble (Arthur's father is fighting a drug problem), others seem to rise to periods of strength. How if some family members are unemployed, or if the lights get turned off, there is also somehow an uncle with a big back yard, just right for a family celebration. We see how the strong black church structure provides support and encouragement - how it is rooted in reality, accepts people as they are, and believes in redemption.
And how some people never give up. Arthur's mother asks the filmmakers, "Do you ever ask yourself how I get by on $268 a month and keep this house and feed these children? Do you ever ask yourself that question?" Yes, frankly, we do. But another question is how she finds such determination and hope that by the end of the film, miraculously, she has completed her education as a nursing assistant.
"Hoop Dreams" contains more actual information about life as it is lived in poor black city neighborhoods than any other film I have ever seen.
Because we see where William and Arthur come from, we understand how deeply they hope to transcend - to use their gifts to become pro athletes. We follow their steps along the path that will lead, they hope, from grade school to the NBA.
The people at
It is as clear as night and day that the only reason Arthur Agee and William Gates are offered scholarships to
Both sets of parents are required to pay a small part of the tuition costs. When Gates' family cannot pay, a member of the booster club pays for him - because he seems destined to be a high school all-American. Arthur at first does not seem as talented. And when he has to drop out of the school because his parents have both lost their jobs, there is no sponsor for him. Instead, there's a telling scene where the school refuses to release his transcripts until the parents have paid their share of his tuition.
The morality here is clear:
When he did not, the school held the boy's future as hostage for a debt his parents clearly would never have contracted if the school's recruiters had not come scouting grade school playgrounds for the boy. No wonder
Gene Pingatore, the coach at
Many filmgoers are reluctant to see documentaries, for reasons I've never understood; the good ones are frequently more absorbing and entertaining than fiction. "Hoop Dreams," however, is not only a documentary. It is also poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic. It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime.
Hoop Dreams: Serious Game Criterion essay by Jay Edgar Wideman
Hoop Dreams Hoop Realities, by Lee Jones from Jump Cut, March 1996
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review Criterion Collection
Read full review Clarence Beaks from DVD Journal, Criterion Collection
Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx's 'Hoop Dreams ... Scott Foundas from Documentary magazine
Reel.com dvd review [4/4] Tim Knight, Criterion Collection
Read full review False Hoops, Richard Corliss from Time magazine
Read full review Ronnie D. Langford Jr. from Documentary Films
Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [4/5] Criterion Collection
AboutFilm.com (Jeff Vorndam) review [A] Top 25 Films of the 90’s
Movieline Magazine review Stephen Farber
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Owen Gleiberman
favourite film: Hoop Dreams
Christian Bennett from The
great American documentary Roger
Ebert on the 15th anniverary,
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
the complete film online. from Joost (2 hours, 51 minutes)
STEVIE A- 94
resembles a welfare film – a truly remarkable look at the world of social
services in crisis that we have all seen before, some of us have actually
worked in it as well, but probably never seen reflected back in our faces quite
so memorably as this does. Filmed in
Murphysboro and the neighboring Southern Illinois rural community, this is an
oddly affecting film, an unbelievably accurate portrayal of a backwoods,
trailer park outcast who is one truly flawed and messed up individual, who
represents every bit of the welfare system, beaten and abandoned by his mother
at an early age, raised by his grandmother until he was 11, spending the rest
of his adolescence raped and/or neglected in every single juvenile
foster home in Southern Illinois, building a huge rap sheet of petty crime
upon his release, spending time at Choate Mental Health Center, and finally,
through a horrific trial process revealed as part of this film, sentenced to 10
years for a Class X felony conviction for molesting his 8 year old cousin. My guess is he'd already been well known in
If ever the purpose of art was to expose the world to a particular time and place that is unlike their own, this is it, as we come to know this man's world and the few people who populate it, by examining him through the lens of all the people who know him, and we hear all persons concerned point of view, until we are able to see, in a more objective light, the kind of man, and the kind of world, he lives in. Despite the personalized vantage point of the filmmaker, who happened to be the Big Brother of this troubled kid when he was in college, a potentially exploitive attachment that remains troublesome to the viewers throughout the film, this is the kind of film that makes the world seem like a different place afterwards, deep in the heart of Steve Earle country where you hunt rattlesnakes and where the character in question was not afraid to run with the brothers of the Aryan nation. Aghast as it sounds, their appearance in the film is significant, as they are appropriately connected to his life and the choices he faces, and they actually help paint this rather extraordinary portrait of a wretched and miserable soul, the heart of which is provided by the continued hope of his learning-impaired girl friend, who may not even know why she has hope, but in this rather decrepit world, she has it.
STEVIE Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
THE INTERRUPTERS A 96
We got over 500 years of prison at this table. That’s a lot of fuckin’ wisdom. — Zale Hoddenbach, former gang member, now a CeaseFire interrupter
First of all, gang violence is not something most people understand or have any insight into, considered a cultural phenomenon unique to neighborhoods infested with gangs, and largely ignored, out of sight, out of mind, by people living in safer neighborhoods. It’s like prison reform, as you never stop to consider the ramifications of undermanned and overcrowded prisons until the day you find yourself incarcerated. But in large urban areas across the country, this is the story that usually leads off the evening news, another senseless death, a child accidentally shot down in a gang shooting crossfire, where it’s rarely the intended victim that’s harmed. The stories are relentless, with few, if any solutions offered, because the perpetrators are outside the reach of the police, family, or church influence, and therefore usually end up dead or in prison at an early age, supposedly immune to the powers of persuasion, or so we thought.
In the aftermath of this 2008 New York Times piece, a thoroughly engaging essay by Alex Kotlowitz that scientifically examines the root causes of Chicago gang violence, offering treatment along the lines of neutralizing a medical epidemic, actually offering a bit of insight into the seemingly impenetrable gang culture for a change, documentary filmmaker Steve James, the heralded director of HOOP DREAMS (1994), enlisted the assistance of Kotlowitz in following on camera some of the individuals mentioned in his article who were providing gang intervention, known as “violence interrupters,” as they hope to stop the neverending cycle of revenge and prevent future shootings before they happen. With the experience of having been in gangs and prison and survived, some for committing murder when they were teenagers, these interrupters already understand the mindset of the upcoming gang youth who shoot before they think, never for a second thinking about their own lives they are throwing away, instead it’s all about getting immediate retribution in a moment of anger, thinking that in some way killing makes things right, at least in their eyes—Death before dishonor. This kind of thinking is what fills the prisons.
This is one of the most heartbreaking and excruciatingly painful subjects of any film you’ll ever see, as the camera searches out families of recently shot teenagers, including their younger brothers and sisters or their grieving parents, focusing on their immediate reaction, oftentimes on their front steps, in their living rooms, or at the funeral and burial services. Unlike the news media that exploit these situations, the violence interrupters routinely put their own lives on the line, trying to diffuse anger by placing themselves in harm’s way, where they have unique insight into just what these kids are feeling and how they intend to resolve the conflict. But violence isn’t inherited at birth, it’s a learned behavior that reflects the world around them, where kids are just following the examples of people they know. The interrupters have an obligation to re-educate them on the spot, using as examples those around them who are dead or imprisoned, where they could become just another statistic or they could have a second chance at life. The interrupters are placed in the precarious position where they are not cops and do not inform on illegal activity, and while they don’t condone gang activity, they’re not in a position to change or even alter that culture, only the hair-trigger response of certain individuals to shoot whoever shot one of them.
The film documents a year in the life of an inner city organization called CeaseFire, founded by an infectious disease physician Gary Slutkin who spent a decade in Africa with the World Health Organization attempting to halt the spread of infectious diseases, returning home to Chicago where he viewed the spread of youth violence as similar to an infectious outbreak. Tio Hardiman, a neighborhood social activist with a prior history of drug and alcohol abuse, invented the interrupters program, attempting to stop the violent outbreaks using individuals who have street credibility not just with gangs, but in the eyes of youth who have few positive role models. Especially because they are so familiar with the effects of violence in their own lives, having somehow survived, now returning back to the streets offering an alternative, this is an extremely volatile and highly personalized approach to mediation, getting in the faces of gangbangers and angry kids who just lost a brother or an innocent nephew, attempting to redirect their hostility, which usually means staying with them, continuing a lengthy dialogue much like negotiating with a hostage taker or a downbeat individual considering suicide, until the inflammatory anger passes, and then following up afterwards, continuing to offer crisis intervention services.
While the city’s
interrupters meet weekly with Hardiman to discuss their works in progress,
James chooses three to follow, all extremely charismatic individuals with
tortured pasts whose impressive turnabout makes them uniquely qualified. Ameena Matthews gives what is perhaps the
most wrenching performance of the year, whose no nonsense authenticity,
directness under pressure, and personal charm gives her an overwhelming onscreen
presence. The daughter of Jeff Fort,
iconic founder of the Black P. Stone Nation and imprisoned-for-life leader of
Ricardo “Cobe” Williams is a big man with a similar purpose, a kid who went haywire when his father was beaten to death by a baseball bat, spending his youth in and out of prison until he also found religion, where he seems determined to offer a path of redemption for others that he never experienced himself. Another easy going guy, whose wife says is really “nerdy,” where according to Hardiman, among his many talents is knowing when to walk away in dicey situations. This is a guy so dedicated that he continued going to work even after the funds dried up and he was laid off for a period, because like a CIA undercover operative in the field, once you make a promise to be there in saving people’s lives, people in high risk situations where their lives may be in danger, you have a commitment to be there. One of the most riveting scenes in the film is Cobe bringing a young 19-year old armed offender known as Li’l Mikey, a youth who spent nearly 3 years in prison, back to the scene of the crime where he held up a barber shop. This kind of theater you can’t invent, as it’s among the most dramatically powerful and intensely personal moments of the film. Mikey is so committed to finding that redemptive path that Hardiman actually considers him as their first teen interrupter.
Eddie Bocanegra shot a killed another kid when he was 17. Now, like the other two, he’s on a spiritual mission to make up for it, talking to disaffected youth, offering an art class for those kids who have been affected by violence, where one 11-year old girl describes the experience of her brother getting shot in the head and dying in her arms. Because of the tender age of many of these kids, he’s more like a big brother offering them positive alternatives or a shoulder to cry on, where their heartfelt comments are remarkably unfiltered. One of the more poignant moments is joining the family at the cemetery site, where they gather every single day, offering a silent communion for their loss. While Eddie is able to console the young girl, the figure of her father sitting there in silence every day is a haunting and tragic sight.
For 25 years murder has been the leading cause of death among black men between the ages of 15 and 34, while more than 11% of black males age 25 to 34 are incarcerated, while black women are incarcerated at nearly 4 times the rate of white women and more than twice the rate of Hispanic women. Nothing seems to put a dent in these numbers despite neighborhood marches, media speeches, church activism, a Mayor’s attempt to ban handguns (which was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court), and the police continually asking for crime witnesses to step forward. While it’s impossible to measure the results, CeaseFire claims they show a 40 – 60% reduction in shootings in six targeted neighborhoods, which would include West Garfield Park, Englewood, Maywood, Logan Square, Roseland, and Rogers Park, with as much as a 67% reduction in others. Despite these claims, the interventionist program has continued to face budget cuts, where 50 or 60 interrupters were reduced to less than 20, where the elected politicians seem as far removed from this problem as those living in the isolation of the rural plain states. As profoundly relevant as any documentary seen in the past 5 years, there’s a soulful, organ drenched rendition of “Don’t Give Up on Me” by Solomon Burke that plays over the end credits, an ominous reminder of just how hard it is to remain committed to a lifelong project fraught with this degree of intense tragedy and pain.
THE INTERRUPTERS | siskelfilmcenter.org Barbara Scharres
In this stirring and powerfully insightful year-long journey through Chicago’s inner city, Oscar-nominated director Steve James (HOOP DREAMS), in collaboration with author Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here), follows three courageous “violence interrupters” working for the innovative organization CeaseFire, as they patrol the city’s meanest streets to defuse scenarios of heart-stopping volatility. Interrupters, including dynamo Ameena Matthews, daughter of notorious gang leader Jeff Fort, are seen to be the only force standing between a killer and his victim when gang vengeance threatens. With unprecedented access, and with the specter of Derrion Albert’s horrific death hanging over the community, James captures the increasingly urgent one-on-one encounters where lives hang in the balance. HDCAM video
Interrupters Tom Huddleston from Time Out
Stories of life on the mean streets of
Most of James’s subjects are ex-bangers themselves, even articulate activist Ameena, the undoubted star of the piece, a woman so intensely self-possessed she can stand in the midst of a group of six-foot teenage thugs and still look like the toughest person in the room. ‘The Interrupters’ lacks the crowd-pleasing sports movie arc that fired ‘Hoop Dreams’ – this is, by necessity, a more fractured, disparate piece of work – but the political and emotional power behind it is impossible to ignore.
The Interrupters : The New Yorker Richard Brody (capsule review)
Steve James’s documentary, based on an article by Alex Kotlowitz (who also co-produced), follows members of CeaseFire, a Chicago-based conflict-mediation group, over the course of a year of their attempts to defuse potentially violent situations. Most of the group’s activists, as seen in the film, were once criminals themselves, which, together with their roots in the community, gains them the respect of the people they advise, cajole, dissuade, and mentor. James centers the film on a few of these “interrupters” and a handful of young people in need of guidance, and, with his insistent yet compassionate camerawork, gathers poignant, troubling stories. Among the recurring themes are the nefarious influence of gangs, the allure of easy money, the emotional toll of families broken by violence and drugs, and the need for jobs—and the hard-won wisdom the elders convey also includes their frequent mention of incarceration as the ultimate dissuader. Law enforcement comes across as awkward and misguided, yet it looms, ubiquitous and unexamined, in the film’s margins. James’s approach is not analytical but emotional; his depiction of people bearing inextinguishable pain is empathetic and powerful, and the struggle toward stability of one profound and troubled soul (a thirty-two-year-old man who has spent fifteen years in jail) has a Dostoyevskian intensity.
Next up was a film I was hugely
excited about, Steve James' The Interrupters. James' Hoop
Dreams is one of the best films I've ever seen, so this certainly had a
lot to live up to. Much like Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters
takes a sobering look at life in
It's a hugely powerful work, focussing as it does on flawed but inspirational individuals trying to make a real difference. It never once feels patronizing or voyeuristic and stays fixed on getting beneath the surface of the Ceasefire team and those they are most desperately trying to reach. Also, if I see a funnier introduction to a character this year than when we meet the furious dealer Flamo, I'll be god damned. Touching and tragic, The Interrupters is essential viewing.
They were once gang-bangers. They were
teenagers when they gunned down enemies on the streets of inner city
Steve James (who directed the Oscar-nominated Hoop Dreams) follows three Violence Interruptors over the course of a year as they negotiate with headstrong young men and women to lay their guns down and stop the bloodshed. They don't hold back and speak in hard, frank terms.
Ammena, Cobe and Eddie grew up in a spiral of drugs, sexual abuse and poverty. The program they work for, CeaseFire, views inner city violence as a virus, in that the disease must be snuffed out at the source. They literally stop fights on the street, knock on the doors of those they counsel and at the darkest moments, attend funerals. They risk their lives, as we see in one tearful scene where an Interruptor lies in a hospital bed after getting shot in the back.
Though running at 142 minutes, The Interrupters is one lean, unapologetic film — there isn't a wasted frame. It's gritty and harsh, but also inspiring. There's nothing sentimental here — no voiceover to reveal someone's inner feelings. It's all on screen. This is one of the best films of this festival.
Unlike many other socially engaged documentaries, the films of Steve James (Hoop
Dreams) are more descriptive than prescriptive, exposing deep,
intractable problems that may not have solutions, in spite of the best efforts
of those concerned. James’ heartbreaking 2002 documentary Stevie
relayed his own challenges and shortcomings as a Big Brother to a violent,
erratic young man in rural
Filmed over the course of a year that saw more killings on the streets of
The Interrupters was shot at a time when violence in
James’ camera is present for moments of extraordinary tension: A contrite ex-con apologizing to the family he terrorized in a barbershop robbery; a street fight that escalates with a butcher knife and a hunk of concrete; a pair of brothers so hostile that they come to blows whenever they see each other. Witnessing outreach workers intervening in these situations is inspiring enough, but their subtlety and nuance in neutralizing people of different backgrounds and temperaments is especially impressive. Given such a wealth of material, James has trouble wrangling it all: Different cuts have been screened at 164 minutes and 145 minutes, and the current 125-minute version feels rushed, with a uncharacteristically pat postscript. If there’s one lesson to be learned from violence interrupters, it’s that their work is never done.
The Interrupters (The Cinema
Guild), a documentary about an initiative to stop urban violence in
Filmed over the course of a year—we watch the seasons progress in four separate chapters—The Interrupters does a magnificent job of establishing what's at stake for the workers at CeaseFire: Consumed with regret over the sins of their youth (which, in the case of at least one, included murder), they will stop at nothing to keep kids in their community from making the same mistakes.
As in his classic 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams,
director Steve James (collaborating with
Cobe Williams, a former gangbanger who's now a suburban family man (his wife describes him dryly as "a very, very nerdy person"), is shown intervening in several different cases, most notably that of Flamo, a volatile loner whose resistance to being helped at times places Cobe in physical danger. And Eddie Bocanegra, a Latino ex-con with a monklike devotion to his work, teaches a painting class to young children who live in fear of random violence, then counsels a depressed girl who watched her older brother die in her arms.
Some scenes are difficult to watch; I wasn't the only one on my row occasionally shielding my eyes as if from a horror film. A group of women runs down a city block seeking revenge for some slight done to their brother, one of them wielding a kitchen knife, as children age 4 or 5 tag along after. At a teenager's funeral, his friends pose for pictures next to the open casket, taking turns playing the role of the corpse. On a wall mural with the names of local kids who've lost their lives to violence, a graffiti scrawl reads "I am next."
Just when you're about to despair, though, The Interrupters offers glimpses of the hope that must be what keeps the interrupters plugging away at their exhausting work. Li'l Mikey, a young man who held up a barbershop two years ago, agrees to return to the shop with Cobe to apologize to everyone who was there that day. His reconciliation with a woman whose children are still traumatized by the memory is harrowing and uplifting at once. The movie's epilogue, in which we follow up with each case after the year is over, contains a few joyful surprises—not happy endings, perhaps, but at least the prevention of endings that could have been so much worse.
“Blocking the Transmission of Violence” New York Times Magazine, Alex Kotlowitz Alex Kotlowitz from The New York Times, May 4, 2008, also seen here: Blocking the Transmission of Violence - Alex Kotlowitz - Gang ...
Chicago's Interrupters… Andrew
Anthony from The Guardian,
Pick of the week: Real-life crime drama "The Interrupters" - Andrew ... Andrew O’Hehir from Salon
Movie Review: The Interrupters | Movie Review | Chicago Reader Andrea Gronvall
BFI | Sight & Sound | Film of the month: The Interrupters (2011) Michael Brooke, September 2011
Theaters: "The Interrupters" - Film Writings by Jason Bailey
Filmcritic.com Chris Cabin
The Interrupters: Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz document CeaseFire Deanna Isaacs from The Chicago Reader
Best For Film Lara Choksey
Take On Chicago's Youth Violence NPR
interviews with various cast and crew,
Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz Interview
Elise Nakhnikian interview from Slant,
'Interrupters' Fight Chicago's Cycle Of Violence : NPR NPR interviews with some of the film’s
Interrupters'—Stopping Violence Before It Spreads in Inner-City ... Ari Berman interviews the fimmakers from The Nation,
Interrupters' Look to Stop Inner-City Violence Nick Anderson interviews the writer and
director from The Wall Strreet Journal,
Interrupters and Elite Force 2 – city violence spreads to the big screen Danny Leigh from The Guardian,
The Interrupters – review Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian
The Interrupters (15) - Reviews, Films - The Independent Anthony Quinn
Blocking the Transmission of Violence
Letters to the Editor from The New
“Upending Twisted Norms” New
York Times, Bob Herbert Op/Ed Piece,
Charged in Youth’s Beating Death"
Final sentencing in Fenger beating case Jason Meisner from The Chicago Tribune, August 29, 2011
suspect in beating death of Derrion Albert gets 32 years Don Babwin from The Chicago Sun-Times,
Journal - Violence 'interrupter' says police outreach better after ... The
Chaos Theory Part I Josh Gryniewicz from CeaseFire,
Chaos Theory Part II Josh Gryniewicz from CeaseFire,
Chaos Theory Part III Josh Gryniewicz from CeaseFire,
“Homicide that Didn’t Happen” Chicago
Tribune, Dr. Gary Slutkin
“Chicago’s CeaseFire Program Targets Poor Youth in Dangerous Urban Neighborhoods” The Huffington Post, March 26, 2011
Evaluation of CeaseFire
Copy of the full report CeaseFire Evaluation Report
FBI — El Rukns FBI Records
Rukns Indicted In Libya Scheme - Chicago Tribune Maurice Possley and William B. Crawford Jr.
Convicts 10 Members of Notorious Gang - New York Times
El Rukns had
early terror ties Carlos Sadovi from
The Chicago Sun-Times,
New book on the Black P. Stone Nation - Chicago Tribune Courtney Crowder interview with Natalie Y. Moore, the author of the new book, The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of an American Gang
to the El Rukns Chicago Gang Natalie
Y. Moore from The Root,
Gatsby’s house was still empty when I left — the grass on his lawn had grown as long as mine. One of the taxi drivers in the village never took a fare past the entrance gate without stopping for a minute and pointing inside; perhaps it was he who drove Daisy and Gatsby over to East Egg the night of the accident, and perhaps he had made a story about it all his own. I didn’t want to hear it and I avoided him when I got off the train.
I spent my Saturday
On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight, and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby finale, 1925, Ebert’s favorite literary passage
Arguably the most
powerful documentary seen so far this year, as it’s like witnessing the passing
of a close personal friend, adapted from Ebert’s 2011 autobiographical memoirs,
written five years after thyroid cancer left him unable to speak, eat, or
drink, but he “began to replace what I lost with what I remembered,” making a
resurgence on the Internet with his interactive Ebert blog where he only became
more prolific and influential as a writer, where his legacy is contained on his
revamped website (www.rogerebert.com)
that currently receives 110 million visits per year, where there are some 70
writers offering diverse opinions and views carrying on his name. The only film critic with a star on the
Born as a middle class
Improbably, or perhaps not, Roger developed a close association with schlock sexploitation maestro Russ Meyer, writing the screenplay for the cult film BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970), which captured the thoughts of young director Martin Scorsese, who started amusingly with the title, claiming they meant it when they say it goes “Beyond…Far Beyond,” always remembering the editing sequence when the girl has sex in a luxury Bentley car, which edits the grill of the Bentley into the middle of the sex act. Scorsese recalls the interest a young Ebert took in one of his earliest efforts, WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (1967), seen when it was entitled I CALL FIRST, already recognizing the talent behind the camera, which he recalls in his book here, Scorsese by Ebert by Roger Ebert, an excerpt. In one of the lowest periods of Scorsese’s life in the early 80’s, after several failed marriages, he acknowledges he was actually contemplating suicide, but before he had the chance to act, he received an invite from Siskel & Ebert to join them in a retrospective panel discussion about his works at the Toronto Film Festival, something he never forgot, as it literally saved his life. Scorsese’s comments were particularly heartfelt, even as Ebert lambasted his film THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986), which struck a nerve, but he insisted that even when writing a negative review, Ebert never lost his professionalism or went for the juggler, a trait that describes his innate humaneness. Similarly, Errol Morris attributes much of his success to Ebert’s enthralling endorsement of his first documentary film GATES OF HEAVEN (1978), a small film about pet cemeteries that Roger championed throughout his life. The same could be said about Werner Herzog, who calls Ebert a “soldier of cinema, a wounded comrade,” but it is Morris who acknowledges, “Here I had someone writing about my work who was a true enthusiast. His enthusiasm has kept me going over the years, and the memory of his enthusiasm will keep me going for as long as I make movies.” The director’s own association with Ebert dates back to 1994 when Siskel & Ebert used their television show as a platform to endorse his unheralded urban basketball documentary HOOP DREAMS (1994) as one of the best films of the year, where both listed it as their #1 Best Film. All of this attests not only to his influence, but his personal generosity, reflected by countless others who recall how Ebert took the time to acknowledge their work when nobody else was, like Charles Burnett’s KILLER OF SHEEP (1979) or Gregory Nava’s EL NORTE (1983), where kindness is a recognizable human attribute one never forgets.
After winning the Pulitzer Prize, The Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee tried to lure him away with a big-money offer, but Ebert continually refused, replying, “I’m not gonna learn new streets.” Much is made of Ebert’s professional legacy, specifically the thumbs up/thumbs down shorthand of film criticism, a technique that film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum dismisses, claiming it is not film criticism, which Ebert is not ashamed to acknowledge, as television time restraints demand a simplistic rating system, a short cut style of divulging sufficient information for viewers to make an intelligent choice. But other serious cinephiles were equally appalled by the system, including this erudite March/April 1990 Film Comment attack by Richard Corliss, All Thumbs: Or, Is There a Future for Film Criticism? that attacks the dumbing down, sound bite mentality of movie reviews as little more than television marketing. In the next edition of the magazine, Ebert's reply may be as meticulously detailed, lengthy, and well-argued as the original piece, delivering a strong defense for the show. This perfectly illustrates Ebert’s clear-headedness, as according to newspaper colleagues and friends, Ebert never spent more than a half hour writing a review, that he comes from a newspaper background where the secret is outlining the ideas in your head before you start to write. Ebert had the ability to write, and speak, in whole paragraphs while retaining the ability to remain clear and concise, displaying old-fashioned Midwestern logic and common sense. Even when writing about complex artists like Bergman, Dreyer, or Bresson, Ebert never wrote above the heads of the audience by describing often incomprehensible film theory (which he was known to do in classrooms, spending hours dissecting movies shot by shot), always aware that he was writing for the widest possible readership. When paired with philosophy major and Yale graduate Gene Siskel, a man who never met one of his own opinions he didn’t prefer, Ebert was often stunned by his inability to convince his partner of the error of his thinking, where both stubbornly refused to acquiesce to the other, which provided the fireworks for the show. As someone ingeniously acknowledged, “Gene was a rogue planet in Roger’s solar system.” Of course there are film clips from the show, including inflammatory shouting matches objecting about the incredibly poor taste of their partner, over BENJI THE HUNTED (1987), of all films, where Ebert strains to yell over another Siskel snide remark, “I disagree particularly about the part you like!” But the worst behavior occurs during a series of outtakes where both are seen continually trading personal insults, captured on camera as they dutifully flub line after line of promo shots, eventually walking off the set in a huff. Eventually, perhaps because of the amount of time they spent in such close quarters together, they grew a special affection for one another.
Among the many
surprises of the film is not about Roger, but Gene Siskel, former playboy, who
was part of Hugh Hefner’s inner circle of the early 70’s before he became a
movie critic, seen jet setting around the country with a bevy of beautiful
models on the Playboy private jet. And
who would have guessed that among Roger’s favorite literary works was a special
affection for The Great Gatsby, often
asking his lifelong friend Bill Nack to recite the final lines in the book from
memory, which he proudly does onscreen, as he has done hundreds of times, where
the overriding hope and optimism of a new and better world ahead seems to have
been Roger’s guiding light. At the
beginning of the film he offers his description of cinema as “a machine that
generates empathy,” which has an almost science-fiction feel to it, suggesting
there is a healing power in cinema, which may have transformed his life. He wasn’t particularly proud of his reckless
behavior on display during the 70’s while working for The Chicago Sun-Times, describing himself as “tactless, egotistical,
merciless, and a showboat,” where he was also a preeminent storyteller that
could hold a room, a womanizer, and an alcoholic, eventually joining Alcoholics
Anonymous, where he remained sober since 1979.
In his book, Ebert claims Ann Landers introduced him to his eventual
wife Chaz at a restaurant in Chicago, but the film tells another story, that he
met the love of his life at age 50 in an A.A. meeting. A former chair of the Black Student Union at
her college, and perhaps the least likely person to choose a white man for a
husband, Chaz steadfastly remains at Roger’s side throughout his most difficult
ordeals, often understanding the underlying anguish and despair even as Roger
tends to remain optimistic. Despite the
graphically uncomfortable moments where Roger has to continually return to the
rehab hospital five times, each time thinking it would be his last, that it
would lead him on the road to recovery, where he was initially informed, “They
got it all. Every last speck,” only to
realize the cancer had continued to spread elsewhere. This stream of medical news is exhausting and
demoralizing, none of which is hidden from view, where among Roger’s more acute
observations was his wife’s inextinguishable support, “To visit a hospital is
not pleasant. To do it hundreds of times
is heroic.” In a startling revelation,
Chaz describes the final moment when they finally decide to let go, easily the
most heartbreaking moment in the entire film, where death has rarely felt more
genuine. Yet it is this heartfelt
intimacy that carries us through this film that helps us understand the power
of love, where it nearly has the capacity to raise the dead, perhaps best
expressed by Kenneth Turan from The
If you had asked me ahead of time
what I would have found most interesting about Life Itself, I would
have guessed that it would be the parts I knew least about, specifically
Roger’s harum-scarum days as a young film critic about town in high-spirited
Roger loves Chaz | Roger Ebert's Journal | Roger Ebert July 17, 2012, a selection from Life Itself: A Memoir:
The greatest pleasure came from
annual trips we made with our grandchildren Raven, Emil and Taylor, and their
parents Sonia and Mark. Josibiah and his
son Joseph came on one of those trips, where we made our way from
“Because they look happy.”
Ramin Setoodeh 5 of the Film’s Most Surprising Moments, from Variety at Sundance, January 19, 2014
Roger Ebert knew that he wouldn’t live to see “Life Itself,” the documentary based on his 2011 memoir. In one of the most touching scenes of the riveting film by director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”), Ebert learns that his cancer has metastasized to his spine. The doctors estimate he only has six to 16 months to live, although he doesn’t make it that long. Ebert died in April 2013 at 70.
“It is likely I will have passed when the film is ready,” Ebert calmly predicts on-camera.
At the Sunday premiere of “Life Itself,” James broke into tears as he introduced his film, which will air on CNN. The next two hours were a sobfest, as most of the audience cried — and often laughed, too. When the credits rolled, Ebert’s wife Chaz took the stage joined by Marlene Iglitzen, the wife of Ebert’s longtime movie sparring partner Gene Siskel.
Chaz talked about how people called her a saint for taking care of Roger as his health failed after a thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2002. “What they didn’t know is how much my heart grew from having been with him for all those years, for loving him, for taking care of him, for having him take care of me,” Chaz said. During the Q&A, an audience member asked what Ebert would have thought of “Life Itself.” Chaz knew that “he would say two thumbs up.”
The stirring documentary, which was shot during what would be the last five months of Ebert’s life, includes interviews with Ebert’s director friends Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, as well as critics A.O. Scott and Richard Corliss. Here are five of the film’s most surprising moments.
1. Ebert never got to say good-bye to Gene Siskel. In the documentary, Marlene talks about how Gene hid his brain cancer diagnosis in 1998, out of fear that Disney would replace him on ABC’s “Siskel & Ebert.” Ebert had planned to visit Gene at the hospital, but he passed two days before the visit. Chaz said that Ebert was so heartbroken, he was determined to share the details of his own health after he got sick.
2. Ebert signed “a do not resuscitate.” In the final days of his life, he sent James emails like “i’m fading” and “i can’t.” He said his hands were so swollen, he wasn’t able to use a computer. He secretly signed a DNR at the hospital without telling Chaz, which she learned about on the day of his death. In the film, she described the moment of his passing as “a wind of peace” and “I knew it was time to accept it.”
3. Ebert met Chaz at Alcoholics Anonymous. In his memoir,
Ebert claims to have first talked to her at a
4. Laura Dern once gave Ebert a present that belonged to Marilyn Monroe. After Ebert presented Dern with a Sundance tribute, Dern sent him a heartfelt letter with a special memento. It was a puzzle that Lee Strasberg had given her, a gift from Alfred Hitchcock to Marilyn Monroe. Ebert later gave the puzzle to director Ramin Bahrani, with the instructions that one day, “You have to give it to someone else who deserves it.”
5. Ebert loved “The Great Gatsby.”It was his favorite book. He had his journalist friend Bill Nack recite the final lines back to him hundreds of times. Here it is, Roger: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Ebert compiled "best of the year" movie lists beginning in 1967, thereby helping provide an overview of his critical preferences. His top choices were:
Roger Ebert Documentary Life Itself Is a Poignant ... - Vulture David Edelstein
Steve James’s Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself, is a tender portrait of the late film critic, who managed to put an apparently Brobdingnagian ego to benevolent, ultimately life-affirming ends. James—whose Hoop Dreams was the beneficiary of a fervent campaign by Ebert—cuts back and forth between Ebert’s last days and the story of his rise, first as a daily newspaper critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, then as co-host with Gene Siskel of Sneak Previews (later Siskel & Ebert & the Movies). Friends and colleagues allude to the hugeness, the Chicago-ness of the man—the appetite for food, booze (until he sobered up in 1979), raucous storytelling, and sex. (“He had the worst taste in women … gold-diggers, opportunists, or psychos,” says one old pal.) But that portrait is poignantly at odds with the man who appears on-camera missing much of his lower face, a flap of skin hanging in the approximate shape of a chin. The surgery—which eliminated Ebert’s ability to speak, eat, or drink—gives his face a simpleminded, Quasimodo-like cast that is constantly belied by the words he types and that are spoken aloud by a computer. Not even The Diving Bell and the Butterfly drives home the mind-body schism as movingly.
According to friends and colleagues, Ebert was “facile”—he never spent longer than half an hour writing a review. He was an old-fashioned newspaperman: clear, succinct, logical. His concentration was phenomenal. He had the ability to outline in his head, to write (and speak) in whole paragraphs. That’s one reason he paired so well with Siskel, no less an egomaniac but a random sputterer, an often touchingly vulnerable blowhard.
James does a superb job chronicling their hate-love relationship, suggesting in the end that apart from his wife, Chaz, Ebert never had a truer bond. That might be because no one else got away with challenging him—he hated being jarred out of those elegant paragraphs. Nevertheless, he reached out to other critics. A few of the best—A. O. Scott, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Richard Corliss—attest to his influence and personal generosity. More surprising is the number of directors who appear and with whom he hobnobbed: Werner Herzog, who calls Ebert “a soldier of cinema, a wounded comrade,” and Martin Scorsese, who credits Ebert and Siskel with shoring him up at a very low point in his career. But it’s easy to see why they deferred to him. He was, for a time, the most powerful critic in America and a TV celebrity. He was one of them.
Love him or not, the modern film critic must define himself or herself against Roger Ebert—especially in how he adapted to changing technology, finally building a community via blogging and tweeting around his titanic self. The modern human being must define himself against how he lived his final years, when he lost his (big) mouth and discovered an even stronger, truer voice.
When I was preparing to go to the Nantucket Film Festival, the
first thing on my list of films to see was Life Itself. I wanted to
see it because it is a documentary about Roger Ebert, a film critic who was so
central to the development of film criticism in
I’ve gone back and forth in my mind as to whether or not this was a disappointment. Life Itself does tell Ebert’s story, and there was a lot to his professional development that I did not know about, but because James’ focus is on the man behind the thumbs, the documentary is more about Ebert’s spirit. Yes, there are interviews with directors whose work he championed (most notably Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese, both of whom I admire), and other film critics, such as A.O. Scott, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Richard Corliss are interviewed about his contributions to their field, but a good portion of the film is spent on the footage James got of Ebert in his hospital room and in rehabilitation as he tried to recover from cancer, which had plagued him for 10 years. It is that end-of-life struggle that resonates most.
Ebert is depicted as a character of depth and complexity, which is rare in contemporary documentaries. In fiction films, we are given complete access to the characters created for the story–their emotional lives, as well as their behaviors. But in a documentary, we are often limited by the subject’s power to reveal only what (s)he wishes to make public. In this case, the film is based on Ebert’s previously published memoir of the same name, but in James’ hands–with this footage of Ebert at the end of his life, the choice to include his step-children and grandchildren, who learned a lot from him, as well as early outtakes from the Siskel and Ebert television show that demonstrate the very real animosity between the two critics–we see many layers to Ebert’s personality. He is a loving and beloved husband, stepfather, and grandfather. He is a sometimes arrogant film critic and writer who had no trouble defending his views, but who, unlike the stereotypical critic, was just as passionate in promoting outstanding films as he was in cutting down poorly conceived, bad films. It is not all a show for the cameras, although Ebert seems to have been very pleased to have become a film subject in his last days. There are things missing from this documentary (for example, Siskel’s successor, film critic Richard Roeper is never mentioned, although he co-hosted At The Movies with Ebert for eight years), but then how could there not be; no one’s life story can be told in 116 minutes. This depiction feels very real.
Ebert was criticized, along with Gene Siskel, for having simplified criticism with the thumbs up/thumbs down designations, but for those of us who have actually read Ebert’s criticism and not just watched him on TV, the thumbs are a minor part of his contribution. Ebert, the film tells us, once called the movies “a machine that generates empathy.” Life Itself fits that description as well. It also leaves us thinking about mortality, love, passion, and how to embrace life’s challenges. The feeling I left the Dreamland Theater with after seeing Life Itself was one of loss, but at the same time, I felt reinvigorated about the value of cinema, and I think Ebert would have liked that.
Life Itself / The Dissolve Genevieve Koski
At one point in Life Itself, Steve James’ documentary based on Roger Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name, Ebert’s wife, Chaz, wryly mentions that her husband is “death-obsessed”—an understandable position, given that at this point in filming, Ebert was in the midst of what would turn out to be the last of many, many hospital stays during his 11-year battle with cancer. But there’s an overwhelming sense that Ebert’s fixation on death is simply an extension of his zeal for life in all its complexity, which Life Itself embodies from its title on down. Death is a part of life—one that informs everything we do, on some level or another—and watching Ebert characterize whatever time he has left as “money in the bank,” from what viewers know is his deathbed, is life-affirming and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Those hospital scenes help make what could have been a fairly straightforward profile a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking, as much a discourse on life and death in general as the story of one specific, extraordinary life. Credit for that certainly goes to James, but also to Ebert, who helps the director orchestrate the movie as it’s filming, via onscreen emails and the computer software that allowed him to speak when his body would no longer let him. When Ebert cheekily orders James to film himself in the hospital-room mirror, or sends the director an email expressing glee that they got some grody footage of his G-tube being suctioned out, it’s clear he considers himself more than just the subject of this film.
Such moments of fourth-wall-breaking are appropriate in the context of Ebert’s life, a good portion of which was spent hobnobbing and collaborating with the filmmakers he wrote about in his official capacity as the Chicago Sun-Times’ film critic, and later, as the co-host of Sneak Previews and At The Movies. (James is among those filmmakers; Ebert, along with Gene Siskel, was a vocal advocate of Hoop Dreams when it came out in 1994.) Ebert wrote about film, yes—prolifically, astutely, and seemingly effortlessly—but he also lived it, and the filmmakers he befriended along the way were cast members in the movie of his life. Many of them are actual cast members in Life Itself as well, including Martin Scorsese (who also executive-produced), Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Ramin Bahrani, and Ava DuVernay, who all contribute fond remembrances of Ebert as both a critic and person.
But not too fond. Appropriately, Life Itself is reverent while still being critical of its subject, acknowledging his flaws (his alcoholism, his terrible taste in women pre-Chaz, a prurient streak that led, among other things, to his collaboration with Russ Meyer) in the context of his humanity. The film’s overview of Ebert’s rivalry with Siskel in particular is fascinating for the glimpse it provides of both men’s insecurities, as well as their biting wit; a blooper reel of At The Movies where the two snipe at each other between takes, camera-ready smiles pasted on as they hiss between their teeth, is deliciously awkward. But it also makes time to acknowledge the deep-seated—sometimes very deep—respect the two held for each other, even if it took Siskel’s death for it to become completely evident to Ebert and those around him.
The At The Movies era was arguably the most important phase of Ebert’s career, and Life Itself spends an appropriately sized chunk of time exploring it, via archival footage and interviews with producers and Siskel’s widow Marlene, among others. But it’s only a single chapter in the sprawling story of Ebert’s life, which the film skips through semi-chronologically, filling in the essential moments on the timeline, but finding much more fruitful material in the footnotes. The stamp he used to print his byline as a journalism-obsessed adolescent; the time he literally stopped the presses of the college paper The Daily Illini as a cocky, audacious editor; his stilted, disastrous first time on camera; him explaining Michael Apted’s Up series to his granddaughter as he writes a review of 56 Up from his hospital bed: These are the shadows and highlights that fill in the picture of Ebert as a person, not a Wikipedia entry. And they’re given further life by Ebert’s words, written in the book Life Itself and judiciously delivered via voiceover in the film by voice actor Stephen Stanton, who makes his voice sound just enough like Ebert’s to make the narration feel natural without tipping over into spooky.
Despite all that, the specter of death hangs heavy over Life Itself, which went into production when Ebert was still alive and relatively optimistic about the future. (A short scene where Roger and Chaz discuss the re-design of rogerebert.com, which didn’t launch until after his death in April 2013, is an especially meta bit of foreshadowing.) Watching that optimism fade over the course of the present-day footage in the hospital is gut-wrenching, particularly when James focuses his camera on the steadfast Chaz, who lets only the tiniest glimpses of fear and frustration peek through her resolute façade. Those glimpses are enough, though, to remind viewers that they are watching Ebert’s eulogy, one he helped author in more ways than one.
But Life Itself’s most powerful element is one Ebert had no control over: its context. Ebert was an advocate of context in criticism, and it would probably please him as both a critic and a fan of irony to know that his death is what enlivens Life Itself. Watching that context actually take shape onscreen is remarkable—remarkable that James had the premonition and audacity to capture it as he did, and that Ebert not only let him, but encouraged it. After 45 years of watching, critiquing, and loving film, the man knew what made a good movie.
'Life Itself': Ode to a cinematic game changer - Brent ... Brent Marchant
It’s a rare occasion when someone comes along who ends up
being a genuine game changer in his or her particular field of endeavor. But,
when such individuals make their presence felt, they leave an indelible mark on
their craft, changing it forever. In the field of film criticism, that
distinction belongs to Roger Ebert (1942-2013), who almost single-handedly
altered the way we look at movies and whose storied life is now the subject of
the engaging new documentary, “Life Itself.”
Based on Ebert’s autobiography, director Steve James’s documentary chronicles his subject’s life story from his teenage years as neighborhood reporter for a self-published newspaper to his acclaimed career as
Ebert’s contributions to the field of film criticism are almost too numerous to mention. His 46-year career included positions as Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, as co-host of several TV series (most notably Sneak Previews, At the Movies and Siskel & Ebert & The Movies) and as the author of numerous books. He was also a regular presenter about cinema at the Conference on World Affairs and even co-wrote the screenplay for the Russ Meyer cult classic “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (1970). And his efforts didn’t go unnoticed, either. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, the first film critic ever to receive this prestigious award. Then, in 2005, he was honored again, this time with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the only film critic ever so recognized. (Not bad for a middle-class kid from
While the picture covers the entire spectrum of Ebert’s
career, much of it examines his famous (some might say infamous) relationship
with film critic Gene Siskel (1946-1999) of The Chicago Tribune. As
The film also focuses heavily on the other significant relationship in Ebert’s life, that of his marriage to his wife, Chaz. Roger met Chaz late in life after years of dating women who, according to some of his friends, were of “questionable character.” But Chaz changed Roger’s life, introducing him to the love that always eluded him in his younger years. She would prove to be his rock in his waning days, too, remaining loyal and upbeat through all of his travails, which were much more taxing than most people knew, despite his very public presence almost right up until the end.
But what’s perhaps most illuminating about this film is its portrayal of the relationship Roger had with himself. He was very much in touch with who he was and how his life unfolded. In fact, he believed that we each compose the script of our own lives, that they’re like our own personal movies in which we’re actor, director and screenwriter all rolled into one. And, even though he was quite outspoken in his criticism of alternative life philosophies (such as New Age thought), his own outlook nevertheless seems remarkably consistent with the principles of conscious creation, the notion that we create our own reality with our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Some might argue that there are discrepancies between his views and those who practice conscious creation, but, in my opinion, I believe any such differences are mostly semantic, particularly given the similarities in the outcomes that each outlook propounds to evoke.
The creations Ebert materialized were quite impressive, to say the least. For instance, through his TV series, he brought film criticism to the masses, and, in doing so, he made it accessible to those who may have previously seen the subject as too high-brow or aloof. In fact, he was so successful at this that industry insiders were initially reluctant to embrace these shows (or even to measure their impact) simply because they were hosted by “Midwestern” film critics, presenters viewed as folksy rubes who couldn’t possibly possess the sophistication and clout of New York or Los Angeles critics like Pauline Kael. How wrong the detractors were, especially when the shows took off and became hits in the ratings.
By broadening the audience for serious film criticism, Ebert
also helped to broaden the profession itself. This is most evident on his web
site, www.rogerebert.com, which became his
“voice” after his cancerous lower jaw was surgically removed and left him
unable to speak. But, in addition to providing a venue for Ebert’s output, the
site also became a platform for upcoming film critics whose words might not
otherwise have been given voice. By mentoring a new generation of reviewers,
Roger furthered the reach of his calling and those who would take up the
gauntlet in his wake. His efforts in this regard are praised in the film, too,
in interviews with fellow critics like A.O. Scott and Richard Corliss.
Roger’s generosity of spirit was apparent not only in the nurturing of new critics, but also in the development of new cinematic talent. Throughout his career, Ebert was famous for giving press to the works of aspiring or little-known directors, such as Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani, Greg Nava and Ava Duvernay, all of whom are interviewed in the film. He was instrumental in helping to make their careers, something that benefitted both those artists and the moviegoing public.
However, despite Ebert’s willingness to support the works of up-and-coming directors (and even to befriend them in some cases), he maintained a scrupulous degree of integrity when it came to assessing their pictures. Scorsese, for example, discusses Ebert’s harsh (and disheartening) criticism of his film “The Color of Money” (1986). Despite four Academy Award nominations (including a best actor win for Paul Newman), Ebert tore into his friend’s picture. Scorsese confesses that he was disappointed at the time, but he also admits how he later recognized that Ebert’s criticisms helped make him a better filmmaker, a “gift” that would prove valuable in his future projects. In being honest, Ebert may have ruffled some feathers in the short run, but his wisdom subsequently helped elevate the art form he so loved, another of his inspired creations, to be sure.
But, for all his professional accomplishments, his personal triumphs were amazing achievements as well. Just ask Chaz and her family, many of whom are interviewed in the film and serve as a topic of discussion in voiceover narrations from Roger’s memoir. Through them, he built a family for himself. And that accomplishment, as fulfilling as it was, wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for another of his achievements – kicking the drinking habit – for it was through his association with Alcoholics Anonymous that he would meet his future bride (and everything that came with that). Indeed, to paraphrase Clarence, the lovable guardian angel from Frank Capra’s legendary Christmas classic, “Roger, you’ve truly had a wonderful life.” And, fortunately for Roger, he recognized this, too, regardless of whatever difficulties may have graced his path along the way.
“Life Itself” paints a beautiful portrait of a towering
figure, and it does so with sequences that are both heartbreaking and
heartwarming. Its selection of archive, interview and recent footage tells a balanced,
frank and compelling story, warts and all. There are both ample laughs and
touching moments, as well as film clips from many of Ebert’s favorite movies,
all combining to create one of the most complete pictures I’ve seen in quite a
long time. The film is a sure-fire contender in the documentary categories for
this year’s awards competitions.
As a longtime
Roger Ebert left an incredible mark on an industry, an art form, even the nation’s culture. He helped transform a casual pastime into something more, something that both entertains and enlightens but that also maintains a certain familiarity we can all relate to. That’s quite an accomplishment, one for which all moviegoers should be grateful.
Take a bow, Roger.
Life Itself: The Roger Ebert documentary, directed by Steve ... Dana Stevens from Slate
Sight & Sound [Jason Anderson] November 14, 2014
Sundance Review: 'Life Itself' - Film.com James Rocchi
Indiewire [Chase Whale] The Playlist
Life Itself Celebrates Roger Ebert and His Capacity for Joy Stephanie Zacharek from The Village Voice
Sundance 2014 Review: Thumbs Up For Roger Ebert Doc LIFE... Jason Gorber from Twitch
Life Itself - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
DVD Talk [William Harrison] Blu-Ray
DVD Sleuth [Mike Long] Blu-Ray
Sound On Sight Brian Welk
Cambridge Day [T. Meek] Tom Meek
Sundance Review: LIFE ITSELF | Badass Digest Devin Faraci
FILM REVIEW: Life Itself - The Buzz - CBC.ca - Canadian... Eli Glasner from CBC News
The Playlist [Chase Whale] capsule review
5 surprises about CNN's Roger Ebert film, 'Life Itself' Thom Patterson from CNN, January 7, 2015
Daily | Sundance 2014 | Steve James's LIFE ITSELF - Fandor David Hudson from Fandor
'Life Itself' Director Steve James Explains the Challenges of ... Eric Kohn interview from indieWIRE, July 5, 2014
Chaz Ebert and director Steve James on Roger Ebert's legacy Andrew O’Hehir interview from Salon, July 2, 2014
Life Itself: Sundance Review - The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy
Todd McCarthy on the Secret to Roger Ebert's Popularity Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter, April 11, 2013
'Life Itself' Review: Roger Ebert Gets the Doc He Deserves ... Scott Foundas from Variety, also seen here: Ebertfest: Roger Ebert's Film Festival: Life Itself
Roger Ebert Documentary 'Life Itself': 5 Most Surprising ... Ramin Setoodeh from Variety
Documentary Life Itself is strangely devoid of Roger Ebert's ... Liam Lacey from The Globe and the Mail
'Life Itself' movie review - Washington Post Ann Hornaday
Review: “Life Itself” lovingly chronicles the complex life of ... Steve Murray from Atlanta Arts
Roger Ebert doc 'Life Itself' deserves a thumbs up - Los ... Kenneth Turan from The LA Times
Chuck Koplinski: 'Life Itself' unique and moving Chuck Koplinski fron The Champaign-Urbana News Gazette
Life Itself Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert Matt Zoller Seitz
And Fade Out ... but Not Fade Away Geoffrey O’Brien from The New York Times, also seen here: 'Life Itself,' Reminiscences of Roger Ebert - NYTimes.com
Jancsó, Miklós World Cinema
Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó gained international
recognition in the late 1960s, when The Round-Up (1966), The Red and
the White (1967) and The Confrontation (1969) garnered numerous
awards at a variety of international film festivals. Displaying evidence of a
developing revolutionary vision and uniquely formalistic cinematic style, these
films not only established Jancsó's reputation as an auteur, but also helped to
serve notice to the world that Hungarian filmmaking had entered into a dynamic
Jancsó's world-wide acclaim reached its peak with Red Psalm (1972), for which he was named best director at the Cannes Film Festival. Red Psalm stands as perhaps the most coherent expression of the director's desire to combine a revolutionary form of filmic language with the theme of the moral complexities of social revolution. Although he would receive a lifetime achievement award at
All-Movie Guide Sandra Brennan from All Movie Guide
A key figure in the development of the new Hungarian cinema, filmmaker earned international recognition for his films / (1965), / (1967), and / (1968). These films best reflect 's tendency toward abstraction and contain a distinctive combination of revolutionary viewpoints and highly structured, formal cinematic style. Imagery is more important than dialogue, which is used sparingly to encourage audiences to contemplate 's underlying messages. The director tends to place actors in geometric patterns that mirror the landscapes around them.
Many of 's films examine the terrible aftermath of war. Although his first films offered sympathetic explorations of the human characters, his later works became increasingly concerned with the use of imagery for its own sake. 's landmark films of the '60s won many international awards and special recognition at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1972, he again earned international acclaim and the Best Director Award at
Images of power and the power of images: Part II Part II: 1981 onwards from Kinoeye
This silly profession Miklós Jancsó interviewed by Andrew James Horton from Kinoeye
'There's Nothing More International Than a Pack of Pimps' A Conversation between Pierre Clémenti, Miklos Janscó, Glauber Rocha and Jean-Marie Straub convened by Simon Hartog in Rome, February 1970, from Rouge
Jancsó, Miklós They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
CANTATA (Oldás és kötés)
This is Miklos Jancso`s most Antonionian film. I`m saying this because it draws most eloquenty the figure of the estranged intellectual in search for his roots. Beautifuly photographed, intelligently exposed. Don`t go searching for a plot though; focus on the characters.
Oldás és kötés (1963) Kristie Hassen from the All Movie Guide
Highly acclaimed Hungarian director Miklos Jancso
brought this interesting film to the Argentina Film Festival in 1964,
indicating to the world what was going on in the art community of
A vast, burned-out plain; dwarfed in the middle of it two buildings, whitewashed walls blazing in the sun, against which black-cloaked figures flit to and fro; silence, except for occasional curt words of command, as a man running for the horizon is coolly shot down, others are taken away never to return. As one watches, fascinated but mystified, a pattern begins to emerge, and one realises that a terrifying cat-and-mouse game is being played. The setting is the years following the collapse of the 1848 revolution against Hapsburg rule; the authorities, to crush the last traces of rebellion, must eliminate the legendary Sándor Rózsa's guerilla bandits; and the plan deploys a Kafkaesque mix of fear and uncertainty to winnow, slowly but inexorably, the guerrillas from the peasant populace which has been rounded up. Jancsó's formally choreographed camera movements later developed into a mannerism; but here the stylisation works perfectly in making an almost abstract statement of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed. There are effectively no characters, no heroes one can admire or villains to hate; simply the men who always win, those who always lose.
Those who have never seen a film by
Miklos Jancso from the 1960s, when this Hungarian director was at his peak, are
usually astonished by the experience. When The Round-Up, his third film, came
In The Round-Up, Austrian soldiers representing the triumphant Hapsburg empire trap and interrogate the Hungarian partisans whose revolt against the empire's rule has petered out. The period is the mid-19th century and only the legendary Sandor Rosza's fighters stand in the way, succoured by the peasants. The drama is virtually divested of characters we can either sympathise with or hate. Instead, it deals largely in formal, abstract generalities. It is as if Jancso is merely watching, regretfully conscious that there are those who will be killed and those whose job it is to kill them. A man running on the horizon is calmly shot down. Another is taken away to be tortured. Short words of command seem to be the apotheosis of dialogue. The film achieves, in one critic's accurate view, "a total absorption of content into form".
All this takes place on a very particular landscape: the vast, summer-scorched Hungarian plains where whitewashed buildings, cloaked men and their horses appear to be the only occupants. It seems like a world apart, but one able to illustrate both a specific vision of Hungarian history and part of the story of mankind, where the powerful slowly but surely triumph over the weak.
The film is so precisely choreographed that the patterns play on the mind until they become clear and obvious in their meanings. The camera style is beautiful but almost merciless. If the film can be criticised for its lack of emotion, it can't be for its absence of power or for its cold appreciation of the situation it illustrates.
Later, with films such as The Confrontation and Red Psalm, Jancso's work begins to lose something through familiarity, and his obsession with half-naked girls and patterns becomes enervating. When he left Hungary for Italy in the 1970s, making erotic films such as Private Vices and Public Virtues (based on the Mayerling story), it seemed he had little more of value to say, or no way of saying it without repeating himself or exaggerating his weaknesses.
But the first few films were astonishing, whether dealing with Kossuth's rebels of the 1860s or the aftermath of the 1919 Hungarian revolution. They bitterly analysed the history of his persecuted country and commented, too, on the nature of violence in more general terms. No one has tried quite the same thing in the same way, and that is his most formidable legacy.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce