Mikhail Kalatozov, Aki and Mika Kaurismäki, Elia Kazan, Buster Keaton, Abdellatif Kechiche, Lodge Kerrigan, Abbas Kiarostami, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Kim Ki-duk, Takeshi Kitano, Satoshi Kon, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Grigori Kozintsev,
Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Stanley Kwan
Kadár, Ján World Cinema
Began his career after WWII making documentary shorts, then
Kadar and Klos deal with the horror of the Holocaust by detailing the moral plight of an Everyman: In 1942, thanks to his brother-in-law, an official of the Nazi occupation, a small town Slovak carpenter, Anton Brtko (Króner), is made Aryan controller of the little shop of Mrs Lautmann (Kaminská), a deaf elderly Jewish widow. The directors and co-writers play the story just like a provincial comedy of the time - dialectically countered by Zdenek Liska's minatory string score - as they trace the tragicomic relationship that develops between the widow and the controller in the brief period before the cattle trains are mustered for the transports. It shades darker and darker as 'Tono' finds himself getting more and more deeply involved in the secret Jewish support sytem, only to burst into the finale's remarkable dream sequence, where the couple wander free as lovers under the town's sun-dappled limes.
A wrenching, tragic-comic dissection of the effects of living
under the moral and physical constraints imposed by autocratic, fascist rule, The
Shop on Main Street deftly blends multi-dimensional characters, richly
nuanced performances, flawless dramatic structure, and intricate, bravura
camerawork into a film that leave a lasting impression on an audience, an
experience that asks much of an audience, but refuses to engage in simple
sermonizing or easy sentimentality. The Shop on Main Street, however,
rejects the conventional approach to narratives set during wartime (i.e.,
heroism and self-sacrifice), and instead focuses on the morally compromised
(and sometimes morally bankrupt) characters and the choices they make to
survive, and in some cases, prosper under fascist rule at the expense of
others. Not surprisingly, The Shop on Main Street won the Academy Award
for Best Foreign Film in 1965.
Set in a small Slovakian village seemingly insulated from the war, invasion, and occupation of most of
Antonin “Tono” Brtko (Jozef Kroner, in a subtle, multi-layered performance), a carpenter by trade, has chosen the path of least resistance to the fascist regime: grudging acceptance and an discomforting passivity. His life, however, isn't free of complication. His wife, Evelyna (Hana Slivkova, equally restrained and sympathetic in her role) prefers a more active collaboration with the regime, one with potential financial and social rewards. Her brother-in-law, Marcus Kolkotsky (Frantisek Zvarík) is the head of the local fascists, a walking stereotype defined by his voracious desires and hunger for power. Tono has little affection for Kolkotsky, but accepts the need for at least superficial deference to the more powerful man. Kolkotsky, for his part, offers Tono a Faustian bargain, the administration of a small textile shop operated by an elderly Jewish widow, Rozalie Lautmann (Ida Kaminska). By official (actually Kolkotsky's) decree, Tono has been declared the “Aryan controller” of the widow Lautmann's shop. Due either to her age (and possible senility) or to willful blindness, Rozalie misunderstands their new, respective roles and the diminution of her status. Instead, she is convinced Tono has been sent to her shop as an assistant. Kadar and his co-screenwriter wring a great deal of sympathy and pathos for Rozalie. She, in fact, seems unaware of the war, or the fascists that have taken control of the village (and what that might mean for the other Jews). Tono's friend (and local humanist), Imro Kuchar (Martin Holly) suggests that Tono accept the pretense, offering him both moral and financial incentives (the latter from an underground Jewish organization that pays the Aryan controllers protection money). After some hesitation, Tono willingly accepts Kuchar's proposition.
Conflict and tension for Tono appears from several different sources, from his venal wife, from his corrupt brother-in-law, from his growing affection and respect for the widow Lautmann, from the larger, external forces that threaten to overwhelm his newly arrived at arrangement that, for the first time, offers him money, status, and respect. The moral dilemma for the protagonist emerges from a discrepancy in knowledge between character and history. Presuming even a superficial understanding of history, the audience is likely to project the inevitable, inescapable events that will overturn the lives of Rozalie and Tono, and force Tono into a stark choice, between his moral integrity and personal survival. Whatever choice he makes, he loses, the result of a zero-sum game. That choice, the culmination of the second act, which itself turns on the development of the amicable relationship between Tono and Rozalie, between a deeply flawed, anxiety-ridden character, and a sweet, apparently naïve woman (who herself is symbolic of the unsuspecting, innocent victims of fascist regimes everywhere). The dilemma here can be both generalized (the moral choices necessary to survive under authoritarian regimes) and particularized (the hard choices made under the Nazi regime during World War II by those it conquered and oppressed).
The final act in The Shop on Main Street unfolds in a single set over the course of a day, as the event the audience has foreseen finally occur, the deportation of the village's Jews. Tono is forced to decide between two equally unpalatable choices. That dilemma is played out primarily as an alcohol monologue, as Tono gradually breaks down under the stress of a decision he doesn't want to make. Kadar unhinges the camera from its tripod, and switches to an edgy, confrontational, handheld camera, tracking Tono through the shop like a predator. The camera in effect becomes Tono's conscience, the closer it gets the more effort he expends to evade it. Ultimately, however, Tono can escape neither the camera nor himself. He has time, however, for one more, tragic decision, a decision that leaves the audience disturbed, unsettled, yet moved by the final image of an imaginary, idyllic moment in time, one that the fascists can never enter.
by Ján Kadár Criterion essay
Turner Classic Movies Paul Tatara
also reviewing CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS
Images (David Gurevich) also reviewing CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS
The three movies of Jan Kadar that I have seen—"The Shop on Main Street" (1966), "The Angel Levine" (1970), and "Adrift," which opened yesterday at the Cinema Rendezvous—though differing in story and details of situation, all share a distinctive technical vocabulary and a pervasive, perhaps obsessive, preoccupation with a theme.
Actually, "Adrift," which was begun in
The Kadar theme concerns the failure to accept life's difficult blessings, and in each of the three films it is embodied in an anecdote having to do with a humble man who is strongly tempted to virtue but who, out of fear or skepticism or desire, resists the temptation and so loses the familiar gift—in each case a woman—that he learns too late has given his life its value.
In "Adrift" the hero (Rade Markovic) is a fisherman who rescues from the river a beautiful and utterly mysterious girl (Paula Pritchett). His interest in her, annoyance at first, grows until he can no longer make love to his wife (Milena Dravic) and when she takes sick and then miraculously almost recovers he prepares her medicine in a poisonous concentration — which he is about to give her when . . .
"Adrift" never quite ends; it circles. Its late sequences repeat its early sequences, and its central anecdote is told as a flashback in the course of an unreal inquisition that turns out to be a drunken dream. Dislocations between levels of reality are important to the movie, as its title suggests, and the deceptively simple, rather banal story is clearly intended to support a meaning structure that is at once demanding for its audience and, hopefully, magical in its associations.
I must say that I think the magic at no time works, that the demands are purely gratuitous, that the simplicities of the story are every bit as real as they are apparent, and that its banality is only enforced by the devices — the shock cutting, the symbolic clues, the musical mottos, including the choir of heavenly voices that seems to travel from one Kadar movie to another—by which the director intends to impress significance upon material from which he has been unable or unwilling to extract meaning on its own terms.
Nevertheless, "Adrift" is serious work by a director who knows what he wants to do and commands the resources and the skill to do it. I continue to find Kadar a dull artist, but in the context of his particular kind of semimystical cinema he provides at least the example of a genuine intellectual ambition at work.
In the previous Kadar movies I have seen, the prize neglected was played by Ida Kaminska, an actress with qualities calculated to bring out the worst in her director. The very lovely and talented Miss Dravic is in every way an improvement, except that stuck in bed and made feverish, she begins to seem, in Jan Kadar's hands, a little like Ida Kaminska. An American, Paula Pritchett, plays the girl in the river. Between the classic angularity of her face and the magnificent nonangularity of her body she combines the best of two erotic-fantasy worlds. But she does not, if you happen to notice, offer much of a performance.
She's sloppy, she's arrogant, she's stubborn, she's wrongheaded, and at
least half the time her critical judgements aren't supported by the
observations she herself
has made! And yet, she's the most exciting and influential film critic in
Kael, Pauline Art and Culture
Pauline Kael, Wickidly Inspirational Movie Critic Kathleen Geier from Goodye Magazine, July – September, 2001
One picture of Pauline Kael strikes a peculiarly jarring chord. In it, a bescarfed, blandly-smiling Kael cuddles with a cute-faced pooch. But this cloying portrait bore scant resemblance to Kael’s actual writings and personality, which, above all, were lusty and combative. Kael, the celebrated film critic who died on September 3 at age 82, was a fierce opponent of fake gentility and treacly sentiment in all its guises.
For instance, here’s Kael on The Sound of Music: “Wasn’t there perhaps one little Von Trapp who didn’t want to sing his head off, or who screamed that he wouldn’t act out little glockenspiel routines for Papa’s party guests, or who got nervous and threw up if he had to get on a stage?” About Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, she wrote: “Shangri-la, the genteel Himalayan utopia of peace, health, and eternal life, is enough to make one head to the nearest gin mill.” She even found the New Testament “a bit sticky.”
Though at the time of her death she was hailed as perhaps the greatest movie
critic of her generation, she did not achieve success until relatively late in
life. The youngest of five children, she was born a Polish Jew in 1919 on a
She published her first movie review in 1953 after a magazine editor heard her arguing about a movie in a coffee shop, and asked her to contribute a review of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Kael slammed it. Soon she was writing about movies for Partisan Review, Sight and Sound, and other publications. Her first book, I Lost It At the Movies, was published in 1965.
What a rude breath of fresh air she must have seemed! In her slangy, jazzy prose, Kael confronted the puritanical authoritarianism that dominated postwar culture. With a few exceptions like James Agee and Dwight MacDonald, American movie criticism in mid-century consisted mainly of dreck churned out by middlebrow fatheads like the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther. She was particularly brutal with what she saw as the vanities of the audience. “I would like to suggest,” she wrote in 1961, “that the educated audience often uses ‘art’ films in much the same self-indulgent way as the mass audience uses Hollywood ‘product,’ finding wish fulfillment in the form of cheap and easy congratulation on their sensitivities and liberalism.”
Intellectual though she was, she disdained theoretical approaches to movies. She saw no point in having abstract, a priori conceptions and rules for judging art, and instead advocated an open, ad hoc aesthetic. “Art is the greatest game, the supreme entertainment, because you discover the game as you play it,” she wrote. “We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way. Why should pedants spoil the game?” She claimed she almost never saw the same movie twice.
Kael was most influential during the years she wrote for The New Yorker (1968-1991).
If her biography is ever written (apparently, there is one in the works),
surely the comic high point will be the epic battles between Kael and her
legendary editor, William Shawn. One writer remarked that Shawn “was as
obsessed with keeping smut out of his magazine as Joe McCarthy was with getting
Communists out the government.” This set up a natural conflict between the
ultra-proper, passive-aggressive Shawn and the blunt, salty-tongued Kael.
After reading her pan of Terence Malick’s
Kael came out on top in most of these confrontations, but she lost one major battle. She wanted to review Deep Throat, but Shawn neatly prevented her. “He was ill and sprung his heart troubles on me, so I gave in on that one,” she explained.
She had a keen eye for new talent, and was an early champion of Coppola,
Altman, Scorsese. Reviewing Steven Spielberg’s first movie, she wrote: “If
there is such a thing as movie sense … Spielberg really has it. But may be so
full of it that he doesn’t have much else.” Other judgments, however, seem
badly dated, such as her pronouncement that the night of the premiere of Last
Tango in Paris was “a date that should become a landmark in movie history
In terms of both her colloquial style and her pop-friendly sensibility, Kael was enormously inspirational. Among her most prominent followers are critics Elvis Mitchell, James Wolcott, David Edelstein, and Greil Marcus.
Still, Kael’s writing drew critical fire as well as praise. She and her film-critic followers (the “Paulettes”), were accused of orchestrating their opinions, and she was so feared that she was frequently banned from advance screenings. The writer Renata Adler, herself a sometime film critic for the New York Times, famously eviscerated Kael in the pages of The New York Review of Books, judging her 1980 collection, When the Lights Go Down, to be “piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless.” Critic Andrew Sarris compared her reviews to papal pronouncements of infallibility. In later years, her reviews sometimes took on a strident, bullying tone. Her friend Roy Blount, Jr., remarked: “Tell Kael that you enjoyed a movie that she thought was, as she might put it, not ... very ... good, and she will say, ‘Oh’ in a certain tone and look at you ... as if you’d said you’d gotten a kick out of Goebbels’s speech the other night.”
The critic Louis Menand wrote that as the quality of movies began to deteriorate in the late 70s. Kael began to overpraise and over-damn with hyperbolic abandon. By the time she retired from The New Yorker in 1991, the film culture she helped to build was fading away. Her farewell to the movies: “I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible … the prospect of having to sit through another Oliver Stone movie was too much.”
Nineteen-sixty two was the year I found out there was more to movies than rooting for the good guys and cowering in your seat. I saw Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, and The Manchurian Candidate, probably the first American movie that could have carried Fassbinder's title Fear Eats the Soul. But 1962 was also the year of a filmic incident I've recalled at least as often as I've thought of any of those classics: the night I saw The Pirates of Blood River.
It was the last day of school. The theater was jammed with students, most of them graduating and most of them drunk. The air was thick with the tension oozing out of a thousand bodies. Up on screen, evil pirates, noble Huguenots, and a lot of piranha fish gave chase to a progressively incomprehensible story-line. The movie was not delivering: four years of high school for a reward like this? Suddenly, with bullets shooting off in all directions and nobody caring, a tall kid stood up in one of the front rows, turned to face the crowd, and raised his arms. "I NOMINATE THIS MOVIE SHIT-FUCK OF THE YEAR, 1962!" he roared--and just like that, the release everyone had come seeking was granted.
Puhlished in 1965 by Little, Brown and currently out of print, I Lost It at the Movies was Pauline Kael's first collection of movie criticism. She cites The Seventh Seal, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and The Manchurian Candidate. She does not mention The Pictures of Blood River. But her book has room for it--and for the anti-epiphany it could produce--as it has room for anything else that might go into the experience of seeing a movie, talking about it later, or remembering it years and years after that. "Film criticism is exciting just because there is no formula to apply," she wrote in 1963, in a precise, withering demolition of Andrew Sarris' "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962"--"just because you must use everything you are and everything you know." Thus Kael shares her pages with the audiences that surrounded her as she wrote from Berkeley and San Francisco from the mid '50s on, and with the academic and artist friends she argued with. She shares her pages with the New York critics who handed down the word she so gleefully and damagingly tossed back. "A lady critic" from "far-off San Francisco," Sarris wrote of Kael in 1968, in his The American Cinema, unable to bring himself to mention her by name, but his sneer only barely bottled up his outrage. Can you imagine! A woman! From San Francisco!
Paying her money like anybody else, Kael left the theater transformed or cheated. ("Robbe-Grillet...may say that...the existence of the two characters begins when the film begins and ends ninety-three minutes later, but, of course, we are not born when we go in to see a movie--though we may want to die by the time we leave.") Kael made prissy writers like Sarris uncomfortable because she demanded more from movies, from life, than they did. It was easy to find yourself in Kael's essays; it was harder to get out of them. As with West Side Story:
Sex is the great leveler, taste the great divider. I have premonitions of the beginning of the end when a man who seems charming or at least remotely possible starts talking about movies. When he says, "I saw a great picture a couple of years ago--I wonder what you thought of it?" I start looking for the nearest exit. His great picture generally turns out to be He Who Must Die or something else that I detested--frequently a socially conscious problem picture of the Stanley Kramer variety. Boobs on the make always try to impress with their high level of seriousness (wise guys, with their contempt for all seriousness).
It's experiences like this that drive women into the arms of truckdrivers--and, as this is America, the truckdrivers all too often come up with the same kind of status--seeking tastes: they want to know what you thought of Black Orpheus or Never on Sunday or something else you'd much rather forget.
Kael published her first review in 1953; the pieces in I lost It at the Movies begin in 1954, with an attack on the right-wing Night People and the left-wing Salt of the Earth. Straight off, Kael sucks everything into a movie: literature, politics, moronic comments heard leaving a theater, great wisecracks heard inside it, the mood of the country, the whole arc of culture from the Depression into the postwar boom. The reason I look back to Pauline Kael's book, though, does not exactly have to do with its perspicacity, anger, or love. (Reading Kael on Jules and Jim, it's hard not to fall in love: with the movie, its characters, with their love for each other and their time.) I look back to Kael's book--or, really, carry it with me, as I have since 1966, when I first read it--because like few books of criticism before or since it pays its promise in full: "you must use everything you are and everything you know." On page after page Kael's writing moves as if to match that pledge, to test its limits. The result, for a reader, isn't admiration or envy. It can be a kind of wonder: what would it feel like to write like that--to feel that alive? A lot of people other than myself are still trying to find out.
Reviews A-Z Pauline Kael capsule movie reviews (2,846 reviews in all)
Pauline Kael from Encyclopedia Britannica
Are Movies Going to Pieces? Pauline Kael from the Atlantic Monthly, November 1964
Zeitgeist and Poltergeist; Or, Are Movies Going to Pieces? Pauline Kael essay, December 1964
PAULINE KAEL ON “MASCULINE FEMININE” Pauline Kael, the review that got here hired at the New Republic, November 19, 1966
The Pearls of Pauline article on Kael from Time magazine, July 12, 1968
"Trash, Art, and the Movies" Pauline Kael from Harper’s magazine, February 1969
"Raising Kane" lengthy Kael essay on the making of CITIZEN KANE from the New Yorker, February 20 and February 27, 1971
"Stanley Strangelove" Pauline Kael’s legendary rebuke of CLOCKWORK ORANGE, from the New Yorker, January 1972
Last Tango In Paris Pauline Kael Criterion essay, from The New Yorker, October 27, 1972
"The Man From Dream City" Pauline Kael remembers Cary Grant, from the New Yorker, July 14th, 1975
The Shining Pauline Kael review excerpts from the New Yorker, June 9, 1980, reprinted at the Kubrick Site
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Ouch Ouch) Renata Adler reviews Kael’s book, When the Lights Go Down, from Time magazine, August 4, 1980, also at the New York Review of Books (into only, subscription needed) seen here: Renata Adler's 7,646-word massive attack on Kael and also in part by Jim Emerson from Scanners, February 21, 2007: Pauline and Renata Go Showboating - scanners
HISS BANG BANG Neal Gabler reviews
Kael’s book State of the Art (404
pages) from the New York Times,
"A Passage to India, Unloos'd Dreams" Kael from the New Yorker, January 14, 1985
Final Cut: Dreams
and Disaster in the Making of “Heaven’s Gate” Kael from the New Yorker,
The New Yorker (Pauline Kael) Kael’s review of Platoon, January 12, 1987
God’s Pickpockets Kael’s review of Hairspray from the New Yorker, March 7, 1988
GOOD ONES NEVER MAKE YOUR VIRTUOUS'
book review of Kael’s Hooked
(510 pages), by Robert Sklar from the New
For Pauline Kael, Retirement as Critic Won't Be a Fade-Out Janet Maslin from the New York Times, March 13, 1991
Wild Old Woman Richard Corliss from Time magazine,
OF THE TIMES; Pauline Kael, Loving and Loathing Margo Jefferson reviewing For Keeps, by Pauline Kael
(1,291 pages) from the New York Times,
The Atlantic Monthly’s review of Kael’s For Keeps: Thirty Years at the Movies Roy Blount Jr. from the Atantic Monthly, December 1994
Pauletteburo? Fur flies over the Kael "kopy kats" from the Boston
Teacher's pet Wes Anderson
talks about his pilgrimage
to the home of Pauline Kael, interview by Chris Lee from Salon,
My Private Screening With Pauline Kael
Wes Anderson from the New York
A Gift For Effrontery Ken Tucker’s Brilliant
Careers from Salon,
VISIT WITH KAEL; Making Sport David
Edelstein and Wes Anderson letters to the editor from the New York Times,
In the shadow
of the screen Pauline Kael picks
five favorite novels that have something to do with the movies, from Salon,
A poem for Pauline
Kael's 80th birthday Roy Blount Jr.
Glorious High Pauline Kael on
Sam Peckinpah, from the Austin Chronicle,
Kiss Bang Bang a classic Kael
admirer letter to the editor from the New
Salon Books | Pauline Kael on the fun of writing disrespectfully Kael’s speech for the National Book Critics Circle awards, from Salon, March 16, 2000
Interview with the heretic Renata Adler, who also wrote for the New Yorker and the New York Times, offers her views of Kael, by Dennis Loy Johnson from Salon, August 21, 2000 [also see Adler’s review dated August 4, 1980]
THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Kael's Fate a letter to the editor clarifying Kael’s dismissal from McCall’s magazine from the New York Times, September 3, 2000
Lives: Filmmakers Tremble, and Gladiators Fall Apart Robin Finn from the New York Times,
Pauline Kael The critic: Pauline Kael, R.I.P. obituary essay by Stephanie Zacharek from Salon, September 3, 2001
Salon.com Arts & Entertainment | Remembering Pauline Kael Greil Marcus, Roger Ebert, Allen Barra, Michael Sragow, Charles Taylor and others from Salon, September 3, 2001, also seen here: Remembering Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael, Provocative and Widely Imitated New Yorker Film Critic, Dies at 82 Lawrence Van Gelder from the New York Times, September 4, 2001
The Critic Who Made You Fall in Love With Movies All Things Considered from NPR, including several audio interviews, September 4, 2001
argument Queen of brilliantly marshalled
argument, obituary by Nigel Andrews from the Financial Times,
Kael influenced Hollywood and moviegoers obit essay by Penelope Houston from the Guardian Unlimited, September 5, 2001
Pauline Kael, film critic, dies at 82 The Guardian, September 4, 2011
Why do we go to the movies? Pauline Kael essay, an extract from “Trash Art and the Movies” from Pauline Kael's Raising Kane, from The Guardian, September 5, 2001
She lost it at the movies obit essay by David Thomson from Salon, September 5, 2001
Exit the hatchet woman John Patterson from The Guardian, September 6, 2001
Best Lover a Movie Could Have
obit essay by David Edelstein from Slate,
A Reel Loss obit essay by Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2001
The film critics' film critic Philip French from The Observer, September 8, 2001
Tales of a Fiery Critic a collection
of voices by Michelle O’Donnell from the New
As the Lights Go Down obit essay by Michael Atkinson from the Village Voice,
"The Movies Lose a Love And a Friend" obit essay from A.O. Scott from the New York Times, September 16, 2001
Newsweek (David Ansen) Transition: Dancer in the Darkness, on Pauline Kael’s passing, September 17, 2001
Remembering Pauline Kael links to Kael-related articles from the New Yorker, September 17, 2001
All Hail Kael: A film series remembers the uncompromising New Yorker critic Pauline Kael Lisa Hom from the SF Weekly, November 21, 2001
Steven Rubio bids farewell Thank You to cultural critics Pauline Kael and Michael Rogin, by Steven Rubio from Bad Subjects, December 19, 2001
Not Recycle These Items a tribute to
Kael by Margo Jefferson from the New York
and Cons (an
appreciation of Pauline Kael, New Yorker's film critic), Artforum articles following the death of Pauline Kael,
Jonathan Demme films Pauline Kael excerpted reviews from the New Yorker, from Storefront Demme (2002)
to Another Blockbuster A.O. Scott recalling
Out of Focus Tim Grierson reviews Afterglow: A Last
Conversation With Pauline Kael by Francis Davis (128 pages), from Knot magazine,
New York Bookshelf/Nonfiction brief excerpt from Afterglow: A Last Conversation With Pauline Kael from the New York Times, October 20, 2002
excerpts from Kael interview in Afterglow: A Last Conversation
With Pauline Kael
by Francis Davis, from Salon
It Was Bad It Was Better A.O. Scott
from the New York Times,
Curious Combination essay on Kael & Sontag: Opposites Attract Me by David Thomson from the Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004
'It's really a crock' Pauline Kael, an edited extract from her review of THE STEPFORD WIVES at The New Yorker, from The Guardian, July 18, 2004
The Pearls of Pauline from Brights Lights Film Journal Allan Vanneman, November, 2004
The Critic (Interview with Armond White) White discusses his admiration for Kael in Filmmaker magazine, Winter 2004
the parcels of Pauline Mark Feeney
from the Boston Globe,
Pauline and Renata Go Showboating - scanners Jim Emerson from Scanners, February 21, 2007
"Q&A: Elvis Mitchell: Part 1" Mitchell recounts meeting Kael, from Undercover Black Man, March 5, 2007
Whatever happened to the adult movie? John Patterson from The Guardian, July 6, 2007
Grab me, or i'll open another... Victoria Moore from The Guardian, September 7, 2007
In Which Wes Anderson Tries To Game Pauline Kael - Film - This ... Wes Anderson’s essay about showing RUSHMORE to Pauline Kael, followed by a furious back and forth series of heated responses from David Edelstein and Anderson, from This Recording, August 18, 2008
7 most scathing Pauline Kael reviews | TotalFilm.com September 3, 2008
Why Warren Beatty's attack on Pauline Kael failed Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, February 3, 2010
Why Pauline Kael never saw a movie twice - Roger Ebert's Journal Transcript from pages 74-77 of Afterglow, A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael (2003), by Francis Davis, also including a four-part video conversation in 1982 between Pauline Kael and the Canadian film critic Brian Linehan, from The Chicago Sun-Times, October 4, 2010
Back Issues: Five essential Pauline Kael reviews. Nathan Heller from The New Yorker, October 17, 2011
Pauline Kael, Film Critic, Contrarian : The New Yorker Nathan Heller from The New Yorker, October 24, 2011
Tough Movie Love: Pauline Kael Dan Callahan book reviews of Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, by Brian Kellow and The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael, by Sanford Schwartz, from L Magazine, October 25, 2011
The Iron Lady: A New Biography of Pauline Kael Lawrence Levi from The New York Observer, October 25, 2011
Kiss Kiss, Gang Bang: Pauline Kael, Deep Throat and The New Yorker Lili Anolik from The New York Observer, October 25, 2011
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Deeper into Kael Jim Emerson from Scanners, October 25, 2011
Lucking Out and Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark Self-Styled Siren, October 25, 2011
The mysteries of Pauline Kael Camille Paglia from Salon, October 26, 2011
The '70s, as Dramatic as a Movie Janet Maslin from The New York Times, October 26, 2011
'Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark' Brian Kellow from The New York Times, October 26, 2011
Book recalls film critic Pauline Kael with relish Douglass K. Daniel from The San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2011, also at The Winnipeg Free Press seen here: Review: Laudable Pauline Kael biography shows roots of personal, controversial ...
Deep Throat and a run-in with the red pen | Media Monkey The Guardian, October 26, 2011
Roaring at the Screen With Pauline Kael Frank Rich from The New York Times, October 27, 2011
Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark reviewed: How - Slate The Carnal Critic, Dana Stevens from Slate, August 27, 2011
When Film Mattered: Pauline Kael's The Age of Movies Chris Barsanti from The Millions, October 27, 2011
The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy interviews recent Kael biographer Brian Kellows, October 27, 2011
Pauline Kael Reviews: The Ones She Got Wrong - Slate David Haglund from Slate, August 28, 2011, also seen here: When Pauline Kael Was Wrong
Book Review Podcast: Frank Rich Discusses the Career of Pauline Kael Frank Rich reviews two recent books on Kael, including an audio only broadcast (25:05) from The New York Times, August 28, 2011
Easy Reader: Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark Throws Radiant Light on ... David Finkle from The Huffington Post, October 28, 2011
Links for the Day: Debating Pauline Kael, 50 Best Movie Villains and ... Ed Gonzalez from The House Next Door, October 28, 2011
Why Pauline Kael never saw a movie twice - Roger Ebert's Journal Transcript from pages 74-77 of Afterglow, A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael (2003), by Francis Davis, also including a four-part video conversation in 1982 between Pauline Kael and the Canadian film critic Brian Linehan, from The Chicago Sun-Times, October 4, 2010
She Lost It At the Movies Kael interview by Susan Goodman from Modern Maturity magazine, March/April 1998
Kael: the last interview Francis Davis interview from The Guardian, October 31, 2002
Quotations Kael quotes from About.com
L’ENNUI B 87
Kahn seems particularly adept at examining the middle aged male identity crisis. An arrogant, middle-aged intellectual (Charles Berling) begins having an affair with a sexually compliant, but emotionally impenetrable adolescent girl (Sophie Guillemin), which drives him nuts, as she remains aloof to everything that has meaning to him, ignoring his very core as a man. And the more she ignores him, the more he wants to possess her, which only makes her need him even less, eventually leaving him in abject despair.
L'Ennui from Sight and Sound
The present. Recently separated from his wife, Parisian philosophy lecturer Martin finds himself ever more alienated from the niceties of his upper-middle-class life. Driving through a red-light district, he witnesses an altercation between 17-year-old Cécilia and the much older Meyers. He follows the latter into a sex bar and saves Meyers from a nasty beating. Meyers rewards him with one of his paintings, but on visiting his studio a few days later, Martin learns the painter has recently expired while making love with his model - Cécilia, with whom Meyers had been involved in a highly-charged affair. Martin now begins to meet her for regular sex.
Riddled with self-doubt and tortured by unremitting self-analysis, Martin is intrigued, infuriated and finally driven round the bend by Cécilia's inscrutable ability to live only in the present. When he learns she is two-timing him with an actor her own age (Momo), jealousy gives way to increasingly deranged behaviour. Cécilia abandons her dying father, leaves Martin behind, and goes on holiday with Momo. Martin picks up a prostitute in his car and promptly crashes into a tree. Martin recovers in hospital from his injuries, hopeful about the possibility of now taking his life forward again.
In its stark scrutiny of sex and sexuality, Cédric Kahn's compelling transposition of Alberto Moravia's 1960 novel La noia (Boredom) to a highly stylised contemporary Paris is an extension of his critically acclaimed Bar des rails and Trop de bonheur. Stylistically, however, where the quasi-documentary social realism of these earlier features situates them under the 'young French cinema' umbrella, L'Ennui has higher production values and constitutes an assured fresh departure. The film carries visual and thematic echoes of Last Tango in Paris (1972), First Name Carmen, and some of the work of Catherine Breillat. The key initial encounter between Cécilia and Martin, for instance, is reminiscent of the sexual stand-off played out between the 14-year-old Lili and Maurice in the seaside hotel room in Breillat's 36 Fillette - a film on which Kahn worked as assistant editor.
Sex in L'Ennui is presented in a resolutely detached manner. Titillation or the threat of slippage into the pornographic is subverted through the strong grounding of the sex scenes in the narrative, the eruption of humour (a deadpan quip, or the rhythmic thumping of a bed on a wooden floor), or simply sheer horror at the sexual violence. Kahn's methodical dissection of the formation and disintegration of an intense relationship between two pretty unappealing human beings is almost scientific in its precision: just as the movement and interaction of inanimate particles might be magnified through the lens of a microscope, so Kahn charts the fallout from the chance collision of two bodies finding themselves locked into the same deadly orbit. The sequences in which Cécilia and Martin have sex are no more or less significant within the overall canvas of the film than any of the other scenes that take place outside, inside, or in cars, and where we are just as alert to the emotional investment at stake in the spatial proximity or distance between their bodies.
The Meyers character - hauntingly embodied by the late Robert Kramer - looms large. Martin is increasingly plagued by the possibility that his passion for Cécilia may be no more than a hollow rerun of that previously shared between Cécilia and Meyers. But Meyers also represents painting, and his presence signals Kahn's careful attention to composition and colour. The rapprochement of opposites within the narrative - of Cécilia's inscrutable calm and emotionless voice and Martin's edgy gestures and clipped, nervy tones - is powerfully underscored by a mise en scène in which fluid camera movements are constantly threatened by the unannounced cut. Similarly, Martin's frenetic hyperactivity is portrayed not only through distorting lenses, but in startling leaps in rhythm and pace. As his intermittent bouts of enraged obsession give way to near-madness, we find ourselves ensnared in an increasingly hallucinatory narrative. Beautifully crafted and superbly acted, this often darkly funny and disturbing film deserves a wide audience.
From the maker of L’ENNUI, Kahn uses the Bressonian model, with nearly emotionless actors in an otherwise naturalistic setting, using multiple images with a wealth of detailed minutiae, with occasional rhapsodic interludes of classical music, in this case Debussy’s “Nuages,” or “Clouds,” possibly suggesting our lead character has his head in the clouds. What starts out as a traffic jam out of Godard’s WEEKEND, turns into a husband and wife (Carole Bouquet) spat as they drive off into the countryside to pick up their kids from summer camp. Because of the slow start, the husband (Jean-Pierre Darrousin) has a few drinks, and sees every wayside bar as the calling of the sirens, and before long, he’s had plenty, most on the sly, which he has to lie about, and he then sees his wife’s comments as an attempt to demasculate him, claiming he wants to “live like a man” and “be free.” Eventually, they lose one another and accidentally split up in the night. Out of desperation, he starts buying drinks for a guy who turns out to be an escaped convict, eventually offering him a ride, claiming to be brothers in the night, actually calling him a “lord” for living outside the law, respecting him for ignoring the rules of red lights. What happens later becomes clear only the next morning when he awakens in his car, not knowing how he got there. His awareness of the facts becomes apparent in a brilliant telephone sequence. Much of this film just touches around the edges of reality, never really finding its way inside. It’s an interesting mix of what appears to be film realism that also embraces elements of dreamlike surrealism.
Red Lights Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
MY ARCHITECT: A SON’S JOURNEY A- 94
Plus: Cranes flies at BAM, J. Hoberman from the Village Voice
Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov made his first movie in 1930 and was stationed in Los Angeles during World War II as the Soviet ambassador to Hollywood, but he only became a truly international figure when his revelatory World War II drama The Cranes Are Flying won the top prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival and, something of a cultural Sputnik, was the first post-Stalin Soviet film to circle the globe. "One Crane does not make a summer," Time sniffed, but Kalatozov and his brilliant cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky followed up in 1959 with the equally convulsive Letter That Was Never Sent, in which a team of geologists battle nature in the Siberian wilderness. Both features are screening throughout the mini-tribute, The Emotional Camera: Mikhail Kalatozov. I Am Cuba, the almost hallucinatory tribute to tropical revolution that flopped in 1964 but has since become Kalatozov's best-known movie, screens twice. His last film, The Red Tent (1969), a Soviet-Italian co-production starring Sean Connery as arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, gets a rare screening, introduced by Elliott Stein.
made numerous films, but is best remembered for three important dramas. The
was a seminal work in early Soviet cinema, noted for its beautiful
cinematography, and sensitive look at life in a remote Caucasian village.
Though greatly appreciated today, authorities originally considered it too
antagonistic. The second,
(1932) was banned for the same reason. Kalatozov first gained international
recognition for the third film the Cranes Are Flying (1957). In 1958, it won
the Golden Palm award at
The name of illustrious film-director Mikhail Kalatozov (1903-1973) is one of the most recognizable brand names of Soviet cinematography. His famous film The Cranes Are Flying (1957), one of the most popular and unfading masterpieces of cinema, is remembered and beloved till date.
Georgian-Russian film-director Mikhail Konstantinovich Kalatozov (true
surname Kalatozishvili) was born on
In 1928 together with N.Gogoberidze he directed Ikh tsarstvo (Their Empire) using news-reel materials. In 1930 Kalatozov made his debut in film-directing on his own with Sol Svanetii (The Salt of Svanetia) that became famous all over the world.
After finishing a post-graduate course at the Academy of Art Studies in Leningrad (1937) and a short period of work at Tbilisi filmstudio Kalatozov was engaged as a film-director at Lenfilm Studio where he shot two movies about pilots Muzhestvo (Courage, 1939) and Valeri Chkalov (1941). The hero of the second film, the legendary Soviet ace Chkalov played by Vladimir Belokurov for many years remained not less popular among the viewers than Chapayev from the same-name movie by brothers Georgi and Sergei Vasilyev.
From 1943 Kalatozov worked at Mosfilm studio and represented Soviet cinema
During the late 1940s – early 1950s when not many movies were shot in the country, Kalatozov was granted the State Award (1951) for his film Zagovor obrechyonnikh (Conspiracy of the Doomed, 1950), a political pamphlet after the same-name play by N. Virta, starring the uncomparable Russian singer Aleksandr Vertinsky. However his true success of that period was his lyrical comedy Vernyye druz'ya (True Friends, 1954) (Grand Prix at the Film Festival Karlovy Vary), the characters and the style of which evidently bore signs of anticipation of the upcoming ‘Thaw’ epoch.
A beneficial influence of the ‘Thaw’ also marked Kalatozov’s major masterpiece, the war drama Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying, 1957) (Grand-Prix at the Cannes Film Festival , 1958), innovative both in form and essence, after Viktor Rozov’s play Vechno Zhiviye (The Eternally Alive). With all its artistic system the film interprets the war first of all as a personal tragedy for two young people longing for love and life. The acting of the leads Tatyana Samojlova and Aleksey Batalov, brilliant montage and unusual mobility of the camera make this film an art work filled with great tragic power and subtle lyrical beauty.
Inspired with the success of this film Kalatozov extended its imagery and drama finds to his next work, Neotpravlennoye pismo (The Letter That Was Never Sent, 1959), where the central plot collision is the death of a group of geologers searching for a diamond field. This film was followed by a philosophical and romantic poem of a film entitled Ya Kuba (I Am Cuba) (1964).
His last work was the joint Italian and Soviet production of the film Krasnaya palatka (The Red Tent, 1969) about the salvation of the polar expedition of Umberto Nobile. Besides reavealing the best features of the film-director’s creative personality (his gift in conveying the pathos of man’s feet, and the spontaneity of nature) the film starring Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale, and Peter Finch became one of the most successful joint productions by Soviet and foreign cinematographers.
Mikhail Kalatozov died in
In 2000 “Mikhail Kalatozov Fund” was established in
Read the piece on Mikhail Kalatozov in the New York Sun. The Inspiring Tale of a Flying Soviet, by Bruce Bennett, October 3, 2007
THE SALT OF SVANETIA (Jim Shvante [marili svanets])
This early Kalatozov documentary about hardships in a remote
"Salt for Svanetia" is fascinating.
The film is unique in history and, more specifically, in its formalistic Soviet era. The key to understanding the originality of "Salt for Svanetia" is, I think, in its approach. It begins as a somewhat ordinary documentary (though with key differences, which I'll think about later) about a small mountain community (the Ushkul) in
But something happens. "Salt for Svanetia" doesn't proceed predictably; it doesn't proceed to ennoble the villagers and their hardy ways. It actually begins to mock them. The film's argument becomes infused with a sense sarcasm, with humor, and with irony. Svanetia needs salt. We see an image of a cow bellowing, intertitled: "S-a-a-a-lt." Svanetia needs salt. There's salt in urine. We see a herd of animals gathering around a man relieving himself... It's both grotesque and comic.
And from here the film only pushes itself into more blunt irony and terror. "The funeral of a rich man is a celebration." A tragedy and a funeral kick off an incredible final 15 minutes of film. As the villagers bury one of their dead, they exile a pregnant woman because it is a bad omen to have a birth on the day of a funeral. We watch the woman stumble down the open dirt road, collapse, and give birth to a child that has no chance of life. The woman lies exhausted, her baby by her side, a goat licking the infant's soaked skin... "There's salt in blood." All of this is intercut with the funeral proceedings, which include the sacrificing of a horse by riding it to death, running it until its heart bursts. It is a formalistic orgy of death. All this because religion still rules in this secluded land.
The Ushkul are no longer hardy. They are now barbarous and brutish. And this is why the
Aside from this twist of irony infused in the propaganda, the film further separates itself visually. Note that this is one of the early features of Mikhail Kalatozov. Anyone familiar with his later work will be familiar with his formal expression, his insane and impossible shots that convey subjectivity. When one considers that Salt "Salt for Svanetia" appears nearly 30 years before his most famous accomplishments, it's stunning how sophisticated his camera is here. To reconsider the opening of the film, look at the first sequence concerning the towers and their defensive purposes for the Ushkul people. As stones are hurled from the top of the tower to the intruders below, the camera swings violently up and down, mimicking the motion, adding a sense of aggression to the action. Such camera movements are present throughout the film and are remarkable. Mixed with masterful Soviet editing which often parallels or counter-points movements, this film is formally marvelous.
Formally marvelous, visually gorgeous, and thematically brilliant... "Salt for Svanetia" is an absolute must-see for any student of cinema. Before you go out and familiarize yourself with this film, however, you oughta to brush up on Soviet film and Soviet film theory. The uniqueness of the film becomes much more apparent when contrasted with its peers. Thankfully, on home video the film is packaged with "Turksib", a film that serves extremely well in comparing and contrasting technique.
This must be seen more. It's unfortunate it is known by so few. This deserves to be among the film canon and should be heavily promoted in critical studies. It is one of the richest textbooks. Not forgetting to mention, if this film received more attention it might help uncover more information about Mikhail Kalatozov, who is appallingly neglected in film scholarship. Do any of his other early films still exist? If they do, will they ever see the light of day? What did Kalatozov think about film and theory? Will anything on him ever be translated to English? Get this film out there people. Watch it and write about it. It has every right to be known.
TRUE FRIENDS (Vernye druz'ya)
Story about 3 childhood friends who found each other later in
life and decided to rafting on one of the Moscovian rivers. In their 3 week
trip each one of them have a change to look within themselves and maybe correct
all the wrongs in their lives...........On of them, the agricultural engineer
find his long lost romance. The other one, the neurosurgeon performs dangerous
surgery and the third one who is a famous architect turns from pompous blue-blood
that he is into a normal person.
This is the kind of movie that makes you fell warm inside and no matter how bad your day was if you watch this movie it'll all be better. I strongly recommend that you watch this movie.
THE FIRST ECHELON
Russia (114 mi) 1955
This is the first collaboration of Kalatozov working with cameraman Sergei Urusevsky, who is listed as a co-cinematographer with Yuri Yekelchik, which suggests he may have filled in at some point and captured the eye of the director, working together on only 4 films. This film is rarely mentioned, as the other three are noted for their legendary camerawork from Urusevsky.
THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Letyat zhuravli) A 99
1956 was the 20th Congress of the Communist Party and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech denouncing Stalin and the Stalinist purges and the gulag labor systems, revealing information that was previously forbidden, publicly revealing horrible new truths, which opened the door for a new Soviet Cinema led by Mikhail Kalatozov, once Stalin's head of film production. This film features a Red Army that is NOT victorious, in fact they are encircled, in a retreat mode, with many people dying, including the hero, in a film set after 06-02-41, the German invasion of Russia when Germany introduced Operation Barbarossa, a blitzkrieg invasion intended to bring about a quick victory and the ultimate enslavement of the Slavs, and very nearly succeeded, actually getting within 20 miles of Moscow in what was a Red Army wipe out, a devastation of human losses, where throughout the war 22 to 26 million Russians died, or 15 – 20% of the entire population. Historically, this was a moment of great trauma and suffering, a psychological shock to the Russian people, but the Red Army held and prolonged the war 4 more years until they were ultimately victorious.
During the war,
Stalin used the war genre in films for obvious morale boosting, introducing
female heroines who were ultra-patriotic and strong and idealistic, suggesting
that if females could be so successful and patriotic, then
Adapated by Viktor
Rozov from his own play, this film features brilliant, breathtaking, and
extremely mobile camera work from his extraordinary cinematographer Sergei
Urusevsky, using spectacular crane and tracking shots that literally glide
through the streets, always creating an exhilarating sense of motion, featuring
near hallucinogenic images of wartime, battlefields, also
With Boris off to war, Veronica is chased by Boris’s cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin), who uses his corrupt influence to get an exemption from serving in the army, eventually raping Veronica in a visually dizzying air raid sequence, where Veronica is under siege from Mark at the same time Russia is under siege from Germany, mirroring the war in her personal relationship, revealing the enemy within. Losing one’s virginity was cause for marriage in Soviet society, which actually boosted Mark’s chances, particularly after not hearing from Boris after 4 years of war, so he was presumed dead. But she hates Mark and retains her romantic yearning for Boris, as expressed in one of the many brilliant scenes when she actually exposes Mark cheating on her. In perhaps the sequence of the film, her mind in utter turmoil, shot in a wintry bleakness, she runs towards a bridge with a train following closely behind her, a moment when the viewer is wondering if she might throw herself in front of that train in despair, but instead she saves a 3-year old boy also named Boris who was about to be hit by a car.
Another exceptional scene captures the death of Boris on the battlefield, who dies a senseless death, and his thoughts spin and whirl in a beautiful montage of trees, sky, leaves, all spinning in a kaleidoscope of his own thoughts and dreams, including his lost love, envisioning an imaginary wedding with Veronica. This film features the famous line, “You can dream when the war is over.” In the final sequence, when the war is finally over and soldiers are returning in a mass celebratory scene on the streets, where Veronica finally learns for certain that Boris died, all are happy and excited with the soldier's return, but Veronica is in utter despair, passing out flowers to soldiers and strangers on the street in an extreme gesture of generosity and selflessness revealing with poetic insight “cranes white and gray floating in the sky.”
The film was
released in 1957 in
The Cranes Are Flying Block Cinema
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, The Cranes Are Flying was among the first works produced during the Khrushchev Thaw and one of the first post-war Soviet films screened in the West. Veronica and Boris, a young couple blissfully in love, have their relationship and their country crushed by the onset of World War II. Featuring Ursevsky’s beautifully composed black and white photography, Kalatozov’s masterwork, unmarked by Stalinist propaganda, focuses on the individuals who are flattened by larger forces — the fierce upheaval and anguish of war.
Time Out (
Kalatozov's war movie, a product of the Khrushchev thaw, was adapted by Viktor Rozov from his own play and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1958. It remains notable for the way its story of a young couple torn apart by war stresses human suffering and waste, rather than the heroic struggle foisted on directors by the Stalinist dictates of 'Socialist Realism'. There is much to admire: the vital performances, notably that of the dark-eyed Tatyana Samojlova as the left-behind Veronika; Sergei Urusevsky's beautifully composed b/w camerawork; the urgent crowd scenes and dynamic mise-en-scène. But Vajnberg's too pointed and occasionally gauche and melodramatic score is unfortunate, given the movie's overall subtlety and emotional restraint.
No other work more powerfully symbolized the coming of the Khrushchev “thaw” in Soviet culture than Kalatozov’s masterpiece, winner of the Golden Palm at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. Like many other Soviet films, it was a tale of wartime love and loss, but here Soviet audiences saw characters who were not model heroes but flawed, contradictory and completely understandable human beings. Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov) are lovers looking forward to a life together. When the war breaks out, Boris heads off to the front while Tatyana stays behind and succumbs to Boris’ cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin). The situations each character confronts, the kinds of compromises and excuses they’re often forced to make, is the stuff of Kalatozov’s film; buoyed by cinematographer Sergei Urushevsky’s extraordinarily vibrant camerawork, The Cranes Are Flying achieves an almost mythic dimension, as the story of these star-crossed lovers becomes the story of a nation.
A Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, an eye-opener for Westerners wary of ramrod Soviet-cinema propaganda, one of the first major works made during the post-Stalinist “thaw” of the late 1950s: Mikhail Kalatozov’s tale of love during wartime has earned its landmark status several times over. But to think of this exquisite tragedy as a Communist-art curio would be doing yourself a great disservice. The Cranes Are Flying is anything but a museum piece; rather, it’s the kind of timeless, devastating melodrama that can leave the most jaded of audience members moist-eyed.
The story sounds like pure WWII hokum: Boris (Batalov) and his beloved “squirrel,” Veronika (Samojlova, making the most of her Falconetti-worthy close-ups), are hopelessly smitten with each other. Then she discovers he’s just volunteered to fight on the Eastern Front, and fate, along with Boris’s slimy cousin (Shvorin), conspires against any happily-ever-after ending for the couple. Kalatozov’s masterstroke, however, was to hijack Russia’s kino-fist style and use it to craft an emotionally expressionistic love story; the melding of virtuoso bombast to such swooning, punch-drunk material becomes a seamless marriage of form and content. You can see the director and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky trying out the wide-angle tracking shots they’d later employ for the pro-Castro travelogue I Am Cuba (1964), but Cranes is where their dizzy, delirious filmmaking feels truly revolutionary. When the film whips itself into one of its many operatic froths, it scores a direct hit to the heart that makes many of Borzage’s and Sirk’s hyperventilating romances seem kittenish in comparison.
Once in a great while I stumble onto a little-known gem, a
film I have heard mention of, but had little idea of its greatness. This
picture was a major hit in
Kalatozov was one of the innovators in the great period of Soviet silent film in the 20s - a disciple of Vertov. This is evident from the modernist style of The Cranes Are Flying. The picture employs an amazingly fluid and exciting technique - brilliant camera placement and movement, crane shots, hand-held shots, superimposition, dynamic use of sound and music - a style that weds formal beauty with deep emotion. Although it is hard to single out just one scene, I must mention a sequence in which a soldier who has just been shot sees, not his whole life passing before his eyes, but everything that could have happened, should have happened, in his future - a sequence which is executed with such perfect unity of music and montage, with such devastating, poignant effect, that I can literally never forget it.
This film has all the polish of an American studio film
combined with the inventiveness of the emerging new waves in world cinema. But
what makes it even more special is that, unlike most movies in which a
flamboyant style is employed, the form is in the service of a story which is
utterly romantic, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. This film
revels in the most profound joys and sorrows of the heart, the hardest lessons
of life, the deepest nostalgia for what is lost, and the greatest bonds of
feeling between people. Its power is aided immeasurably by the performance of
the beautiful Samoilova (Stanislavsky's great-niece), who is hypnotizing in a
way that I can only compare to the classic star performances of old
The Cranes Are Flying has now joined my list of all-time favorites. I know that it is unlikely that this movie will show up on the shelves of your average video store. So if you do happen to spot it, I urge you to rent it right away. You may experience, as I did, a revelation.
In the years following WWII, Soviet cinema stalled under the bureaucratic clench of the Stalinist government, which severely cut back on resources and favored sunny, propagandistic entertainment, with little but the most blandly heroic references to the war. After Stalin's death, one of the first filmmakers to emerge was Mikhail Kalatozov, his former head of production, a virtuoso technician who developed the "emotional camera"—his term for the elaborate handheld takes that put his characters' feelings in purely visual terms. A child of the silent era, Kalatozov spent some time on assignment in Los Angeles during the war, and his late-period work culls from both influences at once, investing the Hollywood melodrama with simple stories, spare dialogue, and gloriously expressive images. In recent years, Kalatozov's international breakthrough, 1957's Palme D'Or-winning The Cranes Are Flying, has been eclipsed somewhat by the unearthing of his 1964 propaganda film I Am Cuba, an outrageously beautiful (and beautifully outrageous) piece of pro-Castro Communist kitsch. But a new DVD edition, though bereft of any special features save for Chris Fujiwara's insightful liner notes, should cement Cranes' reputation as a key post-war effort, both for its cinematic audacity and for its frank, moving depiction of families and lovers torn apart by violence. A movie star that never was, Kalatozov's captivating tragedienne Tatiana Samoilova matches his intensity and bravado as a young woman whose devotion to Alexei Batalov, her new fiancé, is tested when he volunteers to fight the invading Germans. Dealt a second blow when her parents are killed in a bombing raid, Samoilova moves into Batalov's family home, where she fends off the increasingly aggressive overtures of his cousin (Alexander Shvorin), a piano prodigy who used his talents to wiggle out of the draft. But as her letters to the front continue to go unanswered, Samoilova finds it harder to resist Shvorin's advances, even though she remains steadfast in her belief that Batalov will return when the war is over. War melodramas don't get any more elemental than The Cranes Are Flying, yet Kalatozov has a way of making every cliché seem fresh again, if only by force of invention. Teary farewells and reunion scenes are old genre standbys, but there's nothing quite like the long shots of Samoilova searching for Batalov among the throngs of embracing lovers, or navigating intrepidly through a parade of departing tanks. Kalatozov lives for big dramatic epiphanies, and he isn't shy about going well over the top; in one particularly striking sequence, Shvorin pounds out a thundering concerto over the sounds of sirens and German bombs, steeling himself to advance on Samoilova while she's at her most terrified and vulnerable. At its best, The Cranes Are Flying could be watched with the sound off without losing any of its impact. A pure visual storyteller, Kalatozov conveys more in dizzying camera moves and bold swaths of light than words could express.
Turner Classic Movies Mikita Brottman and David Sterritt
The Cranes Are Flying (1957), winner of the top prize at the Cannes
Film Festival in 1958, was among several Soviet movies that reached American
art theaters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, amazing audiences with their
clear commitment to human dignity and compassion. How could the demonized enemy
of cold-war America produce thoughtful, civilized fare like My Name Is Ivan
(1962), about a twelve-year-old made into a spy, or A Summer to Remember
(1960), about a little boy’s warm relationship with his family, or Ballad of
a Soldier (1959), about a young man who’d rather visit his mother than
receive a medal for bravery?
The answer lies in the so-called Thaw that swept across the
Like their American counterparts, the newly liberated Soviet filmmakers still had to think of audience appeal and follow censorship guidelines, so even during the Thaw it was important to find subjects that would break new ground without offending current sensibilities. One strategy was to focus on very young characters who weren’t likely to be involved with sex, violence, or scandal. Another was to deal with themes related to World War II, which had killed an astonishingly large number of Soviet people (the most of any country) and remained sorrowfully fresh in the nation’s memory. The Cranes Are Flying falls into the second category, giving one of the era’s most perceptive treatments of antiwar sentiment—a force that connected strongly with Soviets still profoundly shaken by the trauma their society had undergone.
The main character is Veronika, played by Tatyana Samojlova, who won the best-actress award at
In the meanwhile, Veronika has moved in with Boris’s relatives after the destruction of her own family by German bombing. Among the people in this crowded household is Boris’s cousin, Mark, who has a crush on her. She finally gives in to him—it’s implied that he forces her to have sex—and then marries him out of guilt and shame. The marriage quickly turns sour, and much later the family realizes that Mark is immoral and Veronika didn’t betray Boris of her own free will. The ending is bittersweet, as Veronika finally understands that Boris is dead but that his memory and devotion, to both her and their country, lives on.
The Cranes Are Flying takes its title from birds that swoop romantically over a river at the beginning and end of the story, symbolizing Veronika’s hopes and dreams. Most of the film is less sentimental than this might lead you to expect, though, and its political perspective is especially interesting. In place of Stalinist propaganda touting the virtues of comradeship and collective labor, director Mikhail Kalatozov and screenwriter Viktor Rozov show the difficulties of everyday life in a war-torn city, stressing the need for individuals to carve out their own paths amid the challenges, temptations, and obstacles that confront humanity in every sociopolitical system.
What’s most remarkable about The Cranes Are Flying is its brilliant visual style, which draws on two traditions that had galvanized Soviet culture before Socialist Realism took over: the avant-garde theater of Vsevolod Meyerhold and other Constructivist artists, and the cinema of Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, who spearheaded the great montage movement that found undreamed-of possibilities in the art of film editing. A scene exemplifying both approaches is the fateful moment when Veronika finds herself alone with Mark after everyone else has fled to an air-raid shelter. The action is richly theatrical, with curtains billowing in from a shattered window and light waxing and waning from one moment to the next as Veronika fends off Mark’s advances with stylized slaps and repetitions of “Nyet” in rhythmic cadences. All this is further heightened by Mariya Timofeyeva’s supercharged editing, which pushes the dreamlike moment to the point of hallucination.
Other scenes use different techniques just as creatively, as when bravura moving-camera shots capture Veronika’s attempts to bid Boris farewell before he leaves and to find him in an outdoor crowd at the end of the story. Credit for such extraordinary moments goes jointly to director Kalatozov and former army cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, whose camera work is stunningly expressive from start to finish. These two had worked together before and would collaborate again in the future, most notably on the 1964 spectacle I Am Cuba, a piece of procommunist agitprop graced with some of the most eye-boggling camera work in film history. Wits have dubbed it “The Crane Shots Are Flying.”
Still, the movie these artists will be most remembered for is The Cranes Are Flying, a sensitively acted, beautifully crafted triumph that stands with the finest works of the special time when it was made.
The Cranes Are Flying Criterion essay by Chris Fujiwara, April 29, 2002
An Inside Look at World War II's Bloodiest Battle Michael Sontheimer interviews Russian soldiers from Der Spiegel, November 2, 2012
The Cranes are Flying Socialist Realism During the Thaw, by Donato Totaro from Offscreen
VideoVista Tom Cropper
DVD Movie Central Michael Jacobson
Images (David Ng) also reviewing THE BALLAD OF A SOLDIER
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) also reviewing THE BALLAD OF A SOLDIER
Letyat Zhuravli YouTube Videos (.36 sec)
Letyat zhuravli (1957) 1 (4:28)
Letyat zhuravli (1957) 2 (4:34)
Letyat zhuravli (1957) 3 (5:36)
The Cranes are Flying (6:42)
aka: The Unmailed Letter
A rarely screened film, this is the third film collaboration
between Kalatozov and his legendary cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, who was a front-line cameraman during WWII where he
obviously learned the art of camera mobility from first hand experience
literally decades before its time.
Urusevsky’s brilliant work in this film is notorious for having
influenced several scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), most
likely the speed of the camera as it whizzes through the Siberian forest
remaining completely in focus capturing people running through natural
environments. Of note, on the night the
film was screened, which began at ,
there was a full lunar eclipse (
In the spirit of pioneer exploration, dedicated to all the Soviet people, this film bears a similarity to Carroll Ballard’s NEVER CRY WOLF (1983), opening in the sky high above the clouds, a group of four Russian geologists are flown into a remote Siberian forest in search of what they believe will be an immense diamond vein. Left on a riverbank with all their gear and equipment tossed in a heap, the camera is the viewpoint of the helicopter as it lifts into the sky and flies away, leaving them as tiny specks on the ground. Tatyana Samojlova returns as Tanya, the only female of the group, making a large impression after she comes out of a swim with her nipples noticeably protruding. This raises a certain amount of sexual tension as she is married to the feeblest man in the group, the intellectually inclined radio man Sabinine (Innokenti Smoktuvosky) who discovers Sergei (Yevgeni Urbansky), the man best acquainted with outdoor wilderness skills, may have his eye on her as well. The fourth man appears to be the team leader and guide, the level-headed Andrei (Vasili Livanov). Digging a series of holes in the ground, they may as well be digging their graves, as their search proves futile until Andrei convinces them to stay beyond their agreed upon duration, featuring a series of close up shots and a shirtless Sergei hoisting an ax, capturing a Dovzhenko-like rhythm of work until ultimately they find what they’re looking for. They patriotically raise their glasses toasting the future pioneers of the Soviet space race, believing they have discovered a means to fund their mission.
Despite several name actors, their influence is diminished by the rather sappy story, instead what can’t help capturing our attention is the physical appeal of that Urusevsky camera that never rests and some bold, over the top Russian music by Nikolai Kryukov, whose credits go back to the 30’s, actually helping revise musical scores in the late 40’s and 50’s for Eisenstein’s POTEMKIN (1925) and several early Pudovkin films. The balance between the artistry is extremely effective as they do capture a Russian flavor that we see again in Tarkovsky’s Ivan's Childhood (1962), especially the scenes of men sloshing around the lakes and wetlands deep inside the Russian forests, featuring unforgettable images of birch trees and a recollection of music back home, but also that incredible train shot in Stalker (1979). The optimism of the film is immediately upended when a huge forest fire breaks out and they need to make a desperate escape, discovering their boat is lost and their radio can’t transmit messages. Basically lost in what turns into a desolate Siberian wasteland, what follows is a lesson in survival as they are trapped inside the inferno of a burning forest that stretches for miles in every direction, eventually costing several of them their lives, ultimately running out of food and supplies, as their boots wear out, leaving them defenseless against the onset of ruthlessly brutal winter conditions that arrive in the blink of an eye, as fire suddenly turns to a river of ice. The pace of the film slows to a crawl, resembling the monotonous pace of GERRY (2002), while also expressing the hopelessly unforgiving conditions in the finale of Masaki Kobayashi’s THE HUMAN CONDITION (1961), which this film may well have influenced. The poetic beauty of the primeval wilderness belies its deadly capabilities, as humans occasionally are no match for the elements of nature, yet this film etches some of the more indelible images, reminders of how the earth once existed alone, immense, and untroubled by man’s presence.
The true story of a disastrous expedition of geologists searching for diamond deposits in the Siberian wilderness, The Letter Never Sent has an exceptional cast, but its stars are eclipsed by cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, whose camera takes flight and soars through ice storms, forest fires, and the tundra of Siberia. It's a dazzling, technically brilliant film from the cruelly short partnership of Kalatozov and Urusevsky.
This is a totally excellent man vs. nature drama. An outstandingly dramatic soundtrack is coupled with some of the most powerful and unique visuals I've ever seen. If you thought Tarkovsky was a one-shot in the Soviet Union when it came to beautiful yet haunting images, you'll definitely think again after this movie. The characters and the story are perhaps not too well developed, but this somehow adds to the sense of not being totally in control, which is important here. It's nothing short of a tragedy that this movie is totally unknown; it would probably have been a candidate of reaching IMDb's top 50 if it were. Those looking for unknown classics should hunt this one down at all costs.
Saw this at Tribeca Film Festival in Spring 2007, and was
absolutely floored. I walked out of the theater afterword amazed at what I'd
seen and thrilled that such an amazing film existed and had been maintained by
a tiny number of appreciators in such excellent quality for so long.
The story is not the strong point of the movie. Rather, as with Terence Malick films, the story is just a starting point for the film, which is another beast entirely. What shines and carries the film from scene to scene is the cinematography. I didn't know if this was happened elsewhere at the time, but I didn't expect to see hand-held camera work in a 1959 Russian film, let alone the kind of early spinning, impossibly-filmed shot that appears early in the film. Later, there is a sequence that makes me long to know how they created the opportunity to film in such conditions.
If you've read this far, you must track down this movie. My understanding is that Francis Coppola has a California archive maintain the only copy in the Americas, and that it's usually shown just one a year.
It sounds cool, but it isn't: a director-cinematographer
team known for deranged, insanely impossible cinematography and shots venture
out to Siberia and really set off a forest fire and make it look like the
camera is all of two feet away, and that the actors are only this far away from
certain death, and the only reaction you can muster is "How the HELL did
they do that?" But really, it isn't all that cool: the forest fire can't
possibly occupy more than 20 minutes of screen time, and there's nothing else
to really recommend to the film. The pure visual coolness of the fire occurs
nowhere else, and nothing else makes up for it.
Two superstars of Russian cinema team up here: the competent but unexciting Smoktunovsky, here wearing an unlikely beard, and the intensely irritating Somoilovna. They're both on a team sent to
You would be correct in assuming that this is cliche territory. For all its spectacular scenery and terrific shots, the film merely feels like a mean-spirited attempt at killing off all of its (admittedly annoying) characters. Stranded without memorable dialogue, original plot mechanics, or any other story elements, the film coasts entirely on its admittedly great cinematography. However, as any number of films have proved (and as Amelie did recently), rarely do superlative shots make up for a total absence of everything else. The film throws in one damn setting after another, but they did little to raise me out of my torpor (in fact, their absurdity threw me deeper into it). And, most incongruously of all, there's some ostentatious propaganda thrown in: no matter what, Smoktunovsky insists "I cannot die...I MUST deliver the map" showing where the diamonds are so that the Soviet people can rid themselves of "dependence on foreign diamonds." THEN he can die in peace. Absurd and somewhat banal, and so is the film. 5 stars for cinematography, and absolutely nothing else
Welcome to Siberia, circa 1959 (in perfectly restored,
glorious Black and White).
Although this story revolves around four 'pioneers' dropped into a vast wilderness to search for a rumored vein of diamonds (aka 'the Diamond Pipe'), the real star of the movie is cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky ("Soy Cuba," "The Cranes Are Flying").
Urusevsky is master of composition, dolly shots, and hand-held photography (when necessary). The way he frames his close-ups of the actors practically allows the audience to see into their souls.
Of course, it helps that he's shooting a top-notch Russian cast, including actress Tatyana Samojlova ("The Cranes Are Flying") whose character 'Tanya' is desperate to survive the troubling events that befall the group. Tanya is also the lone female and commands the attentions of two men in the rock-sampling group (though one is unrequited).
In addition, the visual elements are underscored aurally by composer Nikolai Kryukov's ("The Forty-first") evocative score, although he does amp up the music a bit too much in a couple of scenes. Not unusual for the time period, so set your appreciation meter back to the 50's and you won't be as bothered as I was.
The title of the film refers to not one but two letters that figure into the plot. One is a long, personal letter that is referred to in voice-over from time to time throughout the film, while the other is a love letter thought to be hidden away until it accidentally comes to light.
The plot is very straightforward so I won't spoil any surprises by detailing it here, suffice to say that the main attractions of this film are the artistic cinematography, the strong cast, and the director's choice to foreshadow plot elements by overlaying fiery images over his hardcharging trekkers.
If you've never seen any films by director Mikhail Kalatozov ("The Red Tent," "Soy Cuba," "The Cranes Are Flying"), then this one is probably as accessible as any and with a new restoration to boot, practically a MUST-SEE.
The ending alone is worth the price of admission, so check it out festival goers.
1959's The Letter That Was Never Sent is one of two restored classics at this year's fest lensed by Russian master Sergei Urusevsky (the other being Grigori Chukhrai's The Forty-First.) One of four films that Urusevsky made with director Mikhail Kalatozov, it's sandwiched between 1957's The Cranes Are Flying and 1964's I Am Cuba. While nowhere near as powerful as either of those films, The Letter That Was Never Sent is an absolute must see for lovers of dramatic cinematography.
The paper-thin plot revolves around four geologists, three men and one woman, who are sent to Siberia to search for a diamond mine. Driven not by dreams of personal wealth but rather for make benefit glorious nation of Russia, they drink a toast to the future funding of the space-race, and other examples of socialist pride. Though we do get a bit of backstory on all of the characters, and there are hints at sexual tension between alpha-male Sergei and the married Tanya, it's little more than a red-herring, for the bulk of the film finds the quartet fighting for survival after they are driven deep into the Siberian wilderness by an unexpected forest blaze. As the Siberian summer quickly turns to winter and the number of survivors thins, we learn of not one but several letters that remain unsent, as well as a thing or two about personal sacrifice for a greater good.
Urusevsky's cinematography lends itself perfectly to this tale of man vs. nature, and visually there isn't a dull moment. It's been said the film influenced both the look of Tarkovsky's Stalker and Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and there are indeed elements here that can be found in both of those films. Urusevsky's camera is extremely fluid – from the opening shot taken from the back of an unseen helicopter as it rises upward, to the liberal use of hand-held shots as the group traipses through reeds and woods – there are scant few moments of stillness. Though not shot from a character's POV, the camera, at times, mimics the action we witness – swinging violently around when somebody is punched, or rapidly jerking up and down to the motion of an arm swinging a pickaxe. Though Urusevsky employs all sorts of Dutch and low angle shots, as well a handful of slow dissolves, they never feel overstated or overused, as they often can (and do) in lesser films. This new print from the Moscow film archives looks positively wonderful, and deserves to be seen on the big screen.
Letter Never Sent: Refining Fire Criterion essay by Dina Iordanova, March 21, 2012
Sergei Urusevsky - Writer - Films as ... - Film Reference Dina Iordanova from Film Reference
Letter Never Sent Michael Atkinson from Turner Classic Movies
Cagey Films [kgeorge] Kenneth George Godwin, also seen here: DVD Review: Letter Never Sent (1959) - Blogcritics Video
Soviet Cinema Found « Film Splatter Kevin M. Pearson
NitrateVille.com • View topic - Great Movies No One's Seen: The ... Mike Gebert from NitrateVille
DVD Savant Blu-ray Review: Letter Never Sent Glenn Erickson, Criterion Blu-Ray
The QNetwork [James Kendrick] Criterion Blu-Ray
epinions Criterion DVD [Stephen O.Murray] Criterion Blu-Ray
Movie Metropolis - Blu-ray [Christopher Long] Criterion Blu-Ray
Letter Never Sent Blu-ray Review Matt Hough, Home Theater Forum, Criterion Blu-Ray
DVDcompare.net (Blu-ray Disc) Noor Razzak, Criterion Blu-Ray
Blu-ray.com [Dr. Svet Atanasov] Criterion Blu-Ray
Letter Never Sent (1959/Criterion Collection Blu-ray) Nicholas Sheffo,
Love is Rarer than Diamonds: 'Letter Never Sent' | PopMatters Michael Curtis Nelson from Pop Matters
Letter Never Sent — Inside Movies Since 1920 Joe Galm from Box Office Movies
Letter Never Sent « Walsh Words Michael Walsh
Letter Never Sent - Daily Film Dose Alan Bacchus
Letter Never Sent Criterion Collection DVD Review: Kalatozov’s Take on Man Vs. Nature Canadian Cinephile from Cinema Sentries
Letter Never Sent | Blu-Ray Reviews | JoBlo Mathew Plale
I am Cuba Block Cinema
Funded by the Soviet Union in honor of Castro’s victory, I Am Cuba is a breathtaking cine-poem that portrays pre-Communist Cuba as a deliriously decadent, exploited nation in need of revolution. One of cinema’s most astounding pieces of agitprop, this was also a dazzling technical achievement with stunning black and white photography and confounding tracking shots. A cult film resurrected in the 1990s, in part because of Martin Scorsese’s endorsement, I am Cuba is a long feat of filmmaking acrobatics. In Russian and Spanish with English subtitles.
A masterclass in bravura movie-making, this dazzling, delirious epic of Communist propaganda has to be seen on the big-screen to be fully appreciated. Made in 1964 but virtually unknown and unseen until its initial re-release in the mid-1990s, Soy Cuba takes the viewer on a journey from the decadent 'pools and parties' milieu of Cuba under Batista, into the world of poverty and oppression created by US imperialism before finally emerging into a revolutionary dawn.
Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes are Flying) and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky create staggering sequences with the camera performing seemingly impossible feats. The politics may be naïve but such is its power and beauty that you can't help but be stirred by this one-of-a-kind experience.
Few new print re-releases are as welcome as Mikhail Kalatozov’s deliriously impressive 1964 polemical poem of a society on the cusp of transformation. The product of a distinctively Soviet take on the island’s history and aspirations, ‘I Am Cuba’ saw Kalatozov, fresh from Palme d’Or success for ‘The Cranes are Flying’, joined by that film’s cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as co-writer. The result is a sensual four-chaptered epic of injustices exposed in Batista’s dictatorial Cuba, elevated by suitably revolutionary camerawork, its confidence a formal expression of faith in the island’s uprising. (Accompanying screenings of ‘making-of’ doc ‘I Am Cuba: the Siberian Mammoth’ reveal the invention at play.) It seems reductive to call this one of cinema’s great ‘lost’ works because this is one of the great films period, taking its place in the canon with urgency since its re-emergence in the 1990s. It’s out on DVD in March but for once the benign order to view it large is mandatory. Cinema’s singular dream, so often betrayed elsewhere, is to deliver such visions as this.
Rescued from obscurity by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba is sustained ecstasy for cinephiles, a dreamlike phantasmagoria of technique disguised as a pro-Castro propaganda film. Kalatozov (The Cranes Are Flying), once Stalin's head of production, was dispatched to make the film a week after the Cuban Missile Crisis, so each of its vignettes serves to reinforce Communist ideals as an answer to capitalist (primarily American) exploitation. There's evidence that the film was viewed as impossibly naïve at the time—it flopped in both the Soviet Union and Cuba—and it certainly seems that way now, but its pleasures are largely dissociated from any thematic agenda. Photographed in a B&W monochrome so rich and luxuriant that every image could be mounted on a gallery wall, I Am Cuba serves as a showcase for Kalatozov's "emotional camera," his term for the unbroken, astonishingly elaborate handheld takes that he strings into a narrative. Working from a restored print, Milestone's fine DVD transfer is especially useful for isolating individual shots. For example, there's the one that starts by roving through a beauty pageant on a hotel rooftop, descends five floors to a poolside party below, and then follows a woman into water. (Paul Thomas Anderson admits to copping this shot for Boogie Nights.) Or there's the one that tracks past cigar makers on an open-air balcony, only to soar off into a gliding bird's-eye view of a martyr's funeral procession on the streets below, as if the cameraman has somehow sprouted wings. The stories themselves—a virtuous woman forced into prostituting herself to wealthy Americans, an old sugarcane farmer who burns his land in defiance of the United Fruit Company, a college student driven by leadership in the revolution—are bluntly obvious in their intent. But I Am Cuba is still propaganda of the first order, a beautiful and sensually overwhelming tribute to the land and its people.
Kamera.co.uk Antonio Pasolini
Propaganda cinema never looked as beautiful as the dazzling,
poetic and delirious Soy
The film starts with an arresting aerial shot of the island
to establish the location and present a vision of tropical exuberance. A female
voice-over, rich in pathos and lament, introduces itself as
Episodic in construction, Soy
The second segment shows the suffering of a sugar cane farmer who loses everything when the landowner announces he has sold his property to an international fruit company. The graphic beauty of the sugar plant blades provides a slightly surreal tapestry against the sunny sky dotted with sparse white clouds.
The final segment is the preachiest one and illustrates the conversion to the cause of a family of peasants, led by the appropriately named Mariano. Mariano is visited by a hungry rebel, who he welcomes and feeds. But he gets upset when the armed man starts with his revolutionary spiel. A few moments later, Mariano's house is destroyed by the bombs dropped by an airplane and he decides to join the guerrilla in the jungle.
With anti-American sentiment raging across the globe, and
quite often accompanied by a discourse that is not too dissimilar from the
ideological programme fostered in Soy
Four episodes in Cuba, just before the Revolution of 1959. The first begins in a Havana nightclub where prostitutes entertain US tourists. Afro-Cuban bargirl 'Betty' also goes by the name Maria, but her fruit-vendor boyfriend does not know about her job. After a display of orgiastic dancing, Betty's client insists on returning to her shack with her. In the morning he takes her crucifix and faces off her boyfriend, only to be mobbed by hungry children in the slums.
Pedro, an indebted sharecropper, harvests precious sugar cane with his two children. When the landlord arrives and announces he has sold Pedro's farm to the United Fruit Company, Pedro sends his children off into the village and, mad with rage, sets fire to his crops and home.
Back in the city, after burning down a drive-in showing newsreels of the dictator Batista, revolutionary student Enrique saves Gloria, a young woman who is being harassed on the street by US seamen. Enrique defies party discipline and takes aim at a brutal policeman from the top of a skyscraper, but he is unable to pull the trigger. After his companions are shot or arrested for distributing leaflets, Enrique leads an anti-government demonstration at the university. Walking valiantly into the water cannon armed only with a rock, he is shot by the same policeman and receives a hero's burial, attended by Gloria.
The final segment returns to the country. The leader of the revolutionary students in the previous episode, now a bearded guerrilla fighter, seeks support from a poor peasant family. The father replies that his hands are made for sowing not killing. But when the family are bombed out of their farm by government aircraft, the peasant joins the rebels and bravely wins himself a rifle from the enemy. The film ends with the guerrilla army advancing towards Havana and a future of freedom and justice.
Made in 1964, I Am Cuba has been described as Communist kitsch. But from the first shot it is characterised not so much by ideology as by the 'formalism' of which Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov (Cranes Are Flying, 1957) had been accused in his own country since the 30s. The camera drifts slowly over palm trees mysteriously drained of life by the high-contrast black-and-white photography. A voiceover repeats Russian poet Yevtushenko's portentously poetic script in both Spanish and Russian, while the soundtrack blends Cuban percussion and male voices more suited to the 'Volga Boat Song'. Floating on a canoe in the next shot, we are treated to a repertoire of Kalatozov's techniques which will be obsessively repeated in the next two hours: distorting fish-eye lenses, extreme low and high angles, and a restlessly mobile camera, constantly plunging down into the vegetation or up over the streets and palms.
You can see what worried the Soviet authorities who funded this
co-production and sent the crew and equipment to
It is perhaps not surprising that, according to critic-historian Michael
Chanan, such co-productions were not much loved by audiences on the island at
the time. But one unexpected pleasure for European viewers today is the glamour
of Kalatozov's mise en scène. The film's
This means that in the second, more-didactic half the film falls flat. Political pedagogy, however flashily shot, remains uncinematic; and the anonymous characters (students and peasants but curiously not workers) are too crudely schematic to embody historical process with the dynamic 'typicality' recommended by theorists such as Georg Lukács. But even here inexplicable moments of unmotivated lyricism irrupt: the initially jolly US sailors ("Here come the Navy, hurrah!") seem to be have been drafted in by Busby Berkeley while a snowstorm of revolutionary leaflets spiral down against a darkened sky, a strangely haunting image. If the Revolution's promise of work and freedom now rings unbearably hollow and if the theme of prostitution is uncomfortably relevant today, then I Am Cuba remains, Communist kitsch or not, a memorably eccentric and lyrical hymn to the transformatory powers of cinema.
Soy Cuba Julie Christensen from Film Reference
Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez
DVD Times Anthony Nield
Cineaste magazine (c/o UCB Media Resources) Dennis West
American Cinematographer: DVD Playback: Kenneth Sweeney
I Am Cuba Anthony Holden from Channel 4 News
Mikhail Kalatozov « Rightwing Film Geek Victor Morton
Joana Morais: Mikhail Kalatozov's "Soy Cuba" Jamie Russell
GreenCine | product main - I Am Cuba (1964) Tom Wiener from All Movie Guide
DVD Watch Josh Rosenblatt from the Austin Chronicle
read more TV Guide
mikhail-kalatozov · plastique monkey Famous tracking shot from I AM CUBA on YouTube
From Russia with love | Features | Guardian Unlimited Film Richard Gott from The Guardian
DVDBeaver Gary W. Tooze
The English language version seen was the cropped international version which not only loses something without the immensity of the 'Scope imagery, especially filming a landscape as vast as Antarctica, but also large sections spoken in Russian-only were not subtitled. Usually these joint ventures between countries make for good public relations, but fairly mediocre movies, of which this was no exception. Kurosawa's DERSU UZALA (1975), a joint Russian-Japanese venture shot in ‘Scope in Siberia, comes to mind, not usually thought of as one of his better efforts. This one stars Peter Finch, Sean Connery, fresh off his success with several James Bond movies, and the always alluring Claudia Cardinale. Finch is seen in his later years as Italian General Nobile watching a TV documentary recalling his failed exploits to be the first to fly over the South Pole in a dirigible, a mission that failed when it crashed in a storm, costing several of his men their lives, but they reappear as ghosts in his room, forever haunting him about the ominous decisions that he made, questioning his courage under fire and his leadership skills. The entire film is shot in a flashback, where the entire expedition plays out again inside his head. The time is 1928 and the mission was financed under the auspices of the fascist Mussolini regime to show a perfect and historically lasting example of Italian courage to the world. When his mission failed, initially he was rescued alone under dubious circumstances by a showboat Swedish pilot while others in his crew were later rescued by a Russian icebreaker, giving other countries the headlines for heroism, while Nobile was stripped of his military command and publicly disgraced and humiliated. This film offers the world another chance to review his actions, where he is summarily judged by the people, living or deceased, who participated in the expedition.
After the crash, the opening sequence of camping on the ice, huddling under a red painted tent awaiting their rescue, but discovering their radio was broken in the fall recalls Star Trek episodes where Kirk asked science officer Spock to immediately initiate repairs to their broken communicators, where they are otherwise lost in space. The hysteria sets in rather quickly with this group, probably the result of the cropped editing, as there’s little time spent developing anyone’s character. Meanwhile, back in civilization, the commander left in charge of the communication center refuses to act without direct instructions from Mussolini in Rome, insisting on making it an all-Italian rescue operation, which places their lives in further risk, something akin to the cynical delayed mining rescue in order to attract more headlines in Billy Wilder’s ACE IN THE HOLE (aka: THE BIG CARNIVAL, 1951). Enter Claudia Cardinale, the gorgeous girl of one of the missing Finnish scientists, who despite news coverage that suggests they must all be dead, insists he’s alive and enlists support from a braggart Swedish pilot (Hardy Krüger) and North Pole explorer Roald Amundsen (Sean Connery), who was flying in a craft designed by Nobile during his successful North Pole flight, but gave him little credit due to his alleged Fascist ties. This is barely touched upon in the film and is instead given a melodramatic sweep where Cardinale challenges his initial reluctance with male insults before the dashing Amundsen flies into the face of a storm and disappears. The flying Swede finds them, but can only bring back one at a time and insists the first be General Nobile, who is discredited and made a scapegoat by Mussolini for leaving his men behind when the weather makes it impossible to return for them.
Nobile, however, makes radio contact with the commander of a Russian icebreaker. This sequence was unsubtitled, but delivers one of the best scenes in the film, where instead of the desolation on the ice huddling inside a tent, it’s suddenly a pastoral delight with children parading around flying a kite that acts as a radio antenna in what resembles carefully manicured farmlands, where a young Russian kid is perched atop his house with his amateur radio kit attempting to hear emergency signals, and damn if he’s not the only one who discovers they’re still alive, jumping up and down and screaming with the hysterical enthusiasm of Dr. Frankenstein. In an equally memorable sequence, he and a handful of others hop on their horses and race full-speed through a miraculously beautiful birch forest with Keystone Cops-like musical accompaniment from Ennio Morricone to announce to the world he’s found their radio signal. This is the only amusing sequence in the entire film. Afterwards, I was told by a Russian viewer sitting next to me that this lad was decorated by Stalin himself and declared a hero, where he was granted a place on the search and rescue icebreaker for his heroic service. But when he arrives at the dock, the ship has already left without him, leaving him heartbroken and crushed.
The Red Tent Block Cinema
Kalatozov’s final film is an Italian-Soviet co-production about an actual ill-fated 1928 expedition to the North Pole in a dirigible, which crashed, stranding the entire crew. The story is told years after the incident by the Italian General who led the expedition; he sees the ghosts of those who lost their lives because of his decisions. A meditation on hubris and leadership, The Red Tent has breathtaking cinematography, a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone, and a wonderful turn by Sean Connery as the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
Arctic climes didn't do Sean Connery's initially troubled
post-Bond career any favours, although his top billing in The Red Tent is
highly misleading, since his supporting role is not much more than a cameo.
Instead, forth-billed (after Claudia Cardinale and Hardy Kruger) Peter Finch
takes the lead as General Nobile, whose ill-fated 1928 airship expedition to
the North Pole, intended to boost Fascist Italy's international prestige,
instead ended ingloriously with the survivors stranded on melting ice packs for
weeks while inertia, lack of initiative and the poor chain of command resulted
in buck-passing, recriminations and destroyed reputations rather than rescue
attempts. The real-life disaster was the inspiration for Frank Capra's
Dirigible (Capra and studio boss Harry Cohn were both huge admirers of
Mussolini in the early days), but this ambitious Russian-Italian co-production
is best remembered, if at all, for either its catastrophic box-office failure
or its unusual framing structure. Although unusual may be an understatement: in
a move more akin to theatre of the 60s rather than epic cinema, it begins with
the ageing Nobile, tormented by another sleepless night, summoning up the
ghosts of those involved in the disaster and the rescue to put his command on
As a dramatic device, it's too theatrical to entirely work, especially in the clumsy opening reel, but it impinges little on the main drama once the film gets going and ultimately pays dividends, both in the stark poetry and terrible beauty of a scene where Connery's Roald Amundsen recounts his own death and in the final moments which come to some kind of peace with the issues of responsibility, human fallibility and forgiveness. But it's the survival story that works best, with director Mickail K. Kalatozov often eschewing the spectacle (airship and plane crashes, icebreakers and vast landscapes of ice) with a preference for medium shots that keep the film surprisingly intimate (unusually for such an expensive picture, it is also shot in the more confined 1.78:1 ratio rather than Scope).
I can't answer for its historical accuracy beyond Connery's philosophical Amundsen being nothing like the ruthless egomaniac of reality that he had become by this time (indeed, Amundsen's death in this rescue did much to salvage his heroic reputation after the public backlash to his bitter score-settling memoirs). However, far from having to be persuaded to join the rescue attempts, Amundsen had immediately volunteered only for Mussolini to specifically insist he be excluded because of his earlier public disputes with Nobile in the aftermath of their previous expedition, leaving Amundsen to finance his rescue attempt privately. Nor was Amundsen reluctant to return to the Arctic: shortly before the opportunity arose, he said that he wanted to go back and die there "in the fulfilment of a high mission, quickly, without suffering." (The fact that he was undergoing painful radium treatment at the time may have colored his words.) Poetic license aside, it is surprising that the political fallout is not dealt with more overtly - it was a huge national embarrassment that Il Duce's heroes had to be rescued by Russian communists. Indeed, the film is almost totally apolitical, with Il Duce mentioned only once in passing in the opening newsreel footage. However, as a drama it's unsensationally compelling, and Ennio Morricone's score is one of his best.
Paramount's widescreen R1 DVD transfer is pretty good but sadly lacking in any extras.
One of the grandest adventure/survival films is one you’ve probably never heard of - “The Red Tent” - an oddball fusion of Italians and Soviet filmmakers with an all-star international cast and crew. It tells the true story of a failed Italian expedition to the North Pole via airship in 1928. The great Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov directs his first and last English language film with complete authenticity. Other than the completely realistic arctic disaster story the film is a powerful story of ambition, greed, international politics, heroism and cowardice.
Kalatozov begins the story with perhaps the longest
pre-credit sequence in film history. Before we even get to the snow there’s a
13 mins dream sequence from inside the head of General Nobile (Peter Finch) who
fatefully led many of his crew to their deaths during the expedition. One by one
the participants in the story appear in his subconscious in a makeshift
psychological trial. It’s a manifestation of Nobile’s inner guilt and
responsibility for the tragic events. Though it’s fascinating from a
psychological perspective, as a cinematic device it’s awkward and confusing at
the beginning and barely comes together at the end.
But it’s important to get past this first scene, because the film only gets better and more rewarding. The claustrophobia of the surreal dream sequence is released dramatically once Kalatozov gets outside into the open air where he works best. Intimacy is not Kalatozov’s forte. He needs big crowds, big machines, big scope to make his films. Italian General Nobile (Peter Finch) is in charge of leading an expedition to the North Pole. It was an age of nationalism and competition for international discoveries and achievements. Amundsen and Peary had already been to the North Pole, which Nobile has conspicuously missed out on. So Nobile’s mission serves not only to stake a claim for his country but personal pride as well.
Kalatozov stages a wonderful farewell scene – not as grand as the farewell in “The Cranes are Flying” but majestic nonetheless. The addition to Ennio Morricone’s swooning score pushes Kalatozov’s epic style to even greater heights. The airship falters from the extreme cold and crashes to the ground miles from their target. The crash is horrific and directed with complete realism. With the crew stranded in the frigid and unaccommodating arctic it becomes a desperate fight for survival – finding food, shelter, salvaging the radio all become tasks of importance.
The film cuts back and forth between the airship, the Italian basecamp where the news of the expedition has made the incident an internationally covered press story as well as a Russian expedition that hears their distress signal. Not only is it a fight for survival but a race to rescue them.
The stunning visuals anchor this exciting flick. The on-location filmmaking in the desolate tundra is impossible to fake and so, I can only imagine how grueling the shoot must have been. The expansive helicopter shots of the endless ice and snow isolate the characters and pit against their environment, like Lean did in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Kalatozov’s increases the spectacle and scope when he introduces the Russian subplot. In fact, my favourite scene is when the amateur radio operator is tuning into the distress signal from the lost crew. The boy sits on top of his roof with the radio while the other townsfolk watching from below control the antenna with a kite. It’s a classic Kalatozov moment when he frames up the entire town from the roof whose attention is drawn to the one boy on top of the house. The image of the boy on the roof which shows how mass communication can bring people from different cultures together for a common goal is also an allegory to the collaboration of filmmakers from different cultures to tell this story.
Kalatozov’s collaboration with the international talent is a fitting swan song for the Soviet master (see also “I am Cuba” and “The Cranes are Flying”). For a man who plied his trade as a virtual unknown behind the Iron Curtain, his grand emergence into the ‘Western’ world of filmmaking was also his final bow. “The Red Tent” was Kalatozov’s final film. His died several years later. Enjoy.
The Auteurs David Cairns
PopMatters Leigh H. Edwards
Fulvue Drive-in Nate Goss
Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings Dave Sindelar
The Red Tent - Filmcritic.com Movie Review Christopher Null from Film Critic
Bulgaria Sweden (89 mi) 2009
Eastern Plays Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily
An accomplished debut feature from Bulgaria’s Kamen Kalev, Eastern Plays begins as if it were just another slice of gritty realism from eastern Europe but evolves into a sensitively observed portrait of a young man struggling to find himself after years as a drug addict.
Already picked up for sales by Memento Films International, it’s a moving, uplifting tale which should draw attention to Kalev as a talent to watch. Virtuoso arthouse independents might be tempted to buy it on the back of strong reviews, festival play and awards wins.
Tragically, the lead actor Christo Christov, a childhood friend of Kalev’s whom he cast essentially to play himself, died in an accident a few days after shooting ended. The film is dedicated to him; his strong performance, and his untimely passing will only serve to fuel interest in the film.
Eastern Plays is not just a story of recovery but delves into the unpleasant world of neo-Nazism and racist violence in Sofia.
The drama focuses initially on Christo’s younger brother, the shaven-headed Georgi (Torosian), who escapes his miserable home life with his domineering father (Nalbantov) and stepmother by hanging out with a group of skinheads and neo-Nazis in heavy metal bars.
Christo himself is a frustrated artist, earning a pittance in a furniture-making shop and prone to bouts of severe depression and anxiety as he tries to pull his life together after years as a heroin addict. One night, he gets drunk at a restaurant after ditching his needy girlfriend (Yancheva) and while stumbling home witnesses a Turkish man, his wife and daughter being beaten by Georgi’s gang. He successfully intervenes to stop the attack, although has his face smashed in the process.
After visiting Georgi to warn him off the gang, he develops a relationship with the Turkish girl Isil (Aksoy) while she stays in Sofia by her father’s hospital bedside. Her exuberant spirit and inquisitive mind raise his spirits but her sudden departure back to Istanbul leaves him desolate once more.
Kalev and Christov do a terrific job in illustrating Christov’s plight and the tormented feelings which plague his existence. He takes refuge in his art – and a daily visit to the clinic for methadone – but feels little sense of self or self-esteem.
He isn’t a pathetic character so much as a complicated one, and Kalev injects humour, intelligence and moments of warmth into Christo that lift the characterization beyond cliché.
The story ends in an uplifting way and notably Georgi looks to have abandoned his involvement with the neo-Nazis by finding a girlfriend and an interest in art. As a hint of the corruption at play in Bulgarian society, Kalev throws in a couple of scenes implying that the gangs spreading racial hatred against Bulgaria’s Turkish neighbours are merely paid pawns of politicians attempting to further their right-wing agendas.
Cannes. "Eastern Plays" David Hudson at Cannes from The IFC Blog, May 18, 2009
Ray Bennett at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 17, 2009
Jay Weissberg at Cannes from Variety, May 17, 2009
Bulgaria Sweden (108 mi) 2011
For his sophomore effort, Bulgarian director Kamen Kalev returns to the Directors’ Fortnight with The Island, a film that’s as far from his gritty debut, Eastern Plays, as can be imagined. Part amour fou two-hander, part offbeat psycho-spiritual thriller, its ambitions wind up far outweighing its accomplishments, though an alluring performance from lead Thure Lindhardt could bolster Euro arthouse play.
From the opening scene, where tightly wound businessman Daneel (Lindhardt) has his fortune read in a crowded Parisian café, it’s clear that Kalev is making an about face from the realistic, street-set dramatics of his first feature. When we’re then introduced to Daneel’s girlfriend, Sophie (actress/model Laetitia Casta), who surprises him with a trip to Bulgaria – only to find out once they get there that the supposedly German-born Daneel is actually a Bulgarian orphan – we know things are going to get weirder.
In that sense, The Island doesn’t disappoint, but making heads or tails of what happens when Daneel and Sophie wind up crashing at a run-down monastery on a remote isle, and then Daneel begins to lose his mind, is not something the film really encourages. Rather, Kalev (who also wrote the screenplay) takes a detour into Lynch and Tarkovsky territory, though his storytelling skills and aesthetic prowess are below the level needed to sustain a narrative that creeps further and further towards quirksville without completely justifying its choices.
There’s some promise early on, and one would think that the island will be a place where Daneel and Sophie can work out their various couple issues, the principal one being Sophie’s hidden pregnancy. But things quickly fall apart when Daneel runs into a woman (Boyka Velkova) who may or may not be his birth mother. Add to that a dead body, a slew of Biblical references, a song by Tom Waits and a supporting role by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowksy, and you’ve got all the elements in place for artsy head-scratcher, though wait: there are way more wackier things in store.
Much of this would be hard to swallow if it weren’t for the intense performance of Danish actor Lindhardt (Angels & Demons), who gives Daneel a chaotic spiritual bent that partially anchors all the madness. Casta (Gainsbourg) has a harder time wrapping herself around some of the English-language dialogue, and several scenes look to have been re-dubbed. Camerawork by Julian Atanassov is sustainable while Jean-Paul Wall’s score overreaches.
A cross-cultural Parisian couple - and, by extension, the audience - get way, WAY more than they bargained for when they take a few days holiday elsewhere in Europe in The Island. Producer-writer-director Kamen Kalev (Eastern Plays) sends all concerned on a multi-pronged journey, a trippy triptych whose twists are impossible to anticipate.
Viewers who like surprises shouldn’t read synopses or reviews and just bring an open mind and a sturdy attention span into the theater. Eclectically cast, fearlessly ambitious and more than a little nutty venture will no doubt divide viewers into “You’ve got to be kidding” and “Whoah - that was cool!” camps, but this is a conversation starter even if the conversation consists of “What was THAT?”
Sophie (Laetitia Casta) and Daneel (Thure Lindhardt) have been a couple for four years. They’re hard-working citizens with good jobs and their carnal connection is palpable. Some might find it surprising that a natural beauty in Casta’s league would set up house with a fellow who here is made to look like the love child of Willem Dafoe and Matthew Broderick, but these two are hot for each other. It’s their verbal communication that needs improvement.
He’s on edge and distracted, due to his stressful corporate job. Sophie wants a vacation break. He leaves the destination and travel arrangements up to her. When they get to the Paris airport and Daneel learns she has booked a flight to Bulgaria, he freaks out, categorically refusing to go but finally relenting.
When they land in Sofia, a doughy, seriously retarded man accosts them for a cigarette, whereupon Sophie learns that Daneel speaks Bulgarian. She thought he was German. They each have rather momentous secrets. Hoping to salvage what was meant to be a relaxing getaway, they take a ferry to a small island - formerly known as Bolshevik, no less - that boasts a monastery, a café and a handful of guest rooms.
A deliciously ominous aura of unease pervades every shot and dialogue exchange. Radiating earthy, sensual poise, Casta’s down-to-earth persona tries to defuse the percolating menace just by remaining herself as Daneel grows less and less familiar.
Daneel’s glimpse of middle-aged guest Irina (Bojka Velkova), has triggered the kind of dreams and memories - or are they delusional fantasies? - film is the perfect medium to convey. In one such feverish interlude, Sophie gives birth to something you don’t see every day, even in the aisles of Symbols R Us.
Fed up with her increasingly erratic mate, Sophie returns to Paris, leaving Daneel to experience the sort of transformation caterpillars and butterflies have been perfecting for millennia. An incredibly strong and interesting premise seems to dissipate into terminal eco-pretentiousness. And then things REALLY get weird.
Sophie and Daneel speak English together although she occasionally bursts into French. Lindhardt, a Dane who shows an impressive range as the tale plunges off the beaten narrative path, learned his Bulgarian lines phonetically.
From the opening scene in which Alejandro Jodorowsky gives a Tarot reading to the unpredictable multiple endings, this careening film has the courage of its convictions. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it affair.
USA (82 mi) 1992
The story of Leopold and Loeb – two young intellectual aesthetes, from wealthy Jewish families, who murdered a 14-year-old boy for kicks in Chicago in 1924 – has been filmed twice before. Rope located the roots of fascism in Nietzschean discourse. Compulsion was a more muddled ‘true crime’ saga. Kalin’s film is the least naturalistic and most factual. It is also the first to expand on Clarence Darrow’s argument for the defence, that the pair’s homosexuality was a sign of pathological deviance; ergo they were not accountable for their actions. The film’s second half sticks to court transcripts, to diagnose a repressive, racist, homophobic pathology on a wider social scale, endemic to patriarchy itself. Sketched in deft, sharp strokes, this is no more than a postscript to the earlier exploration of the lovers’ sado-masochistic relationship: how Loeb bartered crime for sex, and how their transgressive games escalated to the point of no return. With its sinuous monochrome finish, Swoon is decadent and economical, subjective and detached, fascinating and appalling – conjunctions Sacher Masoch himself might have recognised.
PopcornQ Review B. Ruby Rich
Swoon is inspired by the story of Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, two Jewish law students who, in 1942, kidnapped and murdered a young boy to illustrate their intellectual superiority to others. Their capture and trial led to international media coverage, and to two movie variations: Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Richard Fleischer's Compulsion.
But the movies neglected to mention that Leopold and Loeb were more than just a criminal couple; they were also partners in bed. Swoon pursues the boys' unusual relationship from plotting to prison bars: What compelled Leopold and Loeb to kill? Did their crime have anything to do with homosexuality? If it didn't, surely their punishment did. Swoon is a clever, troubling fiction about history, homophobia, ecstasy, and murder.
"Swoon is quintessentially a film of its time. It takes on the whole enterprise of `positive images' . . . turning the whole thing right on its head."
The Leopold and Loeb court case
of 1924 was filled to the brim with scandalous revelations about “perverts” and
a Freudian defence based on the homo-psychosis of the defendants, who were two
handsome Chicago high-society princes/unremorseful gay-lover killers.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb had killed a young local boy for a lark and put his body in a drain pipe. Living louche before the murder, entertaining drag queens around the poker table, Leopold and Loeb settled comfortably into prison life, running the prison library and eating most meals together for around four years, when Loeb was slashed to death in the showers by a fellow inmate.
Early media savvy superstars, Leopold and Loeb were the inspiration for the Hitchcock movie Rope and in 1959 when the Orson Welles' Compulsion used the tag line “Based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case” Leopold successfly sued 20th Century Fox.
Released in 1971, Leopold moved to Puerto Rico, where he married and continued his lifelong study of ornithology. Leopold was reported to have had an IQ of 200, and he spoke 28 languages fluently.
In other words, we could go on for ages about the real Leopold and Loeb, intriguing gay figures with flair and an all-for-love court-and-prison drama to rival Oscar Wilde. Discussions about "New Queer Cinema", and Swoon in particular, on the other hand, run dry very quickly. The contrast between real gay outlaws and faux, red-ribbon ones is a sharp one, and it shows the shortcomings of late AIDS-era American gay culture in a most unforgiving light.
The epitome of “New Queer Cinema”, Swoon is a wilted, limp film that bypasses the glamourous velocity of its subject matter in favour of lame film-school callisthenics. Pretentious experiments with form and style, an incompetent approach to storytelling and a decidedly emasculated view of homosexual killers/lovers make the movie a disappointing bore.
Despite the braggadocio of the film’s tagline (“puts the homo back into homicide”) and its overweening attempt to be “queer”, its detachment from the sweltering passion of its main characters, their haughty arrogance, their lethality, renders this queer film free of any sexuality.
Like a Herb Ritts coffee-table book, there’s plenty of arty-farty glances at highly sexual subjects, but no real sense of sex. Leopold once said that he was jealous of the food Loeb ate and the water Loeb drank, as they became a part of his being. All evidence suggests that he helped shove their victim’s warm corpse into a sewer pipe because that’s what Loeb wanted him to do. There’s absolutely no indication of this passion, this primeval love in the film. Instead, there’s crazy camera angles, contrived dialogue, and ham acting. To show audiences that violence and homosexuality are timeless concerns, Kalin places remote controls and cell phones in the occasional shot. A female, black court stenographer adds “kookiness” to the odd scene, but, as Kalin noted, such a figure would never have appeared in a courtroom of 1924.
Why take one of the most inherently sensational stories of the century – possibly the single most sensational story of the gay century – and then play stupid games with it, as though the story itself is of no consequence? Putting material like this in the background is just a lazy way of getting around thinking up your own plot.
Hip to the nth degree and so self-conscious it verges on the suffocating, SWOON takes its inspiration in equal parts from 1924's sensational Leopold and Loeb case and Harlem drag balls by way of Madonna.
Wealthy Chicago teenagers Nathan Leopold, Jr. (Craig Chester) and Richard Loeb (Daniel Schlachet) are smart, spoiled and bored. They're embroiled in an intense, secret affair, whose fervor places them on a collision course with the straightlaced mores of middle America. They're outsiders on every level: homosexual in a family dominated culture, Jews in the Protestant midwest and sensualists in a bourgeois America that values puritan conformity above all else.
These two precocious teens intellectualize their outlaw sexuality into philosophical alienation, and begin to commit petty criminal acts--arson, vandalism--of escalating seriousness; eventually they kill fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks. Though they've planned a "perfect murder," the badly concealed body is quickly found and Loeb's glasses, uncovered nearby, lead the police to them. The two are arrested; under questioning, Loeb confesses and they're tried amidst vicious public opprobrium. State's Attorney Crowe (Ron Vawter) helps turn the trial into a prurient spectacle, hinting darkly about sexual sadism; Leopold and Loeb's smirking, superior attitudes both titillate and outrage the public and the media. Though they escape the death penalty, both go to prison, where Loeb is murdered. As a middle-aged man, Leopold is eventually released, marries and dies in obscurity.
The Leopold and Loeb case contained all the elements necessary to shock America in the 20s, the same elements that would make it into a true-crime bestseller today. The victim was an innocent child, the suspects educated and not connected to the criminal element. But more importantly, Leopold and Loeb lent (and lend) themselves to treatment as outsiders: wealthy Jewish homosexuals who may look like us, but are somehow safely, irrevocably different. That difference is at the heart of SWOON.
The case has inspired two movies before SWOON: Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE and Richard Fleischer's COMPULSION. As examinations of the case both were hampered by an inability to speak frankly about the conceptions of homosexuality that informed both the behavior of the two young men and the public reaction to their crime. But SWOON's writer and director, Tom Kalin, intends far more than a more factually correct recreation of a sordid murder case; though treated at the time as the crime of the century, by contemporary standards it's all (sadly) tame stuff and hardly merits another once over from the atrocity standpoint. Kalin instead weaves a dense and often beautiful net of allusions to ideas about homosexuality--social, scientific, philosophical and aesthetic--and traps Leopold and Loeb (or Babe and Dickie, as they call one another) within its meshes. Informed by radical queer politics and suffused with a strangled romanticism, SWOON is simultaneously provocative and infuriating, too intelligent to dismiss, but too enthralled by its own cleverness to escape being precious.
Shot in crisp, sparkling b&w, SWOON has the look of a too-cool-for-its-own-good jeans commercial, all avant-garde angles and compositional devices at the service of venal commerce. Kalin's sparse evocation of Chicago 70 years ago is a triumph of invention over budget. With little more than a period car and some strangely timeless clothing (the cloche hats reflect the appropriate period, but the suits wouldn't look out of place on today's streets), he suggests a stiffer, more proper America, one in which the words "sexual" and "politics" could never have been used in the same sentence and social rebellion had yet to acquire a marketable cachet. SWOON argues that with no models for living their lives as gay men, Leopold and Loeb were doomed; their sexual orientation isolated them from society, while their coddled upbringings prevented them from forging independent identities outside the mainstream. Craig Chester and Daniel Schlachet's performances as Leopold and Loeb are a particular asset, suggesting the mutable form of desire, and the power it wields in all its manifestations.
Kalin's use of anachronism (a touch-tone phone, a walkman, a newspaper with no date), which recalls the work of Derek Jarman (CARAVAGGIO, EDWARD II), seems designed to suggest the continuing relevance of SWOON's preoccupations--the ways in which sexuality determines social integration, the conflict between the public and the private self, the transformation of thwarted lust into anti-social behavior--but isn't used consistently enough. Its isolated manifestations just look wrong, and break the movie's often hypnotic spell. The same is true of the appearances by the "Venus in Furs Divas," an assortment of campily outfitted men in drag and women who look like men in drag reciting sado-masochistic verse. The device screams "formalism," but to what end?
SWOON is an intelligent, thoughtful piece of filmmaking, and its flaws do not diminish its achievement. The Leopold and Loeb case has been popularly thought of as an example of what can happen when bright but morally underdeveloped young men fall under the sway of Nietzchean philosophy, and SWOON returns philosophy to the bedroom, arguing persuasively that sexuality--in its social implications, as well as its private manifestations--is at the root of all behavior.
eFilmCritic Reviews Rob Gonsalves
USA Spain France (97 mi) 2007
There’s something to be said about the English, especially growing up among the privileged upper classes, where one’s manner and demeanor are constantly being judged, as if on public display for rude, demeaning criticism from whomever is in a higher class just above yours - - and God save the Queen. There’s this feeling that the English love to chastise and reprimand, where society’s version of giving someone a good tongue lashing is all part of the nation’s tradition, like soccer or cricket or taking high tea. British dramas are filled with a peculiar kind of straight forwardness, where getting to the heart of the matter using as few words as possible is common practice. While this is a distinctively American story about the family of Leo Baekland, one of the original developers of plastics who made a fortune, especially during the Depression when everyone else was losing theirs, this brutally inelegant portrait of an elaborately artificial world resembles the rise and fall of Barry Lyndon, told like a British drawing room drama where class distinction is a birthright, featuring elaborate interiors with characters all but suffocating within their own restrictive, carefully drawn parameters. Adapted from a novel by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, and based on true events, this film has a novelistic inner narration which advances the psychological thoughts of several of the characters who speak, as if reading from their own personal diaries. Set during the period 1946 to 1972 (though the adults never age), Leo’s son George apparently didn’t live up to his father’s expectations and committed suicide, leaving a dark cloud hanging over the next generation of his family and the fortune to his son Brooks (Stephen Dillane), an educated but introverted and aloof husband who has lost all interest in the superficialities of his social climbing wife Barbara (Julianne Moore) as well as his only son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), who is gay and too close to his mother, always drawing her affection away from the neglected husband. Brooks despises Barbara’s need to flaunt her privileged status by organizing posh late night dinners at the Stork Club, social gatherings where important people are “seen,” a pompous gesture he simply has no use for.
While Moore is marvelous as the brazenly domineering center of attention, her mood always registers as false—witty, charming and charismatic, but also conniving and self-centered, as despite her bravura public persona, she really has no friends in the world and is out there hanging on a limb by herself, spoiling her over-pampered son, as if that will bring her the love she needs, but even that misfires. She is described by her husband as a former actress who will always be an actress. So what we have here is a great dysfunctional family where wealth only aggravates their pathetic and near pathological indifference to others, where behind the scenes they are largely ridiculed as Barbara has no academic standing to speak of and resorts instead to comically overwrought, inappropriate outbursts of temper as a means of saving face. This has the makings of a bitchy, Betty Davis or Douglas Sirk-style, down and dirty melodrama where all hell breaks loose, but that’s not the way Kalin plays it. Instead he creates an understated, exquisitely detailed interior mood piece shown with a surprising degree of restraint damning the manners and habits of the filthy rich that turns into a bizarre road movie of frustrated escapism, as they retreat to upper crest locations around the world from New York, London, and Paris, to Cadaqués and Mallorca in Spain, each one alienating them further, outcasts everywhere, where their barren lives resemble an enormously cavernous universe of unending emptiness, expressed through incessant cigarette smoking, probably more than any other film seen in the last 50 years, where their indulgent emotional cravings are on display like a constant fix from a narcotic, more a reflex devoid of any feeling or pleasure that after awhile generates an artifical layer replacing the original, where what was once human has vanished altogether and gone up in smoke.
Despite being gay, the pressure on Tony to present himself respectively in public, namely with a girlfriend, drives him to a relationship with the adventurously free-wheeling Blanca (Elena Anaya), the odd lover out in his regular relationship with a pot smoking beach bum Jake (Unax Ugalde), yet striking enough that she eventually catches the eye of Brooks who steals her away, leaving his wife and son. This is a truly pathetic moment, yet perhaps the best in the film as Barbara embarrassingly confronts them both at the airport as they attempt to flee, where she recognizes a younger and prettier version of herself, a girl who had enough sense to follow the money from Tony to Brooks, calling Blanca nothing more than a “cunt.” This is more than a hurtful moment; it’s a transformative one that will manifest itself in ever deteriorating forms of destruction as the film progresses. Tony understands that he has inherited his father’s role of having to take care of his drama queen mother’s needs, which is presented comically at first, and then tragically, as Barbara resorts to being comforted by a male gay friend that she is sleeping with, that Tony is also sleeping with, that ridiculously leads to the three of them together, which leads to a full-blown incestial affair, a stupefyingly desperate measure of a mother’s attempt to cure her son of homosexuality. While the motives throughout the film are barely recognizable, this act solidifies the extent of their isolation pushing them into an unidentified no man’s land, a place where nothing is as it seems, apparently a hell hole of no escape for either one of them. The photography by Juan Miguel Azpiroz impresses throughout while the music from Fernando Velázquez is a beautiful undercurrent to the themes of isolation and loneliness, occasionally quiet and reflective, especially some utterly gorgeous piano passages perfectly matched with tender images, while at other times the swirling largesse of the orchestra fills the void of what’s missing in this under-heated melodrama of lost and bitterly empty souls.
D-DAY Erica Abeel at Cannes from Filmmaker magazine
Topping off D-day was Tom Kalin's Savage Grace,
a selection of the Director's Fortnight sidebar. It's based on the true story
of Barbara Baekeland, who married up into the Bakelite plastics fortune.
Husband Brooks seems to despise his gorgeous wife for being “low class” (Julianne
Moore, in a wardrobe keyed to her coloring); and his son for being gay.
Brooks runs off with son's theoretical g.f., leaving Moore and son in their own
Over a diet coke in the American Pavilion (I'm not a member
and had to sneak in), I got to thinking. Friday's 3 D-movies share an intangible
flaw: somewhere between intention and execution, the film loses credibility,
even turns ridiculous (in fact, when
Tom Kalin’s Savage Grace recounts the (true) cautionary tale of Barbara Daly Baekeland (Julianne Moore), a not too worldly but socially ambitious beauty whose abandonment by her husband (Stephen Dillane), dwindling finances, and—here’s the singular note—homophobia coalesced into one bad trip for her son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne). Always overmothered, the unambiguously gay young man became the repository of Barbara’s hunger for control. Why, she would convert him to nondeviant sexuality if she had to sidle into his lap and stick his willy into herself.
Kalin lays this out with a touch of Madame Tussauds—the film is archly posed, with a score (by Fernando Velázquez) that’s rich in portentous strings. (Is there a theremin in there? Probably my imagination.) But Howard A. Rodman’s script has a lot of juice, and the rhythms are so pregnant that the air vibrates with something, even if you’re not sure what. Moore is virtuosic when it comes to chewing the scenery while standing stock-still—perfect for the going-to-seed failed movie actress Barbara. Dillane—whose Leonard Woolf was the best thing in The Hours—is infectiously uncomfortable: You don’t entirely blame him for bolting. Redmayne is … queer, in the old sense: physically detached, with only his bulgy eyes signaling his inner panic. In its frigid way, Savage Grace is potent: It makes incest a state of mind.
A lip-smacking episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Depraved, designed more for train-wreck gawkery than psychological illumination, Tom Kalin's garish melodrama applies icehouse style to hothouse material: the 1972 murder of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland, former wife of the heir to the Bakelite fortune, by the grown son she'd taken to fucking to cure his homosexuality. From the life-preserver clinging of his culture-vulture mom (Julianne Moore) to the contempt of his aloof playboy dad (Stephen Dillane), young Antony Baekeland was molded from birth into a sexually confused, neurotic mama's boy (played as an adult by Eddie Redmayne, who at his unhealthiest resembles Alan Colmes after a Queer Eye makeover). His standing as his mother's de facto husband led inevitably to incest, violence, and a grimly redundant self-suffocation; in Kalin and screenwriter Howard A. Rodman's hands, his downfall becomes a glossy travelogue, with stops in Paris (where his mom has Antony favor the guests with a reading from the Marquis de Sade), Majorca (where he and mom wake up on either side of her polymorphous walker, Hugh Dancy), and London (where a fateful kitchen knife awaits). This marks Kalin's first feature in the 15 years since his queer-cinema landmark Swoon, a grave, provocative retelling of the Leopold and Loeb case that refused to explain the killers away as victims of mass gay panic. This, by contrast, is a tawdry nighttime soap that marvels without insight at its characters' despicable behavior: It squanders a major performance by Moore, who rips into Barbara's confrontational mania, maternal perversity, and all-consuming need with nail-clawing fury and no small amount of malicious humor—as when she tries to quiet her increasingly agitated son/handjob recipient with a sharp "Inside voice!"
It's a story so delicious, you couldn't make it up. The suave
heir to an industrial fortune marries a beautiful social climber. They lead a
life of privelege and ease in the summer resorts of Europe. She is
embarassingly over-ambitious for her delicate young son. All three have casual
sex with alarming alacrity. No-one is off limits. Nothing is unexpected. And
then, after an hour or two of bed-hopping, the young son and mother indulge in
the only coupling as yet untried. The fuck each other. He kills her. He orders
chinese take-out and waits for the cops.
All this is true. But so much is left out. We never learn of Barbara Baekeland's disgust at her son's homosexuality. We never see that she seduces him in an attempt to turn him heterosexual, rather than out of careless boredom. We never see Tony exhibit signs of mental illness - the murder is not foreshadowed in anything he says or does. As a result, the movie lacks momentum or narrative drive. It just drifts across the screen - one scene of boredom and casual sex after another. You never understand why any of the characters do anything, much less care. Even during acts of incest or murder, the dull tedium of their lives has infected the movie-goer to the point where we couldn't care less. Things aren't helped by the lack of context in the production design. Apart from one scene in the Stork Club we never see the Baekeland's as social animals, living fast in glamourous parties or nightclubs. Maybe this was due to a budgetary constraint? The result is that visually, this is rather a dull film. There's also a sort of prudishness when it comes to the sex scenes. They are hinted at but never shown - certainly this movie has none of the balls-out bravery of Christophe Honoré's MA MERE.
All of this is a tremendous shame. I have great respect for all three lead actors - Moore, Dillane, Redmayne - and the subject matter could have been fascinating. But the movie had a listless, bizarrely prim feel to it. I was utterly unimpressed.
“Savage Grace,” Tom Kalin’s long-awaited second feature (after “Swoon”), swoons through a number of lovely, storied places on its way to a sad and sordid end. Narrated by Tony Baekeland (played in young adulthood by Eddie Redmayne), it begins in the post-World War II Manhattan of late-night dinners at the Stork Club and moves on to Paris in the ’50s and then to Spain (Cadaqués and Majorca, to be precise) in the late 1960s and London after that.
Written by Howard A. Rodman, “Savage Grace” follows the true, appalling story of Tony and his parents, played by Stephen Dillane and Julianne Moore. Brooks Baekeland, heir to a plastics fortune (his grandfather invented Bakelite), is frustrated by his own lack of ambition and less than kind to his wife, Barbara. For her part, Barbara is impulsive and also somewhat pretentious, striving to jam herself into social niches where she won’t comfortably fit. Greeting a literary scholar who has come for lunch, she asks: “Was Proust truly a homosexual? Qu’est-ce que tu penses?”
That line, like so many others in Mr. Rodman’s script, is written and delivered with an arch, brittle self-consciousness that becomes oppressive over time. While it’s likely that the diction and phrasing of the dialogue approximates the idioms of rich expatriates during the decades in question, the characters still seem vague, stilted and unreal.
This is especially true of Barbara, whose volatile personality is at the heart of the story. She is, we infer, both victim and provocateur in her marriage, suffering from Brooks’s coldness even as she goes out of her way to inflame his contempt. Her relations with Tony range from neglectful to needy to downright monstrous.
But instead of a character, Ms. Moore presents a series of poses, phrases and disjointed emotions. The intriguingly epicene Mr. Redmayne is something of a cipher in the film, which is fine when Tony functions as the spectator and interpreter of parental melodrama. But by the time his own pathology comes to the foreground, his actions are less tragic than weird and mystifying.
Mr. Kalin, perhaps oppressed by a need to obey the chronology of the story, fails to infuse it with enough dramatic momentum or psychological gravity. Everything and everyone in “Savage Grace” looks utterly gorgeous — Ms. Moore even as she is coming undone, the tastefully appointed rooms she inhabits, the period-perfect clothes she wears — but the décor, rather than being the vehicle of high feeling in the camp-melodrama tradition to which the film aspires, suffocates and blurs every interesting emotion.
There is a degree of pleasure to be found in watching a slow-moving spectacle of privileged decadence. But your interest in the decline of the Baekelands as they wander down the path from sarcasm and social posturing to abandonment, incest and murder never rises above the level of prurience. Even as it tries to be suave and nonjudgmental, “Savage Grace” has some of the breathless salaciousness of Barbara’s question about Proust. It lays out the facts of the case with the false nonchalance of a seasoned gossip, professing not to be shocked by anything even as it expects you to be.
Bisexuality! Marijuana! Anal sex! A father who sleeps with his son’s girlfriend! A son who sleeps with his mother’s boyfriend! All of great intrinsic interest, to be sure, but “Savage Grace” doesn’t seem quite sure of how to communicate its own fascination with such doings, whether to convey shock, envy, pity or bemusement. Proust might have known what to do with the Baekelands, but Mr. Kalin and Mr. Rodman don’t make much more of them than the mess they apparently already were.
SAVAGE GRACE. By Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson. 492 pages. William Morrow. $17.95. WHEN Tony Baekeland, great-grandson of the man who made millions by inventing the first commercially successful plastic, stabbed his mother to death in 1972, it was the final chapter in a family saga with plot twists worthy of ''Dynasty'' - or perhaps Tennessee Williams. For one, there was Tony's homosexuality; by 14 he was seducing other boys. While Tony's sexual preferences are not so remarkable, his mother's response was: she tried, it seems, to save Tony from his homosexuality by seducing him. Then, when Tony finally managed to bring home a girlfriend, his father ran off with her.
The murder sent ripples through the ranks of a glittery crowd. Tony's mother, Barbara Baekeland, had once been engaged to John Jacob Astor, and spent most of her time in social pursuit of the rich, the famous and the gifted. It is this same rather glamorous circle of friends and acquaintances who, through their own testimony, tell the tale of the Baekeland family in ''Savage Grace,'' by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson.
Miss Robins and Mr. Aronson skillfully weave together the reminiscences and documents - and the delicious gossip - that reveals the Baekeland saga. They are fortunate in being able to call upon an exceptional cast to tell the story, including Francine du Plessix Gray, Alastair Reid, William Styron and, through letters and an excerpt from a novel, James Jones. Moreover, a dazzling list of notables have walk-on roles in the book: Robert Graves, Dylan Thomas, William Saroyan, Cecil Beaton, Salvador Dali, Prince George of Denmark, and on and on.
There is a mythic quality to the Baekeland story, one that echoes Greek tragedy, but with peculiarly American twists. The fable is familiar: a flawed but brilliant figure rises from obscurity to found a wealthy dynasty which, over successive generations, disintegrates into oblivion.
The family fortune was made by Tony's great-grandfather, Leo Baekeland, an immigrant Belgian chemist. Leo, working in his laboratory in Yonkers, developed a plastic he marketed as Bakelite. Leo Baekeland's plastic found thousands of uses, from toilet seats and the streamlined radios of the 20's and 30's to a crucial, but still secret, use in the first atomic bomb.
Leo's son, George Baekeland, as so often happens to the children of great men, never lived up to his father's inflated expectations. The same psychological legacy seems, in turn, to have paralyzed George's son, Brooks, a brilliant student who abandoned physics for writing as he was about to complete his Ph.D. at Columbia. Brooks, despite his intellectual gifts, became the sort of writer who never managed to produce the novel he supposedly labored over for decades.
The women who married this line of Baekeland men seem all to have suffered the misery of an emotional divorce within the shell of a marriage. The social amenities were preserved - the formal dinners and social engagements - but the marriages themselves were at a distance. Indeed, Brooks's father, George, preferred to live in a small house in the company of his dogs rather than in the mansion with his wife and children.
As for Tony, there was, in early childhood, little to herald the angst of his later life. A charming, faunlike lover of nature, he spent his childhood in paradisiacal settings, with glittering chums; his beach playmate at 9, for example, was Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, daughter of Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan, his swimming pool the Eden Roc.
Still, the psychological ennui seems to have increased through the Baekeland generations. Tony Baekeland's family life was chaotic, centered around his mother's intense pursuit of the social status to be gained by befriending the famous. Tony was left by the wayside, an afterthought. Despite some talent at art and writing, Tony was thrown out of one posh school after the other.
By late adolescence, Tony began to fall apart. By his 20's, the signs of his schizophrenia were blatant: his paintings in a still life class, for example, were human figures with blood dripping down the side. Still, his mother strove to maintain appearances, playing the masquerade of a happy family. She would blithely show off his grotesque artworks to dinner guests, saying, ''Aren't they marvelous!'' - oblivious both to the fact that Tony was stonefaced and the dinner guests aghast. More ominous was the casualness with which she shrugged off Tony's angry outbursts and the physical attacks on her that preceded the stabbing.
By offering the reader the actual words of those involved, ''Savage Grace'' avoids the loss of credibility suffered by most novelized renderings of such events, notably due to the attribution to characters of thoughts and feelings that the narrator cannot possibly have known about. Many of the interviews have a special eloquence. For example, of all those who bear witness to the lurid details of the Baekeland family debacle, none is so interesting a figure as Tony's father, Brooks. He speaks with the voice of one at once lucid, literate and sophisticated, and yet blind to the most basic needs of the human heart.
One frustration in reading ''Savage Grace'' is that it lacks some basic aids that would help the reader intent on piecing together the details of its absorbing story. While the glossary of names of those quoted identifies them in terms of their careers or social station, their proximity to the Baekelands is not mentioned. It is difficult to know, then, how much credence to give some of the testimony - is it mere gossip? is it from the lips of an intimate friend? a casual acquaintance? Another help would be a family tree, since the book covers four generations of a sprawling familly.
But these are minor omissions in an otherwise gripping tale. ''Savage Grace'' is a fascinating, though macabre, exploration of the decadence of wealthy people without purpose. Read as a clinical case history, it shows how the psychological abandonment endured by some children of the very wealthy makes them suffer the same inner deprivations as do children of the very poor. And as a modern-day morality tale, ''Savage Grace'' bears eloquent witness to the emptiness of la dolce vita.
Cinematical (Kim Voynar) from Sundance
The House Next Door [Keith Uhlich] (excerpt, about halfway down the article)
EyeForFilm.co.uk Paul Griffiths
Savage Grace Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily
Prost Amerika Mike Caccioppoli
Kalin's Saving "Grace" Wendy Mitchell on the announcement of making the film from indieWIRE
Julianne Moore on her dark ''Savage Grace'' | Julianne Moore ... Missy Schwatrz interview at Cannes with Julianne Moore from Entertainment Weekly, May 21, 2007
The ‘Savage Grace’ Of Julianne Moore - Hamptons.com Tom Clavin from Hamptons.com, June 19, 2008
Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams] from Sundance
There's absolutely nothing wrong with Sa-kwa. It's beautifully acted, with its two stars' naturalistic approach serving to underplay potential melodrama. Legend-in-her-own-time Moon So-ri is terrific in this, in control of the slightest tremors of emotion darting across her visage. But Kim Tae-woo, who I last saw in Woman is the Future of Man, is an exceptional foil. His strait-laced Sang-hoon could be played for cheap comedy, but instead there's a quiet tragedy in the way his dorkiness and one-track masculinity stays mostly the same while Moon's Hyun-jung evolves around it. Kang has made a confident first film, but there's a sense in which Sa-kwa plays out with a kind of inevitability. For all the lovely moments of observation that ring true (cf. the family yoga in the woods), there is an overarching determinism, as though life always developed in precisely one way and all Kang or the rest of us can do is watch it unfold. This makes Sa-kwa a bizarre proposition, raising questions of whether movie clichés are repeated because they accurately depict How We Live, or whether we are all making sense of our lives using tired, inadequate scripts. Hong Sang-soo thematizes this problem, but Kang simply embodies it.
Sa-Kwa Adam Hartzell from the Korean Film Page
A friend of mine, in commenting how much she got out of Rules of Dating, added the disclaimer that it's a hard film to explain to other people because, well, the relationship you're talking about sounds so 'wrong'. There is much 'wrong' that happens in Rules of Dating, but like Hong Sangsoo's films, I never find the 'wrong' that happens approved by the text (as I do in the reprehensible Plastic Tree). There is a subset of films about "romantic" couples in South Korean cinema that focuses on the messiness of relationships that I think the majority of people experience more often than the fairy-tale, soulmate couplings we dream about. Although I see much positive about the heightened concern by United States filmmakers regarding the representations of particular populations, a negative side is that some might stray from portraying certain realities of life because some might be concerned of indirectly promoting all the -isms that still persist. Freed from the political situation particular to the United States, South Korean cinema has been able to develop some fascinating and complex romantic plots that often have you leaving the theatre not knowing what to think, having to let your thoughts and feelings settle before you proclaim allegiance with or defiance towards what you witnessed on screen.
These types of messy romances serve as the base for Kang Yi-kwan's debut film Sa-Kwa. An assistant director for Memento Mori and Three Friends, Kang found himself with the privilege to direct Moon So-ri (Oasis, A Good Lawyer's Wife, Bewitching Attraction) in a film about loving, suffering, lying, and forgiving - oneself and others - that he also wrote. His camera immediately announces the unease that feeds these messy couplings through the feeling of improper intimacy conveyed in the at-the-shoulder shots of Moon's character Hyun-jung. The camera is extremely intrusive on Hyun-jung, making us feel as if we are stalking her. And this is how she feels initially about Sang-hoon (Kim Tae-woo - Don't Look Back and, speaking of Hong Sangsoo, Woman Is The Future Of Man), the man in her building who relentlessly pursues her in spite of her rejections. She reconsiders Sang-hoon after her boyfriend of many years unexpectedly calls off their relationship. We witness Hyun-jung stutter into a marriage with Sang-hoon upon which, as hard as we might try, we cannot justify projecting a star-crossed romance. The highpoint of this well structured narrative is the wedding scene. Without dialogue, but with the happy-wedding signifiers of lighting, costume and music, the ambivalent looks of Hyun-jung and Sang-hoon temper this joyous moment with an underlying feeling of doubt about this union. After the wedding we see their love grow, but we also see it dissipate.
The story is told from the point of view of Hyun-jung and we follow her as she struggles to figure out what's best for her and the people that matter to her. And speaking of people who matter to her, her family is absolutely wonderful in its characterization. What could have come off as cliches - the mother intrusive in her daughters's relationships, the father aloof to the troubles within the family, the younger daughter always ready to pout and stomp out of the room - instead come off as nicely nuanced and often hilarious. As much as this family has its trouble, (and to Kang's credit, by bringing in their economic issues this film keeps from being a completely atomistic take on these lives), I found myself wanting to join in on the hikes and tai-chi exercises as a cousin.
The choice to leave the film title un-translated
for non-Korean audiences allows for Sa-Kwa to fully resonate with both
its meanings, "apple" and "apology", two words that allude
to Christian theology. As significant a religion as Christianity is in
And since one can't be forgiven until one apologizes, there in falls the other definition of Sa-Kwa. Apologies and forgiveness are prominent themes throughout Sa-Kwa as they both relate to suffering, making the film a wonderful jumping off point for the discussion of "Theodicy", the term from the 18th century theologian Gottfried Liebniz that means "the Justice of God" and represents theological attempts to explain 'why bad things happen to good people'. Sa-Kwa seems to argue that suffering comes from a direct relationship with knowledge, something represented by the apple since the apple in the book of Genesis comes from the 'Tree of Knowledge'. The more you know, the more you hurt. Rather than focus on the suffering of the wider world, Sa-Kwa focuses on the suffering of the everyday of the every woman and man. Some of the suffering of the everyday is caused by the things we bring about, such as the lies we tell and the selfish acts we demand, but some is also caused by decisions outside of our control. And the more we learn about what we can and can't control, the more we learn about life, the more possibilities to suffer emerge. But rather than taking this as a lesson to remain ignorant and to keep information from others, Sa-Kwa demonstrates how owning up to the responsibility knowledge affords us can lead to greater reductions in the suffering of ourselves and others. As one of Hyun-jung's parents (I forget which one exactly, only having access to one screening so far) underscores, wouldn't life be "boring" if we never had to work through suffering, if we didn't have to learn and apply what we learn?
Sa-Kwa is not so heavy-handed in its Christian subtext as to put off non-Christians like myself. As an Agnostic, I find the story a validation not of Christian belief but of the resiliency of my fellow human beings. Any of us who have been banished from the paradise of innocence in relationships after partaking of the fruits of knowledge that adulthood provides will find something to relate to in Sa-Kwa. The ending is appreciatively ambiguous enough that each of us can cuddle up with an ending that works for our fallible selves right now. Then we can watch it again at a different turn in our lives for a different teaching, a sign of all Good Books and Good Films.
South Africa France (108 mi) 2008
Award winning South African playwright John Kani takes his first play (2002) and moves both behind and in front of the camera, directing and playing the lead role in the film. Unfortunately he gives a somewhat wooden performance, standing around and reading the lines as if sitting on a stool, attempting to enunciate as best as possible using perfect diction. As an older man, he couldn’t be less spontaneous and more predictable, so he feels like a lecturer, as if we’re being read and lectured to. Since this is about history, it all but dulls the otherwise searing subject matter. Much of this feels force fed, made easy to digest through elaborate explanations in a near one-man play, growing ridiculously simplistic at times. The problem is the unlikability factor, as the lead character who dominates the screen time spends way too much time selfishly thinking of himself, and not in flashbacks in a WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957) revelry, as if he’s painfully looking back at himself with moments of admiration as well as regret, but his resentment is expressed through his current outrage where he believes people have done him a major injustice. In an intimate theater this may work, but on film, this self-centered tone of personal squabbles pales against the reality of the nation’s policy of forgiveness, which is nothing less than a transcendent moment in history. The film never gets on track and with barely a hint at soul searching, where the characters are never fleshed out. Unfortunately everything is wrapped in a package where the harsh edges are smoothed clean that makes it all too palatable for the viewers, who needn’t do any heavy lifting in this film.
He’s worked in his South African village library since the
early days before apartheid when blacks were not allowed to enter the library,
and met his wife there. He expects to be
named the library director in the next few days, a position he feels he’s
earned, and at age 63, one he’s paid his dues to qualify for. We hear him freely express his thoughts as
Sipho, the narrator and lead character, while also seeing newsreel shots of
Archbishop Desmond Tutu heading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
hearings. He’s received news that his
younger brother Themba died while living in London, a social activist and exile
from the anti-apartheid movement, a man who could generate energy and
enthusiasm into an audience through his gift of speech. As his body is being shipped back to
This subject is further explored when the differences between the two brothers is exacerbated by the behavior of their children. Themba’s body is brought back by his grown daughter Thando (Motshabi Tyelele), an insufferably spoiled brat who carries more luggage than can fit into most people’s homes, and who is bringing back the cremated ashes instead of the body they were expecting. Already set in her ways, she has little respect or interest in African ways, as she’s used to doing exactly as she pleases. While Mandisa (Rosie Motene) on the other hand is Sipho’s daughter, who looks after him daily, and lives her life in accordance with the blessings of her father. Everything comes to a head when Sipho receives notice that he does not get the job, which sends him on a drunken bender. When the two girls find him in the corner of a notorious bar, the night is still young, as Sipho will spend the night railing against the injustices of his life, including the recollections of his brother’s atrocious behavior. When Thando thinks he’s just jealous because his brother was a movement hero, Sipho lays out what sacrifices are needed to be a responsible man, something his brother could never be, as he never worked a day in his life, yet he accepted all the hero worship adulation while continually receiving support from his family. Sipho describes his day of reckoning, where he will demand that he be installed as director of the library on the grounds that he is entitled to it, threatening to burn the place down if they don’t honor his wishes, after which he can claim amnesty by admitting his crime. Again, his vow of revenge is his criteria for obtaining justice. In the morning when he sobers up, it’s just another day, but it’s also the day he lays to rest his brother’s ashes and with it the enormous resentment he has carried around with him for years.
The 8th Annual CHICAGO AFRICAN DIASPORA FILM FESTIVAL Facets Multi Media
Nothing But The Truth is a gripping investigation into
the complex dynamic between the people who remained in
Bonsile John Kani is a South African Actor actor, playwright and director. He was born in New Brighton township in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth. He joined The Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.
These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. He also received an Olivier nomination for his role in My Children My Africa!
Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island. These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.
Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa specifically the rift between black people who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated regime folded. It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for best actor and best new South African play. In the same year he was also awarded a special Obie award for his extraordinary contribution to theatre in the USA. In 2008 Nothing but the Truth was adapted for the big screen marking Kani’s directorial and screenwriting debut. The film has been widely received and scooped several awards including the coveted Silver stallion award at Pan African Film and Television awards of Ouagadougou (Fespaco). Kani is executive trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the Market Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA.
Kani has also received the Avanti Hall of Fame Award from the South African film, television and advertising industries, an M-Net Plum award and a Clio award in New York. Other awards include the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation Award for the year 2000 and the Olive Schreiner Prize for 2005. He was voted 51st in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004. In 2006 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town.
Great Britain France Germany (86 mi) 2001 ‘Scope
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
NW India, ages ago. Sent by his warlord boss to punish a village defaulting on tithes, warrior Lafcadia (Khan) finds himself unable to slay a young girl after noticing his son's pendant around her neck. But the tyrant won't tolerate deserters: when Lafcadia, laying aside his sword, tries to leave for his native village in the Himalayas, his former second-in-command, Biswas, captures and kills his son. Devastated, he continues his journey into the wilderness, meeting various loners as he goes, while Biswas follows in bloody pursuit. If some of the above sounds familiar, that's because the plot of Kapadia's fine feature debut echoes The Outlaw Josey Wales and several Mann and Boetticher Westerns; stylistically, however, Kurosawa and Leone are reference points. In other words, this is basically a Western transposed to India, but the brazenly mythic tone aligns it less closely with Hollywood models than with more reflexive storytelling traditions. With its stark narrative simplicity, its timeless setting and cipher characters, the epic mode may not produce psychological complexity, but it does score in terms of scale, sweep and sheer panache.
As a first feature, written and directed by Asif Kapadia, who was born in Hackney and didn't go to India until he was 23, The Warrior is audacious. Kapadia took a crew of 250 into the deserts of Rajasthan, where you could fry an egg on a rock, and later to the foothills of the Himalayas, where seven layers of clothing were required to stop from freezing at night.
He used mainly untrained actors and wrote the script with Tim Miller, his senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London. They shared an interest in magic realism and folk tales. Kapadia's true passion is for Westerns and what he calls "landscape films", short on verbal communication, rich on visual expression.
The Warrior recreates the brutal traditions of the Rajputs, who ruled from isolated fort fiefdoms with a ruthlessness that would have been the envy of Bosnian Serb generals. If his subjects failed to provide the lord with his annual levy, because of drought or poor harvest, he beheaded their representative and sent assassins to raze their houses to the ground.
Lafcadia (Irfan Khan) is the leader of these warriors, who has a Damascus Road moment during the massacre of innocents and decides to pack it in and return to his village in the mountains. Kapadia's film is the story of that journey, as the repentant murderer is pursued by riders who have been ordered to "bring me the head of Alfredo Lafcadia".
The influence of Sergio Leone is everywhere, from Khan's brooding performance to the detritus of desertscape. Dialogue is kept to a minimum. The camera's eye captures a terrible beauty. The warriors are like The Wraiths from The Lord Of The Rings and Lafcadia has the white-robed presence of a prophet.
To call this an Eastern is too easy. It's more than that. It is a unique cinematic experience, created by a young British/Indian filmmaker who has the courage of his perception and an understanding that movies are a visual medium.
"I didn't want to make a small first film," he said. "Two people in a room didn't interest me."
They won't interest you, either, after this.
Slant Magazine review Ed Gonzalez
Just as Quentin Tarantino happily
plugged countless Asian imports for Miramax, Asif Kapadia's The Warrior,
the story of a brutal Rajput mercenary who goes straight and subsequently
incurs the wrath of the warlord who employed him, reaches American shores under
an equally dubious banner: "Anthony Minghella Presents." This type of
promotion is ridiculous: Not only does Minghella have absolutely nothing to do
with the film's production but his name sets up a worrying level of expectation
("Please, not another !"). In the end, the only
thing in common between Kapadia and his film's master of ceremonies is that the
intersection of the past and present in The Warrior recalls the epic
ritual of denial that serves as the foundation for Minghella's only good film, Truly
After his defection, Lafcadia (Irfan Khan) takes to wandering barren landscapes and remote mountain villages, haunted by the memory of his dead son and pursued by his former cohort Biswas (Aino Annuddin). In a young thief (Noor Mani), Lafcadia finds a substitute for his son, and in one of the most touching sequences in the film, finds himself playing with the boy in the same way he did with his son before his death. Lafcadia's decision to abandon his mercenary ways starves for a convincing justification, but Khan's expressive eyes fill in the gaps by evoking his character's crisis as a hunger for spiritual salvation. This makes Lafcadia's interaction with a blind woman (Damayanti Marfitia) especially compelling: Lafcaida carries the woman in his arms to a place called the Holy Lake, but after sensing the man's bloody past by touching his face with her trembling hand, the woman denies him what is understood to be an act of penance.
There's raping, pillaging, and beheading in the film, but Kapadia keeps much of the film's violence off-screen, which does more harm than good at times: This G-grade presentation of R-rated horror perpetuates confusion (is Biswas putting on a show when he slices the throat of Lafcadia's son?). And while many of the characters, namely the priggish warlord played by Anupam Shyam, are cartoonish, and the story's delineation of right and wrong is scarcely complex (in essence, thieving and bloodletting is justified if it benefits the disenfranchised), The Warrior's narrative economy is impressive. I much prefer the full-throated passion of , but it's to the film's credit that it's able to say so much with very little words and even less righteousness.
The Onion A.V. Club review Nathan Rabin
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review Janos Gereben
VideoVista review Jeff Young
Kamera.co.uk review Sameer Padania
Talking Pictures (UK) review Jaap Mees
The Boston Phoenix review Peter Keough
Great Britain France (89 mi) 2007 ‘Scope
Those hoping to avoid the cold might
want to skip director Asif Kapadia’s
latest ethnographically interested mini-epic, an adaptation of an Arctic-set
story by feminist Sara Maitland. The tundra is as breathtaking as the acting is
Yeoh and Michelle
Krusiec, decked out in Inuit chic, are suitably fierce as the cursed and
lonely hunter and adopted daughter. They are ever canoeing or sledding
together, away from their murderous fellow man, until Sean Bean’s
half-dead escapee soldier falls in their path and divides them.
It’s strange and eerie – in a bad way. It could be the Middle Ages, except for the radios and listening stations on the horizon. The politics are obscure too, with marauding groups suggestive of a fascist near-future. Themes of survival, savagery, maternalism and rivalry are unresolved. Disappointing.
In 2001 British director Asif Kapadia's feature debut The Warrior garnered him just praise for his able story telling and for eliciting moving performances from his cast whilst capturing stunning Indian scenery. He followed this up last year in the States with The Return starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It couldn't have been more different, or disappointing. Thankfully, Far North looks and feels like the film we were hoping for last time around.
In fact, it is. It's just taken Kapadia more than four years to realise his vision so I guess he had to do something to pay the bills in the meantime. He has again teamed with Tim Miller (The Warrior co-writer) to develop a Spartan screenplay, based on a short story by Sarah Maitland, which charms with its simple folklore inflections and disturbs with its dark humanity.
Michelle Yeoh is Saiva, a nomadic woman wandering the truly desolate icescapes of the Arctic tundra. Her sole companion is the younger Anja, played by Michelle Krusiec. Together they have forged a harsh hand-to-mouth existence, on the move with their huskies, avoiding others, battling the cold, hunting for food. They’re close and comfortable with each other’s mostly wordless company; Anja is resilient and perky, Saiva a determined maternal protector.
One day a figure, a man, played by Sean Bean, staggers over the barren horizon and finally collapses at Saiva’s feet. His name is Loki. With much consternation Saiva takes him back to their animal-skinned camp where his mere presence instantly and seismically changes the women’s closed daily living. His name is deliberately apt, taken from a god of Norse mythology known for unbalancing the nature of things. Inevitably, tensions mount as their new relationships see brute human psychology tentatively unfurl from within all three.
Kapadia has described the film as a dark fairy story rather than a straight narrative. Indeed, when the final act comes it is both chest-freezingly shocking and entirely apposite with the three-handed Greek tragedy that he has steadily developed from the first opening sequences. It is an unsettling, captivating conclusion.
Everyone delivers persuasive performances, considering the environmental conditions and that they’re working with characters that are drawn as intentionally illustrative as they are human. If anything, Bean is the weakest and least evolved because of this (although he’s still far better than in his execrable The Hitcher) and while Krusiec is consistently reliable Yeoh, frankly, excels. Her portrayal of Saiva as both seasoned survivor and conflicted victim brings the full tragic portent of her flash-backed past straight into her present actions and wavering gaze, transfixing throughout.
Equally spellbinding is the epic polar scenery, beautifully rendered by cinematographer Roman Osin. Mountainous, awesome and utterly punishing, Far North is best seen on the big screen to appreciate in full the world the characters live in - and Kapadia’s sizeable achievement in capturing and so poignantly weaving it to his characters’ story. It is a far more welcome return for the director.
An absorbing, disturbing and exceptionally composed filmic fable.
Far North Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound, January 2009
The Arctic. Saiva - once a solitary outcast, supposedly cursed - is now accompanied on her travels by Anja, a young woman she raised from a baby after Anja's settlement was wiped out by the soldiers taking over their homeland. One day the two women rescue Loki, a man found wandering in the tundra; he too is a fugitive. The three continue travelling together and, despite Saiva's warnings, Anja becomes Loki's lover. Anja tells Saiva that she is tired of the nomadic life and is leaving to start a family with Loki. Saiva kills Anja, slices off her face and wears it to make love to an unwitting Loki; when he realises what is happening, he runs off into the wilderness.
Asif Kapadia's 2001 debut feature The Warrior remains one of the most singular and adventurous enterprises in recent British cinema: a dazzling fusion of traditional Indian imagery with martial-arts action and the stylised starkness of the Sergio Leone Western. A follow-up has been long awaited and Far North - premiered in Venice in 2007 - could be considered Kapadia's second feature proper, his 2006 film The Return, a Sarah Michelle Gellar scarer, being strictly a for-hire job.
Far North is nothing if not adventurous and shows the same thirst for exploration that made The Warrior such a stirring anomaly. Just as that film was largely inspired by its location, Far North starts out not so much from a narrative base - although the seed was a short story by Sara Maitland - as from a landscape, its visual palette and its expressive ambience. Here, the story serves to help explore the setting rather than the other way round.
Shot in the Norwegian Arctic and in the extreme northern archipelago of Svalbard, the film bears the traces of what was by all accounts an unusually arduous production, the shoot sometimes happening at minus 40 degrees. The landscape is the film's true subject, as was not strictly the case in The Warrior, where a compellingly schematic narrative and the charismatic presence of Irfan Khan held equal claims on the attention. In Far North, however, the geography itself results in a more contemplative, downbeat mood. Kapadia and Roman Osin, returning as DP, are working with a greatly reduced colour palette: snow, brown land, grey rock, occasional splashes of blood and glows of fire as opposed to the intense blue skies and red sands of The Warrior's location, Rajasthan. Nevertheless, Far North often provides an intensely impressionistic experience - although, oddly, it is sometimes less striking visually than sonically, the grumbling and cracking of ice fields and the subsonic booms of the water beneath forming an eerie soundscape that makes Dario Marianelli's sparse, new-agey score somewhat redundant.
Yet the film falls short of the mythic heft it seeks in its stripped-down narrative, about the outcast Saiva and the young woman, Anja, who accompanies her on her travels. One of the problems is the context: we neither quite believe in the generalised timelessness of the landscape nor in the hints of geographic specificity. In this unidentified landscape, characters speak English, and at one point, in the background, Russian. The two women are presumably to be taken as Inuit, given the casting of Malaysian-born Hong Kong star Michelle Yeoh and Asian-American Michelle Krusiec - while the provenance of Loki, the man who comes between them, is unclear, his name suggesting affinities with the malign Norse god.
Any potential substance to these barebones characters is undermined by the terse but awkward English dialogue ("How's the reindeer?" "Tough"), with which the actors never sound comfortable. Stiff playing, and distracting American inflections in the two women, prove such liabilities that you wish Kapadia had gone the extra mile and eschewed dialogue entirely, an approach that might well have yielded a tougher film (though it would have limited its commercial prospects still further). And, while few actors are quite as adept as Sean Bean at stumbling out of a tundra and looking battered by the elements, it's nevertheless hard to forget that this is Sean Bean: the connotations of solid action-role bluffness are hard to shake off.
A bleak and abrupt ending, aspiring to the extremity of primal myth, comes across as an incongruous switch of register, with an unfortunate echo of Hannibal Lecter's impromptu mask-making in The Silence of the Lambs. Far North falls far short of the echt-Inuit resonance of Zacharias Kunuk's geographically specific Atanarjuat (2000), yet it does often hit a note of genuine mystery and otherworldliness. Scenes in which the women pass a prison-like encampment, or in which we glimpse a cluster of geodesic domes, suggest an almost science-fiction quality, as if we're really on another planet. The film takes on its own life the more it drifts away from the strictly human dimensions of the drama and gestures at something more evocatively abstract - which is when it develops affinities with the more exigent landscape-art and durational tendencies of film-makers such as Philippe Grandrieux or Lithuania's Sarunas Bartas. For all its flaws, Far North remains as strikingly non-conformist as its predecessor; you wonder what revelations Kapadia might yet give us if he girds himself to venture into the more recondite territories this film gestures towards.
Screen International review Lee Marshall in Venice
Urban Cinefile review Andrew L. Urban
Great Britain (123 mi) 2015
Amy - Time Out Dave Calhoun
Anyone with a beating heart will be forgiven for allowing it to break during this unflinching and thoughtful account of the life and death of the soul singer Amy Winehouse. A shattering and sensitive documentary, it's directed by Asif Kapadia, the British director of 'Senna', who has once again created an immersive, layered portrait by stitching together mostly existing footage. Much of it is shot on phones or Camcorders, capturing chats in cars, holiday banter or, more cruelly, intimate moments with foil and crack. As with 'Senna', Kapadia relegates interviewees to the soundtrack. They include Winehouse's family, friends, colleagues, doctors and bodyguard – and their voices, many concerned and caring, help to fill this film with a love that counters the gloom.
Moving from Winehouse's first steps in the music business in 2001 to her death in 2011 at just 27, 'Amy' gives equal weight to her talent and tragedy. But the film refuses to offer easy answers to explain her demise, preferring to submerge us in a perfect storm of accelerated global celebrity, fractured family relations, destructive romances, bulimia, depression, drug abuse and alcoholism.
With a list that long, it would be crude to point the finger of blame in one direction, and Kapadia doesn't. But there are villains: Winehouse's father, Mitch, comes off badly, not least when he turns up to Winehouse's post-rehab St Lucia bolthole with a reality-TV crew. And Winehouse's one-time husband Blake Fielder-Civil presents himself as deeply unsympathetic to say the least – not helped by his remorseless droning as he recalls events on the soundtrack.
But 'Amy' isn't as downbeat as it sounds. That's because Winehouse herself was impish, smart, raw, provocative and funny – at least before the heroin and crack robbed her of her smile and wit. That personality shines through, especially in some of the tender early footage shot by her first manager, Nick Shymansky, who at 19 was only three years older than Winehouse and almost as green. And let's not forget the music: time simply stops several times when we hear Winehouse sing: scenes of her duetting with Tony Bennett or recording 'Back to Black' with Mark Ronson are as moving as any of the more explicitly sad stuff.
But, once the music stops, we're left with a long list of people unable or unwilling to cope: parents distracted by their own problems or motives; childhood friends who felt helpless; a music industry unfit to care; a husband with his own selfish interests at heart; and, ultimately, Winehouse, a talented but unwell little girl who everyone thought had a soul much older than she clearly ever did.
'Amy': Review | Reviews | Screen - Screen International Fionnuala Halligan from Screendaily
Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy tells the sad and, it would appear, inevitably tragic story of the late jazz singer Amy Winehouse framed entirely through archive footage (much in the same style as Senna, which was made by the same team). Scores of interviews add a voiceover narration which cumulatively rescues Winehouse from her sorry fate as a paparazzi footnote – dead at 27 from alcohol poisoning after a long and public battle with drug addiction, devoured by the media and her own demons.
No talking heads detract from Amy’s story throughout the film’s 123-minute running time; Kapadia aims to shine some love on Winehouse, and a good deal of direct light into what happened to the tiny Jewish girl from Southgate with the pure jazz voice. It’s uneasy viewing – a cautionary tale.
Premiering as a special screening at Cannes, Amy can look forward to healthy returns theatrically in the UK; international interest should also be strong, with TV and VOD very healthy in all markets. Awards attention is possible. Amy is the product of a media age, with seemingly endless footage of varying quality (mobile phone clips included) made available for an enormous research and editing task The picture they paint is often shocking - how completely Winehouse unravelled and the squalor of her addiction, although perhaps the biggest surprise is how she survived for so long in that condition. Also alarming is the extent of the conflicted roles played by Amy’s manager and family, in particular her father, who has already protested loudly to the British media about Amy.
Amy serves as a companion piece, of sorts, to Sundance title Cobain: Montage of Heck. Although the styles are different – Amy is a more straightforward presentation – the similarities between Amy and Curt are quite clear; both huge talents who were troubled from a young age; both devastated by their parents’ divorce at the age of 9; both dead at 27.
Kapadia has sourced considerable, previously-unseen private footage from the singer’s family and friends. (Amy was fully financed by Universal Music Group, parent company of her label Island Records.) The film shows Amy as she once was before she became a tabloid caricature; mouthy and challenging and endowed with a vast, natural talent. Deeply troubled, she is revealed to have suffered from depression and bulimia throughout her short life. She was also posessed by a prodigious appetite for hard drugs, booze and the wrong kind of man.
Kapadia and his team interviewed over 100 people in their endeavour, including her father Mitch and elusive ex-husband Blake Fielder, both enablers and uneasy testifiers. Whatever Mitch Winehouse might claim, though, Kapadia treads lightly over Amy’s early years when he left the family and she was already being treated for mental health issues and began to flirt with the bulimia which also hastened her death (which her parents treated with surprising indifference).
Amy starts with the singer aged 16 and already a featured soloist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. She moves out of her parent’s house at the first opportunity, to share an apartment with her best friend Juliette Ashby, who, with pal and former manager Nick Shymansky, provide Kapadia with an honest take on the young Amy, a “classic North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude,’ according to Nick Gatfield, the head of Island Records at that time. She also moved out because she wanted to smoke weed all day, and had “issues at home”. “I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous,” she says back then. “I couldn’t handle it. I’d go mad.”
She did, of course. Life changed when Amy moved to Camden and became involved in a drugs-fuelled rock scene involving Pete Doherty and Trash nightclub, where Fielder worked on the door. The film then darts back to Amy’s childhood, with the revelation that by the age of 13 she was already bulimic and taking anti-depressants.
The scene is set then, for Amy’s tragic final act, when the singer with the giant ‘Daddy’s Girl’ tattoo missed multiple chances to clean up her act and made a series of bad decisions which led to her death, egged on by Fielder-Civil, riding the gravy train for all it was worth. The paparazzi revelled in every excess; chat show hosts, who once fawned over her, turned Amy into a joke, and her parents “didn’t want to take it on,” says one friend.( Meanwhile, her manager, Raye Cosbert, booked her on one failed gig after another.
Amy is clearly a mammoth archive and editing task and a true film-making partnership between Kapadia, his editor Chris King and producer James Gay-Rees, who all worked together on Senna, with Antonio Pinto providing a sympathetic score. It seems as if they all fell a little in love with Amy along the way, and encourage the viewer to do the same. It’s hard not to. Amy is a cautionary tale - she was the Janis Joplin of our age, and as it’s the media age, we get to see the full price of fame this time as a fragile talent self-combusts. It’s not a pretty picture.
Cannes Review: Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse Documentary is Heartbreaking and Extraordinary Kaleem Aftab from indieWIRE
"Amy," a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of the late British singer Amy Winehouse, should put filmmaker Asif Kapadia on speed dial for anyone looking to produce an archive-heavy documentary about an iconic figure. The "Senna" director digs deep into the popular myth surrounding Winehouse -- that she’s another singer who lost control of her own life when fame and drugs overtook her -- and finds a much deeper story.
Who can ever forget the footage of the singer drunk on stage and refusing to perform in Belgrade on what turned out to be her last public appearance on a stage? Winehouse’s most famous song "Rehab" is all about not seeking treatment for addiction. As such, while it’s easy to empathize with her story, her struggles have been largely simplified by their reflection in popular culture. Two hours in the company of Kapadia’s heartbreaking documentary change all that.
The movie starts in 1998 with Winehouse in Southgate. At the age of 16, she’s already in a jazz orchestra and clearly having fun. The cigarette in her hand hints at emerging rebelliousness, but Kapadia first shows the witty, affable side of Winehouse, before fleshing out the more sour notes -- such as the trauma she experienced when her father, Mitch Winehouse, left the family home when she was nine years old. In one of the sound bites of the interviews conducted with her taxi driver dad, he admits that he was having an affair from the time Winehouse was 18 months old and would avoid the house on a regular basis. As for her mother Janice, she’s unable to control her daughter’s outgoing nature and cedes control to the singer's grandmother, who passes away in the midst of Winehouse's rise. In one telling bit of footage, Winehouse chides, "You should be tougher mum, you’re not strong enough to say stop."
Kapadia has done a brilliant job of coaxing friends and family to broadcast some of their own private footage. In doing so, the film develops an intimate window into Winehouse fundamentally different from her celebrity. These home videos have been mixed in with archive footage from interviews and television shows. The new material includes over 100-plus interviews, but no talking heads. The voices play out over the footage, enhancing the immersion into Winehouse's past.
Along with Winehouse's parents, the principle supporting figures of the story are her first manager Nick Shymansky, her childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, as well as her wayward husband Blake Fielder-Civil, whom she married in 2007 and divorced in 2009. But the most surprisingly introspective interviewee is Yasiin Bey, the hip-hop artist formerly known as Mos Def, who was a friend of the British singer after they met at the Urban World festival in 2004.
The first section of the film highlighting Winehouse’s rise shows her getting a record deal with Island, buying her first flat with the proceeds of her first album "Frank" and giving an vivacious interview on Jonathan Ross’s popular talk show. Everything else is a downward spiral. Former Winehouse colleagues suggest that it was when she bought a house in Camden that her condition started to change for the worse. It's there that she's seen hanging out with an entourage of local singers, such as Kate Moss’s notorious ex-boyfriend and Libertines frontman Pete Doherty as well as Blake Fielder-Civil, with whom she cheated on her then boyfriend.
Drugs became a major part of her life. Winehouse was so off the rails that her friends and manager took her out of London to encourage her to go into rehab in November 2005. The film shows how the singer hung on her father Mitch's every word while he remained visibly ignorant to her plight. She told her friends, "I'll go if my father says I have to," and when daddy says "no, no, no," she refuses to go. With unsettling footage from the recording of her hit sophomore album "Back to Black," it's suggested that if Winehouse had gone to rehab after wrapping the album, she may have saved herself. The movie lingers in these recurring "what if" scenarios while ominously foreshadowing the singer's eventual death.
"Amy" manages to both celebrate Winehouse's talent and bemoan her dour circumstances. Unsurprisingly, in the run-up to its Cannes premiere, Mitch Winehouse and Reg Traviss -- Winehouse's partner at the time of her death --have argued that the film provides an unfairly biased perspective of its subject. Mitch argued that he only meant the best for his daughter, alleging that a scene in which he turns up in St. Lucia with a reality TV camera crew -- while Winehouse was attempting to get clean -- only showed part of the story. Traviss, meanwhile, has argued that in the last two years of her life, when he was together with the singer, she was much happier than the documentary claims.
But when considered in the context of the narrative presented in "Amy," these arguments seem fairly moot. It would be wrong to ascertain that Kapadia has sought to scapegoat anyone while exploring the years leading up to Winehouse's death. Instead, he assembles a collage of bad influences – her parents, the drugs, and her unstable relationship with her husband, during which she wanted to ape everything he did. The media pressure (some of whom involved morbid jokes at her disposal) didn't help -- nor did, in a more abstract sense, her own inner demons and self destruction. To that end, Kapadia makes it clear that nobody was solely responsible for Winehouse's problems. On the night she wins her Grammy, she takes a friend aside and says, "This is boring without drugs." The greatest tragedy in "Amy" is the singer's complicity in her demise.
Kapadia leaves it up to the audience to determine whether Winehouse's situation could truly have gone another way. Whether he has or hasn’t captured the true essence of the singer may require further debate, but what’s beyond question is that "Amy" is an extraordinary, powerful work.
How Mr. Winehouse Exploited Amy - The Daily Beast Richard Porton
At Cannes, a Remarkable Documentary About Amy Winehouse's ... Jordan Hoffman From Vanity Fair
Cannes Review: Asif Kapadia's Devastating, Discomfiting Amy Winehouse ... Jessice Kiang from The Playlist
Amy, the Amy Winehouse Doc, Is a Rush of Joy and Grief ... Stephanie Zacharek from The Village Voice
Review: The tragedy and talent of Amy Winehouse's life unfolds in powerful doc ... Gregory Ellwood from Hit Fix
Cannes 2015: Amy – Articles | Little White Lies Sophie Monks Kaufman
Cannes 2015 Review: AMY Beautifully Celebrates A ... Ryland Aldrich from Twitch
Daily | Cannes 2015 | Asif Kapadia's AMY | Keyframe ... David Hudson at Fandor
Cannes: Director Defends Controversial Amy Winehouse Doc Rebecca Ford interview from The Hollywood Reporter, May 15, 2015
Stephen Dalton from The Hollywood Reporter, also published in Billboard magazine seen here: Amy Winehouse Doc Pieces Together Singer's Troubled Life Story: Film Review
Cannes Film Review: Amy Winehouse Documentary 'Amy' Guy Lodge from Variety
Amy review: Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse film is a tragic masterpiece Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian
Amy review Robbie Collin from The Telegraph
Kat Brown from The Telegraph
Cannes review of Amy Donald Clarke from The Irish Times
ArtsBeat | Amy Winehouse Documentary Unveiled in Cannes The New York Times
The blue-collar revenge tragedy lives on in Jonathan Kaplan's surprisingly effective tale of a young independent trucker (Jan-Michael Vincent) up against the petty graft and entrenched hoodlumism of the industry. Strongly reminiscent of Walking Tall (though I'd guess the genre has roots that go at least as far back as The Big Heat), Kaplan's film breaks no new ground. But Vincent is stronger than usual, and Kaplan is clearly in control of his pacing and editing. With Kay Lenz, Slim Pickens, and L.Q. Jones (1975).
No, this isn't a flick about cocaine. The title refers to the condition of fatigue while driving long distances on the highway with nothing to stare at but the repetitive lines on the road.
Jan-Michael Vincent (Hooper, Big Wednesday) stars as Carroll Joe
Hummer, a fledgling truck driver with an aspiration to settle down and start a
family with his beloved wife, Jerri (Kay Lenz, Breezy). On his first
gig, he discovers that the job is rife with corruption, smugglers, and
racketeering, and he would rather keep his nose clean and starve than perform
illegal transactions. The slimy boss (L.Q. Jones, The Patriot) sends out a
crew of thugs to see he minds his manners, as well as pulling all the strings
he can to see the local law enforcement harasses him at every turn.
As far as action flicks go, White Line Fever does deliver the goods, with some excellent stunt work and gritty confrontations, and a fine set of character actors throughout. It's another example of the disgruntled working man's film, very similar to many others at the time, but not nearly as bad as most. It is decidedly cynical about corporations, and the influence they exert in order to chase down the almighty dollar, which sees them own the police and force their will upon the good-hearted working folk just trying to make an honest buck. However, political statements aren't really what's on the agenda here, as White Line Fever is strictly a borderline exploitation flick, utilizing the labor squeeze angle to concoct a revenge scenario that would result in several scenes of fistfights and vehicular mayhem. Not surprising, considering writer-director Kaplan cut his film-making teeth with exploitative drive-in classics like Night Call Nurses, College Coeds, and the blaxploitation films, The Slams and Truck Turner.
That it's an important trucker film seems more an accident than by design, but yet it is resonant enough to those who have seen it for it to have gained a cult following. It doesn't always make sense, as it's not really understood why the trucking honchos don't just kill Carroll Joe, instead of doing everything they can to just piss him off incessantly, including the murder of several others who are completely harmless to their interests. The plot jumps around in ways that aren't very clear, including an ending that doesn't seem to resolve very much in terms of the conflict resolution. Still, I suppose thinking too hard about the plot holes doesn't really seem to be what the creators of White Line Fever think people would be doing while watching, so if none of the motivations are well-developed, everyone will understand what it's like to be pissed off by greedy corporate slime. Although it has limited appeal for those into great films, it is recommended for fans of Vincent, trucker films, and anti-authoritarian 70s b-movies in general.
White Line Fever A Collective Drama, by Madeline Tress from Jump Cut
White Line Fever Promise and frustration, by Leonard Leff from Jump Cut
USA (95 mi) 1979
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
New Granada: a typically neat and neighbourly new town for middle class families, offering all mod cons. Except, that is, for the kids, left to find the usual entertainment of drugs, drink and sex in a run-down prefab 'rec'. When this last haven is threatened with demolition, adolescent high spirits and bad behaviour result in nihilist rage and rebellion. Kaplan's terrific movie - nervously held back from distribution here for five years - is one of the best movies to date about the generation gap. Although the parents and teachers are never reduced to uncaring stereotypes, their blind, status-oriented decisions and actions provide adequate fuel for the justly frustrated kids, who must be the most credible bunch of youngsters to make it onto celluloid. Script, photography and performances (including Dillon before he decided to become a teenage Stallone) are all top notch, while Kaplan directs with pace, imagination, and a fine ear for dialogue and music.
Planned suburbia, teenage wasteland: "Tomorrow’s city... today." The scene is a freshly unwrapped Colorado town where the transplanted kids, left to cramped recreational centers and half-finished condos, edge toward a homegrown apocalypse. The main juvenile (Michael Kramer) comes home swollen from a fight, his mother deals with it by giving him five bucks ("combat pay"), in his room he nurses himself with ham-sized earphones and Cheap Trick lyrics. Bosch’s Hell is projected on the classroom slideshow for the walking-drugstore "lost cause" (Tom Fergus) to trip to, the veteran rabble-rouser (Matt Dillon) leads the sessions of moody time-wasting: swilling vodka, target practice with a filched revolver, lounging in the Carter-era version of Rebel Without a Cause’s dilapidated mansion. The Cars, The Ramones and Van Halen are the beats of choice (Hendrix is "old crap"), Cadillac lots and tennis courts pockmark the landscape but there’s still plenty of space to reflect the mass of pubescent alienation. One wide shot of the prairie -- two couples on opposite sides of the frame dwarfed by lead-grey clouds and slanting dawn light -- is worthy of Malick, though Jonathan Kaplan truly comes alive in the blazing climax, when his experience in urban guerilla (Truck Turner) comes into play. The PTA meeting goes nowhere while adolescent insurrection brews outside and, before Helen Lovejoy can cry "Won’t somebody please think of the children," the parents are chained inside the school building and Lord of the Flies is being enacted on the parking lot. Kaplan’s j’accuse is scrawled on a tenement complex’s brick wall ("wide streets, narrow minds"), yet the passage of time has to many morphed protest into nostalgia. Maybe it’s the view of a generation's extinguishing anarchy, seen from the back of a correctional bus headed into the Eighties. Cinematography by Andrew Davis. With Harry Northup, Pamela Ludwig, Vincent Spano, Andy Romano, Ellen Geer, Richard Jamison, and Julia Pomeroy.
Now that most of America seems to live in soulless planned
communities and gated subdivisions, it’s fun to remember that 25 or so years
ago, a wave of films — think Poltergeist
— were suggesting that maybe this kind of lifestyle wasn’t
conducive to happy families and healthy communities.
It all began back in 1979 with Over the Edge, a tight teen melodrama that takes place in the godforsaken New Granada, a rapidly expanding subdivision on a treeless plain somewhere in the southwest (the film was shot in Aurora, Colorado). All these years later, the movie is notable for two things: its dead-on accurate depiction of late ‘70s teen style, and the riveting debut performance of young Matt Dillon, who has as much on-screen charisma at age 15 as experienced actors twice his age.
Dillon plays Richie, the local long-haired bad boy who, like, you know, feels like grown-ups just don’t understand us kids. The leader of a motley pack of juvies that includes a kid named Mark (Vincent Spano, also making his debut), Richie spends his time making mischief, doing drugs, and stirring up trouble around the subdivision, his long feathered hair flowing behind him just so.
The heavy urban planning lesson around which the movie revolves is that New Granada’s developers have included nothing in the master plan to keep teenagers entertained, so they have nothing to do except vandalize the place and maybe hang out at the truly dreary rec center that’s been hurriedly built. The local cop casts a disapproving eye, and Richie stares right back.
Into the mix comes Carl (Michael Eric Cramer), a slightly younger teen, who starts crushing on Richie, platonically of course. Who wouldn’t be attracted to Richie’s nihilistic attitudes, his dangerous poses, his bad boy style? Unfortunately, drugs and guns make their way into New Granada, and with them come trouble and ultimately tragedy. Carl finds time for his first teen romance with the lovely Cory (Pamela Ludwig), but only when he’s hiding out from the cops while his parents, who, like all the other parents in the movie, tend to show no interest in their kids whatsoever, finally get frantic.
In fact, when the parents all head to the school for a big meeting to figure out what to do about all the local delinquents, every rebel without a cause for miles around shows up to take their revenge on the older generation. It ain’t pretty, but it’s thrilling to watch.
If you were born around the same time as Matt Dillon, this period piece will amaze you with its attention to detail when it comes to wardrobe, transportation, and most of all music. The soundtrack stars Cheap Trick among others, and it will certainly take you back. One wonders where Richie and all of his delinquent cronies ended up by the age of 40. It’s a safe bet that once they got of reform school they didn’t return to good old New Granada, whose shoddily built cookie-cutter houses are probably all rotting by now. Anyone from Aurora care to comment?
Nelly Kaplan, protege of Abel Gance and creator of a number of intriguing documentary shorts, made this feature in 1971 (also known as La fiancee du pirate and Dirty Mary); it prompted Picasso to say, "This is insolence raised to the status of art." Kaplan likes to make films about tormented and humiliated people who revolt against their tormentors; in this one a Gypsy girl (Bernadette Lafont) whose mother is killed while the indifferent townspeople do nothing turns prostitute and eventually becomes the judge of her oppressors. A wry and wildly imaginative study of hypocrisy. "Insolence is good for the skin," she remarks.
Kaplan's first feature is a cruel inversion of the Cinderella fable: the story of a 'pirate' woman, social outcast of a backbiting, bigoted provincial village, who takes her revenge by turning prostitute in order to seduce and blackmail her clients and oppressors into ruin. The mockery is harsh, despite the bright colours and playful tone: greed, malice and bigotry are satirised with merciless, atheistic scorn, and the final blow for sexual and social revenge is struck in the hamlet's church. Piggy eyes, once popping out of their sockets with lust, burn with hatred, while the heroine (the marvellous Lafont) dances off down the open road, leaving behind only a strange abstract sculpture of fridges, showers and bric-a-brac, as though thumbing her nose at the very possibility of marriage and homely virtue.
When her mother dies, a gypsy girl named Marie (Bernadette La Font) — who for years has been treated as the town slut — begins charging the boorish villagers for her sexual favors; soon she embarks upon an even more elaborate plan of revenge…
This most unusual erotic black comedy — the directorial debut of Nelly Kaplan — tells the satisfying tale of a beautiful gypsy girl who manages to single-handedly transform herself from victim to victor, leaving plenty of sweet justice in her wake. While the grotesque opening scenes are hard to stomach (the unenlightened townsfolk treat Marie literally like chattel), her eventual triumph makes the rocky beginning worth sitting through. It’s rather broad satire, but the point is well-made that hypocrisy will eventually out, with everyone ultimately paying for his or her dirty desires. La Font is wonderful in the lead role; she’s ferocious in her late-earned dignity, and displays enormous satisfaction both in the transformation of her tin shack into a cozy space, and in the power she knows she’s accumulated over her piggish neighbors. It’s a delight to watch Marie pursue her plan with such calculated tenacity.
A Very Curious Girl Politics of a feminist fantasy, by Linda Greene from Jump Cut
India (193 mi) 1951 US version (168 mi)
Awara (1951) Patrick Murtha’s Diary
I'm not an expert on Bollywood -- in fact, I've seen scarcely
any Bollywood films (well, Lagaan, which I
thought was terrific like everyone else).
So I thought I'd try an early Bollywood classic, Raj Kapoor's Awara, to start to ground myself historically. Kapoor, a legend both as an actor and a sometime director, was a young man of 25 when he made Awara, his third outing as a director. But he had been born into Indian film-making -- his father was the handsome, commanding, and extremely popular actor Prithviraj Kapoor. (He plays a key role in Awara, as the judge.)
Like all Bollywood films, Awara is long by Western standards -- 168 minutes, and the IMDB refers to an original 193 minute version, which I suppose is possible (add a few more musical numbers, and presto!).
The musical numbers can easily make or break a Bollywood film for an unaccustomed viewer. There are many of them in Awara, in a dizzying variety of visual styles (from a relatively realistic song sequence on a boat at night, to an elaborately fantastic dream complete with Hindu gods). Stylistic consistency does not look like one of Kapoor's aims -- the movie also shifts between location filming and obvious sets with no sense of incongruity.
For a sprawling film on the clock, Awara is tight in other ways. It has but five characters who matter -- the vagabond Raj (Kapoor); his mother; his unacknowledged father, the judge; his surrogate father, the bandit; and his childhood sweetheart (played by Kapoor's frequent co-star Nargis). It has only two themes that I could discern -- a notion of genetic determinism put forward by the judge and debunked by others (the child of a bandit is destined to become a bandit), and a sentimental conception of childhood romance resurgent in adulthood.
Kapoor had obvious gifts as a director. Even with the noted visual inconsistencies, his visual sense within given scenes is often very strong. The night-dominated black and white look of the film is striking, and reminds me more of Mexican film melodramas of the same period than of Hollywood film noir (maybe this has something to do with the film stocks? -- a largely unexplored element in cinematic history).
Generally I liked the opening 45 minutes of Awara, the childhood sequences, the best. These have a slightly Dickensian flavor as destiny frowns on the boy Raj as if he were a Hindu Oliver Twist. If I wasn't as taken with the rest of the film -- which honesty compels me to admit that I was not, although I was impressed by it and glad to watch it -- that has to do with my lukewarm reaction to Kapoor as an actor and a presence. He proved, though, to be enormously popular worldwide, so this is probably just me.
ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME B+ 90
Every film festival reaches a midway point where the fest needs a kick in the pants, a jolt of energy to revive the spirits, and that’s exactly what this is, a showstopping portrait of the indefatigable Elaine Strich, New York Broadway legend extraordinaire, described by a friend as “a Molotov cocktail of madness, sanity and genius,” and an actress who was named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Unlike many documentaries, this one does not look back on her life and recall how it all began, though there are a few child photos slipped in. As the director was a script supervisor for fifteen years for directors Martin Scorsese, Stephen Frears, Sam Mendes, Spike Jonze, and Jim Jarmusch, her own qualified judgment prefers that the camera follow her in the present, during the lead-up to her 87th birthday, a time when she lived in her corner room at the Carlyle Hotel and still owned the streets of New York (she’s subsequently moved back to her hometown of Detroit, Michigan), where the camera allows the audience to share a few intimate moments with her. While it’s not without photos and clips from the past, in fact an entire room is filled with her own personal framed photos and Broadway show posters, as the hotel is planning to dedicate a rehearsal room in her honor, where Ms. Strich will have to decide which personal momentos will be placed on walls bearing her name. We see her scrutizing several of them, recalling instant thoughts associated with each one, introducing a flood of memories associated with her early successes, in particular being introduced to Stephen Sondheim and her role in Company (1970), which was initially a disaster until she figured out how to play the part, which was the beginning of a string of successes on the New York stage. The film captures raw and unbearably painful footage of her in the recording studio being criticized for not getting the song right, where she beats herself up about it, with an amazingly young Sondheim in the studio thoroughly displeased, but she perseveres until she gets it right, ELAINE STRITCH SINGS "HERE'S TO THE LADIES WHO LUNCH" YouTube 7:10. Perhaps equally enthralling was winning the 2002 Tony for Elaine Strich at Liberty, Elaine Stritch at Liberty - YouTube (1:50), her one-woman show, which is nothing less than a summation of her life and career.
While it’s clear that her desert island fantasy is having an open bar, she’s also an avowed alcoholic that went 24-years without a drink, who then decided in her eighties that who would mind if she had one drink a day? No one, apparently, showing us the miniature bottle of Bombay Sapphire she keeps in her purse alongside her insulin, until she learns it interferes with her diabetes, actually driving her unexpectedly to the hospital on occasion, where one event is captured on film in her home where she is in a state of panic when all three diabetes meters do not work, knowing something seriously wrong is happening, where she is eventually taken away in an ambulance and temporarily loses the capacity for coherent speech, perhaps the worst nightmare for a performer who relies upon her voice. “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” she quips. Taking time in between rehearsals for her latest New York tour, Singin' Sondheim … One Song at a Time, the director uses a cinéma vérité approach as we see her hard at work with her longtime musical director and personal confidant, Rob Bowman, the pianist in her live shows who’s been with her for thirteen years, while also walking down the streets of New York drawing attention in her luxurious fur coat, where people stop to offer glowing comments, where anyone who’s seen her live shows has witnessed a direct descendent of Broadway theater since the 1940’s, making her stage debut in 1944. That’s well over half a century. Her sharp wit, an ability to bare her soul onstage, and brassy singing style have earned her a legion of admirers that always expect a genuine performance, where her larger than life interpretation of the lyrics and her original flair for telling a story all leave such a theatrical impression. With brash humor and unapologetic honesty, she recalls working with Ethel Merman (who she understudied) and Noel Coward, having romantic liaisons with Gig Young, Rock Hudson and Ben Gazzara, making the mistake of choosing Rock, while rejecting romantic overtures from Kirk Douglas and even JFK. The late James Gandolfini, who this film is dedicated to, claimed if they were both 35, they would have had a torrid affair, and it would have ended up badly.
Much like Diane Keaton, Stritch wears loose fitting men’s shirts and ties, often adorned with a hat, but differs by preferring not to wear pants, as she instead wears tights. Of interest is a typed letter she has kept written by Woody Allen who invited her to work on his film SEPTEMBER (1987), a variation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, later offering her another small role in SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000), where he indicates through mutual friends that he’s aware she has a reputation of being hard to work with, indicating his working method of not providing much in the way of acting instructions, where he lists a set of requirements needed if she should choose to work with him. The people on the set of the TV show 30 Rock (2006 – present) adore her, willing to put up with any and all eccentricities because of what she delivers in the end, claiming that makes it all worth it. According to Tina Fey, “No other actress could hold the screen with Alec Baldwin like that. Also, she provided all of her own fur hats, which was good.” Alec Baldwin can be heard making an off comment remark calling her a bitch, but she gets the last word, calling him Alec “Joan Crawford” Baldwin when he arrives late on the set, making everyone sit around and wait for him. While something of a force of nature onstage, capable of holding an audience captivated all by herself, yet she’s remained totally supportive of other actors throughout her entire career. Directing her in the 1970 production of Company, Harold Prince suggested she was just a girl from a convent (actually attending the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Detroit), and while “she has the guts of a jailbird, there’s still the convent girl,” suggesting “she is incapable of lying, and she's perfect for this show because she is as innocent as she is acerbic,” while Stephen Sondheim suggested her success onstage was due to her “intelligence, warmth of personality, and impeccable timing.” The film is not afraid to show the difficulties of aging, the terrifying effects of a fading memory, where watching her struggle with lyrics through rehearsals and again onstage is often quite moving, relying upon her self-deprecating comic wit to hold the audience, but her remarkable candor has always been her calling card.
Saw this tonight at what may have been the world premiere showing at the
Tribeca Film Festival in
Stephen Saito The Moveable Feast
Somehow I wound up sitting across the aisle from Elaine Stritch during the premiere of the new documentary about her life, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” and as engaged as I was and as obvious how much of a crowdpleaser it was, I couldn’t help but notice no one was going to enjoy this more than her. This wasn’t hubris – when a clip from her 2001 one-woman show on Broadway, “Elaine Stritch At Liberty” began to play where she sings “I’m Still Here,” she started slapping her thigh, unable to resist the beat.
In the year leading up to her 87th birthday that director Chiemi Karasawa captures in “Shoot Me,” Stritch doesn’t miss one. Nor does the directorial debut of the veteran producer Karasawa, which is relatively light on reflections on the past in favor of the pleasure of being in the consummate entertainer’s company for an hour-and-a-half. Built around the fact that Stritch is still performing, both singing standards downstairs from her suite at the Carlyle in Manhattan and appearing on “30 Rock,” she’s shown as a force of nature from the start, walking around the streets of New York as if she owns the town.
Of course, she does, having conquered Broadway long ago with a rapier wit and a passion for belting the big numbers. Though age generally hasn’t slowed her, the onset of diabetes has and while Stritch appears indominable onstage, Karasawa is granted full access to witness her struggles to keep healthy, including one particularly vicious hypoglycemic attack, and the accompanying insecurity that threatens to sink into her ability to perform. Naturally, that makes the moments when she does, both in the past and present, all the more triumphant.
More than a healthy share of famous admirers are onhand to offer insights and lavish praise upon Stritch, from Tina Fey to James Gandolfini, who imagines a torrid love affair with her had they met when both were 35. Yet Karasawa wisely keeps their time limited, giving the audience both more of Stritch unfiltered and the people who are more part of her daily life, whether that’s her musical director Rob Bowman or her pal Julie Keyes, who she befriended at AA meetings.
There’s also a real organic quality to the way the film allows Stritch to share her history, pulling out old photo albums and knickknacks from storage boxes to recall when she was fired from her first big show after rejecting the romantic overtures of its star Kirk Douglas, a truly revelatory letter from Woody Allen that invites her to be a part of the cast of “September” that outlines his attitude towards actors and filmmaking and memories of her husband who she lost to brain cancer far too young.
Despite Stritch’s occasional protests to the contrary (which results in some of the film’s most raucously funny scenes), the tag team camerawork by Shane Sigler, Josh Weinstein and Rod Lamborn keeps things lively and an elegance emerges from the rough, always-on-the-go feel befitting of its subject. Still, they and the film as a whole does best to simply get out of Stritch’s way since a 60-year-plus career in showbiz has clearly made Stritch the best teller of her own story and doesn’t need much to share it with an audience in a satisfying way. But just as Stritch’s refusal to give her audience the bare minimum is a recurring theme, “Shoot Me” does far more than that and considering that Stritch recently announced her retirement, consider this a worthy, enduring curtain call to a remarkable career that, unfortunately for Stritch if she’s true to her word, won’t abate demand for an encore.
'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' – Tribeca Film Review | Variety Scott Foundas, also seen here: Scott Foundas
“She’s still here … but not for much longer” is the subtext of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” a superior celebrity docu that finds the Broadway legend on the doorstep of her 87th birthday, contemplating retirement as well as her own mortality. Painting a surprisingly tender, insulin-injections-and-all portrait of a star known for her brassy demeanor and Teflon exterior, this feature directing debut for vet docu producer Chiemi Karasawa (“The Betrayal,” “Tell Them Anything You Want”) should earn wide fest and ancillary exposure, plus limited theatrical, where it will prove catnip to the cabaret crowd and those entranced by the artistry of great performers.
Karasawa starts with a montage of her subject brazenly negotiating street
and sidewalk traffic on the
This much won’t come as news to those who’ve seen Stritch perform in recent
years, where, always the consummate show woman, she and Bowman have elegantly
folded her gaffes into a production that has often seem propelled by sheer iron
will. But as “Shoot Me” proceeds, Stritch allows herself to appear far more
vulnerable and emotionally naked than she ever has in front of an audience.
There are hospital stays (as her diabetes worsens), followed by more anxiety
attacks, and one truly frightening episode — a medical emergency during a visit
In between, Karasawa captures admiring testimonials from friends both inside (Tina Fey, James Gandolfini) and outside (a fellow AA member) showbiz. And there is much sharp-tongued reminiscing from Stritch herself, about dating JFK (she was too good of a Catholic girl to let him have his desired way), her alcoholism, the legends with whom she shared the stage, and her marriage to actor and playwright John Bay (cut short after 10 years by his death from a brain tumor). Yet it’s aging, gracefully but painfully, that turns out to be “Shoot Me’”s unassailable constant. “I like the courage of age,” Stritch says in one scene — and, even when she is at her weakest, her courage fills the room.
Karasawa deftly orchestrates the sometimes hairpin tonal shifts, never
veering towards the saccharine; if she did, Stritch would probably shoot her.
Late in the film, she follows Stritch to an engagement in the performer’s
Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini,
NEW YORK -- An outpouring of bittersweet media tributes followed the announcement earlier this month that Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch was packing up her Carlyle Hotel digs of the last decade and moving back to her home state of Michigan to retire from show business. It was almost as if the Chrysler Building were being ripped from its foundations and relocated to Des Moines. Chiemi Karasawa’s tender documentary salute, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, marks that painful separation with fitting poignancy.
For Stritch devotees – and you can’t breathe in a New York theater or cabaret haunt without knocking into a clump of them – Shoot Me makes a lovely companion piece to Elaine Stritch at Liberty, the enhanced film record of her 2002 Tony-winning one-woman show, which aired on HBO; and to D.A. Pennebaker’s superb 1970 documentary, Company: Original Cast Album.
In that intimate chronicle of the 18½-hour recording session to commit Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s game-changing musical to vinyl, the highlight was the volatile Stritch’s agonizing attempts to nail her signature number, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” The nerves and angry agitation, the frustration and perfectionism that went into her performance are no less evident in the subject of Karasawa’s film – frazzled and irascible yet still holding herself to impossible standards even in her late eighties and in poor health.
“I’ve got a certain amount of fame,” she says in her first words onscreen here. “I’ve got money. I wish I could f--kin’ drive, then I’d really be a menace.” That saltiness and candor are quintessential Stritch, but so too is the vulnerability that Karasawa captures, as is the caustic humor. Interrupting herself mid-sentence during a cabaret rehearsal, Stritch sharply reproaches one of the cameramen: “Don’t you think you’re awfully close to me, Shane? This isn’t a skin commercial.”
The director assembles a smart gallery of pundits to reflect on Stritch’s qualities – the lively mix of combustibility, brilliance and complicated eccentricities that have made her an extraordinary interpreter of works by writers from Edward Albee to Noel Coward to Samuel Beckett.
Among the commentators are fellow actors like Cherry Jones and Nathan Lane; longtime music director Rob Bowman; James Gandolfini, a friend since they met at a Sopranos premiere; and a handful of her directors, notably Hal Prince (Company) and George C. Wolfe (At Liberty). John Turturro, who directed her as Gandolfini’s mother in the 2005 film Romance & Cigarettes, likens Stritch to a turtle without its shell. “She’s conscious of how she comes across,” he says. “But she doesn’t hide herself.”
Also weighing in are 30 Rock cast members Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. Stritch won an Emmy for her recurring guest role as Jack Donaghy’s indomitable mother, Colleen. (She greets fellow diabetic Tracy Morgan on the set with, “Hello darling, how’s your blood sugar?”) A sweet moment for fans will be seeing Stritch sit up in bed at the Carlyle watching Jack and Colleen face off on TV.
The main attraction is the lady herself, and Karasawa appears to have been granted unrestricted access. We follow Stritch as she strolls around her Upper East Side neighborhood – long legs sauntering and arms flapping, flaunting her distinctive sense of style. Her trademark look is a voluminous men’s shirt worn over tights or shorts, depending on the season, usually topped with a sleeveless vest or an outsize fur in winter. A necktie and hat often complete the outfit. She has no use for pants.
Duetting with the Carlyle elevator man, Stritch is all breezy charm. But in rehearsal or onstage in one of her cabaret acts, her insecurities surface, along with her vital need of an audience’s love. Still, the contradictory personality is evident when she airs her skepticism of show business: “Everybody’s just lovin’ everybody else just too much for my money.”
While the film makes few concessions to the uninitiated, it takes a whirlwind tour through Stritch’s life and career. This happens more casually than comprehensively as she sorts through photos, posters, letters and other memorabilia to be displayed in a rehearsal room being named in her honor at the Stella Adler Studio, where she took classes alongside Marlon Brando. She also speaks with sorrow of her late husband, actor John Bay, who died of brain cancer in 1982.
Her years of alcoholism, dealt with extensively in At Liberty, have been behind her through 22 years of sobriety. But she confesses now to having one drink a day to conquer her fears, showing the miniature bottle of Bombay Sapphire she keeps in her purse alongside her insulin.
Stritch borrows a favorite maxim of her late husband’s, “Everybody’s got a sack of rocks,” to discuss the difficulties of aging, illness and a failing memory, a particular challenge for a performer requiring perfect recall of dialogue and lyrics. Watching her struggle to get through a song is quite moving, even when she makes a joke of it, deftly keeping the audience on her side. But when she bites into a lyric with a tenacious snarl or knowing wink, it’s clear why she remains such a beloved performer.
The specter of mortality is by no means brushed aside. During a medical crisis in the Hamptons, Stritch’s terror seems very real indeed as she waits in a state of panic for the doctor. And at the end of the extended hospital stay that follows, she looks a frail shadow of the fierce performer barking out barbed lines and resilient anthems like “Broadway Baby” or “I’m Still Here.”
What makes this film such a warm and touching portrait is that it reveals a woman who, even at her lowest, never loses her sense of humor. “This is a time in my life where I’m gonna behave like an elegant human being,” promises Stritch. “Or not.”
Elaine Stritch's Long Goodbye : The New Yorker Sarah Larson, April 2013
Tribeca Film Festival Review: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me Is A Deeply ... Kristy Puchko from Cinema Blend
Interview: Sass & Laughs in “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” | Filmlinc.com . Brian Brooks interviews Elaine Stritch from Film Comment, April 20, 2013, also seen here: Brian Brooks
USA (90 mi) 2011 Official site
There’s always an untold story behind the story of documentaries like SPELLBOUND (2002), where cameras roll in the lead-up to picking a new national spelling bee champion, as the audience needs some idea how the filmmakers get so lucky in choosing eventual champions when deciding which contestants to follow more personally ahead of time in competition documentaries. This first time director is a former ballerina, where her perspective is invaluable as she takes a behind-the-scenes look into the competitive world of youth ballet at the Youth America Grand Prix, where after passing earlier qualifying rounds in 15 different cities based on geographical regions, prizes and scholarships are awarded in the finals to the top dancers, often a determining factor in their prospective careers. Kargman follows a half dozen dancers as they are relentlessly trained by their instructors, where the impact this has on their families is immediately apparent, as some willingly sacrifice their entire lives, others live vicariously through their children’s exploits, hoping their children can accomplish what they never could in their own lives, while siblings look admiringly at all the attention these dancers obtain, as so much praise and adulation is heaped upon those with promise at such an early age. Some of the dance sequences are ravishingly beautiful, easily inducing the audience’s attention, but unlike Fred Wiseman’s ballet documentaries, Hargman shows only edited versions, where the totality is often lost on the viewer, especially during the competition performances themselves. What might seem surprising is that the competition performances rarely meet or exceed the quality of practice performances, where under the studied and watchful eyes of their coaches they are pushed to the maximum.
Likely the best example of the manipulative stage mother is exhibited by Satoku, the overly pushy mother of Miko and Jules, ages 11 and 9, whose every living second is lived for and through her two kids, home schooling her kids so they have more time to practice, where the older Miko is driven to be the best, while Jules goes through the motions, apparently to please his mother, while their Russian coach rolls his eyes at the regularity of his mistake-prone routines. Jules, however, is a happy and huggable kid who surprisingly displays a healthy amount of common sense, even when those around him are lost in the obsessive search of approaching perfection, and even when his mother imposes a diet of broccoli and carrots every day on the entire family, as no one needs to gain a few extra pounds. Almost defying belief is a young Romeo and Juliet couple of Aran, 11-year old son of a Navy father that continually moves around frequently, seen training with a cigarette smoking Frenchman who recognizes a unique talent that likes to fly around backstage on a skateboard, and Gaya, a somewhat goofy and always upbeat Israeli girl of the same age, whose mother choreographs her more modernist routines. Apparently they train at the same locations, where they met, and instantly started doing everything together, where her excited vitality is a healthy balance to his more low key and even aloof personality. They become one another’s strongest supporters, which translates to their parents as well, each pulling for the other. The director doesn’t delve behind the scenes questioning what would happen if Aran’s family moves away.
The oldest in competition is Rebecca, a 17-year old
Choosing a diverse cross-section of kids aged 9 to 17, starting with a field of 5000 contestants, where only 300 make the finals, the competition is divided from ages 9 – 11, and 12 – 14, with prizes awarded to the top three, while older dancers exclusively seek scholarships to continue their training, as a pair of ballet shoes, which they go through every day, costs $80, not to mention the high cost of hand sewn costumes, a strictly regimented diet, rented studio space, a variety of coaches and personal trainers, some just for stretching, and often away-from-home living quarters, with some, like Rebecca, already seeking job offerings. One of the hidden costs of pursuing this career is the untold number of injuries and ailments that accumulate, the same as any other professional sport, often requiring surgeries, where aches and pains, not to mention bleeding feet, are simply lived with as part of their daily routine. Watching them contend with obvious pain issues may make some in the audience wince with discomfort. While the lead-up to the qualifying rounds and to the finale itself is suspenseful, filled with superb performances, where the audience may actually root for their favorites, the finale is somewhat anti-climactic, showing little of the zest and spontaneity seen earlier, where the dance routines themselves feel quickly cut off. There are behind-the-scenes untold stories, such as why Jules was allowed an extra competition do-over, supposedly because he was the youngest performer, but one suspects their conniving mother had something to do with it, and the director herself is guilty of a certain dramatic manipulation, where she intentionally misleads the audience at times. But the overall enthusiasm for dance is exquisitely expressed, where the individual portraits of the performers are wonderfully engaging, where the dance routines and kids themselves couldn’t be more appealing.
The rigors of ballet training are fierce: foot sores, medieval stretches, a near-complete sacrifice of a young person’s free time. Easier, less costly ways must exist for a teen to learn of her darkening economic prospects than entering the Youth America Grand Prix, a top-flight international competition for dance scholarships and recognition. But enter they do: First Position follows six hopefuls, ranging from 14-year-old Michaela—a Sierra Leone–born Philadelphia adoptee who longs to fit her body into a rarefied form—to 17-year-old Rebecca—a self-described “princess” who seems born to get her lithe, blond way with things. Little kids, barely pubescent, home in on the action as well; it’s hard to limit your rooting interest to just one tutu-clad tyke.
Still, this material could have been assembled into a more creative and suspenseful narrative. (So you think you can make a dance movie that isn’t a clone of Fame or the geek-adorkable Spellbound?) Children twirl, cheekbones jutting out with drive, while trainers and parents yell off camera, a cello-supplanted, minor-key soundtrack providing instant ambition. Everything leads up to the big event, where little goes down that you haven’t already guessed. Director Bess Kargman, herself a former ballerina, deserves credit for capturing key performance moments that allow us to come to a finer appreciation of the art form (grace isn’t just a matter of speed or softness, but attitude). Yet she hasn’t taken the risks her subjects do; the doc feels preprogrammed when it could have been a real-life Black Swan.
First Position | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club Alison Willmore
“This is a foot stretcher,” 11-year-old Aran Bell explains to the camera crew observing the contents of his bedroom in an early scene in First Position. “Hurts a lot,” he adds offhandedly as he demonstrates how it works. There’s plenty of physical and emotional pain as well as joy on screen in this highly watchable ballet documentary, which follows six young dancers preparing for the Youth America Grand Prix, and highlights just how difficult a path they’ve chosen. Competitions are one of the primary ways to get noticed by the elite companies, and the film’s subjects are vying for scholarships and jobs as well as trophies. Many are called, but few are chosen. Fortunately, first-time filmmaker Bess Kargman has selected a diverse array of competitors from different backgrounds who have significant talent in common.
Aran, who comes from a military family, has what’s clearly a promising future ahead of him in the world of dance. Droll and grounded, he’s one of the film’s best characters, along with 14-year-old Michaela Deprince, who was adopted by a Philadelphia family from war-torn Sierra Leone after her parents were killed. One of the few black faces in her ballet class, Michaela’s aware that she’s struggling against prejudices in the industry, but works determinedly even when an injury threatens her prospects. The film also follows a 16-year-old boy who’s had to leave his family in Columbia to train in New York, and a brother and sister who are starting to diverge in their attachment to dance. The only dud’s the self-proclaimed princess, a pretty, pink-wearing blonde (her nickname at school is “Barbie”) who seems to have been included to represent a more expected angle on ballet rather than because of her story.
First Position is very much in the mold of Spellbound. It doesn’t have the kick or ties to larger themes of Jeffrey Blitz’s doc, but it does have naturally cinematic subject matter. Shot by Nick Higgins, the film makes the most of not just the performances but also the backstage wrangling and waiting. (Some of its loveliest images are of dancers prepping in the darkness in the wings.) Whether baring bleeding feet, weeping over a missed step, or leaving behind everything that’s familiar to pursue a career, the subjects aren’t afraid of sacrifice, which makes the stakes of the final competition heart-poundingly high, even for those who don’t give a damn about tights and tutus.
Every little girl (and even some little boys) and aspiring ballerina knows what "first position" is: arms slightly bent with hands gracefully resting across the navel area of the torso as if floating on air. It is from this "first position" from which all other ballet movements emerge, just as young hopeful dancers emerge and blossom like butterflies from a cocoon. With FIRST POSITION, director Bess Kargman takes us into the world of ballet, starting from a thematic "first position", introducing us to young dancers at various stages of development but all with the same hopes and dreams. Fascinating, quite lovely to watch, educational and interesting, FIRST POSITION elegantly moves through emotion and time, while showcasing some of the most charming and talented young people blossoming in ballet today.
Focusing on seven young dancers - Aran Bell, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Michaela Deprince, JJ Fogarty, Miko Fogarty, Joan Sebastian Zamora and Rebecca Houseknecht - we meet each up close and personal both in their day-to-day lives and in competition as each moves through the Young America Dance Finals towards a performance at the Youth Grand Prix. Held annually in New York City, the YGP is a platform for dancers from across the globe, similar to sports drafts, with the prize being coveted scholarships and job offers from the finest and most elite dance academies and dance companies the world over.
Setting the stage with the Youth America Grand Prix as a common thread, Kargman makes ballet and FIRST POSITION engaging and interesting while the young people showcased make it compelling, filling your heart. You quickly find yourself rooting for your favorites just as you would for a professional athlete or sports team. Particularly engaging are Aran and his little Israeli friend Gaya, as well as Michaela and Joan. Although Miko is a bit too pretentious for my money and her mother is a terrible, terrible stage mother, joyous to watch is her brother JJ who quits dancing, driving his pushy mother to tears. Then there’s Rebecca who can easily be classified as the "one bad apple." Her ego, combined with her "princess" persona and "princess" obsession, made me want to take a swig of Pepto-Bismol.
But when we look at Aran, Gaya, Joan and Michaela, we see true champions filled with heart, vibrancy, appreciation; a celebration of life. Balanced against grand wide-angle lensing of performances, Kargman’s camera also captures small, nuanced expressions that create compelling, poignant intimate portraits. We quickly learn that Aran has the best poker face but when he gets out in front of the audience, he just lights up. And the joy that Aran and Gaya have rooting for each other - not to mention Gaya's mother! I think she was happier and more excited watching Aran than Aran's own mom! But then there’s Michaela. She is flawless. And her personal story just breaks your heart. Leave it a couple from the Philadelphia/Jersey area to embody the true spirit of the "City of Brotherly Love" in adopting Michaela and her sister Mia from Africa at a very young age.
The behind the scenes aspect of the ballet, costume creation (very interesting is the detail provided and focus on what Michaela's mom does with her costuming as Michaela is African), toe shoe data ($80 a pair and they run through almost a pair a day!), coaching, and the different criteria each judge has with what they look for. That latter aspect is perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of information elicited in FIRST POSITION as, unlike sports, the final score isn't the determining factor of whether a dancer moves forward to the next round or wins a scholarship or job offer.
And then, as with any sport, we see the injuries. As the final competition nears, Michaela is afflicted with a serious case of tendinitis. We also see snippets and commentary from several other dancers (who are not of primary focus in the documentary) also sidelined or hampered by injury. You see the pain riddle their young faces but in some cases, that pain turns to ebullience for as we learn from Michaela, once she starts dancing, she is transported and forgets the pain. This refreshing outlook at not only speaks to unspoken dedication, but the heart and what ballet means to her; what an integral part of her it is, as necessary as air.
FIRST POSITION excels with its pacing thanks to the Kargman, who also edited the film together with Kate Amend. There is an easy, even flow as we move around the world and through competitions, never lingering too long on anything thanks to some finely tuned cross-cutting. The film itself feels as if we are floating through it, much like a ballerina floating in air. Nothing bogs down and the camera neither feels intrusive into intensely personal moments nor distracting as each dancer through the rigors and routines of life, dance and competition.
Truly exceptional as a complimentary tool in post production are scattered visual effects, particularly some "double exposure" with a visual layering of the dance movements during the finals competition. The imagery not only heightens the emotion of the dance piece, but the overall beauty of the dance, the costuming and the experience of watching ballet. Exquisitely breathtaking. Visually, the color palette throughout the film is rich, vibrant, never dull and Nick Higgins’ cinematography is as sharp and precise as a grand battement with pirouettes yet exudes the loveliness of a ballerina in attitude en pointe. Notable is the myriad of dance variations throughout FIRST POSITION, not to mention accompany music - some is familiar and will catch the ear of the audience while other pieces are not as recognizable but are so eloquently scored and arranged in a musical tapestry so as to expose the audience to something new and different without the audience realizing it.
Having recently seen Wm Wenders Oscar nominated documentary Pina based on the renowned German choreographer and her dance company of interpretive dancers, I can say with all honestly that FIRST POSITION can takes its bows now for its level of excellence and is truly "first" among dance documentaries, particularly when it comes to ballet. FIRST POSITION is how a dance documentary should be done.
A beautiful film, FIRST POSITION will keep you on your toes.
The Atlantic Richard Lawson
First Position, reviewed. - Slate Magazine Dana Stevens
First Position - Filmcritic.com Movie Review Chris Barsanti
New York Magazine David Edelstein
Ballet documentary leaps off screen - BostonHerald.com James Verniere
Review: First Position - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Brett Michel
LA Times Kenneth Turan
First Position - Movies - The New York Times Manohla Dargis
Iceland Denmark USA France Germany (95 mi) 2009 ‘Scope
An Icelandic film that never sets foot in Iceland, unfortunately, which was one of the draws to seeing a film from Iceland, instead it takes place in a small make believe corner of New York City, shot in English and features a mostly American cast, but transplants that foul Icelandic atmosphere of black humor mixed with a dour mood drenched in its own morbidity. This is the kind of film that is so morose that it may actually be a catalyst to thoughts of suicide, as this achingly dark atmosphere is purely Icelandic. To that extent, speaking of the mood itself, it’s extremely authentic. However, the story, written by the director, is something of an absurdist theater piece that frequently jabs at the subject of death from many angles, one of which is a goose that is appropriately named Estragon, from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, chosen to be the culinary object of a Christmas gourmet feast. The credits make clear afterwards that no animals were harmed in the making of this picture, but clearly plenty of humans were, as this film is unsparing in its unending attack towards the primary worthlessless of the human being, seen as a soulless, gutless creature that deserves small moments of attention, but certainly not kindness or friendship. Brian Cox as Jacques runs his corner bar with an iron fist, treating his customers with disdain and open hostility, accepting no walk-ins, but only serving regulars. To this end we see few new faces except at the hospital where Jacques is continually treated for yet another heart attack. By now nurses greet him with the cryptic comment, “Aren’t you dead yet?” While recovering in the hospital, his roommate is Lucas (Paul Dano), a young homeless kid recovering from a failed suicide attempt, and in Jacques’ eyes, their future together is sealed.
Jacques decides to bring him home and teach him the trade, making him his own personal apprentice and possible heir, as when he croaks, he needs someone to take over the bar. Lucas, however, meets none of Jacques’ special criteria, as he’s not hostile to the customers, has no business sense, and is easily taken advantage of, exactly the kind of behavior Jacques despises, as he feels it’s his special duty to run his bar like his own tiny fiefdom of the world, where at least someplace on earth isn’t run under false pretensions. He is who he is, and if you don’t like it, get the hell out. It helps keep the rip raff out so he doesn’t have to concern himself with the unpredictable and irrational behavior of the human species, as he has his own customer’s habits down to a science. Lucas on the other hand tends to befriend people with an uncharacteristic openness that Jacques thinks is bad for business, as it brings out a side of people that expect someone to be nice in return, when he’s actually much more comfortable railing against all the things that piss him off. This is what his customers expect, and that he can deliver on a silver platter, made to order. This open tirade against the human condition is amusingly absurd, especially when told to someone so innocently young and naïve, someone without the killer instinct of Jacques.
The balance in the universe is altered when a young French girl, with the the hopeful name of April (Isild Le Besco), is down on her luck and has no one and no place to stay. Of course, Lucas is the right sucker for her, but Jacques will have none of it, insisting a bar is no place for women, claiming they have “cafeterias and patisseries,” as it changes the entire dynamic, which of course, it does, as all the men are immediately spilling over themselves trying to gain her attention. But Jacques soon discovers that when she tends bar, she’s more of a man than any of the other men in there, but still, when she brings cut flowers, it’s enough to wish one were dead, so he collapses in yet another one of his continuing heart attacks. The introduction of the girl evaporates much of the humor and originality of the human theater, including the gallows humor that could be deadly funny. But all of a sudden she brings a seriousness to the air which is hard to appreciate, as it just doesn’t fit with what came before. The film never really recovers from this choice, as it can only attempt to grow more profound, but it’s not that kind of story. Instead it’s one that is awash in human quirks and idiocyncracies, all the little ridiculous things that make us human, the sacrifices we have to make to be able to live with ourselves, but when we stare in the mirror, we barely even acknowledge that person looking back. The film is exquisitely detailed in exposing human flaws, but hasn’t a clue when it tries to reassemble our lives from all the broken and shattered pieces. While this film was shot on 35 mm film, the color is bleached out giving it a grainy video feel, which doesn’t seem to work at all, though it may have been the director’s ploy to accentuate the color palette of the finale which is suddenly drenched in saturated color.
"No women," insists rancorous NYC saloon owner Jacques (Brian Cox) to new trainee Lucas (Paul Dano)—unwittingly echoing a similar unspoken rule instituted by Cox's pederast to Whitman-quoting Dano, then 16, in their first film together, 2001's L.I.E. Jacques and Lucas meet in a hospital, where the older man is recovering from his fifth coronary and the younger—homeless and styled like the creature behind the Dumpster in Mulholland Drive—from a suicide attempt. With no concern for character, plot, tone, or purpose, Icelandic writer-director Dagur Kári (2003's Nói) is content merely to play Jacques's old-coot misanthropy (instantly wearying) against his protégé's forbearance (which the usually talented Dano confuses with autism), resulting in a sloppy, desultory, depressive buddy comedy the color of beer-infused pee. The arrival of an actual female (À Tout de Suite's Isild Le Besco, wasted in her first role in English) disrupts the homosocial order, but not the filmmaker's bad instincts: A hit-and-run caused by the retrieval of a pet leads to a literalization of the already maudlin title, and Kári's smug little arthouse offering ends up covered in Nicholas Sparks goo.
Time Out New York review [3/5] Joshua Rothkopf
It was fine fortune for everyone when the mighty Brian Cox entered his latter-day-Brando phase, somewhere around the time of Rushmore. Suddenly, everything he touched turned to wintry platinum. But even Jor-El himself couldn’t avoid the occasional mediocrity, and The Good Heart dilutes Cox’s gravitas with quirk. He plays Jacques, the desiccated owner of a shithole Manhattan bar hospitable only to regulars (you can tell this was scripted by a romantic outsider, Icelander Dagur Kári). One night, raging at the calming words of a relaxation cassette, Jacques has a stroke, while across town, a homeless young man, Lucas (Dano, doing his stunned thing from Little Miss Sunshine), attempts suicide, as a kitten mewls in sympathy.
How long will it be before these two unfortunates are playing a grab-asstic game of Frisbee on the hospital lawn? The Good Heart requires more than just that from its audience; you might also benefit from a too-sensitive funny bone and a poor memory of films like—well, like Rushmore. A surrogate father-son relationship brews, with Lucas learning the ropes behind the bar while a mysterious French blond (Le Besco) insinuates herself into his life. But let’s not forget Jacques’s pre-existing condition! Making this all semitolerable is a wonderful disregard for political correctness (some of Cox’s rants are vile) and a truly lived-in bar set. Still, you can’t shake the suspicion that Kári finds this all a lot deeper than it is; his gentle comedic sensibility (Noi Albinoi) feels too well-trod by the Jarmuschs of yore, especially when adapted to English.
I attended the North American Premiere of "The Good Heart" at the
2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Brian Cox and Paul Dano (reunited
after the 2001 indie classic "L.I.E.") pull off a tour de force that
left me breathless in this character piece from Icelandic writer/director Dagur
The film opens with Lucas (Dano) barely eking out a living in a cardboard box under a rusty highway overpass, with only a scrawny kitten as a companion. Jacques (Cox) runs a worn old bar where he's beginning to take on its characteristics. The two meet and a classic intergenerational arc is set up that carries the film to the end.
The film is dominated by a triumphant performance from Cox, one of the film world's masters. Shot primarily in one interior location, the theatrical nature of the script lends itself to playful interaction between the two leads. The chemistry between Cox and Dano began in 2001 with "L.I.E." and there's still magic in that relationship, forged over time as Dano has matured as an actor and into manhood. Interestingly, there are some references to cars and shaving which have carried over from "L.I.E." to "The Good Heart," intentional or not. Conflict is infused by the sudden appearance of April (Isild Le Besco), who forces the two to take sides even as their friendship is beginning to blossom.
Shot with mostly hand-held camera by cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk, "The Good Heart's" grainy film stock, washed out colors, and natural lighting without compensation for shadows give the film an honest look. A sweet soundtrack is mostly provided by the player piano that holds a prominent place in the bar. It's a clever and amusing device.
A long time in the making, "The Good Heart" spent five years in production with exteriors in New York and interiors in Iceland. Cox's introduction after the screening brought the first standing ovation of the festival.
A grimly modern fable with a giveaway title, The Good Heart wears it modest narrative intentions — along with just about everything else — on its sleeve. A regulation tale of bittersweet uplift involving a saintly young homeless man and a villainous codger with no apparent heirs and a nasty heart attack habit, the film aims not to surprise but to soothe you with the pleasure of its company, its variations on a familiar theme. Despite its capable leads and sturdy framework, in his American debut Icelandic writer and director Dagur Kári relies too heavily on the fleeting rewards of situation for the film to come together as an involving story.
Lucas (Paul Dano) and Jacques (Brian Cox) live in a New York of fairy tale-ish extremes: a hospital staff pools cash for Lucas after his suicide attempt; he returns to his cardboard squat to find that someone has strung his kitten up by its neck, just for kicks. Lucas has (or had) a kitten, so we know he’s a soft touch; Jacques, by painfully glaring contrast, is a miserable son of a bitch who runs a dive bar and is driven, literally, into a heart-stopping rage by the voice on the self-affirmation tapes he listens to at night. He does have a German Shepherd, though, so he can’t be all bad, something not immediately apparent to Lucas after the two men are wheeled into the same recovery room. More obvious to the viewer is how things will shake down between the vagrant and the transplant patient; for the slow learners among us, Kári has Lucas, grateful to be alive, vow to donate first his sperm and then his every organ to the hospital that helped nurse him back to health.
Both characters behave almost exclusively in broad strokes, which means that a haggard, snarling Cox has most of the fun while Dano amps up his baleful aspect, holding his hands in light fists at his hips — ever-ready, it would seem, to throw a wholly inadequate punch. Having decided to make Lucas the heir to his foul-mouthed fiefdom, upon his own release from the hospital Jacques tracks him down and offers him room and board in exchange for his apprenticeship. That deadliest variety of misanthrope — a loquacious one — Jacques has an acid insult for everyone he meets; Lucas’s instincts are open and generous to a fault (maybe hold onto that sperm for now). Yet any interest that contrast might have generated is exhausted by the time the duo leave the hospital. We’re left to watch rather dully as Lucas, confronted time and again with Jacques’s assholery, works up to a spluttering variation on, “What in the name of Jesus Louise Veronica Ciccone is wrong with you?”
The scenes of Jacques’s dozen-or-so loyal patrons riffing over their ritual drinks on their regular stools afford the film some of its loosest and most organic moments, but Kári reverts instinctively to the security of cliché. The music actually stops when a non-regular makes the mistake of wandering into the bar (“We don’t do walk-ins,” Jacques hisses); a French stewardess (Isild Le Besco) fired for being afraid to fly happens by and becomes Lucas’s love interest without delay, or really any flake of believability whatsoever. Kári also has the risky habit of setting up brief scenes for the sole purpose of showcasing his screenplay’s darlings. During Jacques’s follow-up visit to the hospital he delivers an impressive list of similarly themed complaints, all of which set up the punchline: “I feel like a goddamn thesaurus.” Clever, but not really useful, especially in a film that firmly rejects back story: We never learn what landed Lucas on the street or what turned Jacques into such a three-ring rotter, although his passionate hatred of women is supposed to be a clue. They may seem nice, he warns, in one of many brittle aphorisms, “but underneath they’re all the same universal bitch.”
Visually The Good Heart’s palette mimics the bloodless pallor of, you guessed it, someone in the most severe stages of heart disease, and the effect further flattens two characters trapped within their types. Cox and Dano (who were even more perversely matched in 2001’s L.I.E.) struggle with the limited dimensions of the roles — if not their dynamic, which is natural enough — and many scenes play more like actor’s exercises than lived behavior. By the time the big finish comes, and all of the important lessons have been learned and every last random detail dropped in the first act has come home to roost, there is curiously little satisfaction in seeing the color — literally, of course — return to Jacques’s world.
The Onion A.V. Club review [C-] Noel Murray
DVD Talk (Jason Bailey) review [1/5] Theatrical release
Iceland's Dagur Kári offers up THE GOOD HEART; Cox and Dano shine; TM does a Q&A from memory James van Maanen from Trust Movies, April 26, 2010
Q&A: Dagur Kari « icelandonscreen Ásgrímur Sverrisson interview with the director from Iceland Onscreen, March 11, 2010
Paul Dano: 'I'm Just a Glutton For Punishment' S.T. VanAirsdale interview with Paul Dano from Movieline, April 27, 2010
The Hollywood Reporter review Kirk Honeycutt
Entertainment Weekly review [B-] Lisa Schwarzbaum
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [1.5/4] I’m sorry, I love Roger, but this is one of the least astute reviews he’s ever written
New York Times (registration req'd) Stephen Holden
From the Yé Yé Girls website brief bio info
How Anna Karina Changed My Life Mairead Phillips from Senses of Cinema
Cinema and the Female Star Christa Fuller from Senses of Cinema
Child of the Moon: November 2008 November 30, 2008 (best photo site)
Anna Karina Nathan Rabin interviews the actress May 14, 2003 from the Onion
Days of Wine and
Roses interview by Sam Adams from Philadelphia Net Paper,
Anna Karina - Une histoire d'amour one of many musical albums from katerine-website.com
anna karina (.09) from Vivre Sa Vie on YouTube
la Mirada (.25) ) from Vivre Sa Vie
anna karina (1:16)
Anna Karina (1:22) Vivre Sa Vie
Anna Karina () Vivre Sa Vie
anna karina ()
"Bande À Part" (1:59)
Girl In The Thunderbolt Suit (The Completion of a Taking) (2:20) a dedication to France Gall, Anna Karina, Kate Moss, Francoise Hardy, Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol, etc
YouTube - ANNA KARINA "Roller Girl" () from the made for TV film ANNA (1967)
Bande à Part ()
the passion of joan of arc () from Vivre Sa Vie
'Chinese Roulette' (trailer – )
ANNA - NIGHTCLUB SCENE - GAINSBOURG () from the made for TV film ANNA (1967)
Anna Karina - Ma ligne de chance () from Pierre Le Fou
Anna K vs Maccabees from Vivre Sa Vie ()
Anna Karina Practice - Crystal Castles () from Vivre Sa Vie
The Luminaries "You're So Cold" () from Vivre Sa Vie
REMAKE/GODARD #1 () from Band of Outsiders
Dance the Madison () from Band of Outsiders
Les Fiances du Pont Mac Donald (1961) () Agnès Varda short featuring Jean-Luc Godard and Ana Karina
Godard 1964 () behind the scenes footage of Band of Outsiders
YouTube - Qui êtes-vous Anna Karina? () Jean-Claude Brialy and Serge Gainsbourg talk with Anna from the made for TV film ANNA (1967)
three ways for Godard #2 () Bande a Part
Vivre sa vie (10:50)
THE PHENIX CITY STORY B 87
USA (100 mi) 1955
I've always cited this
movie as the best ever made in (
—Film critic and
All that's necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. —Edmund Burke
An industry that flourished for half a century because the good men looked the other way, an industry run by men I went to school with. Their father’s ran it, and their father’s fathers before them. An industry that made Phenix City the most vicious town in the United States. That industry was vice.
—film narrator John Patterson, (Richard Kiley)
“Fancy women, slot machines, and booze…” —Phenix City Blues, song sung by Meg Myles
I like old friends. It gives you sort of a warm feeling just to know they’re around. —Rhett Tanner (Edward Andrews)
An incendiary, highly provocative, and near documentary portrait of life in Alabama during the 1950’s, zeroing in on the vice racket controlling the border town of Phenix City, just across the river from a more upscale Columbus, Georgia and nearby Fort Benning, where for over 100 years the crime syndicate was openly running the gambling, liquor, and prostitution business, manufacturing their own marked decks of cards, diluting their liquor, rigging their own slot machines and roulette wheels, where generous bribes made the police and prosecuting attorneys look the other way as beaten bodies or corpses would regularly be dumped in ditches along the side of the road. Opening with a 15-minute Jack Webb-like man-on-the-scene newsreel sequence where reporter Clete Roberts interviews actual residents of the town of Phenix City, Alabama, the tone is so amateurishly dry and dead serious that one gets the feel this is all a fabricated work of fiction, something of a mock put-on, perhaps by Sam Fuller, but it’s based on a true story which only came to light after the election night murder of the newly elected State’s Attorney General from Phenix City, who vowed to crack down on his city’s crime. All this is explained ahead of time before the newsreel ends and the actual film begins, immediately immersing the audience into the lurid subject matter with a brilliant jump cut from a behind-the-scenes look at putting on the fix in vice racket operations to the sensual lounge act of the scantily dressed night club singer Meg Myles singing “Phenix City Blues” to a room filled mostly with leering men. This is the hook that lures them in and promises them a good time, where they can then be swindled by the business.
When anyone complains of marked cards or getting cheated, they are immediately beaten silly by the house goons, dumped in the gutter outside and hauled off by the police—no questions asked. The guy running the operations is Rhett Tanner, Edward Andrews in his first feature film appearance before becoming a regular fixture on American television for the next several decades, a town elder who rarely misses a Sunday appearance at church, so ingrained in the town’s social establishment that people greet him fondly on the street. His muscle on the premises is John Larch as Clem Wilson, almost always seen with a toothpick in his mouth, whose job is to get rid of unruly customers and handle all the sordid details of the dirty operations. It’s Tanner that pays a friendly visit to Albert Patterson, John McIntire, a paternal institution in town as the highly respected defense attorney, who despite all the attempts to bring down the syndicate through vigilantism or organized citizen meetings, has taken the stubborn position not to make waves, as he’s seen it all before and nothing’s changed in 100 years. Both Tanner and the citizen’s groups lobby to gain his support, as he represents the moral center. When Patterson’s son, John Patterson, Richard Kiley the film’s narrator, returns from serving in the Army overseas where he was prosecuting war criminals, his father wants him to join the firm and make a home in Phenix City, which immediately draws the suspicion of John’s young wife (Lenka Peterson), who hears nothing good comes from 14th Street, otherwise known as Sin City—not exactly the place to raise their two kids. Matters escalate when John attempts to intervene in a fight between Wilson and his thugs against a citizen group, but only ends up getting beat up himself, which places him right in the center of things, now more than ever motivated to join in the efforts to rid the town of its organized crime.
While Karlson is not an especially well recognized director, and this little known film probably exists somewhere on the fringe, it’s an extremely accurate, though fictionalized, portrait of life in the South, where the existence of brutality is a major factor, where historically the Klu Klux Klan was immersed in the social fabric of the communities as well, and ironically supported Patterson in his successful 1958 run for Governor three years after the filming. This director does not shy away from showing how difficult it is to stand up to the tyranny of men with guns who scour the neighborhoods with impunity, getting revenge or payback whenever they want, sending a message, leaving behind a trail of tragic consequences filled with bitterness, heartbreak, ugliness and blunt trauma. This film takes a very direct approach in articulating the harm from a community remaining complacent, depicting how violence and corruption affects everyone, but it’s so hard for people to act in a coordinated effort, as if this is in some ways capitulating to the problem, where they’d rather be left alone, where there are still non believers who refuse to believe it’s happening in their back yard, while others look the other way and continue to facilitate this kind of heinous criminal activity. Shot on location in Alabama, where it carries the weight of authenticity, much of this is cringe-worthy in its illustration of stark realism without resorting to the typical melodramatic effects, though it is also sensationalized, with the tag line “ripped from the headlines,” trying to create excitement by embellishing a menacing noirish atmosphere with social relevance, a mix where it’s hard to find another film that approaches the subject head-on with this kind of blistering intensity. The irony is, because it didn’t happen to someone who became famous, and there are no stars in the cast, few have heard of this film or this particular chapter in our nation’s history.
trivia from imdb
In the film, John Patterson (Richard Kiley) is depicted as supportive of African-American Zeke Ward (James Edwards) and his family. In real life, following his term as Alabama attorney general (1954-1958), he ran for governor in 1958, ran an openly racist campaign and won. One of his opponents, George Wallace, had run as a racial moderate and told his friends after the election, "John Patterson out-niggered me, and I'm never gonna be out-niggered again." Four years later, in 1962, Wallace won the governorship of Alabama as an avowed segregationist.
Behind the bland title lies a barnstorming semi-hysterical thriller which pulls few punches in its attempt to chronicle the true story of an Alabama town which was founded in the early 1800s by runaway blacks and renegade whites, and by the 1950s had become a kind of supermarket for every conceivable criminal activity, from black market babies to elections rigged by crime syndicates. Eventually the military moved in and laid waste most of the vice area. Karlson's film follows this extraordinary story with newsreel-type relish, and the militaristic ending may be the closest any American film ever got to advocating a domestic coup.
Phil Karlson's masterpiece The Phenix City Story (1955),
which has been too hard to find for too long. It's great to have it available
at last. It's included here with its 13-minute "newsreel" opening,
which talks a little bit about the background and (real) history of the film.
After nearly a century,
As shown in Karlson's The Brothers Rico (1957), the director is highly skilled at balancing a great number of characters in a fast-moving story without losing track. He quickly and firmly establishes his characters with repeated use of their names and with one or two little visual riffs; we understand each character's personality and position almost immediately. The villain here is Rhett Tanner (Edward Andrews), a pleasant, but slightly sweaty Southern gentleman who visits old friends and greets old ladies in the street. But when we first meet him, he's trying to figure out how to fix a turtle race to make money on it. Add to this supreme clarity of storytelling a fast, punchy, documentary-like realism, a genuine sense of place, and a powerful sense of urgency, and you've got Karlson's finest hour.
Turner Classic Movies review Scott McGee
"One almost can't believe what is happening on the screen;
the horror of it suffocates."
Jack Shadoian, Dreams and Dead Ends
"I've always cited this movie as the best ever made in (
Part semi-documentary, part social problem film, part film noir, Phil Karlson's The Phenix City Story (1955) is a one-of-a-kind window into a sordid and fascinating period in American crime history. The namesake suggests a glorious bird arisen from the ashes of defeat, but
Yes, for a good time, all anybody had to do was take a short walk across the bridge from
Director Phil Karlson had grown up in
The violence depicted in The Phenix City Story is not for the faint of heart; barroom brawls and beatings of courageous citizens are bloody, bruising and real, and we see the shocking depiction of two children being murdered by the syndicate thugs. The Production Code Administration approved the film's basic story in January 1955, but still objected to the "unusual amount of violence and brutality." One of the cuts the PCA recommended was the murder of Zeke Ward's daughter. Ward is an African-American character in the film who lends help to the town reformers; because he is black, the syndicate singles him out first for a horrendous reprisal--his daughter's lifeless body being tossed out of a moving car. Although the film was finally approved by the PCA, this and other objectionable material remained in the film.
The Phenix City Story also has a subtext that was surely recognizable by audiences at the time; that of the Civil Rights struggle. The crime syndicate is in many ways a symbol of the entrenched racism and prejudice that was ingrained in Southern culture at the time. Aside from the wincing violence against Zeke Ward's daughter, it's the callous nature of the corrupt, white police force that says more about race than it does about the complicity of the police; when her killing is reported, the police dispatcher says to the patrol cars without any measure of urgency, "Somebody just threw a dead n***** kid out on Patterson's lawn. Go out and have a look." There's one telling line in the script when Tanner, the main character representing the mob, justifies his syndicated business to his former friend Patterson, "Half the trouble with the people in the world today is they just don't want to let things stay the way they are." The Civil Rights struggle was all about changing the way things had always been in the
The film is very much a historical document for its time, but the culture of fear and violence that is depicted in The Phenix City Story certainly has a film noir aspect to it, which was not accidental. The screenplay was written by Daniel Mainwaring who also wrote the noir classic Out of the Past (1947) and the noir-infused sci-fi thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), both of which were concerned with the corruption of small-town ideals with urban iniquity. Phil Karlson and his film also influenced other depictions of criminals and criminality. After the release of The Phenix City Story, Karlson was hired by Desilu studios to direct The Scarface Mob, the pilot TV movie that would launch The Untouchables TV series. It was Karlson's gritty eye that created the dark look the TV series was known for.
A few familiar faces to look out for in the film include the actors James Edwards and Edward Andrews. Edwards, who plays Zeke Ward, figured prominently in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956) as the parking lot attendant who runs across hired marksman Timothy Carey. Edwards also played one of Frank Sinatra's fellow soldiers plagued by nightmares in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Edward Andrews is the affable, slick crime boss Tanner. Andrews was a character actor who appeared in countless TV shows and Disney films throughout his long career. His penultimate film role may be the most recognizable though: he played Molly Ringwald's solicitous grandfather in Sixteen Candles (1984).
Cineaste Martha P. Nochimson
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955) Jake Cole from Not Just Movies, July 11, 2011
Film Intuition [Jen Johans] Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5
seanax.com [Sean Axmaker] Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5
DVDTalk.com [Jamie S. Rich] Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5
Slant Magazine [Nick Schager] (Page 3 of B-Noir capsule reviews)
The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955) great photos at Destructible Man, February 18, 2011
Phenix City_Home Phenix City Confidential
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
THE BROTHERS RICO
USA (92 mi) 1957
Richard Conte tackles the mob in a classic film noir (1957) by Phil Karlson (99 River Street, Walking Tall). Karlson's style is hard, fast, and unadorned, which may explain why he's never attracted the attention lavished on Robert Siodmak and the prissier noir specialists. But the angry rhythms of Karlson's films seem just as true to the genre's fatalistic spirit as any of Siodmak's bizarre camera angles; with Dianne Foster and Kathryn Grant.
After a series of classic films noir, the great "B" movie filmmaker Phil Karlson (Kansas City Confidential, 99 River Street) returned with the terrific gangster picture The Brothers Rico (1957).
Richard Conte stars as the oldest Rico brother, Eddie. He runs a legitimate cleaning business, hopes to adopt a baby with his wife, and believes that his ties to the mob are a thing of the past. But his middle brother Gino (Paul Picerni) turns up and explains that he and youngest brother Johnny (James Darren) were involved in a fatal robbery and are now on the run.
Eddie's first instinct is to turn to the big boss, Sid Kubik (Larry Gates), but it's no longer clear who Eddie can trust, and who he will betray.
Based on a story by Georges Simenon (Monsieur Hire), it's a fairly complex setup, to be sure, but Karlson lays it all out very clearly, so that even the absent characters have a kind of presence. Conte must carry most of the burden himself; the script requires him to be a little bit clueless, and he can't quite pull this off. But otherwise, this is an excellent crime picture.
Dalton Trumbo may have contributed to the screenplay, without credit.
Turner Classic Movies review Richard Harland Smith
The contract murders of mobsters Charles Binaggio and Charles
"Mad Dog" Gargotta on April 6, 1950, in the First Ward Democratic
Club of Kansas City, Missouri, was considered at the time to have been a simple
matter of underworld housecleaning. Having risen to power as a regional
distributor of Al Capone's bootleg beer, Binaggio had been attempting to gain
influence over the police departments in Kansas City and St. Louis with the aim
of securing a place for illegal gambling in both cities. When Binaggio was
stymied in this bid by the very Democratic governor his ill-gotten gains had
placed in office, it is theorized that Binaggio's Chicago bosses had him rubbed
out as punishment. This minor bit of syndicate downsizing would likely have
remained of only passing interest had not the Republican party used the
political ramifications of the incident to embarrass President Harry S. Truman,
a Democrat and native Missourian who once had represented the state as a United
States Senator. Not to be slandered by any GOP-backed exposés, Truman himself
called up a grand jury to look into the allegations. Beginning in 1950, a
bipartisan Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in
Interstate Commerce spent a year touring the United States, subpoenaing Mafia
capos, their underbosses, hirelings and known associates. When the televised
hearings were concluded in 1951, the findings of the subcommittee were
published by its chairman, Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver from Tennessee,
who concluded that the country was in the grip of nothing less than a national
Hollywood was quick to cash in on the escalating public interest in organized crime and shifted focus from the moody film noirs of the postwar era to fact-based (or at least fact-flavored) tales of corruption in high and low places. Warner Brothers' The Enforcer (1951), starring Humphrey Bogart, was the first major studio release to capitalize on these compelling current events; the producers milked the film's topicality for all its worth, to the point of including an opening narration spoken by Estes Kefauver. The torch of topicality was carried through the ensuing decade by The Mob (1951) with Broderick Crawford, The Racket (1951) with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, Hoodlum Empire (1952) with Brian Donlevy, The Big Heat (1953) with Glenn Ford, The System (1953) with Frank Lovejoy, On the Waterfront (1954) with Marlon Brando and Lee J. Cobb, Chicago Syndicate (1955) with Dennis O'Keefe and Paul Stewart, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) with Richard Egan and Dan Duryea, The Garment Jungle (1957) with Lee J. Cobb and Kerwin Mathews and Underworld USA (1961) with Cliff Robertson. While the majority of directors tackled the subject as they would have any studio assignment, a select few made the choice to specialize. One filmmaker who distinguished himself from the pack during this time was Phil Karlson. Starting in 1952, Karlson turned out an impressive handful of crime and gangster films, beginning with Scandal Sheet (1952) and including Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), Five Against the House (1955), Tight Spot (1955), The Phenix City Story (1955) and The Brothers Rico (1957).
For this adaptation of a 1952 short story by French crime writer Georges Simenon, Karlson and director of photography Burnett Guffey (All the King's Men , From Here to Eternity ) take a flat, matter-of-fact approach to the story of one-time Mafia accountant Eddie Rico (Richard Conte, nearly a decade out from Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway ) whose escape into legitimacy and suburban conformity is compromised when his hotheaded younger brothers Gino (Paul Picerni) and Johnny (James Darren) are involved in a gangland slaying. Advised by his former capo and mentor, Sid Kubik (Larry Gates, from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956) that his siblings must be executed, Eddie must choose between playing it safe and protecting his nest egg or opposing the villainy that has paid for his piece of the American Dream. Until the last act of The Brothers Rico, Karlson eschews onscreen violence for the most part to establish the banality of modern day syndicate crime (personified by the avuncular Kubik) and its psychological toll on the agonized Eddie, who is unable ultimately to save his brothers from their fates. Screenwriters Lewis Meltzer and Ben Perry (working with an uncredited assist from a blacklisted Dalton Trumbo) swing wide of the downbeat Simenon model (in which the hero sucks it up and accepts the received wisdom that les frères Rico had it coming to them), sending Eddie out to settle the score with his erstwhile godfather boss in a .38 caliber heart to heart that goes down in the claustrophobic confines of a Little Italy candy shop.
To have heard Phil Karlson tell the story, his apprenticeship for a career in movie crime began during Prohibition, where he worked as a lookout for a Chicago bootlegger. Born Philip N. Karlstein in 1908, he saw his first mob rubout before he was old enough to shave. After studying painting at the Chicago Art Institute, Karlson conceded to his father's wish that he should be a lawyer and enrolled in the pre-law program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Earning money for tuition at nearby Universal Studios, Karlson worked his way up the studio ladder as a prop man, second assistant director and editor before becoming a first assistant director on such prestige pictures as Great Expectations (1934) and Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935). He also wrote the occasional joke for Universal funnyman Lou Costello, who got Karlson his first job as a director. For the Monogram Pictures musical comedy A Wave, a WAC, and a Marine (1944), he was billed as Phil Karlstein. A year later, he signed the name Phil Karlson to The Shanghai Cobra, the sixth "Charlie Chan" film produced after Monogram took over the long-running franchise from Twentieth Century Fox. Given the subject matter to which Karlson would turn his hand in the 1950s, he would have been a natural for the advent of film noir but his lot at Monogram and elsewhere was squarely franchise fodder (the Shadow mystery Dark Alibi, the Charlie Chan whodunit The Missing Lady [both 1946]) in addition to the occasional serious drama, such as Black Gold (1947) with Anthony Quinn. The full color film was Monogram's first bid for respectability after changing its name to the tonier Allied Artists.
In 1959, Karlson directed The Scarface Mob for producer Desi Arnaz. The two-part installment of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse served as the pilot for the CBS series The Untouchables (1959-1963), starring Robert Stack as mob-busting "G" man Eliot Ness. (Although Karlson had warned him against doing a weekly TV series, then considered the death knoll for any film actor, Stack took the plunge, emboldened by a twenty percent profit share.) Karlson's output slowed during the ensuing decade. He made the soap opera-like melodrama The Young Doctors (1961) and the Elvis vehicle Kid Galahad (1962) for United Artists and helmed two installments of Columbia's lowbrow "Matt Helm" films - The Silencers (1966) and The Wrecking Crew (1968) – starring Dean Martin. Closer to vintage Karlson was the offbeat war film Hornets' Nest (1969), starring Rock Hudson as an American paratrooper whipping a cadre of Italian war orphans into a fighting unit and Walking Tall (1973), a fact-based tale of corruption and redemption in Tennessee. Karlson's penultimate film was an unexpected cash cow for Bing Crosby Productions and the distributor Cinerama, spawning two sequels, a 1978 made-for-TV movie, a short-lived series and a 2004 remake that shed the "sixty percent accuracy" of the original film. Phil Karlson died in Los Angeles on December 12, 1985, at the age of 77.
Film Noir of the Week Guy Savage, June 21, 2010
Upcomingdiscs.Com [Gino Sassani] Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II
DVD Talk [Casey Burchby] Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
TRUE ENOUGH (La Vérité ou Presque) B 87
After a terrific split screen opening credit sequence of black and white performance footage of an unknown 1960’s female jazz singer named Pauline Anderton that was reminiscent of George Clooney’s similar sequences in GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005), this film really took me by surprise, as it began as another one of those breezy, dialogue heavy French comedies with a multitude of characters who spend their time incessantly gossiping about sex and relationships behind one another’s back while sleeping around with their best friend’s spouse, yet everyone thinks they’re being so completely honest all the time. We’ve always known sleeping around is a past time in French films, but films that show little to no regard for consequences usually leave me cold, and this film had all the makings, but the characters are really well-defined, even if at times unlikable, and our familiarity makes all the difference, as ever so slight alterations from the norm by the end actually turn this into an intelligent, thought provoking search for meaning in a contemporary world.
Moving between Paris and Lyon, the film actually stars Karin Viard, the depressed mother from IN MOM’S HEAD (2007), who couldn’t be more of a polar opposite as Anne, who hosts a Lyon television show of dubious interest, yet the frenetic behind the scenes catastrophes that are inevitably a part of any rushed network operations leaves her in a state of flux nearly all the time, while her calmer, low-key husband Thomas, played by the director, is a literary professor who seems genuinely interested in the lives of others, but despite his stability, Anne has lost interest in him months ago. Her best friend Caroline, Julie Delarme, is pregnant and suspects her husband is sleeping around. Since she is married to Anne’s ex-husband, Marc (François Cluzet, the Dustin Hoffman look-alike from TELL NO ONE), a business entrepreneur with suspicious connections to everyone and everything, she asks Anne to try to get to the bottom of it, not suspecting that she would actually sleep with him. Meanwhile in Paris, André Dussolier (the missing girl’s police inspector father from TELL NO ONE) is Vincent, a gracefully refined author whose younger gay boyfriend is jealous after he overhears Vincent’s plan to visit Lyon to gather research for his book on Pauline Anderton, who happens to be played by the director’s wife Catherine Olson in the archival footage. Upon arrival there, Vincent joins the inner sanctum of this group of friends. Everything at this point is underscored by free-wheeling conversations and jazzy piano trio music, offering a fast-paced, sophisticated, yet self-centered view of modern life in France.
Anne, who is something of a double crosser, lures Vincent to appear on her TV show under false pretenses, which includes making a film documentary of his planned interviews with Anderton’s family outside Lyon, exaggerating her fame while pitching the show to her producer by name dropping jazz legends, which only exasperates Vincent, who feels undercut and compromised. Meanwhile, Thomas and Caroline are suddenly hitting it off as best of friends, as he’s apparently the only person who’s taking an interest in her pregnancy. Anne’s TV show is abruptly cancelled, which leaves only her film project. Once Vincent gets word of her difficulties, he rethinks pulling out from the documentary and arrives at the last minute for his intended filmed interviews. Anderton’s living daughter, however, is maddeningly unrevealing, as if she’s holding onto family secrets. Purely by chance, Vincent discovers a clue that intrigues him enough to keep him there for awhile as the rest decide to return to Lyon in the middle of a giant rain storm which is flooding much of the Rhone valley. What happens following the storm is a revelation, as even the look of the film changes, reducing the light, slowing the pace, establishing a reflective interior mood of introspection that suddenly changes the focus of the film. It’s interesting that everything that came before suddenly seems so insignificant, as a new perspective on the Anderton story alters their own views about themselves, as everything evolves to the next level where people finally matter. The film suggests we all go through various stages in life, and no one can predict or anticipate what it is that might take us to the next stage. Don’t go googling Pauline Anderton, as she’s completely made up, yet the authenticity of her fictionalized life and career feels incredibly vital and is beautifully woven into this film.
12th Annual Festival of New French Cinema Facets Multi-Media
gently paced dramatic comedy with strong moments of humor and energy, this film
about love, trust and intersecting lives features a terrific ensemble of actors
playing characters who search for connection and meaning in contemporary
Variety Alissa Simon
This film bears some resemblance to Carlos Reygadas’ SILENT LIGHT (2007), only instead of examining the sins of a Mennonite community near Chihuahua in northern Mexico, this film studies the effects of the repressive religious doctrine in Finland’s Northern Ostrobothnia where the Apostolic Lutherans, devout followers of Conservative Laestadianism, reminiscent of the Amish or Mennonite in their plainness, prohibit the wearing of makeup, dancing, watching television, alcohol, contraceptives, or premarital sex, where its use in the outside world is supposedly the influence of Satan and leads one straight to eternal damnation. The story itself is slight but it’s closely observed and well acted by all involved, given a strong visual sense from extreme facial close ups, as the members of this group have been raised believing they are very close to God, that any straying into the real world leads them directly into Satan’s hands. One young girl, Maria (Armanda Pilke), breaks away from her family and gets a flat by herself in Helsinki. Her best friend Raakel (Marjut Maristo), the devout elder sister of a family of about 10 siblings, is sent after her by the local pastor in hopes of bringing her back home safely. But Maria, who has an older sister Eeva (Malla Malmivaara) that has already shunned the church and been banished by her own family, has a head on her shoulders and isn’t fooled by the fear of damnation, and easily falls into a pattern of simple violations, such as drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, and going out with boys, even going as far as kissing, none of which are sins in her eyes. Raakel, however, who sees her role as Maria’s guardian angel, lags behind in every respect, and while she’s usually nearby witnessing Maria’s new casual lifestyle, Raakel comes close to but never crosses the line while continuing to visit the local church every week.
The filmmaker chooses to tread lightly in this hauntingly sensitive portrayal and doesn’t wish to upset the actual religious community, so the violations are usually quite minor with a great degree of soul searching afterwards, at least on Raakel’s part. This non-judgmental tone works in small degrees, but overall there is little suspense built up due to the predictability of this pattern which plays out as a coming of age film that is fairly typical of young teens, and while the religious angle is unique, it’s quite clear neither girl really knows what they’re doing. As Maria keeps pushing the threshold, eventually she discovers some rather disturbing results and loses all sense of confidence, actually freaking out a bit as she considers what might have happened. Raakel, on the other hand, has learned that her family’s ways are not generally accepted around the world, and that not all people in the world are sinners. Many are kindhearted, and she befriends a Spanish guy on his way to India who couldn’t be farther from the righteous path she grew up believing, but in her eyes, he’s a decent man. Maria retreats back into the fold as she reunites with her family at the giant summer service, which is a huge outdoor revival meeting that’s meant to drum the religious fervor back into their respective communities. While Maria accepts her traditional role within her family, it’s clear Raakel still has some issues, wearing make up at the dinner table in defiance of her father, dancing to music as she clears away the dishes, which draws the stares of her young siblings who must think she’s clear out of her mind, eventually walking out the door to sure hell and damnation, according to her parents, but to boldly go where no one has ever gone before from her family, as she seeks a worldly experience that embraces more.
"Love in a million
Written by Kurki / Leonard
Performed by Hanna Pakarinen
Universal Music Publishing Germany GmbH
Written by Morén / Eriksson / Yttling
Performed by Peter Bjorn And John
EMI Music Publishing Scandinavia
Written and Performed by Devendra Banhart
Chrysalis Music Ltd / Air Chrysalis Scandinavia
Written and Performed by Silvio Rodríguez
Ojala Ediciones SL Spain
"Lucky lady hot
Written by Mirpour / Törnqvist / Winnberg
Performed by Armand Mirpour
Written by Pekka Streng
Performed by Emma Salokoski
Warner/Chappell Music Finland
This was surprise for me. I saw it in
I had to even dig out some more information of these Apostolic Lutherans /Conservative Laestadians and found out that the film had brought up a lot of discussion in the Finnish media.
The film it self has a very strong visual style. Camera is very close to the main actors, and you can really feel with them.
I thought that the actors were doing a fantastic job in every aspect and the characters were so innocent and moving. This old fart could really relate to them.
As for ratings. I thought it was almost a ten for me, but some of the oddities in the script made it a nine. How ever I could live through these problems, because the feeling in the film was so strong. Good work!
"A surprisingly restrained and superlatively well-acted film that strikes an impressive negotiation in its portrait of liberation vs. repression."--Michael Koresky, IndieWIRE
The Laestadian community, a fundamentalist Lutheran sect that is a major force in Finnish society, provides a fascinating backdrop for this coming-of-age story. Experience-hungry teenager Maria (Pilke) runs off to the big city to taste all the forbidden fruits (sex, alcohol, movies). Her devout friend Raakel (Maristo) is dispatched to bring her back to the fold, but, as she discovers, purity isn't necessarily the strongest armor against temptation. Director Karukoski maintains a remarkably nonjudgmental tone, laced with dry humor and bittersweet irony. In Finnish with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
Two 18-year-olds from apostolic Lutheran families wind up sampling "Forbidden Fruit" in Finnish director Dome Karukoski's ("Home of the Dark Butterflies") melodramatic coming-of-ager. Offering a superficial look at the strict fundamentalist beliefs of his country's 110,000-strong Laestadian community, a sect that takes the Bible literally and prohibits contraceptives, television, alcohol, rhythmic dancing and premarital sex, pic is always watchable but seldom entirely plausible or emotionally satisfying. A domestic theatrical release is slated for mid-February; fests and tube constitute best bets for export.
Sassy brunette Maria (Amanda Pilke) leaves her repressive home in Northern Ostrobothnia to experience the pleasures of the flesh in Helsinki. She figures she can always repent and be welcomed back to the fold ("All your sins forgiven in the name and blood of Christ") per Laestadian liturgy. When community elders dispatch Maria's prissy blonde best friend Raakel (Marjut Maristo) to save her from eternal damnation, they fail to consider Raakel's own vulnerabilities. Thesping throughout tends toward the histrionic. Tuomo Hutri's fine widescreen camerawork does a better job depicting the capital's worldly temptations than Aleksi Bardy's script. Costumes and makeup sometimes feel at odds with the story.
Camera (color, widescreen), Tuomo Hutri; editor, Harri Ylnen; music, Adam Norden; set designers, Antti Mattila, Antti Nikkinen; costume designer, Anna Vilppunen. Reviewed at Gothenburg Film Festival (competing), Jan. 28, 2009. Original title: Kielletty hedelma. Running time: 102 MIN.
Northern Ostrobothnia Wikipedia
Northern Ostrobothnia Wikimedia Commons
Laestadianism: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article Absolute Astronomy
A simplistic, hilarious spoof on those bigger than life biography films like Ray Charles in RAY (2004) or Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE (2005), which even reaches back into the Beatles catalogue to poke fun of them sniping at one another while under the influence of a Maharishi in India, eventually tumbling onto the ground attempting to beat one another to a pulp. John C. Reilly stars as a dirt poor, love starved Dewey Cox, whose brother was the musical phenom of the family, the favored son, but he got killed in a freak accident causing his father to forever hold a grudge against Dewey claiming the wrong son died. The film resorts to Mad magazine comic book style exaggerations which are so ridiculous that they’re funny, such as Reilly picking up a guitar in the back of a drugstore where a couple of authentic bluesmen including Honeyboy Edwards are playing and singing such authentic sounding blues for the first time that sounds amazingly like BB King, or playing a 14-year old teenage kid, not easy for a guy over forty surrounded by grinning kids, introducing Buddy Holly-like rock ‘n roll at his high school, where the girls are all mesmerized and can’t help but spontaneously scream and dance in the aisles. When the family priest determines rock ‘n roll is the Devil’s work, Dewey is no longer welcome in his own home and has to hit the road with an adoring groupie tagging along that eventually becomes his wife. When Dewey, on the verge of being thrown out of the Sam Phillips-like music studio, sings his own song “Walk Hard,” it hits the airwaves a mere 35 minutes after the recording session and becomes an overnight sensation, eventually landing Dewey a place onstage alongside the Big Bopper and a stoned-out-of-his-mind Elvis, portrayed here by Jack White. Mixing the legends of Charles and Cash, the film has great fun distorting their real life stories with a fictionalized twist of this third person who seems to do the same things they did in their lives, only fuck it up much worse.
Like Charles, his wife stayed home and raised the children while he toured on the road and found love with Darlene, a church girl in the band (Jenna Fischer) who finds him irresistible. Tim Meadows (his drummer) is featured in a sequence of hilarious set ups in roadhouse bathrooms where each time Dewey walks in unexpectedly as illicit drug activity is taking place. Meadows attempts to steer him away but only heightens his interest, eventually becoming addicted to nearly every known drug. Finding rehab and religion in typical Johnny Cash style, as well as a steadfast love from Darlene’s religious influence in the band, Dewey eventually fathers a bazillion children that finally come to represent his circle of love. Some gags fail miserably, like the lame bit where Hasidic Jews are depicted as the heads of the music industry, but his Dylan phase and the Fab 4 Beatles casting of Jack Black (Paul), Paul Rudd (John), Jason Schwartzman (Ringo), and Justin Long (George) feel inspired, as do the racy lyrics from the first duet he and Darlene sing together. One forgets how funny John C. Reilly was as a singing cowboy act telling awful jokes with Woody Harrelson in Altman’s PRARIE HOME COMPANION (2006). Reilly is terrific doing his own singing, veering from the operatic Roy Orbison to the quieter, more sensitive side of Neil Young, but this is played for gags all the way through, not offering a whole lot in social comment, such as the overly sincere Dylanesque tribute to midgets. If one stays through the end credits, there is a brief glimpse of the “real” Dewey Cox.
Is Hard the first step in the shark-jumping of Team Apatow, or is it meant to be more of a spoof than a gag-every-twenty-seconds bawdy comedy like his Knocked Up and Superbad? Probably the latter, judging from the crowd of boobs at my preview screening, who were unable to grasp inside music jokes about things like "Buffalo Springfield." John C. Reilly, not anyone's idea of a leading man (which is part of the spoof, people), plays the titular Cox, whose career we see via clichéd flashback displayed over several centuries. The obvious parallels of fun-poking can be drawn to Ray and Walk the Line, which makes the irony over droolers not getting the joke extra rich because they probably adored those two films and their formulaic blueprints which are mocked by Apatow and his crew.
At some point between all the awards and glitter and speeches, the Showbiz Biopic became a genre, one that re-used the exact same conventions from film to film. Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005), not to mention this year's La vie en rose, Control and El Cantante, are, in essence, the same movie, but decorated with different actors and different songs. Thankfully, the one-man comedy factory Judd Apatow and official "Frat Pack" member John C. Reilly, noticed. Together with director Jake Kasdan, they have created a sharp parody worthy of MAD Magazine. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story runs through every tired showbiz biopic plot point with a shiny new skewer.
In the biopic, every major event in the artist's life is treated as an epiphany, as if he could sense the importance of this moment of origin. Walk Hard underlines and exaggerates these moments; it's especially daring given that, since we've never actually heard of the country-rock singer Dewey Cox, these moments work. The many celebrity "cameos" use the same kind of logic to hilarious effect. The movie never misses a note; it ridicules age makeup (Reilly plays ages 14 to 72 and every so often has to speak his current age aloud, just to remind us) and all the typical rock history stuff. Dewey "earns" his fame via the talent of black musicians and goes through every musical stage: drugs, folk music, experimental music, a variety TV show, and the "comeback." The brilliantly crafted songs fall just on one side of seriousness. As in This Is Spinal Tap, they could actually be real, and their humor is almost accidental.
Taking a cue from Walk the Line, duet signer Darlene (Jenna Fischer) remains Dewey's true love throughout. But the problem with "Walk Hard" is that we don't really care about their relationship. The parody takes precedence over any kind of emotional truth. Ironically, though Reilly gives a sterling performance throughout, his only way of truly connecting with the audience is through the character he's playing and the biopic formula itself. It very nearly becomes the thing it's ridiculing. Happily, the movie is cunning enough to step back just enough to remain funny, and though it won't hold up to multiple viewings, it happily stabs at a sacred cow that has needed stabbing for years.
Gag-a-second spoofs are without question the hardest comedic subgenre to pull off, because there's precious little holding them together beyond a raggedy collection of referential jokes and lowbrow silliness. Even those considered masters of the genre—Mel Brooks with Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team with Airplane!—have suffered innumerable low moments, and the recent spate of Scary/Date/Epic Movie parodies are about as bad as comedy gets. Though they teamed up many times on the beloved TV shows Freaks And Geeks and Undeclared, writer Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan are a little out of their comfort zone on Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, an uneven riff on musician biopics like Ray and Walk The Line. Apatow and Kasdan are skilled at getting the most out of gifted ensembles, but there's a world of difference between the sweet, character-based comedy of Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and the vaudevillian wackiness of Walk Hard.
Fortunately, they're blessed by having John C. Reilly, an endlessly nimble and endearing performer, to lead the film through its rough patches. Reilly plays Dewey Cox, a Johnny Cash/Ray Charles hybrid who found music on an Alabama farm after a tragedy robbed him of a brother and his sense of smell. When his family gives him the boot, Dewey runs off with his sweetheart (Kristen Wiig) and tries to make it as a musician, all while siring the dozen or so children he'll go on to neglect. Before long, Dewey's irrepressible genius finds the right ears—here, the trio of Hasidic Jews who run the entertainment industry—and he rockets up the charts in short order. But fame comes at a heavy price, as Dewey indulges in a buffet of vices from which only a June Carter-like tour mate (Jenna Fischer) can save him.
The filmmakers have cleverly conceived Dewey as a musical chameleon of Bob Dylan-esque proportions, capable of adapting his sound to suit any number of trends, including folk, psychedelic, disco, the Beatles in their Maharishi days, and, funniest of all, a Brian Wilson phase that incorporates every sound known to man on a single song. And the fake hits are mostly inspired, especially "Duet," which is loaded with entendre-filled lines like "In my dreams, you're blowing me… some kisses." With a cast loaded with ringers from The Office, 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, and other Apatow productions, Walk Hard offers a quantity of laughs that few comedies could match, yet it's likely to leave viewers vaguely unsatisfied, particularly when the closing minutes completely run out of steam. That's the danger of spoofs: You're only as good as your last laugh.
As an actor, John C. Reilly is the opposite of Mr. Cellophane. He doesn't disappear into a role; roles disappear onto him—the unlikely porn sidekick of Boogie Nights, the inadequately adequate family man of The Hours, the cutup cowboy of A Prairie Home Companion, all stamped and imprinted with the actor's doughy kisser. The only catch is, the role has to exist first. He's a character actor in the true sense: He'll provide the perfect coatrack, but someone's got to hand him a coat.
As Dewey Cox, a hard-livin', hard-lovin', hard-everythingin'
singer with a Zelig-like proximity to every major music figure of the past 50
years, Reilly cuts a hilarious and electrifying figure—live. On a recent promo
Sadly, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story isn't. And seeing Reilly perform the material live only points out how fundamentally misconceived this barrage of dry-docked yacht-rock gags is at every level—starting with its flaccid Cox. (Live by the dick joke, die by the dick joke.) It's not that the pop biopic isn't ossified enough to get its own Epic/ Date/Scary Movie: There were moments, watching La Vie en Rose and Ray, when you could swear it already had. You better walk the line, Johnny Cash! Hit the road, Ray Charles! Vous ne regrettez rien, Edith Piaf! But this burlesque of biopic clichés flounders from one setup to the next without the engine that drives the genre: a strong central character.
Scripted by the high-powered team of Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan and directed by Kasdan, Walk Hard often plays like scene-for-scene nose-thumbing at Walk the Line. Only Dewey is less a Man in Black than a twerp in twill: a humble country boy who steps forward at his high-school talent show to croon a mushy ballad. This being a pop biopic, it takes all of a stanza to induce a riot, prompt cries of "It's the Devil's music!" and unleash an epidemic of teenage lust. It also bum-rushes Dewey down the path to stardom, leading to an affair with dewy duet partner Darlene (Jenna Fischer, in a Reese Witherspoon parody that's one joke shy of a one-joke part) as well as busted marriages, drug addiction, patricide—and, at rock bottom, his own '70s variety show.
Reilly's Roy Orbison–ish tenor is game for anything from funk to punk, and he's been given a ready-made hit parade of clever knockoffs. Had Dewey been the mean, obscene sex machine of Reilly's live shows, Walk Hard might've been a hoot—at least as funny as the recent Will Ferrell comedies it resembles, down to the unnecessary attempt to make the self-infatuated hero ultimately lovable.
But Dewey doesn't hang together as a character. He's a blank festooned with ill-fitting traits swiped from a season's worth of Behind the Musics, and when the movie isn't sending up something specific—Cash's drug habit, Dylan's protest singing, Brian Wilson's obsessive mania—Reilly has nothing to play. (Maybe this is the movie that should've been called I'm Not There.) Gag-a-minute Airplane!-style comedy isn't Apatow's or Kasdan's strong suit, either. Even when the skewering of bio tropes is spot-on—as in the obligatory conquering-the-charts montage for a single "recorded just 35 minutes ago!"—the timing is off, stifled by Kasdan's needlessly glossy direction or Apatow's ability to flog a running joke into whimpering exhaustion.
The biggest laughs come from players who know how to hit
their sketch-comedy marks quickly and move on: from Tim Meadows as Dewey's
drummer, whose antidrug warnings inevitably turn into a can't-resist
come-hither, to Harold Ramis as Mad magazine's idea of a Jewish record
mogul, more likely to cut foreskins than 45s. The rest of the movie blows
through opportunities like Mötley Crüe through coke money. It takes almost a
perverse determination to put Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, and
Justin Long in a room together as the Beatles, then give them so little to do
that even Eddie Vedder's cameo as an awards-show presenter smokes them. (The
DVD extras will almost certainly be better.) Walk Hard limps soft—but if
John C. Reilly turns up anywhere onstage in your town, go. If there's anything
Seattle Post-Intelligencer William Arnold
New York Times (registration req'd) Manohla Dargis
Film Reference Joseph Milicia
Kasdan, Lawrence They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
USA (113 mi) 1981
Hot and sticky, though never less than sumptuously deodorised, this is a neon-shaded contemporary noir romance: all lust, greed, murder, duplicity and betrayal. As credulously myopic lawyer Ned and slinky femme fatale Matty progress from dirty talk to dirty deeds (a disposable husband, a contestable will), there's the pleasure of unravelling a confidently dense yarn for its own sake, alongside the incongruous experience of finding yellowing pulp fiction classily rebound, or hearing a '40s standard of romantic unease re-recorded with digital precision. Whether the movie-movie cleverness becomes as stifling as the atmosphere Kasdan casts over his sunstruck night people is all down to personal taste, but there's no denying the narrative confidence that brings the film to its unfashionably certain double-whammy conclusion.
Awareness of film noir was just coming to a head in the
late 1970s, and for his initial feature effort Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Raiders
of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back) made a full-on attempt
to bring back the entire noir style -- mood, context and hardboiled dialogue --
in Body Heat,
arguably the first conscious Neo Noir. The Long Goodbye, Night Moves
and Taxi Driver paid nostalgic and stylistic homage to the noir world,
but Kasdan's aim was a full revival, modernized yet still focused on the old
concerns. Too often described as a quickie remake of Double Indemnity, Body Heat is more detailed in
structure and more pessimistic about human nature. The noir hero for the Reagan
years is less like the cocksure Walter Niles and more like the self-defeating
Al Roberts of Edgar Ulmer's Detour.
The movie was a big hit thata launched careers for its director and stars. Even its supporting actors received a major career boost. Better than that, twenty five years later Body Heat now plays and looks better than ever, after decades of 'neo-noir' wannabes.
Synopsis: After losing a particularly embarrassing case to this friend D.A. Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson), lackadaisical Florida lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) soothes his ego by leaping into a torrid adulterous romance with the sultry Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). When Matty and Ned think about the future, all ideas lead to the same course of action -- murdering Matty's obnoxious lawyer husband Edmund (Richard Crenna). But how can they pull it off? Both Peter and Ned's detective friend Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston) are intimately aware of Ned's reckless behavior where women are concerned.
Body Heat was the film to see in the summer of 1981. Everybody caught the two page rave review in Time Magazine. The movie is sexually daring and generates a powerful noir charge with Richard Kline's prowling camera and John Barry's sinuous music. Lawrence Kasdan's script is a tour-de-force of seductive scenes and anxious suspense. The visuals strike a balance between filmic precision and precious effects (say, how about that clown?). We knew the film would end badly for somebody, perhaps everybody, but thanks to a clever series of plot complications, none of the twists is predictable.
The basic structure of Body Heat is of course similar to Double Indemnity, substituting an incompetent attorney for a hotshot insurance salesman. Unlike Walter Neff, Ned Racine is not a total cynic, but he is woefully incapable of recognizing when he's overreached his abilities. Only in the later stages does Ned really turn into Al Roberts, Edgar Ulmer's pathetic loser of a hitchhiker. Through most of the picture Ned channels Jeff Markham of Out of the Past, a guy so hooked on a sexual high that nothing else seems real. Matty clearly has Ned's number when she tells him, "Well some men, once they get a whiff of it, they trail you like a hound." Unlike Walter Neff, Ned isn't sufficiently cold-blooded to effectively counter Matty's double-cross.
Kasdan gets away with his neo-hardboiled dialogue by making it funny, and even letting his characters in on the joke. Ned and Matty know that they're trying to talk tough, and that their courtship is a game ... for quite some time they mask the seriousness of their relationship with their own erotic fantasies. They seem to know only two modes of behavior, passion and murder.
Body Heat holds out a hope that Ned will survive simply because his lawman friends think he's too dumb to get away with a crime. Both Ted Danson's tap dancing D.A. (a writer's affectation that worked better in '81) and J.A. Preston's sincerely concerned Oscar know darn well how consistent a screw-up Ned really is; it's his best shield against suspicion. Ned is an insecure lummox when put face-to-face against Richard Crenna's aggressive husband; you'd think Ned should intuit that Matty needs more of a take-charge guy. The only place Ned flexes his ... masculinity, is in the bedroom.
Throughout all of plots and schemes Body Heat lays on the finesse, demonstrating that the noir style is more than mere Venetian blinds, ceiling fans and billowing curtains. The movie sells the heat of the summer and makes us acutely aware of the actors' skin and eyes. Ray Bradbury wasted some good poetic dialogue about high temperatures leading to murder in the Sci-Fi film It Came from Outer Space; it just remains talk. Kasdan makes us feel the heat through speech, visuals and the music score too.
When not depicted as inherently evil, classic Film Noir femme fatales killed for love and to satisfy some basic urge to destroy; they seemed to be taking revenge on the world for relegating women to an inferior social position. Body Heat reverses Billy Wilder's rationale for murder by motivating Matty with a desire for independence and financial security. Interestingly for the post-Watergate world, Matty achieves her goal but also does away with an old friend, loses what may be the love of her life and kisses her original identity goodbye. Her terrible punishment is to be affluent but completely anonymous.
Rarely singled out but worthy of special credit is the lively waitress Stella, played by Jane Hallaren (Lianna). The café scenes are mainly there to dispense exposition between Ned and his law-enforcing buddies, and Ms. Hallaren provides the extra juice that keeps them alive.
Warners probably didn't want to stress that such a new-looking film has its 25th anniversary this year, so this Deluxe Edition of Body Heat is simply a classy special edition. The transfer looks fine, although the earlier ordinary disc looked good too; the hook this time around is the longform docu by Laurent Bouzereau, split into the usual three parts. The docu pulls in just about every main player in the production, with Hurt and Turner (both now looking much more advanced in age) remembering their commitment to the project and going through most of the big stories in detail. The 'summer heat' movie was filmed during one of the coldest Florida winters ever, and skill and fortitude were required to make the actors seem to swelter, when in actuality they're freezing. Ms. Turner describes holding ice in her mouth before takes to keep her frosty breath from showing.
Hurt and Turner talk openly about the sex scenes, which are about as hot as can be without complete full frontal nudity and actual copulation. It was a testy situation and one that Hurt (a very committed actor) made sure was respected by the crew. Body Heat didn't sink or swim by virtue of hot gossip from the set; when the film took the country by surprise the reaction was more of a gasped, "they can do that?" Sexual foreplay is really on the screen, and in this case it adds a meaningful level to the movie.
Kasdan talks about his good fortune but is also secure in the fact that he had written a terrific script. When his producer Alan Ladd more or less ordered him to get rid of William Hurt's moustache, Kasdan stuck by his guns and had the actor keep it. Talk about an auspicious directorial debut...
Film Noir of the Week Harald the Swede
DVD Times Raphael Pour-Hashemi
filmcritic.com Christopher Null
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web and Tuna
USA (105 mi) 1983
A funeral reunites a group of friends from the idealistic '60s who have gone their separate ways in the pragmatic '80s. Over the weekend they eat a lot, argue, go jogging, try to bed one another, and reminisce endlessly to the accompaniment of a host of '60s greats on the soundtrack. However, the script deftly avoids the twin pitfalls of solemnity or sentimentality which threaten such a scenario; instead it's perceptive, affectionate and often very funny.
Arguably Lawrence Kasdan’s best film, The Big Chill has received its share of praise as well as its share of backlash, but nevertheless it’s an important movie due to the connection with the “baby boom” generation whom expected a future different than the one we have. My dad, whom is part of that generation, related to the films themes of nostalgia and angst and understood it almost immediately whereas I took a while to eventually get it and grasp its ideals. Ideals which have obviously dated the more time we pass on to the next decade.
Seven friends: Harold (Kevin Kline), his wife Sarah (Glenn
Close), Sam (Tom Berenger), Michael (Jeff Goldblum), Nick (William Hurt), Karen
(JoBeth Williams) and Meg (Mary Kay Place) reunite unfortunately to mourn the
loss of one of their beloved, Alex (Kevin Costner, unseen) along with his
girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly). After the funeral they all spend the weekend
together to try and figure out what is it that drove Alex to its unprecedented
suicide, as well as questioning their own values compared to today’s society.
In an ever-changing world, The Big Chill is a document of its time, just like Saturday Night Fever was to the 70’s, since it captured in that very moment how the “baby boom” generation and their ideals had grown (until then) over the past 20 years. To understand the angst of the characters in the film you must understand the reasons of that time in which they lived when they were young. The 60’s was a turbulent decade; you had the Vietnam War raging, JFK’s and Martin Luther King’s assassinations, The Cuban invasion black and women’s rights movements and the imminent presence of the Cold War. All of this was widely covered and depicted by the news media all around the country and the world. In other words, the government was constantly smeared due to all this information. So obviously the American youth reacted against their government since they didn’t agree on American soldiers fighting a war that wasn’t even theirs. And due to that social impact, the youth rebellion surged up, therefore launching several movements like the hippies and socialists amongst them. Drug use and sex was fluent since everyone wanted to flee that painful view. Everything was just chaos.
But then what happens? Time passes by to the point that society has changed but you realize not all changed with it. The 80’s arrive and now the media is more restricted when it comes to information; several social problems have been resolved. The Cold War is still there (or was) but it doesn’t seem as threatening as it was before. Everything is more relaxed, more synthetic, and mysteriously calm even though several political problems arise though are carefully masqueraded through the media. All of this generated an aura of cynicism which predominates everywhere, even to this day. People don’t believe in anything, not even their shadows. So all those people that believed in their own causes, feel lonelier than ever, like if it were a dream, and ask themselves, where did all my ideals went to? The only thing left are your friends and the love of your friends, and the memories of that time. Many have changed, but others still dream in that time and prefer not to wake in the real world.
This state of mind is brilliantly captured by Kasdan and his co-writer Barbara Benedeck. The disillusion, the confusion, and of course, looking ahead into the future. I guess it’s these types of mentalities present in the film which have made the film dated according to some, but people fail to realize that times change and that obviously ideals explored in such films like Wild in The Streets and Easy Rider are just not the same ideals we explore today. We all change, and in the end, that’s Kasdan’s point: We all change but the future didn’t change with us.
Cinematically, the film has great production values, with Kasdan providing us a kick-ass soundtrack of oldies, all carefully selected to fit and give an ironic meaning in various memorable scenes of the film (notably, the funeral procession accompanied with the Rolling Stones classic “You can’t always get what you want” which is a symbolic metaphor of them burying their once important ideals). It also features one of the many perfect examples of ensemble casting, with each actor contributing to a whole perfectly. If we had to pick the notables, I’d say Glenn Close but more notably William Hurt since his performance in this film along with his previous one in Body Heat (which Kasdan also wrote and directed) precluded his taking of the reins as the leading actor of the 80’s.
In the end, if you’re one of the younger generations who don’t care about or don’t care to know about the past or your parent’s or grandparent’s past, this film is not for you because you’ll never get it. If you’re an intelligent guy or gal that cares about your past and your parents or grandparents or is capable of seeing the forest through the trees and understands the ideals of those times, then this film is for you. It's quite a unique experience that it’s almost a requirement to be from that generation to fully understand it but nevertheless, it’s a testament from that time from people who simply wished the world changed for the better but in their own view didn’t.
Turner Classic Movies Rob Nixon
When it was first released in 1983, The Big Chill drew
decidedly mixed reactions despite its commercial success. Some saw it as an
insightful portrait of a generation lost between youthful idealism and
middle-aged disillusionment, while others found it glib and self-conscious.
True, it doesn't always hold up well with today's younger audiences, who don't
always relate to the time period and the dilemmas that are the film's focus.
But it was nonetheless a box office hit and it garnered three Academy Award
nominations - for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting
Actress (Glenn Close) - and a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy
Written Directly for the Screen.
The Big Chill definitely tapped into the prevailing zeitgeist. The story of a group of former 1960s college radicals, now following divergent paths in life, who are reunited over the course of a weekend after the suicide of one of their group, struck a chord with baby boomers (a theme that was also explored in John Sayles's Return of the Secaucus 7, 1980). Producer-director-writer Lawrence Kasdan, 34-years-old when he made the movie, summed up the picture's theme and appeal in defining the meaning of the title: "The Big Chill deals with members of my generation who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. The Big Chill is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal."
In Kasdan's self-described "comedy of values," audiences of a certain age and background found some truths about their own past and present lives in the film, and if the harsher realities seemed to be downplayed and glossed over, the central concept was well developed through the strength of a witty script by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek and the fine ensemble work of a cast of actors who were among the most popular and accomplished working in film at the time.
The actors took part in a month-long rehearsal process with the director in Los Angeles and then Atlanta and the Tidalholm estate in Beaufort, SC, where it was shot, giving each one the chance to develop a solid character while also fostering the group dynamic needed for a story about a group of friends with a long history and complicated relationships. One night while rehearsing at the house used as the central location, something clicked. Kasdan recalled, "It happened kind of spontaneously...everyone was in costume and we decided it might be great if we all cooked a meal. That way they'd have to split up the tasks and approximate a group of close friends putting together a dinner. I chose to leave at that point...and for five hours they remained in character without any authority figure, without any director to tell them if they were behaving or reacting in the correct way according to the writer's or director's ideas...It became a very intense experience and they all came out of it exhausted and drained...But that happened at a crucial, crystalizing moment and it turned eight individual actors into an ensemble."
Each of the actors had their own interpretation of what The Big Chill was really about. Tom Berenger commented that the film "is about that period in life when you're beginning to realize you have limitations, that you will never accomplish certain goals and dreams?Suddenly, you know you're not a kid anymore." For William Hurt, "the basic theme of The Big Chill is the reconstruction of hope." Mary Kay Place offered the observation, "When you're in college, you think you can do anything, be anything, accomplish anything...Then suddenly you reach a point where you're settled into what you're going to be and once you realize it, everything stops. Then the questions begin."
The sense of the era evoked in the story is boosted by a soundtrack of about 20 songs from the characters' collective past. "The '60s were an explosion, an incredibly varied explosion of pop music," Kasdan noted. "It's not just background to these people. These songs mean something very real and different to each of these characters. It's a strong, strong reference for them -- a sense memory of that time." Meg Kasdan, the director's wife, sifted through hundreds of tunes before narrowing it down to the ones used in the film, popular numbers by such performers as Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Bad Moon Rising"), The Beach Boys ("Wouldn't It Be Nice"), The Temptations ("Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "My Girl"), Marvin Gaye ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine"), Percy Sledge ("When a Man Loves a Woman"), The Steve Miller Band ("Quicksilver Girl") and others. One song used to great ironic effect is The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." At the end of the wrenchingly sad funeral of their friend, one of them gets up to perform the song, the deceased's favorite, on a church organ. The combination of the appropriateness of the title to the suicidal friend's lost hope and the comical effect of hearing it played that way brings a welcome smile to the group's faces, and the Stones version swells onto the soundtrack as they leave the church to head off to their momentous weekend reunion.
The Big Chill also benefited greatly from Kasdan's enviable reputation in the industry at the time. He was already well-known for his scriptwriting work on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Continental Divide (1981), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which was paid homage in The Big Chill (Kevin Kline hums the adventure movie's theme music while doing battle with a bat that flew into the house). And two years earlier, Kasdan made a big splash with his directorial debut, the sexy neo-noir thriller Body Heat (1981), so there was much expectation for this, his second movie.
Kevin Costner was supposed to have played a key role in the picture as the suicidal Alex, seen in flashback scenes to the group's college days at the University of Michigan. But Kasdan decided to cut these scenes, and all that survives of Costner are brief close-ups of parts of his corpse being dressed for the funeral. Kasdan made it up to the actor, however, by later giving him important roles in the westerns Silverado (1985) and Wyatt Earp (1994).
As noted earlier, The Big Chill generated much discussion among critics who lived through the same era as the film's characters. Isidore Silver, in an article for the magazine Society, wrote "the movie affirms a sneaking suspicion I have always harbored that the sixties generation was better at proclaiming than at achieving such values as sensitivity, mutual caring, and emotional closeness. In short, if The Big Chill somehow represents an important truth about that generation (and I think it does), it demonstrates that many quondam radicals were as boring as their immediate predecessors (my generation), and remain so in the 1980s. The movie is replete with embarrassing examples of unfulfilled aspirations, misremembrances of the past, and simple ennui." Pauline Kael expressed a similar opinion believing the movie would be despised by "anyone who believes himself to have been a revolutionary or a deeply committed radical during his student demonstration days." On the other hand, she acknowledged the film as an entertainment: "There are pleasures to be had from this kind of wise-cracking contemporary movie that you can't get from anything else." And most reviewers had nothing but praise for the film's script and acting ensemble. Vincent Canby of The New York Times proclaimed The Big Chill "sweet, sharp, melancholy" and wrote "the performances represent ensemble playing of an order Hollywood films seldom have time for, with the screenplay providing each character with at least one big scene. If the actors were less consistent and the writing less fine the scheme would be tiresome. In The Big Chill, it's part of the fun."
Which We Hang Out With Our Friends From College Where
White People Come Together With Other White People, by Alex Carnevale from
DVD Verdict Norman Short
DVD Times Raphael Pour-Hashemi
Nitrate Online (capsule) Eddie Cockrell
Philadelphia City Paper Cynthia Fuchs
USA (121 mi) 1988 ‘Scope
In this subtly modulated romantic comedy-drama, Hurt plays a travel writer, separated from his wife (Turner) after the death of their young son, who returns to the bosom of his home-loving family when he breaks his leg. Enter wacky dog-trainer Davis, whose spontaneity disrupts Hurt's muffled life-style. That Davis has a sickly son complicates things, as does Hurt's publisher's interest in his sister Rose; and when Hurt's repentant wife tries to rekindle their marriage, he must make a choice. The screenplay by Kasdan and Frank Gelati achieves numerous shifts of tone within a compressed emotional range, while the ensemble cast responds equally well to the comic and tragic elements. Hurt excels as the writer; Davis exudes loopy charm; Turner is brilliant as the anaesthetising wife. Even those who blew hot and cold over the slickness of Body Heat and The Big Chill should warm to Kasdan's most emotionally complex film to date.
eFilmCritic Reviews Politicsman
Sometimes a film is released that changes your mind about the way in which films are made and the way they are watched. For me, The Accidental Tourist was the film that converted me from a “movie fan” into a “film buff.”
That is not to say that I was amazed the first time I saw it.
In fact, I rented it five times before I actually paid close attention to its
detail. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Anne Tyler and directed by
Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon), The Accidental Tourist is a
wonderful and heart-wrenching look at American society. William Hurt, at his
subtle best, plays Macon Leary, a travel writer who hops from his New England
home to exotic locales in search of economic deals for his readers as well as
tips to make their excursions inconvenience-free. He is a member of the most
anal retentive family ever portrayed on film. His sister (Amy Irving) and two
brothers (David Ogden Stiers and Ed Begley Jr.) live together in the house that
they grew up in. They arrange food in alphabetical order and refuse to answer
the telephone out of fear that this would disrupt their lives of splendid
isolation. Macon reports to his publicist Julian (played by a young Bill
Pullman) who gradually falls in love with his sister.
But these characters are but a sub-plot in Macon’s life. He is still an emotionally shattered man since the death of his son. Upon returning from a trip, his wife (Kathleen Turner) informs him of her unhappiness in the marriage and suggests a separation. Without so much as a whimper, Macon agrees to the new arrangement and moves back in with his siblings. When he is forced into another travel-writing assignment, Macon must deal with his dog of which his wife cannot take care. At the kennel, he meets the proprietor of the establishment, Muriel (Geena Davis), a woman who is the complete opposite of Macon. Their initial meeting yields nothing, except to showcase Macon’s awkwardness around people and Muriel’s easy-going charm.
When Macon returns to retrieve the canine, Muriel casually asks him out. At first he is taken aback by such forwardness but gradually her warmth and compassion rubs off on the colorless writer. They begin a relationship (a bed is shared) and Macon becomes a father figure to Muriel’s young son. For the first time, Macon is coming out of his shell and re-experiences the joys of life.
Another writing assignment takes Macon to Paris whereupon his wife surprises him to rekindle the marriage. Macon, with chronic back pain, must decide between the two women after Muriel follows him to Paris. I won't give away the ending, only that it was very human and very real.
No, the plot is not that complicated but its complete believability allows it to shine. Kasdan and Frank Galeti have done a masterful job re-working Tyler’s novel. This film is full of understated performances that expose the nuances and frailties of the human condition. Hurt is fantastic and the siblings, particularly Irving, are fascinating. Geena Davis won a deserved Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance and Anne Tyler deserves the credit for developing such endearing characters.
This film is a tribute to the successful screen adaptation of contemporary American literary fiction. Kudos to all involved.
Turner Classic Movies Paul Tatara
You never know how an important actor's work will evolve once
he develops fan expectations. Some performers eventually leave nuance behind in
favor of extended bouts of mugging. But William Hurt has taken the opposite approach,
and it's usually just as dismaying to watch. Hurt's performances, though
infused with an obvious sense of commitment, have grown sluggish and
heavy-handed over the years, as if he's perpetually dragging around an
invisible boulder. This appears to be the residue of his turn in The
Accidental Tourist (1988), a respectable mixed-bag that's now available on
Warner Bros. DVD. You've never seen an actor work so hard at doing so little.
Hurt plays Macon Leary, a travel book author whose carefully calibrated existence has been shattered by the murder of his young son. Macon and his wife, Sarah (Kathleen Turner), are so depressed by their loss, they decide to separate at the beginning of the film. The extremely blunt scene in which they make this decision works in theory, but it's so morosely spelled out the actors calcify before your eyes. Hurt's jaw seems locked into place with a clamp, as if grief has inexplicably come to rest in his mandible. He carries on that way for the better part of the picture, and his single-mindedness is often maddening.
But this is a movie about hope returning to a man who's lost it, so along comes Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), a free-spirited kennel operator. Davis won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her work here, and she's a brilliant burst of spontaneity in a film that's in dire need of one. She deserved her award, and she makes the movie worth watching, but Muriel is too overtly 'kooky' for complete comfort. The same goes for Macon's outrageously anal-retentive siblings (Amy Wright, David Ogden Stiers, and Ed Begley, Jr.), all of whom are in dire need of professional care.
The key problem is that director Lawrence Kasdan (who co-adapted Anne Tyler's novel) spells everything out in the broadest possible signifiers: you're either marching through the day like a neurotic stick-in-the-mud, or you're a life-affirming representative of Extra-Wacky. In case you don't get it, the script is peppered with speeches that clear it up for you. The only truly challenging aspect of this movie is its lethargic pace. The rest is commercial cinema Esperanto.
The video transfer is first-rate, with little, if any, drop in clarity during darker interludes, and the sound mix is clear. There's truly no complaints on the technical end. You also get the original trailer, and there's a watchable featurette called It's Like Life. But the real bonuses are a scene-specific audio track courtesy of the always-delightful Davis, and a selection of deleted scenes, some of which were re-written and incorporated into the finished picture in different form. Many of them were deleted with good reason, however. The one titled 'Rose slow-cooks the turkey' just about says it all.
DVD Verdict Bill Gibron
Siskel & Ebert video
USA (112 mi) 1999 ‘Scope
The four-year sabbatical has been good to Lawrence Kasdan who, after a period of apparent artistic deflation with the creation of the disastrously bloated Wyatt Earp and the spiritlessly formulaic romantic comedy French Kiss, has somewhat regained his footing. He’s back with the sort of strong character work at which he’s always excelled, breezy stuff with emotional undertows of varying strengths like The Big Chill, Grand Canyon, and The Accidental Tourist. Mumford is significantly lighter than all three, but it carries its own particular weight in the romantic longing it (sometimes) so deftly conveys. The film utilizes a skill Kasdan has always been masterful with, drawing up quirky characters who behave in believably human ways. It’s rare to find quirked-up characters who also aren’t precocious and over-mannered, and it requires a certain breezy finesse that seemed to have abandoned Kasdan in his last couple of works.
AboutFilm Dana Knowles
City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul Rob Nelson
DVD Verdict Norman Short
filmcritic.com spends an hour with Dr. Mumford Aileo Weinmann
The Flick Filosopher's take MaryAnn Johanson
The Boston Phoenix Peter Keough
New York Times (registration req'd) Stephen Holden
USA Canada Australia (136 mi) 2003 ‘Scope
There's a ten-minute scene in
Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher that is genuinely terrifying - curled up
in a ball, peeking through your fingers, whimpering "if it were me, I'd
just want to die already" scary. Four thirtysomething boyhood friends
(Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant) meet for a weekend
retreat in their isolated cabin in idyllic
Though it's obvious why Kasdan chose this script (simply put, it's The Big Chill meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it's regrettable all the same. Horror as a genre is terra incognita for Kasdan, yet he seems to have a real talent for it. It's a shame that the complicated story line forces him to reveal the face of the menace a third of the way through the film, effectively draining away the suspense. From that point on, Kasdan focuses his attention on the more familiar territory of interpersonal relationships and Dreamcatcher wallows in the mire.
Though an accomplished and often underrated horror writer, Stephen King has always had a problem with excess, particularly in his books' third acts, when his hyperbolic prose style bubbles over into something close to apocalyptic. But the word "excess" doesn't even begin to describe the breathtaking insanity of Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher, an instant bad-cinema classic that attempts to stuff a career's worth of King material (among other sources) into one unwieldy package. Based on King's 2001 novel, the story concerns four boyhood friends ("The Body," a.k.a. Stand By Me) who have extrasensory perception (The Dead Zone) and are predestined to join forces in a battle royal (It) against alien creatures (The Tommyknockers) that infect the blood like a plague (The Stand). There's no better example of the film's crazed logic than the aliens themselves, which have a life cycle that evokes Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Alien, a touch of The Ghoulies, and a gross-out Farrelly brothers comedy. Intent on world domination, the head alien–who calls himself "Mr. Gray," speaks in a British accent for some reason, and looks like E.T. with elephantiasis–has the ability to transform into bloody mist and possess certain people. His deadly minions, colorfully referred to here as "assweasels," are borne from human hosts who are infected by a worm virus, suffer a colossal bout of flatulence, and then birth the monsters from their backsides. These "assweasels," in turn, produce new viruses by laying eggs, and it only takes one worm to spread the sickness like a plague over land and sea. The fate of humanity rests with four psychic friends (Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant) who convene in a Maine cabin for their annual weekend get-together. As the forest comes alive with grisly activity, a covert military operation quarantines the area, led by Morgan Freeman, an officer who has been intrepidly fighting aliens for 25 years. (In the film's most uproarious monologue, Freeman hails the lifestyle he's defending: "They drive Chevys, they shop at Wal-Mart, and they never miss an episode of Friends. These are Americans.") New to the horror game, the blood-curdling Baby Boomer movies The Big Chill and Grand Canyon notwithstanding, Kasdan handles the introductions with smooth craft and intrigue, but once the ludicrous story gets set in motion, he follows King straight off the cliff. Perhaps due to the talent of everyone involved, Dreamcatcher moves with an oddly exhilarating awfulness that sets it apart from more run-of-the-mill horror films, which lack the imagination and budget to be so thoroughly misconceived. How many other films could recall Scooby-Doo, Apocalypse Now, a disease-of-the-week movie, and Japanese animation within the space of five minutes, and still have plenty of bad ideas to spare?
Faced with Stephen King’s 600-page potboiler, Kasdan and co-writer William Goldman seem to have just said ‘to hell with it’ and gone for an all-out, what-the-fuck monster-mash that feels more like a King piss-take than any kind of respectful adaptation. Bits of previous adaptations are frantically churned together, along with generous yucky dollops of The Thing and Tremors: in wintry Maine (Misery) four lifelong friends remember their youth (Stand By Me), when they received supernatural powers (The Dead Zone) from a kid they saved from bullies - now, an alien invasion (The TommyKnockers) means they must band together to defeat an all-powerful, evil force (It).
Some early reviewers have misinterpreted Dreamcatcher as ‘unintentionally hilarious’ – perhaps the portentous title and ‘serious’ aspects of the plot led them to expect a straightforward chiller. But Kasdan and Goldman don’t make any bones about how they’re trying to combine gross-out comedy and gross-out horror: during the build-up to the first alien appearance, they sacrifice all tension in favour of American Pie style toilet-humour revolving around farts, belches and bad intestinal smells. This is because the aliens, after incubating within human hosts, then come “blasting out the basement door” as ET-savvy military hardass Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman) not-so-delicately puts it. In fact Curtis’s jocular term for the fanged ass-exiting beasties is ‘shit-weasel’ – a title which would actually fit the movie’s scatological tone much more closely than ‘Dreamcatcher’, a pretentious reference to a native Indian amulet which has only oblique, symbolic significance to the plot.
Jason Lee and Timothy Olyphant – as ‘Beaver’ and Pete, two of the central quartet – get the biggest leeway to milk the broad laughs, but after their relatively early exits survivors Thomas Jane (as Henry) and Damian Lewis (Jonesy) have to play things relatively deadpan, especially once the trigger-happy Dr Strangelove-ish army special forces get involved. Jane in particular deserves special commendation for keeping a straight face when, in a typically absurd and implausible moment, Henry uses an old gun of John Wayne’s (!) to receive a kind of psychic telephone call (!!) from Jonesy’s spirit – isolated in a mental ‘memory warehouse’ while his body has been taken over by an inexplicably plummy-voiced alien entity known as ‘Mr Gray’. While such convoluted shenanigans may sound gratingly nonsensical on the page, it’s carried off with sufficient on-screen brio that the suspension of normal critical faculties, along with disbelief, is surprisingly easy. The results, while overlong and insufficiently scary, are enjoyable enough – provided you’re up for a breezily cheesy big-budget B-movie that either will not or cannot take itself seriously for a moment.
Dreamcatcher feels like a Stephen
King adaptation. In fact, it feels like five Stephen King adaptations.
Kasdan packs most of the film's source novel, which has enough material for
two miniseries, into one of the most narratively dense films in memory. There's
telepathic bond between the four protagonists — Pete Moore (Timothy
Olyphant), Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane),
Joe "Beaver" Clarendon (Jason Lee),
and Gary "Jonesy" Jones (Damian Lewis)
— the childhood origins of which are shown via Stand By Me-like flashbacks.
Toss in a Tommyknockers-esque
alien invasion, crazy weather a la Storm of the Century, and
the possibility of a global plague straight out of The Stand, and Dreamcatcher's
narrative kettle is bubbling to the point of boiling over.
To their credit, though, Kasdan and co-screenwriter William Goldman never let the story overheat. After a somewhat clumsy introduction, the four heroes decide to escape the daily grind by going on their annual hunting trip to a remote Maine cabin. Instead they find themselves in a predicament straight out of The Thing, with body-snatching aliens infecting every mammal in the surrounding forest. The less fortunate of these animals (read: the human ones) also harbor a remora-like parasite, which devours the intestines of its hosts before laying eggs that beget more of the toothy tapeworms.
Once introduced into the general population, just one of these rapidly reproducing creatures could wipe out humanity. That's the nightmare scenario grizzled special-ops Colonel Abraham Kurtz (Morgan Freeman) fears most. Along with his supersecret "Blue Boy" troops, Kurtz has quarantined a large section of Maine backwoods, herding all the locals into an electrified holding pen. Along with Captain Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore), Kurtz flies a squadron of Apache attack helicopters to the crash site of a giant bio-mechanical flying saucer — the source of the alien infestation — which they promptly vaporize in hail of missiles.
However a few aliens slip through this onslaught, and one eventually takes possession of Jonesy's body. However, the extraterrestrial didn't count on the telepathic abilities of his human host's companions, and soon Devlin is helping hunt down his former friend. Although rushed, this core story offers some compelling drama both internally (Jonesy fighting the alien influence inside his own mind) and externally (Devlin convincing skeptical soldiers with this ESP).
However, the rest of Dreamcatcher is as schlocky as they come. Playing like a Roger Corman movie with a $100 million budget, the film relies on abundant gore and BOO!-style scares. As in the legendary producer's B-movie classics.Humanoids from the Deep, Piranha, and every other example of the horror genre, the story is dependent on its heroes acting like idiots. For instance, when one character traps a remora-alien in a toilet by unwisely sitting on the seat cover, he then gets up to retrieve a toothpick off a gristle-caked bathroom floor. Faster than you can say "Interplanetary Darwin Award Winner," the poor sap, who heretofore was one of the smartest characters, is fleshed alive, a sight that sparks as many incredulous chuckles as cries of terror.
Dreamcatcher also contains a bevy of jokes that juxtapose gastrointestinal humor with sickening violence. A distasteful mismatch by any standard, they're downright shocking in a script penned by the writers of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. King's source novel also has a few inconsistencies — namely, if Jonesy and his friends are all psychic, how come they're working dead-end jobs instead of predicting the stock market or tracking down mass murderers?
Kasdan wisely doesn't dwell on these built-in flaws. Smart enough to realize he's helming a hybrid of popcorn-muncher and gross-out thriller, he keeps events moving along at a steady clip. He has to, given the amount of material he must cover in 136 minutes; scenes whip by so briskly, the players are most times reacting instead of acting. The one exception is Lewis; his character's alien possession leads to some engaging split-personality sequences. The native Briton does a better American accent than most American actors, and has the chops to carry prolonged scenes all by his lonesome, as he often did in Band of Brothers. It's just a matter of time until this talented thespian has a breakout film on this side of the pond. Sadly, despite all its bloody, guilty pleasures, Dreamcatcher isn't it.
Slant Magazine Nick Schager
Fangoria Michael Gingold
filmcritic.com Norm Schrager
DVD Verdict Patrick Naugle
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Monsters At Play Carl Lyon
The Digital Bits Adam Jahnke
The Sci-Fi Movie Page James O’Ehley
CultureCartel.com (Lee Chase IV) calling it unforgivable garbage
New York Times (registration req'd) A.O. Scott
[SPOILERS] It is certainly to this film's credit that despite its fairly obvious badness, its chainlink articulation of wrongheaded ideas, it manages to be somewhat compelling and even emotionally potent at times. But I think this is just a sign of the times, the fact that Kassell creates the character of Walter (Kevin Bacon) as not only a human being, but a perfectly average one, a sullen woodworker almost defiantly unextraordinary. To really succeed at its aims, The Woodsman would need to open its frame a little wider, to consider how present-day American culture, a sort of high-tech 24-hour Roman orgy by proxy, simultaneously sexualizes young girls and imposes the taboo against pedophilia all the more harshly. (The purpose, one presumes, is to instill outlaw desires that can never actually be fulfilled, all the better to reprogram us as fear-and-consumption machines.) "I'm not a monster," Walter protests, and the film seems to agree, but by focusing on the individual so resolutely (as traditional dramas always do), The Woodsman deprives Walter of his best possible arguments. What's more, all of this interesting potential is, as I said above, encased in ham-fisted rookie errors, like Mos Def's citation of Little Red Riding Hood, the red-ball fantasy sequences, and, worst of all, the sports-commentary voiceover narrating a pedophile's conquest of his young prey. And while on the subject of "Candy," the predator Walter watches from his inner-city window, what are we to make of the fact that Walter (molester of girls) becomes redeemed not only by having a shockingly unproblematic adult sexual relationship with Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick), but by beating the shit out of Candy, a molester of boys? This, along with Walter's carnal falsification of his hypothesis that Vicki is a "dyke," gives the vague, unsettling impression that homophobia is the road to sexual normalcy. Also, rapper Eve displays considerable potential as an actress, most of which is squandered here.
Jamie Bennett from Jump Cut, Winter 2006
Julia Lesage and Chuck Kleinhans from Jump Cut, Winter 2006
Terrific performances by three dispossessed teenagers, Cousin Hubert (Hubert Kounde), an African boxer, Sayid (Said Taghmaoui), an Arab, and Vince (Vincent Cassel), a Jew, all living in the projects, a world of relentless violence, unemployment, racial hatred, in your face taunting and profanity, raw nerves always on the edge, and giant mood swings from good-natured humor to threats to blow somebody away. This is a riveting film, somewhat in the same vein as Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING, shot with an extremely realistic, documentary black and white style.
The three go on an all-night spree in the aftermath of a race riot sparked by police brutality. Vince finds a loaded gun lost by a police officer and is a powderkeg waiting to explode. Sayid is filled with humor, anger, and never stops talking. Hubert is afraid Vince is stupid enough to get them all killed. They visit a friend, Snoopy, a coke dealer with martial arts aspirations, and immediately he and Vince start pointing guns at one another. Hubert and Sayid are arrested outside the building while Vince gets away. Vince always seems on the verge of murdering someone. Hubert and Sayid are taken to the police station for questioning, handcuffed to chairs, and tortured by two sadistic cops who are trying to impress a rookie cop with their methods in what is one of the most grim, yet provocative scenes in the film.
They all meet later at a party only to be kicked out. Hubert and Sayid are jumped by some Skinheads, but once Vince arrives with his gun, all the Skinheads escape but one, and Vince points the barrel of the gun directly in his face. Hubert urges him to shoot, “The only good Skinhead is a dead Skinhead.” Later, after giving his gun to Hubert, Vince is stopped by one of the sadistic cops who points a gun right into his face. Turnabout is fair play. The end of the film is a choreography of threatened gunplay, suggesting without one, not only would you get no respect in this neighborhood, but you’d be dead. “Did you ever hear the story about the man falling from a skyscraper? As he was falling, he repeatedly remarks, ‘This is not so bad. This is not so bad. It’s the landing that’s the hard part.’”
Hinson from The
Turner Classic Movies Marty Mapes
by Mathieu Kassovitz/ Nicolas Sarkozy Kassovitz vs. Sarkozy, Criterion essay
by Ginette Vincendeau La haine and after: Arts, Politics, and the Banlieue, Criterion essay
Flickhead Richard Armstrong
DVD Times DJ Nock
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
aka: The Lonely Hearts Killers
You’re a little on the heavy side, but you’re not an old bag, you know. —Bunny (Doris Roberts)
One of the true underrated classics of American cinema, shot on a B-movie budget of about $150,000, initially directed by none other than film novice Martin Scorsese who had the distinction of being fired after only ten days on this picture for working too slowly, yet he supposedly shot the two set-ups for the opening hospital scene, a long hallway pan and a follow-up shot in the hospital room where the nurse tartly scolds the staff for personal indiscretions, also the lakeside scene near the end that was actually shot first, a scene where Stoler nearly drowns, which apparently was quite legitimate. After a brief replacement by Donald Volkman, it was writer Leonard Kastle that assumed full-time directing duties, his one and only movie, but one that holds up well over time. French director François Truffaut claimed this was his favorite American picture, now a cult classic that is rarely screened. Everything about this picture stands out, from the opening bombastic music, ultra dramatic staccato bass strings from the opening Allegro movement of Mahler’s 6th “Tragic” Symphony, to the trashy premise that it’s based upon, targeting the lonely hearts personal ads as a get rich quick scheme. While it has a similar premise to Chaplin’s MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947), another delicious black comedy about marrying and murdering rich women for their money, this one is actually a love story starring the always abrasive, overweight wonder Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck, the predecessor to John Water’s Divine, and her “Latin from Manhattan” playboy flirt of a boyfriend, Tony LoBianco as Ray Fernandez.
The wrenching melodrama is fast and furious, as is some deliciously campy dialogue as the couple falls in love through a flurry of over-heated letters, where Ray seals the deal by dancing a sexy Rumba in front of Martha and her mother where his gyrating backside glides past the camera, which leads Martha to sedate her mother, a pattern she continues using throughout the film, as she’s a jealously protective nurse who stocks up on pharmaceuticals. After ditching her mother in an Old Folk’s Home, she goes on a crime spree with her new beau, pretending to be his sister as he fleeces elderly spinsters as prospective brides out of their money, slyly encouraging them to convert all their assets to cash in order to start a new life together. But Martha’s all consuming jealousy becomes something of a liability, as rather than sneak out with the cash in the dead of night, as is Ray’s modus operandi, Martha is angrily confrontational with these women when they show interest in Ray, usually stirring up the hornet’s nest at the most inappropriate times. Initially, they simply make a getaway, but their methods grow more unsavory over time. Of interest, their targets are ordinary women, people we would easily recognize at the supermarket, yet the fact that they have money to throw around really irks Martha, creating an underlying level of hatred and contempt on top of the manic jealousy she feels from the excessive attention these frivolous women are paying Ray, all of which adds to an intolerable situation for an overbearing woman who wishes to totally and exclusively possess her man. Ray is driven by greed, pure and simple, but Martha’s actions, which lead to a kind of banality of violence, is based on simple jealousy. She simply can’t share her man with anyone.
Based on a real life couple that was sent to the electric chair in San Quintin in 1951, it’s interesting that no attempt was made to create a 50’s era look, like for instance Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS (1973), instead it has a timeless feel because the viewers become so intimately involved with the couple’s increasing level of antagonism towards the rest of the human race, becoming morally detached, off in their own universe where they are all that matters. Unusually seedy, photographed in a dimly lit black and white, the character’s actions are darkly disturbing, yet mysteriously, the audience is actually pulling for them to get away with it, so they have a perversely strange magnetic appeal. The violence shown is never gratuitous or exploitive, but instead reveals a near impossible level of desperation this couple reaches in order to protect themselves, becoming crudely realistic, where one of their victims is hit in the head with a hammer not once but twice, yet still she lingers for over a minute in screen time instead of dying instantly like they do on TV. Despite the extended melodrama, the film can be starkly realistic, especially in its portrayal of human motivations. Martha is one of the more provocative characters seen in awhile at the movies, as her size literally engulfs much of the screen, as does her shadow that adds even greater dimension, but her emotional realm is ferocious, as she can angrily show her disgust, express herself in a rage of discontent, or succumb to an equally outrageous moment of melodramatic hysteria, where she feigns suicide several times in order to attract the attention she needs. It’s fitting that in real life it was her final request to be allowed to sit in Fernandez's lap in the electric chair.
a reaction to Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Kastle wanted to craft a crime movie
that avoided all Hollywood glamour. His fans have included Michelangelo
Antonioni and François Truffaut.
NY : A ferociously uncompromising trash masterpiece that's lost none of its impact nearly four decades on, The Honeymoon Killers was famously the movie from which Martin Scorsese was sacked shortly after production started. It's most unlikely, however, that Scorsese - then, now, or at any stage in his career - could have done a better job that Kastle, a shadowy figure who hasn't made another movie since. That's not through want of trying, however, and it's a pretty savage indictment of cinema that a practitioner as talented as this should have been allowed to fall through the cracks. He brings a heightened sensibility to bear on the lurid true-crime tale of Martha (Shirley Stoler) and Ray (Tony LoBianco), who embezzled and murdered their way across American in the early fifties. By turns hilarious and horrifying - and certain remarkable sequences somehow manage to be both at the same time - The Honeymoon Killers is a textbook example of how bold, original talent (who else would have dreamt of using Mahler to score this story?) can transcend budgetary limitations. It's also surprisingly mordant in its portrayal of suburban, lower-middle-class America - a nightmarish zone of repression, depression and desperation. The literally larger-than-life Stoler, meanwhile, is astonishing in a performance that pays only the merest lip-service to realism and seems to have had a particular influence on Divine in her subsequent work with John Waters (who would, it's safe to say, kill to have this particular picture on his resume.)
First and foremost, a love story. The opening sets the combustible timbre -- a reverse tracking shot down the hospital corridor, a brief pan and a zoom follow without pause an explosion in one of the rooms. The rotund frump (Shirley Stoler) tentatively takes up lonely-hearts correspondence, her beau (Tony Lo Bianco) turns out to be a balding "Latin from Manhattan" gigolo who specializes in separating biddies from their funds; they get married and continue bilking women, she poses as his sister and adds murder to the proceedings. Fin-de-décennie American suburbia is "one little jail after another with 10 feet of grass between them," the victims comprise a scabrous travesty of blinkered middle-class womanhood: Premature spinsters, knocked-up bachelorettes and dotty widows, all seeking escape from solitude and getting poisoned, throttled and shot for their trouble. Leonard Kastle seized the tabloid case of plug-ugly criminals as a rebuke to Bonnie and Clyde’s sham lyricism, and his vehement denunciation of "beautiful" shots -- more Frederick Wiseman than Diane Arbus -- is bracing. A pregnant belle drugged and left to expire on a bus, the crunch of a hammer blow to an old woman’s night-capped skull: Not the exhilaration of violence, but its clumsiness and ludicrousness. Kastle is a born filmmaker with an uncanny feeling for the startling close-up and the excruciating long-take, Edgar G. Ulmer would have applauded his mise en scène of light bulbs and cellar burials. Stoler’s fleshy fury and Lo Bianco’s Ricky Ricardoisms provide the "ammonia and chlorine" fuel, shabby and heightened and superbly attuned to Mahler’s vertigos. (Kastle started in opera.) The couple's downfall is filmed under the unmistakable influence of Baudelaire’s Madrigal Triste ("You cannot, slave and queen/ Who love me only with terror/ In the unhealthy night’s horror/ Say to me, your soul full of cries/ ‘I am your equal, O my King!'"), and makes you regret that Stoler never got to play Medea. With Doris Roberts, Mary Jane Higby, Marilyn Chris, Kip McArdle, Dortha Duckworth, and Barbara Cason. In black and white.
A cinematic oddity seen by few, The Honeymoon Killers
is a landmark entry into the shockumentary genre -- the true story of an
exceptionally dysfunctional couple who went a-murdering in the 1940s. Raymond
Fernandez (played here by smarmy Tony Lo Bianco) was acting alone -- killing
women he met through a personals service (and absconding with their wealth) --
and the rotund Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) would have been his next victim,
had she not proven herself equally sociopathic as Raymond. They started plying
the killing trade together: Ray would woo the landlady and get her to marry
him, Martha would pose as a relative. Eventually they would poison the woman
and move on to the next victim. Maybe the next one would get it with a hammer,
The Honeymoon Killers is a fairly faithful rendition of the Fernandez-Beck affair, and rightly so: It's a story that needs little embellishment. Writer/director Leonard Kastle was a first-timer; he would never make another film, either. His amateurism shows: The sound is atrocious, and the story has odd jumps in it. Kastle's cameraman saves him more than once with inspired setups that sometimes leave the murders to the imagination, and sometimes don't.
No matter, because Honeymoon is all about the spectacle of these freaks as they go progressively more insane on a cross-country murdering spree. And strangely, they're in love -- as much as it's possible to call their relationship a loving one.
It's an equally strange choice for a Criterion release, but the company has taken risks like this before. The impact of The Honeymoon Killers on American cinema is unclear, though John Waters obviously stole a page or two from the film's depiction of an overweight, murderous banshee. A new interview with Kastle is an interesting addition to the disc, and an illustrated essay about the real-life killers and their convictions is equally compelling.
In 1949 a grisly killing spree was splashed across the
papers. Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, dubbed the "Lonely Hearts"
killers because of their penchant for using personals to lure lonely widows to
their doom, were convicted of murder and sent to Sing Sing's electric chair in
1951. Although they were only convicted on one charge, it is widely accepted
that they may have killed as many as twenty people. TV producer Warren Steibel
remembered this infamous couple and asked Leonard Kastle, then a 39-year-old
composer known for an opera on Mormons, to do some research and write a script.
Their first choice to helm the project was a promising young director by the
name of Martin Scorsese, but his personal vision clashed with the producer's
desire for a quick turnaround and he left after only a few scenes. Scorsese was
replaced with Donald Volkman who, conversely, didn't show the necessary
personal drive to finish the project, and Kastle was thus offered the driver's
Although Kastle was an amateur, he had some very strong feelings about another popular film that was making waves around that time; Bonnie and
The film was so disturbing that when it was shown in
The Honeymoon Killers Criterion essay by Gary Giddins
Images Movie Journal Gary Johnson
The Honeymoon Killers Modern Love? by Helen DeMichiel from Jump Cut, April 1987
Turner Classic Movies Eric Weber
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Fangoria Matthew Kiernan
The Honeymoon Killers (1970) The Auteurs
The Honeymoon Killers Kathleen C. Fennessy from Super 70’s
Bright Lights Film Journal :: American Independent Narrative ... American Independent Narrative Cinema of the '60s, by Garry Morris, January 2000
The postmodern, multiculturalroad movie - Road Movies Film Reference
The New York Times (Roger Greenspun) review February 5, 1970
"Behind the Filming of 'The Honeymoon Killers'" William Grimes from The New York Times, October 20, 1992
Dearly Departed : The New Yorker David Denby from The New Yorker, April 23, 2007
Shirley Stoler and 'The Honeymoon Killers' Ray Young from Flickhead
Martha Beck & Raymond Fernandez, Lonely Hearts Killers -- the ... Mark Gado from Tru TV
The Lonely Heart Killers Denise Noe from KariSable
Serial Killers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez France Farmer’s Revenge
clip Movie clip from Turner Classic Movies
ALL THE WORLD IS A STAGE
USA (89 mi) 2005
Film Threat Eric Campos
What’s a little drama without a little drama? Well, the two go hand in hand if you’re a high school theater student. So, yeah, Chad Hartigan’s documentary is overflowing with the D word and it makes for great entertainment.
Every year in Virginia Beach, the theater departments from eleven different schools go head up in a one act play competition of their own choosing, whether it be an adaptation of a well known work or a creation all their own. We follow a few of these theater departments as they prepare for the big competition, revealing what it’s like to deal with the stress of theater production, while having to go through teenage high school crap at the same time.
It’s amazing to see how focused these kids are on their craft. They’re more focused than most adults I know. “All the Stage is a World” goes to show that focus, determination and natural talent knows no age.
DANCE PARTY, USA
USA (65 mi) 2006
Dance Party, USA is attuned to teenspeak frequencies but its title is some kind of presumptuous. The opening scene begins where Kids ended, then followed by a difficult pill: Gus (Cole Pensinger) shooting the shit with his best bud Bill (Ryan White) about a pair of tits ("firm as fuck"), his dick ("hard as fuck"), and a 14-year-old girl with a yogurt-like substance that spilled out of her hoo-hah. Charming. There's no doubt that guy-guys talk like this, but writer-director Aaron Katz is overzealous about setting up Gus as a piece of crass Cro Magnon teen meat who could stand to get slapped upside the head. Jessica (Anna Kavan) dutifully obliges outside a party, cutting Gus down to size by rejecting his advances even before he's tried anything. Humbled, the kid relates an incident from his past that has weighed on his conscious and suddenly he becomes deep. A film of easy set ups and resolutions, Dance Party, USA is best when observing how crisis is metabolized. The actors are great, but they don't just nail that teenage language of likes and whatevers that remains elusive to anyone old enough to remember the Nixon administration, they invest in it. Kavan is good as the patient soundboard, but it's Pensinsger who soars, exuding a pained sense of vulnerability in scene after scene, including a grippingly sustained confrontation with the victim of his past indiscretion. Katz follows Gus Van Sant's footsteps from time to time but his images strike some uniquely expressive notes. Like Gus, who forces his friend Bill to give him a hug in one scene, he's devoted to cutting through the bullshit that clogs the passageways between teenage experience and adulthood.
Although released in 2006, this film was actually shot in 2004, and so seeing it after Quiet City, I expected to notice to be a huge leap forward in Katz’s development as a director. Instead, I found myself enjoying the earlier film even more. Similar in structure and even in theme, there is a pretty big difference in tone and in at least one of the characters. I found Dance Party USA more direct and the script was much tighter.
Set among a group of high school students in Portland, the film shares the basic arc of Quiet City. Over the course of a day or two, a male protagonist reaches out to a somewhat mysterious woman and the film ends with them reaching a sweet and rather tentative connection. In the case of Dance Party USA, our protagonist is the teenaged Lothario Gus, first seen bragging about the sexual conquest of an underage girl to his vacuous friend Bill. Played by Cole Pennsinger, Gus is a guy on the brink of leaving his adolescent persona behind him. His Beavis and Butthead exchanges with Bill are leaving him unfulfilled, and he’s looking for a more real connection than the “hook-ups” he seems able to achieve with ease. One night at a Fourth of July house party, he meets Jessica, sitting alone outside. She’s a friend of his ex, and she’s aware of his reputation. But he sits down and, almost like he’s in a confession booth, he begins to tell her about something he’s done in the recent past, something that was very wrong. Somehow, he feels he can trust her, and after sitting silently through his confession, she lights two sparklers and hands him one. “Do you want to go somewhere?” she asks. Each sees something in the other that no one else has yet seen, and each wants to be that something more than anything else. Gus is actually finding that being a horny teenager is getting in the way of him finding a real connection. Jessica is more of an enigma, but played by the lovely Anna Kavan, she oozes mystery, if not depth.
Later in the film, Gus attempts to make things right for his earlier misdeed, but finds he’s awkward and unsure what to do. And his later exchanges with Bill are frankly hilarious, as he talks about wanting to pursue something creative (photography, painting) and then asks Bill for a hug. There is a lot of dialogue in this film, compared to Quiet City. The exciting thing is to see the drunken sincerity of teens at a beerbash developing into the first halting attempts at full-time adult sincerity. Pennsinger and Kavan both show their vulnerability in different ways. Gus has to escape a persona, albeit one that has served him well for some time, while Jessica has just seemed unimpressed with the quality of the men she’s been around, and is opening herself up for perhaps the first time. Maybe it’s because I’m more of a dialogue person than most, but I found these performances stronger than the ones with fewer words in Quiet City.
If purity of intent counts for anything, then "Dance Party USA" may be one of the best American films of the year. Shot for what looks like almost no budget, with a young cast of unknowns in Portland, Ore., the movie is a mere 65 minutes long and is filled with as much open, elliptical space between its characters as the thoughts they struggle to articulate.
Directed by Aaron Katz, a 25-year-old filmmaker based in Brooklyn, "Dance Party" trails a pair of high school kids through the groggy mornings and beer-sodden late nights of a Fourth of July weekend, where scruffy teenagers congregate for keg parties and negotiate painfully tentative emotional connections — and quick, decisive sexual hookups.
On the surface, this sounds like a template trademarked by Gus Van Sant or Larry Clark. The lead actors, Cole Pennsinger and Anna Kavan, have the tousled, grungy, ripening look that is the essence of advertisements for American Apparel, a corporation that has learned a lot about sexualizing the barely legal from the lurid efforts of Mr. Clark. And, sure enough, the movie opens immediately with a shocking patch of dialogue, as Mr. Pennsinger's imaginative Gus details an explicitly gynecological misadventure with a 14-year-old girl for the benefit (and disbelieving disgust) of his best friend Bill (Ryan White).
The thing is, since Mr. Katz is very nearly a peer of his characters, his feel for their language and his choice in casting actors who can so naturally embrace it gives the scene — and the rest of the film — an almost documentary feel. This is enhanced by loosely intimate camera work, which compensates for the movie's washy color resolution with tight closeups and the casual exterior photography that has always been the inventive, low-budget filmmaker's best friend — going back to Rossellini's "Open City" and Godard's "Breathless." That air of verisimilitude, coupled with Mr. Katz's immediate kinship with his actors, is what separates him from the Clarks and Van Sants, who always manage to bring an edge of something exploitative or voyeuristic to their adolescent studies, even when it results in impressive work.
Certainly, the material here could lend itself to that. Gus, who is lanky and confident enough to talk girls into having sex with him, likes to make up outrageous stories about his exploits. He revels in this, much to his buddy's eye-rolling chagrin, but it's also a mask for a deeper longing that he hasn't figured out how to express. Ms. Kavan's Jessica, who is more reserved and analytical than her girlfriends, a "gamma girl" who sticks to the margins, already knows the score with Gus — or thinks she does. The two eventually converge after a hilariously low-key party scene, as littered with sharp nuance as half-empty plastic beer cups, and she blatantly calls Gus on his reputation and rejects his advances. Then he makes a startling confession, something that should send her running, but instead arouses a kind of sympathy. Jessica takes two sparklers out of her pocket and lights them, handing one to Gus. They sit in silence for a minute. Then she asks him, "Do you want to go somewhere?"
The way Mr. Katz anatomizes this moment, and the spare, simple details of what follows, is a remarkable act of insight and restraint, refreshing in its authenticity and absolute lack of manufactured effect. When the subject of Gus's confession actually materializes, as he seeks to take a kind of responsibility for his actions, the scene zeroes in on an awkward realism that amplifies the unspoken — painfully and redemptively so. Maybe Gus isn't such a gnarly misogynist, after all. The willingness to let these kids slouch through these ambiguities, reflected in the ambient plunk and twang of Keegan DeWitt's soundtrack, makes "Dance Party, USA" as poignant as it is brief.
DVD Times Noel Megahey, also reviewing QUIET CITY
PopMatters [Jesse Hassenger] also reviewing QUIET CITY
DVD Verdict [Tom Becker] also reviewing QUIET CITY
The House Next Door (Benten Films #2) (Vadim Rizov) also reviewing QUIET CITY
USA (78 mi) 2007
Timorous self-absorption serves as text and template in this latest low-ordinance volley from the mumblecore crowd. An angsty romantic (sort of) comedy (kinda), Quiet City follows a pair of urban twentysomethings (Fisher and Lankenau, both of whom cowrote with director Katz) who meet cute then spend the next 24 hours talking around and beyond their mutual attraction. Aaron Katz’s follow-up to Dance Party USA nicely if uneventfully captures the precarious development of a connection between people prone to overanalyzed inaction.
Quiet City is also proof positive that life’s mundanities are even more tedious projected onto a movie screen. Still, it’d be a mistake to peg the film as a prettified point-and-shoot DV wank; wryly evoking the tentative, oblique longing of overeducated, romance-wary hipsters without resorting to histrionics or even a climactic snog is no small feat, after all. Besides, for all its lo-fi convention-thwarting, Quiet City is as meticulously hyperstylized as a Jet Li chop-’em-up. It helps that Katz has an eye for pertinent visuals: Painterly scene- and pace-setting landscape interludes highlight the film’s wistful between-the-seasons vision of Brooklyn. And the couple shares a sly offscreen exchange that conjures another pair of mixed-up kids—none other than Samson and Delilah
The Onion A.V. Club review Nathan Rabin
Aaron Katz's Quiet City follows the rough template of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise: Two strangers meet in an exotic, romantic city. They banter, flirt, and exchange ideas, until their relationship slowly but surely coalesces toward romance. But where Linklater's twentysomething dreamers are excellent talkers, Katz's leads are stumblingly inarticulate. In place of Sunrise's verbal fireworks, the aptly named Quiet offers something more like linguistic sparklers—modest, yes, but charming all the same.
The latest from the "mumblecore" movement—a Dogme-meets-emo subgenre of low-budget, improvisation-heavy films about relationships between angsty young people—the film casts Erin Fisher as an aimless young woman who gravitates toward shaggy-haired stranger Cris Lankenau after failing to meet up with a flaky friend. The film charts Fisher and Lankenau's relationship as they evolve from strangers warily feeling each other out into a tenuous friendship, and possibly something more.
There's a claustrophobic quiet to Fisher and Lankenau hanging out and talking, but Katz breaks it up with painterly shots of trees, sky, and hypnotic big-city lights that make the muted central drama seem insignificant by comparison. Quiet tells a different kind of New York story, one devoid of flash or glitter. Fisher and Lankenau communicate as much through body language as dialogue. Indeed, many of the film's most resonant moments of connection are non-verbal, from the weird, loaded intimacy of an impromptu haircut to a quietly affecting final shot. Far too often, however, Quiet City struggles to elevate its naturalistic take on relationships into something more profound and lasting. Katz has a good feel for the low-key rhythms of everyday life among the slackerati. Hopefully next time out he'll figure out a way to transform that into something approximating art.
When Jamie (Erin Fisher) arrives in New York City, having travelled all the way from Atlanta, only to discover that the friend who was supposed to meet her isn't there, she doesn't know what to do. It's the middle of the night and she doesn't know her way around. She asks directions from a stranger. He tags along with her, and before long he's inviting her to hang out at his place.
In most films, this would end badly. Quiet City takes those expectations, built up by the movies in defiance of reality, and turns them on their head. It examines the possibilities which open up when two strangers are willing to trust each other. Over the course of 24 hours, Jamie and Charlie (Cris Lankenau) wander through the quiet spaces of the city, visiting friends, exploring parks, living in an NYC we rarely see. Simultaneously they are exploring the social and cognitive spaces around them, forced by their encounter to think about where they are in their lives. Both are in their twenties and experiencing an awkwardness between wanting to have fun like teenagers and wanting to form stronger, more adult relationships. They wonder what will happen when they grow up, but over the course of their time together, though they scarcely notice it, they grow up quite a bit.
A sort of naturalistic, unsentimental Brief Encounter, Quiet City weaves a complex landscape of ideas and emotions out of a simple thread of story. Central to this is its beautifully written dialogue, which seems absolutely real yet is packed with information, character and humour. The characters are so ordinary that one could easily imagine bumping into them in the street, yet watching them soon becomes captivating. It's rare to see realism meet optimism like this. It's easy to identify with these people, so it's easy to feel uplifted simply by watching them have fun.
A gentle, thoughtful, rewarding drama.
Less than a year ago, 25-year-old filmmaker Aaron Katz made an auspicious debut with "Dance Party, USA," an edgy Gus Van Sant-esque exploration of the tenuous emotional connections among teenagers. The heartfelt film was an underground hit, even landing on some 2006 top 10 lists. Now, armed with the buzz surrounding the no-budget "mumblecore" movement — which includes young American filmmakers such as Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg, and has found a temporary home with the IFC Center's ongoing "New Talkies" series — Mr. Katz returns with "Quiet City," the story of how a boy and a girl meet and proceed to yammer, just as the name of the filmmaking collective suggests.
Jamie (Erin Fisher) has just arrived in New York City, but the friend who has agreed to put her up is nowhere to be found. As luck — or the movies — would have it, Jamie stumbles upon a stranger named Charlie (Cris Lankenau) at a desolate subway station. After assisting her with directions, he lets her crash at his place — that happens all the time in this city, right? He's a white, 20-something, unemployed, zip-hooded-sweater-sporting slacker in desperate need of a haircut. Before long, Jamie finds pair of safety scissors, looms over Charlie's head, and starts snipping away. The two spend the remainder of the film drinking wine out of tin cups, spreading mayonnaise on toast with a carving knife, fiddling with a Casio keyboard, taking afternoon naps, bouncing a rubber ball off the pavement, and — you guessed it — yammering.
Authenticity is Mr. Katz's biggest selling point. Made by, about, and for 20-something, middle-class white kids, "Quiet City" is a spot-on rendering of how that demographic interacts with itself. Whether this is a worthwhile experience depends on one's willingness to hang out with the protagonists. The free-spirited Jamie and the timid Charlie are pleasant enough company, but they aren't universally identifiable characters, and they don't come to face any confrontation or resolution in the film. In other words, it's a one-act play. Although not exceptionally charismatic, Ms. Fisher and Mr. Lankenau are serviceably engaging.
Placed in a larger context, "Quiet City," which follows Mr. Swanberg's similarly austere "Hannah Takes the Stairs" in the IFC series, comes off as slight in virtually every way imaginable. Lacking a climactic revelation or even much of a discernable course, it doesn't measure up to "Dance Party, USA." The film also pales in comparison to more probing fare such as Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise." It's almost as if Mr. Katz and his crew have traded that generation's cynicism and philosophical dalliances for a new generation of apathy and incoherence. Aside from boasting an Austrian locale, Mr. Linklater's film at least made palpable comments on the wider contexts of culture and gender that enveloped its characters. While Mr. Katz observantly captures the spontaneity of middleclass kids bantering and knocking about Brooklyn, he doesn't offer any analysis or profundity along the way.
Many in the mumblecore movement are admitted disciples of Dogme 95 — an avant-garde filmmaking movement conceived in the mid-1990s by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg — and their characteristic digital-video photography and hand-held cameras are obvious giveaways. But the issuance of Dogme 95 certificates has ceased for good reason: Films that follow its sober "vows of chastity" have become formulaic, and the movement's ringleader, Mr. von Trier, has already moved on to other gimmicks like Automavision. "Quiet City" is reminiscent of a Dogme film without the discipline imposed by the strict guidelines. It has a fly-on-the-wall immediacy, but we are not privy to any intimate disclosures that would satisfy any voyeuristic impulses. There are fleeting moments of magic, such as the golden rim around the protagonists as they stand against the overexposed backlit sunshine. Other times, the film lingers over traffic lights as if they were something poetic.
Given that the film is self-distributed, Mr. Katz's effort is certainly admirable. He and his mumble-cohorts deserve applause for working outside of the independent system that is subsidized by studio offshoots and populated by the likes of Sofia Coppola, Jake Kasdan, and Jason Reitman. "Quiet City" will try to capitalize on the success of a one-week run to expand beyond New York City, but lavish praise for the film would be somewhat unjustifiable and a disservice to directors such as David Gordon Green, Harmony Korine, and other visionaries of the new generation.
DVD Times Noel Megahey, also reviewing DANCE PARTY, USA
PopMatters [Jesse Hassenger] also reviewing DANCE PARTY, USA
DVD Verdict [Tom Becker] also reviewing DANCE PARTY, USA
The House Next Door (Benten Films #2) (Vadim Rizov) also reviewing DANCE PARTY, USA
The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review August 29, 2007
A Generation Finds Its Mumble Dennis Lim from The New York Times, August 19, 2007
COLD WEATHER B+ 91
Katz is a graduate
of the North Carolina School of the Arts, which sounds like the heart of David
Gordon Green indie country, and judging by this film which was shot in 17 days
for several hundred thousand dollars (a huge increase from the $2000 budgets of
his two earlier films), this retains much of the Green indie concept while
adding his own fresh take on it, which includes writing, directing, and editing
his own film. Using actors he met at
film school, including Cris Lankenau as the lead, who never acted before
starring in Katz’s earlier film QUIET CITY (2007), along with Trieste Kelly
Dunn, both play a brother and sister team.
Katz indicates he wrote this
script with his lead characters and locations within the city of Portland in
mind while shooting with a Digital Red One camera, but placing large 35 mm
lenses in front. The look of the film
shot by Andrew Reed is luminous, especially considering it was shot during
March and April, which is during the rainy season in
is a trained forensics scientist who grew up with the novels of Sherlock Holmes
and has hopes of running his own detective agency one day, but in a bit of an
economic setback, he currently holds a job hauling large crates of ice, where
he meets his coworker Carlos (Raúl Castillo), who also deejay’s part-time,
specializing in Latin music from the 60’s.
When Doug introduces his former girl friend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) to
Carlos, they hit it off, which makes it all the more mysterious when she
suddenly disappears without a trace.
Both Doug and Carlos put their Sherlock Holmes hats on and try to follow
the clues, which oddly enough, joined by Doug’s sister Gail (Dunn), make a
formidable team. There are some
excellent shots of the
The pace of the film never varies throughout, maintaining a slow, steady pace, where one supposes that Sherlock Holmes never hurried. The sleuthing aspect to the story is always fun, where they seem to be poking fun at the genre (and themselves) as much as they can, especially in a somewhat hammy scene where Doug feels he needs to buy a pipe, because that’s where Holmes used to do some of his best thinking. In typical offbeat fashion, it’s Carlos, however, smoking the pipe in one of their next brainstorming sessions. One of the most gorgeous shots in the film is a spectacular shot at Multnomah Falls just outside Portland, the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon and the third tallest in the nation. Also the music by Keegan DeWitt fits perfectly with the quirky moods, adding an atmospheric voice and energy to what we see onscreen. Don’t expect to see madcap action sequences, because they’re not here. These are small, intimate moments shared together that remain amusingly low key and underplayed. Mostly this is a brother and sister character study, where despite their obvious closeness, is really something of an eye-opener for the two of them, as they are discovering a whole different side to each other that they didn’t know was there. A film like this works so well because it stakes out a turf all its own and there’s nothing else out there like it.
The day closes with one of the best films of this year's festival. Earlier I wrote about Kentucker Audley’s Open Five and how it fit into the mumblecore genre. Well, Aaron Katz has done something very interesting here by taking the style of mumblecore and infusing it with a mystery premise. The result is a startlingly original movie with a surprising amount of depth and is an outstanding example of independent filmmaking.
Doug (Cris Lankenau) recently dropped out of a forensic science program at college and moved back home to live with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). He gets a blue collar job where he makes friends with Carlos (Raul Castillo) over their shared enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes novels. When Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) fails to show up for a date with Carlos, they begin to get worried and start to investigate her disappearance.
Director Aaron Katz creates some fantastic moments precisely because of what he chooses not to do. There is a sequence that revolves around the need to steal a briefcase in a diner, but Katz only shows us the perspective from outside as we see the getaway car waiting. But this is no ordinary suspense film. The mystery is just a backdrop to explore the relationships between the four leads and the wonderfully natural performances from the cast go a long way toward making this work. Katz has made a wonderful film filled with low-key humor, suspenseful moments, and complex relationships.
Both written and Directed by Aaron Katz (Dance Party USA, Quiet City) Cold
Weather tells the story of an underachieving forensics graduate, Doug (Cris
Lankenau), who upon moving in with his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn),
quickly finds himself thrust into a real life who-done-it when his
ex-girlfriend suddenly vanishes. Being an admittedly big fan of Sherlock
Holmes, Doug, along with his his sister and his new bestie, Carlos (Raul Castillo),
set out to play real life detectives in a case that just might be a little over
The film is described as a thriller, which I though I was going to see. To be honest, the film wasn't that thrilling at all, at least when compared to good thrillers. I mean, it's no Polanski. My first impression upon leaving my seat was actually that of disappointment. It wasn't until I was on the bus heading home when it suddenly hit me.
The point of the movie had little to do with the thriller aspects and everything to do with the brother and sister relationship. It's like one of those 3-D puzzles that were popular in the mid-90's. You know, the ones where in order to see the complete picture you had to let your eyes relax, otherwise all you would see would be squiggly lines and repetitive shapes.
Here the squiggly lines were clearly the missing girlfriend subplot masquerading itself as the film's main design. The full picture however, was Aaron Katz's beautiful portrait of one sibling's bond at a particular moment in time.
I recommend this film to anyone who likes to laugh just as much, if not more than they liked to be thrilled, or just simply anyone who has a lot of love their sibling
There's a scene, maybe a third of the way through "Cold Weather," in which the
drifting main character Doug (Cris Lankenau) meets up with his ex-girlfriend
Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) when she arrives in town for a business trip. Coming in
out of the rain -- the film's set in
None of these things happen, naturally -- director Aaron Katz is a graduate of the movement sometimes known as mumblecore, and the idea that anything so gauchely movielike would take place, even in what is, without argument, a full-blown, fully realized, non-mumbly movie, is inconceivable. Instead, it's here that "Cold Weather" hops the fence to become a kind of funny, expressly low-key detective story, as enacted by a handful of your more eager, though not necessarily most competent, friends.
Doug has moved home to
It's Rachel who provides a whiff of intrigue when she vanishes, after joining Doug and Gail and Carlos for a few nights out -- she doesn't show up somewhere she was supposed to, and Carlos, convinced something's wrong, drags Doug to her motel room, where the lights are all on, but no one's home. Doug may have studied forensics, but his approach to investigation, not to mention that of Carlos and, eventually, Gail, is pure Hardy Boys mystery. They don disguises, dig through garbage, do research in the library, run pencils over notepads to see what was last written there, look for (and find!) coded messages. And when Doug needs help thinking, he buys a pipe. Well, he has Gail, who owns the car, drive him to buy a pipe. And then drive him back, when he realizes he's forgotten to buy tobacco.
"Cold Weather"'s mystery is real, if a bit of a red herring, and its characters aren't ridiculous -- they ring fumblingly true, not the least because of the half-concealed delight they take in getting to play amateur sleuths. And the film looks and feels, fittingly, as sheeny as an upper-bracket thriller, shot, gorgeously, on the Red, soaking in the moody greys and cool lighting of its setting, and getting fancy with depth of field -- the opening shot, of condensation on a window that refocuses on action in the courtyard below and beyond, is a quiet show stopper.
Gumshoe antics aside, "Cold Weather" is really a story about Doug and Gail and the peculiarities of siblinghood, how you can know everything there is about another person while also having no idea about their internal landscape and how he or she has chosen to navigate the inscrutable kingdom of adulthood. At one point, Doug carefully asks Gail if she has any friends, noting that she never seems to hang out with anyone else, and Gail lets slip him that she recently got out of a six-month relationship that she never told him about because, well, when do you discuss your dating life with your little brother? Some things come easy, and some things you have to learn, but it seems, on the parking lot rooftop where the film ends, that Doug and Gail might actually manage to teach themselves to be friends.
Village Voice [Anthony Kaufman]
Interview with Independent filmmakers Aaron Katz, Matt Porterfield, and
The Hollywood Reporter review Sheri Linden
Between the Lines of Daily Living,
Connecting the Dots That Matter Manohla Dargis from The New York Times,
Argentina (30 mi) 1997
"El Día Que Me Quieras (The Day You'll Love Me)" is one of two movies at the Film Forum that profess to examine the power of photographic images, in this case Freddy Alborta's 1967 picture of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's corpse surrounded by Bolivian soldiers. The film is 30 minutes of necrophiliac devotion in which the camera repeatedly pans over the famous picture and others taken by Alborta at the same time. These shots are interspersed with an interview with Alborta, who comes across as a competent professional photojournalist doing his job. He says he was not aware in framing his picture of Andrea Mantegna's painting "The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ" or of Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson of Professor Tulp," both of which use a similar perspective.
"El Día Que Me Quieras" is also interspersed with pictures of Bolivian peasants carrying red banners and parading somewhat aimlessly around the countryside. These were evidently staged by Leandro Katz, the film's director, to suggest some affinity between the Bolivians and Guevara. This is wrong. Guevara arrived in Bolivia after botching his attempt to ferment communist revolution in Central Africa and leaving his trademark pile of corpses behind. He did not realize that the peasants in the area he infiltrated were relatively content with the military dictatorship then in power because new roads built in their region had greatly improved their lives. At any rate, they were semi-literate peasants who wanted nothing to do with a hip big-city Argentine trying to persuade them to risk their lives for some cockamamie revolution. He was a nuisance; they turned him in for the reward.
The film says Guevara was executed by the CIA and the Bolivian military. I have seen an interview with the CIA agent who was allowed by the Bolivians to interrogate Guevara after his capture. He says the CIA asked the Bolivians not to kill Guevara. This is plausible because a live Che might have had interesting things to say, but a dead Che is of value only to people like Katz, who play him as a martyr. Despicable.
"Looking for an Icon," the second film, is the work of two Dutch directors, Hans Pool and Maaik Krijgsman. It examines four well-known photographs that were winners of the "World Press Photo of the Year" competition. These are Eddie Adams's 1969 picture of Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong guerrilla, an anonymous 1973 picture thought to be the last photo of Chilean president Salvador Allende alive, Charlie Cole's 1989 picture of a lone Chinese protester stopping a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square, and David Turnley's picture from the 1991 Gulf War of a young American sergeant at the moment he learns the body bag next to him contains the body of his friend. The film includes interviews with photojournalists, editors, and academics and has some interesting footage, but is ideologically biased and sophomoric.
The movie notes that Addams befriended Loan, and later tried to help him as the general's life in America was repeatedly blighted when he was identified as the executioner in the famous picture. The movie says Addams was a supporter of the Vietnam War and makes it seem that, naturally, anyone so inclined would condone extrajudicial killings. The movie does not say the Vietcong infiltrator had that morning killed a friend and neighbor of Loan's, murdering the wife and six children with a knife. I do not mean here to condone Loan's act, or Addams's support for him, but withholding this information deprives the picture of some of its available meaning. It is lying by omission.
Salvador Allende is identified by the filmmakers as a "dead martyr" who was "assassinated." If Che Guevara was, as I suggested in a 2005 article about him, the Inspector Clouseau of revolution, Allende was Mr. Magoo as el presidente. Be that as it may, he was not assassinated, but committed suicide with a rifle given to him by Fidel Castro, which had on it a golden plate engraved, "To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals."
David Levi Strauss, a photography critic, says in one of the film's interviews: "Images bury history. There's a way that once an image becomes an icon and is activated, it's the truth, whatever … whatever else people come later to say about it." That seems unnecessarily postmodern, and I for one do not believe it.
EL DÍA QUE ME QUIERAS History, Myth, and Che Guevera, by John Hess from Jump Cut, July 2000
"The Day You'll Love Me (El Día Que Me Quieras)" - Che Guevara and ... Slought Foundation Online, which allows downloads
USA (92 mi) 2006 Official site
My grandma and your grandma
Were sittin' by the fire
My grandma told your grandma
I'm gonna set your flag on fire
Talkin' 'bout hey now, hey now! Hey now, hey now!
Iko, iko unday
Jockamo feeno ai nané
Jockamo fee nané
—Iko Iko: (Barbara Anne Hawkins/Rosa Lee Hawkins/Joan Marie Johnson), popularized in New Orleans in 1954 by James Crawford’s song “Jockamo, released later in 1965 by the Dixie Cups as “Iko Iko”
An eye-opening film about certain traditions in New Orleans that only begins to touch the surface, as there’s so much more here that was never developed about the origins of Mardi Gras or the powerfully compelling music, providing only a background sketch before moving to a portrait of Big Chief Tootie Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas Tribe. Initially the film looks at the unusual relationship between blacks and the Indians depicted in Mardi Gras marches in New Orleans, much of it through the eyes of Tootie Montana, an 81-year old man called Big Chief, as he has designed and handmade 52 different Mardi Gras costumes, his first at the age of ten, each one legendary in its own right, usually because of its consummate color and artistry. The brief introductory history reveals Mardi Gras was originally a white-only parade, basically a collection of white male social clubs, many of which had white separatist origins, such as the Ku Klux Klan. Blacks in New Orleans decided to originate their own separate Carnival, much of it based on Indian costumes and dances, as since the early days of slavery blacks had been running away to the safety and protection of Indians. Many inter-married and had children, as they were perceived as free slaves while living with Indians, and for several generations black and Indian family histories intertwined. However during the Indian wars in the mid 1850’s and afterwards, Indians were sent to live on reservations in Oklahoma, so blacks re-integrated into the New Orleans culture. This peaceful cultural mix was honored in costume and in song, as in the black neighborhoods, marchers from various black social clubs went from house to house displaying their colorful attires, each chief accompanied by their tribe, singing and dancing down the street, usually followed by legions of children who joined in.
Once the film focuses on Tootie, who considers himself a Creole, we see that by connecting himself to his father and his own past, he’s become something of a venerable wise man in the community, elevated to the honorary status of a Big Chief of all Chiefs, always shown proper custom and respect. This didn’t happen overnight, but through decades of masking in this Carnival ritual, where Tootie became renown by creating year after year the most colorful and imaginative costumes. He recalls the early days when tribal chiefs and their aggressive gang enforcement entourage of flag boys and spy boys faced off against one another, most always accompanied by a physically imposing, profanity laden shout off, the Mardi Gras version of trash talking in an attempt to establish a dominant/submissive outcome, claiming there were many fights over who was the best and the “prettiest,” where he indicated people had to be on their “p’s and q’s,” as this Indian stuff was a “dirty, dirty business.” He never offered specifics, but one gets the picture of police racial intolerance just egging these rival tribal factions on