Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1

It's nice to see that Netflix offers this as experimental films are often too hard to find on DVD. Also, it's also great that Anger's films have been put together on a DVD set, seeing that his style has had a profound impact on later directors. His filmmaking style, a lot of repetition and pans, as well as his thought out use of a rock and roll soundtrack clearly have a huge influence on Martin Scorsese as well as others. I only do have a limited knowledge of experimental film, but from what I've seen, I would have to say that Anger is my favorite and most exciting experimental filmmaker. He has more of a sense of humor than Brakhage, and his films, especially Scorpio Rising, have more vitality to me than most avant-garde work.

Volume 1 covers Anger's early work, from Fireworks in 1947 to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome in 1954. These films predate the notoriety he would get in the late 60s with Scorpio Rising but they still feature the use of repetition and focus that would define his work. Anger's films focus very strongly on images, and the dream like way that they appear throughout his films. Even though they may be dream like, they never seem totally random or pointless. There's always a great deal of thought put into trying to convey the right expression. It may not be completely clear all of the time, but it creates films that are definitely unique.

Fireworks (1947) [7]
The most expressive and perhaps the most inaccessible film of Anger's, this film to me has a fever dream feel to it. Dealing heavily with the themes of homosexuality, masochism, and rape, it may turn off people but it shows the talent that Anger had in creating arresting visuals. A young man enter a bathroom only to be brutally raped and beaten by a group of sailors only to find a sort of masochistic awakening, it is still a daring film, sixty years later.

Puce Moment (1949) [5]
A five minute short that Anger said was meant to be an homage to the silent film era. It starts off strong with an opening fixed shot of a shuffle of evening gowns (it's a lot stronger image than it sounds like), the film just doesn't go on long enough to gain any real lasting power in my mind.

Rabbit's Moon (1950) [6]
My introduction to Anger came while I was at the University at Buffalo, and I saw a modified nine minute version of this, which not many places had. The version here is the sixteen minute original that Anger officially released in 1971 even though all the footage was shot in France in 1950. This is the first film to feature what I would consider the rock and roll soundtrack that would be so influential to people like Scorsese. The film itself deals with the idea of a Japanese fairy tale that a rabbit lives in the moon. The narrative doesn't really move anywhere, but the interesting use of repetition and zooms make it appealing.

Eaux d'Artifice (1953) [9]
The most visually arresting of this group of films, Anger filmed the water gardens at Villa d'Este and emerged with one of the most sublime and well-crafted films of his. He uses a midget actress, Carmilla Salvatorelli, to skew the perspective of the film, to make the fountains imposing upon the figure, when in reality, they aren't. Anger also filmed everything using a red filter then printed the film with a blue one to give a unique and arresting pall to the picture. The ending's crescendo of water adds to its arresting nature.

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) [6]
While this film may win an award for best title ever for a film, it was a little underwhelming for me. Influenced heavily by the ideas of occultist Alasteir Crowley, the film is a mash of odd images that still manage to feel like they have a purpose. I would consider this one of Anger's most dreamlike films, and while I may be wrong, the film feels like I'm watching someones dream. The film does have an interesting use of superimposition and the portrayal of the ritual, something that is done in depth in Scorpio Rising. Let's hope that Volume 2 isn't far behind.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, 2006) [4]
With tonight being the Oscars, there's no doubt that this will edge out a win for Best Picture because it has all the facets of Hollywood liberal guilt syndrome that made Crash appealing. That's not to say that this is as bad and manipulative as Crash; Innaritu is a much more talented director than Paul Haggis and his virtuosity cover up some of the more illogical elements of this film. Even though, it doesn't have as many differences as similarities: the film especially towards the end becomes more and more emotionally manipulative (the nanny's ordeal with customs, Brad Pitt playing the Ugly American) and its cut and paste way of tying the disparate story lines together, which is highly irrational. Innaritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga also have big ideas to throw around (global interconnectivity, the futility of language, the persistence of human agony, and so on) but never really form them into any coherent statement. The only part of the film that gets above is the Japanese storyline mostly because the Richo Kikuchi character, as a deaf mute, exists outside all of Innaritu's big idea garbage, and for that time, we get scenes with real character motivation and development that show the promise that Babel and Innaritu have. Too bad he lets the rest of the film mess that up.

The truth is I liked Innaritu's previous films, especially 21 Grams and I do think that he has true talent as a filmmaker. The biggest problem with Babel is that he gets himself bogged down into thinking he's conveying great truths about a global culture that is more interconnected than the average person would happen to believe. What comes out is a muddled film that has some really good moments but never gets itself above its illogical connections and liberal guilt-tripping. Which means, sadly, it will probably win Best Picture.

By the way, if anyone has read my posts from last year, I said if Crash won Best Picture, I would boycott watching the Oscars for eternity. I'm going to keep my word; I don't care anymore. My only hope is that Martin Scorsese, after he wins for best director, realizes that Oscars don't validate his career. Hell, the man lost to Kevin Costner and John Avildsen in the past. That tells you all you need to know.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Departed

The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006) [9]
Sure, this doesn't rank up there with Raging Bull or Goodfellas in terms of a crowning work of cinematic achievement, but after the relative bore of his last two films, Scorsese returns with something close to what I expect out of a Martin Scorsese picture. This is his best work since Goodfellas, and it sources the same material of that film but plays it differently. This seems more like a pure work of entertainment, and while I never like film purely as entertainment, I have to say this was one enjoyable film to watch. The film has all the filmic trademarks of a Scorsese picture: the kinetic violence, fast-paced editing, and great choice of a rock and roll soundtrack. If a film has that, it's going to be hard for me to not like it.

For the film itself, William Monahan's screenplay crackles with sharp dialogue and definitely has a keen grasp of Boston, all the way down to the institutionalized racism of the (mostly) Irish Catholic citizens. Both Monahan and Scorsese do a great job of handling the interwoven stories of the two "rats" so that it doesn't become muddled. The most interesting feature of the film is the duplicity of the Damon and DiCaprio characters, how they both exist on the same level of being, yet still manage to remain distinct individuals. They have the same task, they have the same admiration of their superiors, and they even manage to be romantically involved with the same woman. For all its action and suspense, the film really hinges on the credibility of these two characters being practically one in the same. For all the tricks Scorsese pulled out of the bag for this one, it never clouds that issue.

That being said, all the tricks Scorsese uses are better than what 98% of all other directors would have done with the material. Some credit has Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's long time editor, for reigning in what could have been overly excessive, most notably Nicholson's character. There are times when you can sense Jack's doing his Jack routine, but it never manages to spoil the film. Also, the Vera Famiga character doesn't come across with same conviction as the male characters, which isn't that surprising seeing that Scorsese's films excel in a male universe. Even with that being said, The Departed is definitely a contender for my best of '06. It's not quite vintage Scorsese, but anything close is still pretty good.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006) [5]
Let's make this review short and sweet: I just never really got into this. The rotoscoping enhances the cloud of paranoia that encircles the film really well, and the ideas brought up (drug addiction, government surveillance, paranoia, the loss of the self) are all interesting but somehow that didn't translate into a coherent work for me. The one theme that keeps popping up when thinking about this film is Foucault's writings on the penopticon and the power of self-surveillance. One of the main themes of the film is that everybody is watching everybody, but for those who didn't take literary theory, it doesn't mean that much. I felt the performances, with the exception of Robert Downey Jr., were pretty much lackluster. My main problem stems from the fact that there's not much here in terms of images or performances that manage to stick in my mind. Now Linklater may have purposely done this, keeping everything so matter of fact, and it does work in regards to the world of the film and what Philip K. Dick was attempting to get across. But for the film as a whole, it seems to mirror its main characters in a foggy, deadened state.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bonnaroo Lineup Leaked

This is confirmed through numerous sources. It's the real deal! And while I'm not too thrilled about the choice of headliners and no Arcade Fire or Shins (hopefulley, at least not yet), there's enough here to get me all giddy for June.

2007 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival Confirmed Artists:
The Police
Widespread Panic
The White Stripes
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals
Wilco (Yeah!)
The Flaming Lips (Yeah!)
Manu Chao
The String Cheese Incident
Franz Ferdinand
Bob Weir & Ratdog
Damien Rice (Yeah)
Gov't Mule
Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers (Yeah!)
The Decemberists (Yeah!)
Kings of Leon
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Regina Spektor
The Black Keys (Yeah!)
DJ Shadow
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings (Yeah!)
Spoon (Yeah!)
Keller Williams (WMD's)
Sasha & John Digweed
Old Crow Medicine Show (Yeah!)
The Hold Steady (Yeah!)
North Mississippi Allstars (Yeah!)
Fountains Of Wayne
Hot Tuna (Yeah!)
Feist (Yeah!!)
Hot Chip
Lily Allen
John Butler Trio
Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys
Aesop Rock
The Richard Thompson Band (Yeah!)
Dierks Bentley
Xavier Rudd
Gogol Bordelo
Junior Brown
T-Bone Burnett
Mavis Staples (Yeah!!!!!!)
Cold War Kids(Yeah!)
Dr. Dog
Paolo Nutini
Brazilian Girls
RX Bandits
The Nightwatchman
The Slip (Yeah!)
Girl Talk
Railroad Earth (Yeah!)
Martha Wainwright
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Tea Leaf Green (Yeah!)
Sam Roberts Band (Yeah!)
Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Charlie Louvin
Sonya Kitchell
Mute Math
Apollo Sunshine
Uncle Earl
James Blood Ulmer
The National
The Little Ones
Ryan Shaw

That's a lot of yeahs. Add to that Lewis Black, David Cross, and Dave Attell in the comedy and I already got too many decisions to make. "Tennessee, Tennesse, ain't no place I'd rather be..."

Monthly Listening Post - February 2007

It is only halfway through the month, but there have been so many new releases since I've posted the last listening post that I would forget some if I didn't do anything now. The amount of new stuff is right up there with any month since I began doing this:

1) VietNam - VietNam (this is the early front-runner for my favorite album of 2007)
2) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away (a much more musically interesting album than the previous two)
3) The Broken West - I Can't Go On, I'll Go On
4) Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
5) Various Artists - Endless Highway: The Music of the Band (My Morning Jacket nail 'It Makes No Difference')
6) Explosions In the Sky - Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever (I just got into this band so I'm going with older material)
7) The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (this isn't out yet, but come on, it's not that hard to find

Up here in the Norheast, we're expecting a big snowstorm into tomorrow which would normally grab my attention except tomorrow is Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Day. The Police have already spilled the beans and are the Saturday night headliner. I'm not that big a fan but for the same price as paying for a single Police show on their upcoming tour, I can see them with a whole bunch of other acts for an entire weekend. I just have a feeling this year is going to be the best lineup ever. We'll just have to see tomorrow morning.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006) [7]
This site is meant to be my two-bit reviews of films released months ago; this isn't really about political discourse, something that at one time I had interests in but am now so sick of with all the shrieking hyenas on 24-hour cable news that I've become cynical of any thing that smacks of propaganda, from the right or the left. I've stated before that I'm very liberal, but didn't particularly care for the shrill tactics of Fahrenheit 9/11 or the cheap, pandering faux-liberalism of Hollywood shown in Crash. I didn't vote for Al Gore in 2000; I voted for Nader mostly because I felt Gore wasn't liberal enough on some (most) positions. I had the feeling that this film, a shoo-in for Best Documentary, was only a way for Gore to suck up to the hardcore liberals after abandoning them for the center.

There, I got all of my political baggage out of the way. As for this film, it isn't great in terms of cinema, but it does have an important, sobering message that actually makes Al Gore show traits of being a human being. The information in this film could have been portrayed a little better; at times it still feels too much like the viewpoint is skewed for left-leaning audiences. I'm not going to call it bias as all the conservative weasels would like their followers to believe. There is no denying that the information that Gore covers in the films is pretty near scientific fact: the earth is warming because of carbon emissions in the atmosphere and it is most certainly the result of human activity. Anyone douchebag that tries the whole "this is just cyclical climate change, there's no hard proof of global warming" should have to watch this A Clockwork Orange style, so when they hear someone like Limbaugh or Hannity start spewing nonsense it makes it want to puke, like the rest of rational society. When a worldwide committee of scientists released a report in the last week saying essentially the same points Gore raises in the film, it raises it above bias, doesn't it?....See, it's impossible for me to review this film without bringing my politics into it. That's the greatest weakness of the film is that those who happen to be on the opposite end of the political spectrum won't pay attention to important scientific information simply because it's Al Gore as the messenger. This film's message should be listened to by everyone, because at its essence, we owe it to future generations if 1/3 of what is being predicted actually occurs. That a good number of people, a good many of them in the Republican Party and the current administration, choose to ignore information that a majority of the rest of the world acknowledges and is trying to do something about, make me be ashamed to be an citizen of the United States.

By the way, the film would be a lot stronger if Guggenheim didn't cut into vignettes on Gore's life. It dulls the potency of his presentation and gives the Fox News crowd a reason to cry bias.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazerescu

The Death of Mr. Lazerescu (Cristi Puiu, 2006) [9]
When one thinks of world cinema, one of the last places that someone like myself would expect quality films to come from would be Romania. This was my first viewing of any film from Romania, and only because this film appeared on both Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum's Best of 2006 lists in Entertainment Weekly. I can't make any generalizations about Romanian cinema but The Death of Mr. Lazerescu is definitely a contender for my best of 2006. The film follows the title character, a man complaining of a headache, as he's shipped from hospital to hospital in a cruel, Kafkaesque journey that encounters some of the most despicable doctors seen anywhere. The film progresses in essentially real time, and Lazerescu over that time deteriorates from a man with a headache to an incoherent man on death's door. His journey is unsettling to say the least, and while a lot of time is spent pretty much waiting and anticipating, it's still kept my attention throughout.

There are two way to look at this film: either literally, which paints Romania and its health care system as the hellhole of the world, or the way I thinks it's supposed to be seen, as a parable of humanity. Almost every review states that this was the first of a series of films Puiu intends to make. The main influence for the series was Rohmer's Six Moral Tales, which this is basically a Romanian version of one. I don't think the film has any political or social commentary to it, at least as it's main point. The film has such a documentary feel to it that makes the camera an objective observer rather than to film a point of view. The greatest strength of Puiu's direction is that he simply lets the camera observe, and not get in the way. He manages to capture all the characters: Lazerescu, the paramedic, the overwhelmed and disdainful doctors and allows them to cover the entire spectrum of emotions and possibilities. The most important moment for me is near the end, when the exhausted medic, who has been taking Lazerescu from hospital to hospital, finally gets the man into surgery, she simply leaves. In a Hollywood film,

Thursday, February 01, 2007

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006) [6]
It's a little surprising to me that it took this long for someone to make a film about the asinine rating process that the MPAA has been using for so long. Maybe it's because so many filmmakers don't really want to bite the hand that feeds them, seeing that compliance with the ratings board will help lengthen a career. Dick as a director has no such problem biting the hand that feeds him, and he does a good job of playing the pain in the ass, his persistent phone calls with the ratings and appeals board the chief examples. The film plays out best when it's the muckraking expose piece, hiring private investigators to find out who the raters are and (surprise!) they don't exactly fit the qualifications of what the MPAA says they are. Through Dick's investigation and some talking head interviews, the film paints a perfect picture of the MPAA being a shadowy, near "fascist" (Bingham Ray's words in the film) organization that while claiming to protect filmmakers from censorship, does a pretty good job of the act itself. Jack Valenti, who I feel is a career political hack on the same level as protoplasm, comes out the villain, as he should. And it is truly troubling that very few films have the balls to go without a rating, as it's clearly stated that films don't have to be rated.

Which brings me to the question, "Why didn't Kirby Dick just release the film without a rating?" In my mind, the more effective tool to get back at the ratings board would to be say screw you, you aren't necessary. But he goes through the entire appeals process, which on a filmic level makes the film more interesting in that it reveals more identities, lacks something in the way of conviction. The other weakness here is there's not enough history of films rated NC-17 or X. A few films and their examples are thrown in but Dick doesn't even go back to films like Midnight Cowboy or A Clockwork Orange. These films were rated X and yet did solid box office, received Academy Awards, or became influential films. Dick plays the victim card too much, and the more successful fights he can bring up, the stronger argument he could have had.