Lost in the Movies: September 2009

The video introduction to Fairie Tale Theatre

Eventually I'll return to this blog with a full-fledged piece; I have quite a few ideas brewing but they'll take a little while to pull together. For the time being, take a look at this - it's certainly a childhood flashback for me, and I'm wondering if it brings back memories for anyone else. When I was in preschool, I rented all the videos in this series (originally a 1980s HBO show hosted by Shelley Duvall and featuring stars from Robin Williams to Mick Jagger, a sort of kiddie "Masterpiece Theatre"). They served as my introductions to the classic stories, which I became obsessed with for years. I even "wrote" a book - dictating the stories to my parents and then illustrating every page myself. (I also forced the members of my family to concoct their own versions, for which they were all game. My aunt's favorite was my father's interpretation of "The Emperor's New Clothes" which featured the nude monarch strutting his stuff in the street while a couple cynics lampooned him from a balcony, sneering, "What a pompous buffoon!".)

Both Elliot Gould's giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk" and especially Joan Collins' witch in "Hansel & Gretel" gave me nightmares - in fact, I was so traumatized by Collins' scenery-chewing I refused to include "Hansel & Gretel" in my own book and suffered from a severe phobia of cannibalistic old women for years. Anyway, here's the promo which opened each videocassette. It brings back more fond memories than the episodes themselves, which are available on instant Netflix and You Tube but seem a little rusty (though I suspect "Hansel & Gretel," of which I've only re-watched a few moments - in order to capture that still-terrifying picture above - will hold up). As I said, I hope to deliver some more ambitious posts later this fall, and if you want to follow my writing on a more regular basis, I'm keeping up a steady stream on the Examiner, including a lengthy (and timely) piece on Roman Polanski, an upcoming review of the fascinating if shaky Baader-Meinhof Complex (about the left-wing German terrorists of the 1970s), and the twice-a-day, every-day short review approach which should be starting in the next week or two. Meanwhile, enjoy (after the jump):

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

Well, he’s not “wanted” anymore. When the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired premiered at Sundance in 2008, it seemed like an epilogue, the wrapping-up of a story which would never have a real ending. Today, with Polanski in the custody of Swiss authorities, it’s become clear that the story was not over after all. And as this film – available for instant viewing or rental on Netflix – reveals, the tale of Polanski’s crime, prosecution (or persecution), and exile is anything but a clear narrative with good and bad, right and wrong, clearly marked. Nonetheless, Wanted and Desired displays a general sympathy for the director’s plight as he is jerked back and forth by a publicity-seeking judge. The still used above is from the 1961 Polanski short film The Fat and the Lean; that’s Polanski himself, acting in his own film, running across a field toward the Eiffel Tower, fleeing a lumbering fat old man. Obviously crafted years before the filmmaker’s legal predicament, the simple, almost allegorical footage is nonetheless cleverly employed by the documentary to illustrate the complex situation Polanski found himself in. It also suggests Wanted and Desired‘s general attitude toward its subject.

For the Love of Movies

Andreas Winkelman … is repairing the roof of the cottage in which he lives as a literate hermit. At one point, he stares off at the sun that hangs low and dim—with its edges made ragged by a telephoto lens—in the Scandinavian sky. Suddenly the sun disappears into the gray-blue haze, but it’s as if Andreas had willed it invisible, much as he has tried to will himself invisible without taking the ultimate step. With this lovely image, Ingmar Bergman begins The Passion of Anna…”
Vincent Canby, The New York Times, May 29, 1970
A little more than halfway through For the Love of Movies, Gerald Peary’s enthusiastic and authoritative documentary about the history of film criticism, the above passage is quoted. While the narrator reads Canby’s words aloud (and they are as “lovely” as the film he’s describing), we are treated to Bergman’s images and even more importantly, the evocative, delicate soundtrack – Andreas’ hammer on the rooftop, the sheep-bells tinkling – which the critic does not describe. Prose – at once intelligent and impressionistic – is fused with solid yet elusive image and simple yet vaguely abstract sound; criticism meets art and the two shake hands in the light of Bergman’s, and Canby’s, disappeared disc. All in all, it’s a stirring tribute to the movies and to those who love them, both being the subjects of this film.

The Dancing Image presents "directed by Brian De Palma" (CINEMA VIEWFINDER DE PALMA BLOG-A-THON)

Tony Dayoub has recently initiated a ten-day celebration of the bearded auteur (who just celebrated his 69th birthday) at his great blog Cinema Viewfinder (make sure you check out the whole series here). My entry has just gone up.

The piece is a video tribute to Mr. De Palma and an examination of his thematic and stylistic obsessions, titled "directed by Brian De Palma." It runs about seven and a half minutes, and contains footage from my three favorite De Palma films: Hi, Mom!, Carrie, and Scarface, which were released, roughly, with seven years between each film.

I've spent the past week working on this project, and am very satisfied with how it turned out, so I hope you all enjoy it.

(Fair warning, however: the piece does contain some graphic footage of sex and violence - and combinations thereof. Granted, given the source material I'm actually kind of surprised there isn't more nudity and gore, but still, it's De Palma we're talking about, so take that as you will. Not necessarily for all viewers.)

Cross-posted at Cinema Viewfinder

updated in 2013: check out a higher-quality version of this video, plus an interview about it with Kevin B. Lee

Filmmakers of the Fall

A preview of coming attractions for the fall, with the focus on the directors behind the camera…

(Update 2010: links lead to the eventual reviews of these films)

Though the season does not officially begin until September 22, one doesn’t need the equinox to know autumn’s in the air. Every year, like clockwork around Labor Day, a breeze picks up, the air grows cooler, and one begins to detect a slight browning or yellowing on the edges of the still lushly green leaves. As the station wagon is packed one last time, the children cast melancholy glances at the twilit beach, to be abandoned for schoolbooks in a matter of hours. Yet with the shuffling off of lazy summer days, a new sense of purpose wafts in the air as well.

Nights and Weekends

For more background on mumblecore – a no-budget “movement” of young filmmakers, which has been building buzz through the 00′s – read my review of LOL, my follow-up on Funny Ha Ha and then the comments section for Funny Ha Ha, particularly this.

Nights and Weekends, 2008, dir. Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg, released on DVD Aug. 25, 2009

Most of the conversations in Nights and Weekends have a random feel, but one in particular is random with a purpose. Mattie (Greta Gerwig) is returning from a photo shoot with James (Joe Swanberg), her long-distance still-sorta boyfriend. At the shoot, the photographer coaxed the couple into playing cute for the camera, cooing “That’s adorable,” when an embarrassed Mattie cringed or looked at James with uncertainty. Sure enough, her snapshots transform the awkward into the semi-iconic and when the two look at them later on a computer screen, it’s almost enough to convince them they’re a real couple (they start making out, in the most genuinely sensual moment of the film, after viewing the uncomfortable kiss captured on camera hours earlier). “They’re like present us,” James tells Mattie before leaning in for the kiss, “only acting out past us.” Cue future us.

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