La Fidélité

Dir. Andrzej Zulawski, 2000
Inspired after listening to the audio commentary on the Possession DVD, I felt the urge to watch Zulawski’s most recent film, which has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it in Taiwan last year (and still not available in the States). Of course, I didn’t expect it to match the bugout weirdness of Possession, but it had something going on, one being a discussion about tabloid culture and capitalism. The plot has Sophie Marceau (a respected young photographer) marrying an upper-class man she respects more than loves, and fighting off the urge to sleep with a much younger working-class paparazzi photographer. The two central words of the film are “Fidélité” (of course) and “Verité”, both of which are explored in the personal and in the realms of commerce, and how the latter undermines the former. Marceau’s character’s life is intruded upon numerous times, her most private moments made public, but she too is guilty of this, working for the same tabloid press as the young photographer (and for the Murdoch-like goon that may or may not be her true father). How media, and the mediaization of our personal lives, destroys us is one thing the film explores; how to escape is another matter. The film is apparently based on a novel by Madam de la Fayette, but I didn’t know this going in. Zulawski also uses a lot of quotes from Auden throughout, and a brief glimpse of the John B. Root film “Principe de plaisir” on a TV. It bears watching again, as it was complex in its characters and plotting–a second viewing would reveal more of its structure, I believe.

Once Upon a Time in China

Dir. Tsui Hark, 1991
Just borrowed a lot of DVDs off Jon, as Mr. Monkeypants is going to Japan for a few months. This is one of them, and this is the first time I’ve actually seen this movie, though I’ve read about it several times. Jet Li made a name for himself as martial arts master/folk hero Wong Fei-Hung, the same character Jackie Chan plays in Drunken Master 1 and 2. Bad guys exist of two levels: the low-down dirty gang, and the Imperialist pig dogs from both Britain and the U.S. (all played, as usual, by strange looking white men with beards). The film concerns itself a little with this uneasy period in Chinese history, when the West was making its presence known, and conning Chinese to come to America to find gold. Kung-fu can’t beat the Western guns, but Wong does well by using an umbrella and other props. Mostly, though, there’s oodles and oodles of absolutely top-darts fightin’, all choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, not as much wire-work as I’d thought, and great camera work by Tsui Hark and whoever was cinematographer (the credits list six people). Culminates with a classic fight atop a set of bamboo ladders, ripped off most recently in that Musketeer flick.

Nice DVD, too. The film transfer is crisp, the print looks unworn, and the extras feature brief clips of classic footage featuring the earlier version of Wong Fei-Hung, played by Kwan Tak-Hing (who made something like 70 films as the character, still bustin’ heads way into his 70s). The fighting in these originals look slow and stagey, but the historical factor makes it enjoyable. The DVD also comes with a nice booklet outlining the history of the character and some general kung-fu/Wu-shu facts. I hear there’s a version that’s six minutes longer, and a DVD that has English audio commentary, but this one is fine.

Twenty-Four Eyes

This Saturday I managed the catch the last film of the Susan Sontag-curated “Classics of Japanese Film” series at the LACMA.

A devastating study of nearly two decades in the life of a teacher who comes to a small island in the sea of Japan and the twelve students (hence the 24 eyes) in her care. Starts off idyllic, but soon the War in Manchuria, then the Pacific War comes to disrupt the lives of everyone. Director Keisuke Kinoshita works the audience with this classic melodrama, and I would say half of the theater was reduced to blubbering tears, especially near the end where
Apparently, all of Sontag’s choices have had either a subtext or a context of anti-war sentiment, and Keisuke Kinoshita’s “Twenty-Four Eyes” struck chords with many in the audience, especially the war fervor that grips the students as the film develops, the accusations against the teacher of being “unpatriotic” , the grim economic future that ruins the educational chances of many of her students, the indoctrination through the schools. You could almost feel the audience bristle after some of the more anti-war lines, none of which I can remember now. The film was shot and framed beautifully, and the most horrific of realities understood through the most economical of shots (as the war progresses and the island have lost all their first generation of youth, we have a brief scene of younger teenagers (I assume something like 15 or so) being groomed and sent off to die as kamikaze pilots. It’s a chilling scene of war madness, but Kinoshita doesn’t give us music cues or scenes of villagers talking about what was happening; he just lets it play out (he also didn’t have to explain it to his audience in the ’50s.)
Ten years ago we would have watched this and thought abstractly about war and the toll it took on the Japanese. Now we see the film and it’s like gazing into a mirror, and beyond that, the abyss.
Unfortunately, the film is not available on video or DVD as far as I know. Here’s hoping you can see it sometime in the future.

Stan Brakhage Dies

More evidence that if the Iraq war starts, it’ll be complete chaos.

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Iranian-backed militia moves into northern Iraq Several hundred soldiers belonging to an Iranian-based Iraqi militia have set up a secret military camp deep in northern Iraq, in a move likely to alarm Washington.
The fighters, who include many deserters from Saddam Hussein’s army, slipped into the opposition-controlled north from Iran late last month.
They have now established a series of military camps inside Kurdish-controlled territory, including a major base at the foot of a mountain, near the village of Banibee, decorated with flags proclaiming “Allahu Akbar”, or God is most great.

Film Fest Day Seven

8 1/2
You should know right here that Fellini’s 8 1/2 is one of my favorite films–I’d like to say it’s my favorite, but I may be forgetting something obvious. But I can’t really think of any film that fills me with such joy every time I see it. It’s a film just bursting at the seams with life, with beautiful women particularly, with wit and love and acceptance. Marcello Mastoianni’s character Guido comes to learn all these things in the end, but in the film itself it’s there from the beginning. (One critic writes how the early scenes in the spa portray the delusional bourgeousie, represented by the old warhorses of Wagner and Rossini on the soundtrack, but Fellini, being a cartoonist before he was a director, gives us all these wonderful faces passing by the screen (as opposed to faceless extras). S’Wonderful.
Anyway, this being the second time I’ve seen it on the big screen, I have to say that the print was dreadful, and not the re-released version that I saw in San Diego a few years ago. The new print had new subtitles–these old ones are awful, and only translate 50% of the soundtrack. You think the fest could have hunted the better one down. (The ones for the Sirk film were also crap). Still, it was a wonderful thing to behold.

Film Fest Day Six


What was originally a documentary for BBC’s Arena program, gets an airing here on the big screen (digitally projected, but looking very nice in one of S.B.’s biggest theaters. I’ve seen one Visconti film before this–the devastating Death in Venice–and knew of some of the others. But I knew little else of the man. I didn’t know he was a Count, an aristocratic Communist (what a paradox!), the lover of Zefferelli, a championship thoroughbred trainer, and an opera director. It was also slightly long, but maybe because I’m the uninitiated. Makes me want to watch The Damned, though.

In a slight bit of synchronicity, I recently completed an After Effects-based motion graphic in class to use for my Stekki Daiyo! Productions. (You can see the thing here) and for a temp track I used Brian Eno’s “Another Green World.” Only a few days later did I remember that this track was used as the opening theme for BBC2’s Arena. So what should open up the Visconti film, but the Arena logo, using the same music, accompanying that “neon-message-in-a-bottle” graphic.

Stephen Frears’ latest was a pleasing diversion, but not as great as everybody at the fest was making it out to be–this was the third added screening. There’s a lot of handwringing over the fate of illegal immigrants in modern-day London, but the characters were very one-dimensional. The immigration officials looked like two sleazeballs, all stubble and greasy hair. The lead actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, was always watchable, as Audrey Tautou did her best to erase the image of Amelie from everybody’s mind, helped in no small way by a script that subjected her to much debasement. It looked good, too, but I have a feeling most everybody else was moved more than me.

Lastly, I passed through Urban Outfitters on my way home and snagged a book I’ve had my eye on for some time. The price was cut in half, and because it was the last in stock, I asked for and got an additional 10% off, total price $24 for the hardback. Supercade is pure eye candy for the videogame generation (I trusted the book immediately when it cut off the date of classic videogames at 1984, which I agree with wholeheartedly).

Film Fest Day Five MAN

Film Fest Day Five

I haven’t seen too many Aki Kaurismaki films. I saw Hamlet Goes Business a long time ago when I didn’t have the sense of humor about the play (I was in high school, and it was a sacred text). I saw Lenigrad Cowboys Go to America and was bored to tears (but maybe that was in opposition to a friend who went on about it like it was drop down hilarious).
So maybe it’s time that made this film most enjoyable. It’s not the story so much (man is mugged, loses his memory, and creates a new life from the bottom up with the help of friendly, earthy vagrants, and a Salvation Army lady that becomes his lover) as Kaurismaki’s pacing, ridiculous dialog, and deadpan delivery of pretty much everybody. It’s something about the Finnish air, I think. Characters were all memorable, especially the tough-talking security guard with nothing to really back him up–his dog “Hannibal” which he promises will rip off offender’s noses, is a docile, sleepy pet, and very cute. I had a good time, definitely. Sight and Sound said that Kaurismaki’s treading water, but seeings I haven’t seen that much, it was refreshing to me.

Film Fest Day Four ALL

Film Fest Day Four

Today I managed one film, which was a special screening of Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor melodrama starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. The print was pretty rough, but what made the night special was that director Todd Haynes, whose Far From Heaven is a palimpsest of Sirk’s film, introduced and talked afterwards about his film and Sirk’s.
The film itself is on the surface a very straightforward “love will find a way” weepie, but you don’t have to search too hard to find all sorts of weird things underneath, and I don’t mean watching Hudson’s performance with what is known now about his sexuality. The sexual wolfishness of the men (apart from Hudson), the awful children–Freud-espousing daughter, asshole son, the bitchy women, the deer that appears at the end. Like many films from the ’50s, it just seems bizarre.
Haynes had some great things to say about Sirk’s film, especially about the use of color. He mentioned how the very complex color schemes in Sirk are a far cry from today. “Now you can see a thriller–every shot is blue. Or a memory sequence. It’s all gold. And that’s it?” He also spoke about Fassbinder’s own take on Sirk in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (coming out next month on DVD, with some commentary by Haynes), his next project (apparently a rhapsody on Bob Dylan that promises at worst to be fascinating), his move to Portland, his student days at Brown University, and much more. A very modest, affable man, and one of the few truly important American filmmakers at the moment.

Film Fest Day Three THE

Film Fest Day Three

Okay, now I’ve seen a brilliant film. You hope that something in a festival is going to come along and just leave you gasping, and for me, this latest by the Dardenne Brothers is masterful. I reviewed their last film, Rosetta, which equally impressed me, so I was a bit prepared for their style of filmmaking–documentary-style, rough, handheld.
The trouble is with the film is that there’s a particular twist in the plot that occurs about 30 minutes into it that precludes me from discussing the film in any depth, for I hope whoever reads this will want to seek the film out. You can, however, find some dumb reviews online that will ruin it for you, so good luck to you.
(Fortunately, Roger Ebert shares my opinion and method of writing about this film, and winds up saying some good things about it. Ebert is a populist and a media figure, but I give credence to his opinions, even when I disagree. Maybe it’s being in Chicago that does it.)
Anyway, what I can tell you about “The Son” is this: for the majority of the movie, the camera hovers around the neck and back of its protagonist, a carpenter who teaches juvenile delinquents in some sort of social program. He’s asked to admit one more kid, but brushes the assistant off, saying he has no room. He then paces, anxiously, and seems intent on spying on the kid (who we have still yet to see). For about twenty minutes many scenes follow like this, with nothing explained. In fact, nothing seems to be happening at all. He gets a visit from his estranged wife. He does some situps. He paces some more. Sometimes he’s at home. Sometimes he’s at work. And all along the camera is on him like a hunted animal–you have to crane your neck to see the background sometimes, he’s so close.
But then one line of dialog changes the entire point of the film. You realize that what seemed pointless, even strange activity, now has a purpose, as does the camerawork. It took my breath away, and from then on The Son becomes suspenseful and completely involving.
The symbolism, too, sneaks up on you, from what seems like ordinary surroundings. This too I can’t really speak about as I’d give some more away. So, er, I really recommend it.
The audience left much to be desired, made up of people whose jaded nature was only matched by their ignorance. “That’s it?” someone said at the admittedly abrupt ending. Others then chimed in: “That’s it? Will there be a sequel?” and other such stoooopidity. What is with these people? Even the multiplex crowd aren’t like this.