I had to ask a week previous for a screener for the last entry, informing them at that time that I hadn’t been getting any emails: including an invitation to a dinner for the jurists that took place earlier in the week, including a complete guest list, including any responses to my two queries about screeners for Chinese films and something called Fateless that I'd intended to cover. . . on and on.
I’m not arrogant enough to believe that the DFS are being vindictive because of two earlier blog pieces about the failings of this year’s festival – so maybe it is as I was told, something wrong with the email system (probably mine) and nothing personal. I’m willing to forget that the only publicist who talked to me this year during the fest was from out of town and had worked with me in the past and had somehow not forgotten my cell phone number after a year of not using it (nor my work email, nor my home phone) to get in touch with me about coverage of her clients and so on. And I'm willing to believe that sometimes computers are weird and I might get all the festival daily PR pieces with no problem, but none of the internal memos that would have meant greater participation.
I'm going to go with the idea that since I made the mistake of declaring that we’re not going to do much coverage this year of a subpar fest that I’ve fallen right off the call-back/follow-up list during the one time of the year that they would have anything to call me about. It's only fair, in all honesty, that if I've given up on them that they give up on me as well.
But anyway, the closing night, and this is a problem for me: Al Maysles is there to present the documentary award named after him and was introduced as, along with his brother David, the inventor of cinema verite. An assertion wrong and potentially insulting to a legendary documentary filmmaker, wouldn't you suppose? I think the term is “direct cinema” and, y’know, it ain’t the same thing because among other things, one refers to fiction, and the other to non-fiction. We can talk about the slipperiness of that distinction, but we should make the distinction. Particularly with Mr. Maysles who makes the distinction so sharply.
It’s not important to everyone, of course – to most it will appear to be picking nits – but it should be important in this setting, and in this company.
Okay, maybe we should put the egos on hold and start to talk about how to turn the ship around instead. Jesus, look at what I say when no one’s asking – can you imagine if someone asked?
Brokeback Mountain is a disappointment, by the way. Middlebrow and squeamish – not in its sex scenes which are puzzlingly brutal – but in the way it puts an exclamation point behind every gay moment. If you’re going to make a film about aliens, just make a science fiction piece – romances should be about people. At least it’s better, a little, than Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha which, besides describing one character as a war hero for being injured in the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (the sort of thing that irks me if no one else except two billion other Chinamen), has Chinese woman Zhang Ziyi and Malaysian-born Michelle Yeoh cast as Japanese Geishas. It’s the equivalent, not to put too fine a point on it, of a fine Jewish actress happily playing a heroic Nazi prostitute – bless Maggie Cheung for turning down the opportunity to sell out her culture. (And for what? Memoirs of a Freakin-Geisha? There’s not even the question of subversion here.) At least they give Zhang a pair of blue contact lenses, right? Racial tensions aside, it’s silly in an unfortunate po-mo way in that it could’ve been called “The Katie Holmes Story” for its tale of a little girl who idolizes a grown man and, after her breasts are no longer sore from growing, seduces and marries him! Hurray!
Biggest non-surprise: there’s a voiceover narration. Biggest surprise: it’s not Morgan Freeman doing it.
Four speaking engagements: the first, The Sixth Sense as part of a ghost series, shepherding in autumn to the Rockies. Gilpin County, I should mention, where I do a lot of these shows, is at an altitude of about 8,900 feet, meaning that I get really light-headed and confused sometimes. Even more so when I’m up there, even. A close scrutiny of the film, at times scene-by-scene, reveals an incredibly arrogant picture as well as an amateurishly-directed one. Lots of push-ins and over-scoring take on the burden of the emotionality of the piece, leaving the twist as all that’s left to consider. Saving it on not-too-close looks at the mechanics of the picture are the performances of Willis, Osment, and especially Toni Collette. It can only be read in any case through the prism of a film about the sacred-ness and the need to protect the cult of childhood – but even that is betrayed by the bully humiliation at its conclusion: a devouring need by Shyamalan to appease as broad an audience as absolutely possible. My estimation of the picture has dropped precipitously after this engagement – but my fascination with its popularity at the epicenter of our most recent fin de siecles is stoked hotter.
Next, The Others - a beautifully-directed picture that uses negative space and the template of The Innocents to lovely effect. It’s scarier than I remembered, as well, and Kidman – doing the film so soon after her divorce and a highly-publicized miscarriage – turns in the first of a series of courageous performances. Then, A Tale of Two Sisters: the culmination of all the films of the series (The Innocents, The Haunting, The Sixth Sense, and The Others) in its use of an isolated house used as a metaphor for a woman’s psycho-sexual traumas and repressions; the oppression of children; striking use of color; cold spots; inciting events; on and on. And all of it skewed ever so subtly south of true by its distinctly Asian sensibility. Of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most tactile; flat out gorgeous pictures of the last several years.
Did a show, too, for the Denver branch, of Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain.
Before it, I realized that I had loaned out my copy and so went to the local video store in search of a copy. They had it, but only on a battered VHS copy – so I went to Blockbuster. . . to Blockbusters: all four of them that are within about a three-mile radius of where I am – not a one of them had it. One of them stocked it, but it was “lost” and it was an old issue of it in any case (though it would have done). None of the people in any of the Blockbusters seemed to have any idea what I was talking about when I asked for it. You know, I didn’t know that that store only had categories for “Drama, Comedy, Action, Horror, Family, New Release,” sometimes “Foreign” and then the inexplicable “Special Interest” which includes exercise videos and Errol Morris. There’s a lot of talk lately about Blockbuster having to declare bankruptcy any day now – for all the harm that they’ve done catering to what people “want” (editing movies, putting indie video stores out of business, etc), they well and truly deserve everything that happens to them and their brand.
But the show itself: afterwards, a young woman with her young daughter contributed to the discussion by saying that her mother used to sing her Freed & Brown’s songbook, a lot of it used in this picture (folks who diss Moulin Rouge! for mining top 40 – as if there aren’t other things to diss the film for – look no farther than Singin’ in the Rain for the template) – and that she wanted to experience (and share with her own daughter), and to understand what it was like to hear the tunes in a public setting with a group of others. (“And did you?” “Oh, yes.”) Of the 60 or so in the audience (a surprisingly small number, but it did compete with the very popular festival – more tickets sold this year than ever crows the DFS! Meaning, of course, that it’s good!) only one hadn’t seen the film before. I don’t think that it’s a perfect film, but I do feel like every time Kelly performs in the puddles and on the lampposts of MGM’s ‘50s backlot, that it’s the first time. Ground zero of a landmark in our popular culture. Oh what a glorious feeling.
Saw a screening of Rent, packed with the public and theater geeks who knew every single word (and sang along! joy!), which did not prevent eight lucky walkouts. Because I’m guessing this was largely a theater-crowd, it was relatively well-behaved (save the sing-alongs, of course), but I should say that the kid taking tickets at the door to the Denver Pavilions was the rudest little punk I’ve ever had the misfortune of asking a question.
- Hi, I’m here for the screening of. . .
- Harry Potter? Get in line over there.
- No, Rent.
- Where’s your ticket?
- I’m a member of the press.
- Stand over there. And you have to stand behind those people.
- Can I talk to your manager?
- You don’t need to talk to the manager.
- Can I talk to the publicist?
- She’s not here.
- But the show’s starting, when will she be back?
- Don’t know, don’t care.
- What theater is it showing in?
- Don’t know, don’t care.
At which point I walked past him, asked his manager (who was about fifteen in a bad suit and didn’t give a shit, either), and then went and watched the film. The creme? The little punk didn’t care that I’d walked over to his manager. There are a lot of reasons that people don’t go to the movies anymore. Here’s another one. Customer service is non-fucking-existent at these places: they pay minimum wage to these little assholes and then they pay minimum wage plus a dollar to their managers – all of whom spend detention after school together and could give a fuck about customer retention and satisfaction. I’ve heard stories about this kid before: that he’s still gainfully employed at this establishment tells me that there’s a bad case of institutional rot going on here and why in heaven’s name would anyone looking to have a nice evening out even think about going to the movies here?
And speaking of getting bent over a turnstile, Rent made most of my orifices bleed. Why is it that people with AIDS are canonized? I’m not assuming that they’re not saints, see, but why must I be assured that they are? Between this and Brokeback Mountain, I’m still waiting to see a high-profile film that doesn’t treat gayness as some kind of “neat” thing, something quaint and adorable, some sort of wondrous theme park ride instead of just a matter of banal fact. I’ve known a few gay gents and not a one of them struck me as particularly dazzled by the fact of homosexuality. I've been Chinese now for 32 years and not once has a mystical gong gone off when I've come into a room. I’m waiting, in other words, to see a gay movie that isn’t just about being gay – can’t gay men and women on film have relationships that are every bit as boring and dysfunctional as breeders? Or must they all end in disease and outrageously non-PC murder subsequent to hilarious sequences where they’re walked in on by their friends and family? Catch a scene in Brokeback Mountain where you’re encouraged to have a chuckle at the expense of a totally innocent character (who’s later vilified again at the weirdest time for no reason at all). At least they’re not helper elves in these pictures – or quirky best friends. Oh, wait. Rent. Never mind.
Still reading FitzGerald's astounding Way Out There in the Blue - here's this week's screen capture (2.3) - I believe the tally so far is Jack S. - 1 and Chad E. - 1:
Incidentally, Bill's long-awaited (by me and anyone else in the know) take on the first season of "Leave it to Beaver" is in the can and on the site. Just as he opened my eyes to John Hughes in the years that I've been familiar with his writing, he's opened my eyes to "Leave it to Beaver" - and there may be no more important work done on either than right here in our own, as they say, backyard. The review is well worth the wait.
And how much is left that you can say that about?
Hot off the Presses - November 23, 2005
And then there was Rent. Kudos, by the way, to Caption Boy who has really outdone himself with the hilarious, and point-on "AIDS of Aquarius" line. That's really fucking brilliant - you can (and oughtta, probably) just skip the review body as these six syllables do all the slaying that needs to be done.
Hot off the Presses - November 24, 2005
We wrap up the 28th DIFF with a capsule of something Ebert calls "another Sundance gem" which, if it sounds backhanded, might only sound that way to a genuine asshole like me: Love, Ludlow. I had intended on wrapping with a review of Lars Von Trier's Manderlay or the Holocaust drama Fateless, but scheduling being what it was, missed both screenings. Our doing this picture is a testament to creative and persistent PR as not only did the team behind it send me a screener, but the publicist sent a personal note as follow-up and the screenwriter sent a handwritten, and personal again, postcard! Critics are sort of used to being reviled and ignored - when you get this kind of attention, it doesn't always get results, but it's always appreciated. I was glad that a combination of factors this year opened a slot for the picture. It's not great, but it's not awful, either, and I'm not sorry to have seen it.
Over in the other column, Hans Petter Moland's Malick-produced The Beautiful Country comes to DVD and, in a rare (for a reason: I suck at them) happening, I write up the DVD specs on the new, infernal, Cheaper by the Dozen: Baker's Dozen Edition.
Hot off the Presses - November 26, 2005