Long, eventful week as a lot of threads came together. My coverage of the Denver Film Society’s Asian Film Festival, at least for me, closed the circle a little on the unpleasantness between myself and that organization that began with my criticism of their International Film Festival on these very pages (culminating in some sad back-and-forths between friends at the Society) – it’s not closure, exactly, but a feeling that at least for my part, I want to get on with a professional working relationship even if personal relationships can’t be salvaged.
The Asian Fest is awesome even if the films I saw weren’t all keepers. It stinks of honest intentions and that’s increasingly a rare and valuable commodity.
On a panel a few months ago at the Vail Film Festival, I was asked if it was difficult or, truly, even possible to separate myself from the people that I worked with in the industry – and of how those relationships shaped my opinions and criticisms. If you’re human with reasonable social skills, you make friends along any road you take and no less so this one. You try to maintain objectivity but sometimes you just have to take a pass. At FFC, the unofficial best practice has always been that I log a review before I go to interview someone for the first time, thus leaving the review untainted (for good or bad) by my personal impressions of the makers.
It works out fine most of the time – particularly since I stopped just taking interviews with anyone who came to town – but there were a couple of times (Peter Hedges, for instance, who I hit it off with well enough so that when he read my ambivalent-hostile review of Pieces of April, he fired off an angry and hurt missive to the studio requesting, among other things, that I not be allowed access when I was to discuss his film at a public screening) where me not being an asshole to someone resulted in some confusion, on their part, as to what my role actually is in this relationship. Film’s are personal things, and not just for their creators, so personal in fact, that they’re almost like psychic babies.
As to the confusion, though: join the club. The role of film critic in this society is muddy beyond muddy and not for the reasons of “what is quality” that we’ve already worked over like a tasty bit of gristle we just can’t bring ourselves to spit out. As Bill linked below, director Wayne Kramer’s (and his frantically sycophantic interviewer’s) agreement that critics should have no opinion nor personal bias but, rather, be publicists for the film, is a tiresome and troubling thing. (Even though his film, Running Scared is one that I like and will be reviewing in a few days.) More than the words of some pinhead who can’t take a hit, though, is the plain fact that the majority of people believe that critics should be objective reporters and, even more perverse, that good critics ever are. The fallacy of our news media, in fact, is this illusion of objectivity – far better to know where the writer stands than to have the reporter pretend not to have a stance at all.
It brings me to more news: a documentary series has been greenlit by the Denver Public Library for this August with me at the helm – the first time I’ve had so much say in a program offered by this branch. The lineup: Keep the River on Your Right, Rivers and Tides, Brother’s Keeper, Bright Leaves, and Hybrid and I’m excited as hell to dive into the mix. If you’re in Denver in a couple of months, it’s going to be a fun ride.
Also upcoming, a single night wherein I get to show my Laserdisc of Fearless at the Gilpin County Library.
Saw Superman Returns at a closed screening and cried through a lot of it. Saw Click at a regular matinee and, ditto, though not for the same reasons. Have a screener of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance that’s burning a hole in the back of my head; watched Underworld: Evolution and. . . really liked it; watched Aeon Flux and. . . really didn’t; and watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof three times back-to-back-to-back one late, late night because it’s actually just that good. In a roundabout way, it spurs the question of the F/X moments in film that you found to have the most positive impact in terms of atmosphere, story, even character development. For me, I still love the giant cardboard ball from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first kill in Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the tractor beam matte and dual suns in Star Wars, Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer, and the genius-level splatter in John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly.
Hosted a screening/discussion of Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire, speaking of underseen/ill-revived: the story of a stuffy professor (Gary Cooper) who finds love in the arms of a tough-talking dame (Barbara Stanwyck). It’s an inversion of the Snow White myth (and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves can be seen on a theater marquee in one brief background), and an inversion of the Pygmalian myth, too. Shot by Greg Toland (the year he did Citizen Kane) and written by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett as their last assignment as just a writing team (Wilder sat on the set to observe Hawks’ style during the shoot as a kind of training camp), it’s a collision of legends in one of the great years (1941) in Hollywood history. Doesn’t make it a masterpiece, but it ain’t chopped liver, sister.
Here’s this week’s screen capture (I’ll tally the totals next time around):
Hot off the presses (62606)
and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
and Alex rides wild ORCA