The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
T.S. Spivet is a messy, warm comedy about grief, family and imagination. It's also ironically about being seen and rarely heard.
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
An interview with the director of Sundance World Dramatic Competition entry "Umrika."
A discussion with the RogerEbert.com writers on the legacy of Sophia Loren.
Barbara Scharres conveys her fourth day at Cannes, including screenings of "Saint Laurent" and "The Wonders," along with a press conference for John Woo's "The Crossing."
A history and appreciation of R.W. Fassbinder on the launch of a retrospective screening series at the Lincoln Center.
Why DiCaprio doesn't get lucky at the Oscars; Atheism in Hollywood; Famous rejection letters; Wes Anderson as an advertiser; Auteur theory and Kent Jones.
Joe Dallesandro; "Blazing Saddles" at 40; women and revenge; women and Scorsese.
Scorsese, De Niro reuniting on a new gangster film; Zadie Smith on life, death, Warhol; Spike Lee speaks; our ancestors didn't sleep like us; Van Sant to headline a LGBT film fest in St. Petersburg.
For those of us who missed our calling as jet setters, socialites or fashion models along comes the edifying, spritely documentary "Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution" to show us how much work it is to be spontaneously fabulous.
Nearly 40 years ago, in late November of 1973, something rather momentous happened at the Opéra Royal on the grounds of the King's old digs outside Paris. In the course of a fashion show that Women's Wear Daily dubbed "The Battle of Versailles," boldly assertive American runway models -- many of whom were what we now call African-American -- wore sporty, comfortable American designer clothes with such, well, panache that the absolute supremacy of French haute couture was dented for good.
When I was a child I was taught that it was unacceptable to call something -- a movie, a song, an activity -- "boring" because: 1) it doesn't make sense (a thing can't be boring, unless perhaps it is a drill bit; a person feels bored); and 2) it's indefensible, since the quality of "boringness" cannot be isolated or identified as an element of the thing itself; it's a feeling and it is yours).
So, saying something is "boring" is not exactly like saying something in a movie is "funny" or "moving" -- though, again, I'd prefer to place the responsibility for a response on the "feeler" rather than on the object -- because at least you can describe how something is presented or intended to be received as humorous or touching, even if you don't think it is. (Yes, there are exceptions to that, too.) I mean, a joke or a gag or an emotional situation can be objectively analyzed, but there are no agreed-upon cultural standards for evaluating "boring."¹
"Boring," I believe, is more like the word "entertaining" -- too vague to be of much use in a critical vocabulary. So, I might say I found something about a movie "tedious" or "engaging" or some other thesaurus word, but I'll attribute the emotion to myself and my taste, and even then not without a serious attempt to describe what I'm talking about, and to give at least one specific example.²
But now, "boring" is hot, at least in overheated Interwebular film criticism circles, since the publication of Dan Kois' New York Times Magazine piece called "Eating Your Cultural Vegetables," in which he says:
Marie writes: you've all heard of Banksy. But do you know about JR...?(click to enlarge image)
Marie writes: Having recently seen a stage play, I was reminded again of how much I enjoy them. And the buildings they're often performed in. Which sent me off looking for old ones and hopefully Theatres you never hear about - as then it's like stumbling upon a secret known only to a lucky few. And thus how I found "Minack Theatre Portcurno Cornwall" with a view over-looking the Cornish sea...
Part I (before I saw "Trash Humpers")
Google "Netflix" and "Trash Humpers" and the first result you'll get is this: Netflix - Watch Trash Humpers. The second result (dated October 20, 2010) is an article from Filmmaker Magazine headlined: "'Trash Humpers' too trashy for Netflix?" Note that the head is in the form of a question, because the article/post itself consists almost entirely of a promotional announcement from Drag City, the DVD distributor of "Trash Humpers," claiming that Netflix was refusing to carry the video, which (according to Amazon.com) was officially released September 21, 2010.
The press release was a useful publicity stunt (what do you expect for a Harmony Korine movie called "Trash Humpers"?), but how much truth it contained I haven't been able to determine, and I haven't been able to find any comments from anyone at Netflix. In its widely reprinted (but evidently unquestioned) October manifesto, Drag City said:
... Netflix has deemed the content of Trash Humpers to be too inappropriate for their subscribers to make it available to them. From their perspective, they may be right: they certainly know their subscribers and their tastes, and might have a better awareness of their breaking point (we thought that might have been fuckin' Avatar). So it's hard to fault them. But we do love a challenge! We don't expect Netflix to carry anything they don't want to, for whatever reason, but it reminds us that this is the price paid when we allow one entity to control the lion's-share of content distribution.
Drag City provided a link to "actual factual mom-and-pop DVD sales-and/or-rental stores" that were carrying "Trash Humpers," including Amazon.com, Newbury Comics and Amoeba.
Two men are in conflict in a stunning sub-Arctic landscape in "How I Ended This Summer," the Russian drama by Aleksei Popogrebsky that won the Gold Hugo, the top prize in the 46th Chicago International Film Festival.
It's a question to ponder -- especially when they're Andy Warhol movies (whether or not Andy Warhol actually had anything to do with them besides putting his name on them). Consider this story from Reid Rosefelt at My Life as a Blog:
... I was a huge fan of Warhol's films, despite the fact that I had never seen a single one. Most, if not all of the films had been withdrawn from circulation, or very rarely shown, certainly not in Madison. That didn't stop me. I read everything I could about them, and I was totally fascinated.
Spotting Warhol standing at an appetizer table, plastic cup in one hand and plate in the other, during a late-1970s party in New York, RR worked up the nerve to approach the artist. It went something like this:
Click above to REALLY enlarge...
UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...
Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.
In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)
He is a viper, a parasite, a stalker, a vermin. He is also, I have decided, a national treasure. Ron Galella, the best known of all paparazzi, lost a lawsuit to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and five teeth to Marlon Brando, but he also captured many of the iconic photographs of his era. At 77, he is still active, making the drive from his New Jersey home and his pet bunny rabbits through the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan, the prime grazing land of his prey.
I had an idea, as many of us do, about Gallela and the species of paparazzi. It was a hypocritical idea. I disapproved of him and enjoyed his work. Yes, he comes close to violating the rights of public people, and sometimes crosses the line. He certainly crossed the line with Jackie's children.
"What 'American Pie' betrays is not good taste but any notion that privacy could matter to these kids or to us. Everything in this picture is out front: whatever humiliates the characters most is precisely what everyone in the school learns about them, and the movie views this as proper and humane. For we are all swimming in the same soup of confusion and embarrassment, voyeurism and malice. But without some feeling for privacy as a value, a movie about teen sex and romance can't be made with any grace or style. The idea that everyone should know everything, however productive of comedy, links the movie to the kind of daytime talk show in which neighborhood friends betray one another's secrets and the audience howls at them in mock disapproval and open pleasure. The new hit comedies make us join that audience, whether we want to or not." -- David Denby, The New Yorker (July 12, 1999)
Andy Warhol got it almost right. Everybody is a "Superstar" (in the Warholian sense) already, or at least everybody behaves like one. And in the future -- that is, 10 years after "American Pie" and 22 years after Andy's death -- everybody's also a self-publicist, using sophisticated technology to manage a public image that masquerades as a mutant form of privacy. Blogs, Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter -- these and so many other powerful promotional tools can be used by anyone, kids or mega-corporations, to create an illusion of intimacy with (in Facebookspeak) "friends" and "fans."
"I get a great laugh from artists who ridicule the critics as parasites and artists manqués -- such a horrible joke. I can't imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism. I can't imagine anything more valuable to do." -- Manny Farber, quoted in Roger Ebert's appreciation of the late, great critic
Painter and critic Manny Farber, whose book "Negative Space" is one of the essential collections of visual-arts criticism, has died at the age of 91. Farber's writing was scrappy, unpretentious and iconoclastic, not unlike the films and filmmakers he favored, from the genre pictures of Sam Fuller, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah and John Wayne, to the visionary and experimental work of Werner Herzog, R.W. Fassbinder, Andy Warhol and Chantal Akerman. (See pages from the expanded 1998 edition here.)
Unquestionably his most famous and reverently-quoted essay was 1962's "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art." Modern art, he wrote, had become "a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition: far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turned into mannerisms by the padding, lechery, faking required to combine today's esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art."
Farber is as much fun to read as he is to agree -- and argue-- with. I can think of no better tribute than to cite a few excerpts from his "termite art" treatise:
View image Nudge-nudge. (2008)
(My review of "Funny Games" is here. See also Your User's Guide to Movie Violence, a discussion below.)
* * * *
"You Must Admit, You Brought This On Yourself" -- advertising tagline, and line of dialog, from "Funny Games" (2008)
"Funny Games" (the 2008 Hollywood movie-star version of the virtually identical 1997 Euro-version) is a conceptual work, an aestheticized test. It's debatable whether the movie (already a replica) is necessary, except as an object that represents the larger concept -- like, say, an Andy Warhol Brillo box or Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners in plexiglass cases.
View image Wink-wink. (1997)
You could say something similar about the high-concept "Snakes On a Plane," and you'd be right. The difference is that the marketing campaign behind the packaging of "Snakes On a Plane" was designed to sell exactly the entertainment experience that the title promised. With "Funny Games," there's a deliberate element of bait-and-switch involved. It's being sold as entertainment, but that's not at all what it intends to deliver. The experience of "Funny Games" exists in the tension between the pitch and the delivery -- which will largely determine the relationship between the viewer and the film he/she sees.
So, the promotional materials for "Funny Games" (poster art, trailers, online videos, etc.) are more than the usual extensions or enhancements of the movie. They frame the experience, but they're also essential elements of the movie itself. Why you decide to watch it (or not) is every bit as central to the movie's concerns as anything in the movie itself. That may be true of any movie, but "Funny Games" puts it right there in the foreground where you can't miss it.
View image Promotional art for the 1997 version.
If you go expecting entertainment and are entertained (or, at least, terrified -- held hostage by your own expectations), that will be one thing. If you go expecting a moral lesson about the appeal of violence in movies, and you feel chastened and sullied, that will be another. If you go expecting a thriller or a comedy and find nothing thrilling or funny about it, that will be something else. If you go expecting to be toyed with and, say, enjoy feeling that you're ahead of the movie (maybe because you've already seen the 1997 version), that will provide yet another experience. If you value writer-director Michael Haneke's other work and want to see why he's chosen to remake this one... well, I hope you get the idea.
So, the first part of the experiment involves your decision to participate or not. The movie is the second part.
Q. There are several reports about extreme reactions of early cinema audiences that I find hard to believe. It is said that viewers of the first movies were frightened by what they saw, such as moving images of an incoming train.
By Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert
View image "Zabriskie Point" -- an Antonioni movie on the cover of LOOK magazine in 1969: "Had he violated the Mann Act when he staged a nude love-in in a national park? Does the film show an "anti-American" bias? As a member of the movie Establishment, is he distorting the aims of the young people's 'revolution'?"
Watching Ingmar Bergman's "Shame" (1968) over the weekend (which I was pleased to find that I had not seen before -- after 20 or 30 years, I sometimes forget), I recalled something that happened around 1982. Through the University of Washington Cinema Studies program, we brought the now-famous (then not-so-) story structure guru Robert McKee to campus to conduct a weekend screenwriting seminar. McKee, played by Brian Cox in Spike Jonze's and Charlie Kaufman's "Adapation." as the ultimate authority on how to write a salable screenplay, has probably been the single-most dominant influence in American screenwriting -- "Hollywood" and "independent" -- over the last two decades. Many would say "pernicious influence." (Syd Field is another.)
It's not necessarily McKee's fault that so many aspiring screenwriters and studio development executives have chosen to emphasize a cogent, three-act structure over all other aspects of the script, including things like character, ideas, and even coherent narrative. Structure, after all, is supposed to be merely the backbone of storytelling, not the be-all, end-all of screenwriting. But people focus on the things that are easiest to fix, that make something feel like a movie, moving from beat to beat, even if the finished product is just a waste of time.
The film McKee chose to illustrate the principles of a well-structured story that time was Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring."
"Shame" is another reminder that Bergman's movies weren't solely aimed at "art" -- they were made to appeal to an audience. Right up to its bleak ending, "Shame" is a rip-roaring story, with plenty of action, plot-twists, big emotional scenes for actors to play, gorgeously meticulous cinematography, explosive special effects and flat-out absurdist comedy. I don't know how "arty" it seemed in 1968, but it plays almost like classical mainstream moviemaking today. (And remember: Downbeat, nihilistic or inconclusive finales were very fashionable and popular in mainstream cinema in the late 1960's: "Bonnie and Clyde," "Blow-Up," "Easy Rider," "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...),
It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors -- who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form. (The Beatles, who in 1964-'65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after "A Hard Day's Night"!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood.
Ebert's Best Film Lists1967 - present
Q. In the HBO movie "The Late Shift," did anyone else notice the large number of instances when angry agents and network execs slammed the mouthpieces of their cell phones closed, akin to slamming down the receiver of a normal phone? And did anyone notice that when someone angrily slammed their shut cell phone, the person on the other end always looked shocked, staring at the phone as if hearing a dial tone? Folding the mouthpiece shut on a cell phone has absolutely no effect on a connection. (Mark Firmani, Seattle)