Synecdoche, New York
If we don't "go to the movies" in any form, our minds wither and sicken.
* 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.
A look at Kimberly Pierce's 2013 version of "Carrie."
An interview with the legendary Liv Ullmann, at this year's TIFF with "Miss Julie."
An excerpt from "Tom Cruise: Anatomy of An Actor."
Why critics keep getting laid off; about That Episode of "Louie"; Robert DeNiro, anatomy of an actor; classic cars on film, posterized.
With "Doll & Em" and "Ghetto Klown", Emily Mortimer and John Leguizamo turn personal stories into wildly creative television.
Ebert Scholarship recipient Carlos Aguilar talks to four filmmakers from around the globe about American cinema, American audiences, and their experiences at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
The class gap caused by lack of Internet access; Andy Kaufman may be alive; Weinstein Co. wins MPAA appeal; "Carlito's Way" appreciation; Dunham and Kaling's brass tacks.
Writer Peter Sobczynski responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Brian De Palma talks about his new film "Passion," his long career and seeing one of his most famous films, "Carrie," get a remake.
Peter Sobczynski ranks 27 films by Brian De Palma.
OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
"Sexual Chronicles of a French Family" (76 minutes) is available via IFC On Demand.
Let's play a game. It's 3 AM and you can't sleep. A channel roulette session with the remote control stops your TV on a certain network synonymous with softcore erotica. Do you: a) Roll your eyes and keep flipping the dial before falling asleep to some warped infomercial?
b) Realize you need something more substantial and order "Chicks Who Dig Odienator 29" off the Adult On Demand Channel?
c) Drop the remote and make a date with Rosy Palm and her Five Sisters? If you answered a, Alex Trebek is here to say "OOH I'M SORRY!!" We've got some nice consolation prizes for you as you leave this blog. If you answered b, I thank for your $9.95, but you will also have to leave this blog. Today's entry is most definitely not your speed. But if you answered c, have I got a movie for you. It's called "Chroniques sexuelles d'une famille d'aujourd'hui" or "Sexual Chronicles of a French Family," and you can watch it in the privacy of your own home. I won't tell, and I certainly won't cast aspersions. After all, I pitched this movie to review here at The Demanders. After discovering the title, and its French origins, my exact pitch to our editor was "Mmmm! FILTH!" So this sinner casts no stones.
Unfortunately, this sinner has issues with this "Chronicles of Labia," the least of which is how to review a movie like this. I could take the high road, but if you've read this far, you are expecting me to traverse the lowest road possible. To review a comedy, one must admit if it inspired laughter. To review an erotic picture, one must more uncomfortably cop to whether it resulted in the upping of a body part that isn't a thumb. In that regard, I respectfully submit that this film didn't do it for me. I expected something a little less squeamish (read: dirtier) than what I got.
"Sexual Chronicles of A French Family" is Cinemax with subtitles, or "Le Çinemax." It has the same frustrating "hide the good stuff" camera angles as your average straight-to-cable softcore knock-off, and the same repeated positions. In its defense, the film does not contain Cinemax's ubiquitous bad boob jobs, the ones so dreadful that they turn breasts into triangles, squares and other shapes nature never intended for headlights. The boob job in this film looks fine. "Chronicles" also has a more intriguing plot than any sex film on cable at 3 AM, though this is somewhat squandered.
Above all it was her personality. Pauline Kael had an overwhelming presence in a conversation. There will no doubt be many discussions of Kael's work and influence and with the publication of Brian Kellow's new biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, and the Library of America's forthcoming collection of her work.
She was the most powerful, loved and hated film critic of her time, but her work cannot be discussed objectively by simply reading it. She challenges you on every page, she's always in your face, and she functioned as the arbiter of any social group she joined. She was quite a dame.
Imagine the headline: "Up" Wins Oscar for Best Cinematography. That's essentially what happened Sunday night, but the movie was "Avatar." "Up" won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. "Avatar" won for Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography. Realistically, "Up" and "Avatar" should have also have competed in a new category -- something like Best Computer-Assisted Animation. It's past time to acknowledge the difference between cinematography -- the photographic process that involves capturing light through a lens -- and animation or green screen work that involves compositing digital images in a computer. Both can be extraordinarily impressive. Let's just agree to call them by their right names.
"When I'm making a movie, the world goes away and I'm on Mt. Everest. Obama is President? Who cares? I'm making my movie." -- Quentin Tarantino, Village Voice interview (2009)
A wily WWII Looney Tunes propaganda movie that conjures up 1945's "Herr Meets Hare," (in which Bugs Bunny goes a-hunting with Hermann Goering in the Black Forest; full cartoon below) and the towering legends of Sergio Leone's widescreen Westerns -- and about a gazillion other movies and bits of movie history from Leni Riefenstahl to Anthony Mann to Brian De Palma -- Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is a gorgeous and goofy revenge cartoon, a conceptual genre picture about the mythmaking power of cinema. Re-writing history? That's missing the point by several kilometers. This is pure celluloid fantasy -- an invigorating wallow in the vicarious pleasures of movie-watching by someone who would rather watch movies than do anything else in the world. Except maybe talk about them.
I spent the last week preparing for "Inglourious Basterds" by watching the two Tarantinos I'd missed: both volumes of "Kill Bill" and "Death Proof." (I came to think of it as the Foot-Fetish Film Festival.) So, with that in mind, I thought I'd begin by taking a general look at how I think Tarantino's movies work -- what they do, and what they don't do -- because, although I haven't read more than a few brief passages from other "Basterds" reviews yet, people seem to think there's been a lot of misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation going around (starting with Newsweek and The Atlantic). Some clearly wanted or expected the movie to be something else. A morality lesson, perhaps. But those other movies would not be ones Quentin Tarantino has ever shown any interest in making. "Inglourious Basterds," love it or hate it (and I think it puts most contemporary American filmmaking to shame), it is what it is because it's exactly the way Tarantino wants it to be. Let's consider...
Q. Having been a fan of the short-lived and vastly underrated animated series "The Critic," the episode "Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice" never ceases to make me laugh. Having also been a fan of yours, I wondered three things: 1. How did getting you and Gene Siskel on the show occur? 2. Did you have any say-so in your lines? 3. Were you a fan of the show?
LOS ANGELES--Roger Ebert, film critic of the Sun-Times, was granted an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the Directors' Guild of America here Saturday night, receiving two standing ovations.
View image Performance? Art?
Consider: If a filmmaker like, say, Brian De Palma, had used actual images of dead and injured Vietnamese war casualties in one of his fictionalized, semi-pseudo-documentary features like "Greetings" (1969) or "Hi, Mom!" (1970), would he or the films' producers or distributors have run a significant risk of being sued by the victims or their families? Are the legal or ethical issues any different now, with the carnage in Iraq? Why or why not? A few things to mull over regarding the latest "Redacted" scandal/controversy/promotional gimmick:
I suspect that De Palma was quite consciously out for publicity at the New York Film Festival press conference for "Redacted" Monday, when he accused Mark Cuban of HDNet and/or Magnolia Pictures of "redacting" the images of actual war casualties in his film's final montage. And it worked. Here's a movie about documentary reporting and amateur video and blogging of the occupation of Iraq and... look! IFC has posted a viral YouTube video of the NYFF confrontation between De Palma and Magnolia Pictures president Eammon Bowles that has been featured (even embedded) on sites such as Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Movie City Indie, GreenCine Daily, spout blog, jürgen fauth’s muckworld and I don't know how many other outlets including... well, the site you're looking at right now.
How much more meta do you want to get?
Bowles denies he was in on any "staging." But De Palma? Isn't that what he does? He provokes, he fakes, he toys with what's genuine and what's phony to the point where the distinctions become tricky or even meaningless. If his role in the press conference, at least, wasn't part of a "Be Black, Baby" performance piece (see "Hi, Mom!") then it sure ought to have been. And even if it wasn't, it still is. Spontaneous, pre-meditated, both, neither -- it's still a spectacle designed for the cameras and the audience.
Far from Vietnam: Internet technology as used, parodied and, yes, redacted in Brian De Palma's "Redacted."
But that's not really the most important issue, is it? De Palma says he got the images for the montage sequence either off the Internet or otherwise, and that they are photos of real people, with real injuries, that photographers took in Iraq. Except for a couple pictures created specifically for "Redacted" -- an wounded pregnant woman featured earlier in the movie and the victim of the fictionalized, (re-)enacted rape and murder -- the photos are meant to be perceived as shockingly unfiltered, and/or to further the movie's strategy of pushing the viewer to question what is real (I suppose I really should put quotation marks around that word in this context) and what has been composed for the movie you're watching. In the version of "Redacted" shown at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, and perhaps in Venice and elsewhere, the faces of the actual victims have been blacked out -- as if someone had taken a marker and scribbled over their eyes to conceal their identities. (The logo of a YouTube-lookalike site shown in the movie has been similarly "redacted.")
De Palma says he wants to use the montage with the unredacted faces. Bowles says (in comments posted at Movie City Indie): the sole reason that the photos are redacted, is that it is legally indefensible to use someone's unauthorized photo in a commercial work. any claim to the contrary is either hopelessly naive or willfully false. And any indemnification does not preclude getting sued, and considering the asset bases of cuban and wagner versus depalma, there's no issue about who's purses will be attacked (not to mention the presumption of agreeing to the image of one of your loved one's mutilated body living on in the world wide media). Brian De Palma is neither naive nor stupid. He knows what Bowles says is true -- and that even if a suit went to court and the producers were able to successfully argue that their use of the photos was journalistic in intent, even within the context of a non-documentary commercial feature film, the cost of fighting such a lawsuit would be significant. In fact, "Redacted" announces itself as a "visual document" of "imagined events" (I'm not sure I remember the exact language used in the opening titles, but I believe that's close), and as such does not attempt to present any factual documentation for those events. De Palma also knows that, while "Redacted" plays with documentary, web, home video and other techniques and formats, it can't help but be an exploitation movie too, no matter how serious its concerns. It's right there in the title: Come see what has been forbidden for you to see.
Again, that's what De Palma does....
View image Me with post-festival headcold, after just getting back home and sinking into the comfort of my den-like Man Chair. (all photos by Jim Emerson, except as noted)
My taxi driver to the airport yesterday (he was Ethiopian, but had lived in Toronto for 18 years) asked me if I'd seen any "movie stars" at the film festival. I had to admit I hadn't -- although I've encountered people I consider to be movie stars on the street in past years: Luis Guzman, Liev Schreiber, Brian De Palma, Sara Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne...
View image The ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Girish. A man with cinecurean tastes. (That's a neologism of my own invention that is related to "epicure" and has nothing to do with "sinecure," I don't think.)
Toronto, at least at festival time, is a celebrity-mad city like no place I've ever seen. Celebrities make the front pages of the newspapers just because they're celebrities and they're in Toronto. Rogers cable used to have a non-stop TIFF schedule of celebrity gossip, celebrity interviews, off-the-cuff "reviews," and celebrity press conferences. I don't know if they did that this year, because I never turned on the television in my hotel room. (Meanwhile, TiVo was covering other necessities for me at home.)
View image Andy Horbal plays Mephisto at the foot of the Stairway to Heaven (the escalator to the Varsity Cinemas).
View image The House Next Door's Keith Uhlich took this shot of himself with his MacBook, outside the press office at the Delta Chelsea.
Some journalists and critics were doing celebrity interviews in addition to going to movies, with stars like George A. Romero (whose girlfriend was the bartender at my hotel!) or Jodie Foster or Brian De Palma or Bela Tarr -- in gang-bang roundtables or 15-30-minute individual sessions. The people I was most excited about getting to meet were my fellow movie bloggers. I had lunch with Girish Shambu between screenings in Toronto last year, and it was a pleasure to see him again, particularly since he enjoyed the oblique, androgynous eroticism of the luminous Eric Rohmer movie as much as I did. His highest recommendation was for Barcelona-born director Jose Luis Guerin's "Dans la ville de Sylvia" -- which, unfortunately, I missed. We also thought Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine" was among the very best things we'd seen.
View image Frames within frames within frames -- and film-festival bedhead. Me at work in my Toronto hotel room.
Keith Uhlich, editor of "The House Next Door," organized a mid-fest critics' roundtable podcast, 'round a tiny round table in Nathan Lee's hotel room with Nathan (whose byline should be familiar from the Village Voice, Film Comment, The New York Times), Torontonian eyeWeekly critic Adam Nayman, Keith, and me. It was too much fun -- we ran out of time long before we ran out of stuff we wanted to talk about. Of course, that was the morning I forgot to bring my camera. Too bad, because if you saw Nathan's new-mown haircut, you'd want to rub his head. It's that cool. (I'll post a link to the podcast when it's available, if you want to hear us go on about the trials of film critics filing reports and interviews from festivals, our indelible images from TIFF, Brian De Palma, Bob Dylan, Todd Haynes, semiotics [not much!], and I forget what else.)
View image Christopher Long, in Philly Eagles t-shirt, who has a woman on his right shoulder saying: "Come, have another cup of coffee!" and a man on his other shoulder saying: "No, there's a huge schedule of films to see -- what's next?"
I also got to meet up with Christopher Long, a frequent and valued contributor to Scanners comments, and reviewer for DVDTown and other sites. Chris claims to loathe Paul Haggis's "Crash" (and Sam Mendes's "American Beauty" -- two peas in a pod) even more than me. I don't know if that's possible, but I found him convincing. They both do the same morally corrupt thing, anyway: taking grotesque clichés and then flipping them around so that that they are... even more insulting clichés. All in the name of "enlightenment." We had a nice talk about our mutual admiration for Divine, too. Don't recall how that one came up.
I'm delighted to have more faces to put with the words I've appreciated from these folks for so long.
View image There are movies being shown in six or eight theaters in the building on the left. That's all I know. (photo by Jim Emerson)
Film festivals allow you the opportunity to see movies without knowing much of anything about them in advance. If you don't want to, that is. The problem with this is that, unless you have a festival catolog (the hefty TIFF 2007 one is 480 pages and sells for $37), you also have no idea of what you don't know about. Today, I arrived more than a half-hour early for a screening of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," only to discover that the previous film (something about "Cassandra") was running about 45 minutes late. The Toronto festival is quite punctual, so this was a most unusual occurrence. The staff person allowed some of us into the theater to sit through the end of the previous movie, in which case we would be able to retain our seats for the one we'd actually come to see.
Now, normally I'm like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" and I don't go into movies late. I rarely leave early, either, even if I think the movie's terrible. In this case, I thought I'd just go in and rest my eyes, since I knew nothing about the film I was about walk into the middle of. It soon became apparent that it had Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in it, as two brothers who were involved in some kind of murder scheme. It was thoroughly mediocre, and I wondered how some first-time commercial filmmaker had lured such a cast, especially with this lackluster script. (Tom Wilkinson showed up, too.) But, I was also seeing it from the middle, sometimes with eyes wide shut, because I was only there to have a seat for the next movie.
When it ended (badly), the credits appeared and I immediately recognized the typeface. It was Woody Allen's latest movie. Surprise.
I write this not to report on a movie I only saw the last half of, but because as I was sitting there I was thinking about how little I have known -- quite deliberately -- about the films I have seen before I have gone to see them. (Of course, I hadn't intended to see even part of this one. That was just an accident.) For the most part I'm trying to maintain blissful ignorance, going into these films with no preconceptions except that I may know who the director is, or who one or two of the cast members are. Or somebody I trust has recommended it. That's as much as I want to know.
Some people at the press and industry screenings seem to know everything about them before the lights go down, but I don't listen to them. So here, in the interest of full disclosure, is how much I knew about some of this year's TIFF movies going in (including a few I haven't yet seen):
"Eastern Promises": David Cronenberg movie with Viggo Mortensen. Not a clue as to what it was about, who else was in it, what it was based on (if anything), or what the title meant.
"Michael Clayton": George Clooney wearing a suit and tie. Nothing else.
"4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": Romanian film about an abortion that won at Cannes.
"Chop Shop": Second film by Ramin Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"). Unaware of where it was set or what it was about, except I thought there was a kid in it.
"Redacted": Brian De Palma. Something about Iraq.
"Secret Sunshine": Asian film (I don't even know what country) that won an award for something somewhere (I think it was Cannes). A friend said I should see it.
"The Orphanage": Mexican. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Appeared to be kinda creepy, and somebody had compared it to "Pan's Labyrinth."
"Margot at the Wedding": Written and directed by Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"). Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. That's all.
"Persepolis": Black and white. Animated. No idea of language or subject.
"Atonement": Based on Ian McEwan novel I haven't finished (but have at home). Don't know who directed it or who's in the cast.
"The Man From London": Directed by Bela Tarr.
"I'm Not There": Todd Haynes' movie in which several people play Bob Dylan. I knew Cate Blanchett was one of them.
"No Country for Old Men": A Coen brothers movie, based on Cormac McCarthy's book (which I'd read). Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem were in it. Roger really liked it.
"Into the Wild": Sean Penn-directed adaptation of Jon Krakauer's biography of Christopher McCandless, which I read about ten years ago and really liked. I knew Emile Hirsch was the main character, but I couldn't recall any movies I'd seen Emile Hirsch in before.
(Once again, my brain is so full of movies I want to write about that I can't concentrate on any one long enough to finish writing about it. I've got about four posts partly written. Hope I'll get a chance to within the next 24 hours. In the meantime, there are more movies to see...)
The public and the private, the personal and the political: Although this isn't precisely the opening shot of "Greetings" described here, it's part of it, showing the same TV, the same book and the same coffee pot in the same apartment. Frame grabs to come...
Excerpt from my programme notes for a double-bill of "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom!" -- the first presentation in a Brian De Palma series programmed by R.C. Dale at the University of Washington, April 14, 1981:
.... "Greetings," De Palma's 1968 anti-military/anti-war movie mélange, was the first of his films to find an audience. In fact, it was so successful that "Hi, Mom!" was conceived as a sequel (originally to be called "Son of Greetings"). "Greetings" is an ebullient comedy, and a brazenly disturbing mixture of movie-movie acrobatics and American counter-culture politics in the manner of pre-l968 Godard. Critics have emphasized over and over De Palma's debt to filmmakers such as Godard and (especially over-emphasized) Alfred Hitchcock. In "Greetings," Michelangelo Antontoni's "Blow Up," another hip youth-cult film of the time, also looms large. But the filmmaker whose specter really presides over this film is that of Abraham Zapruder, the man who made the most famous home movie of the Kennedy assassination at Dealy Plaza. The first thing we see in DePalma's movie is a television set carrying a speech by President Johnson. In front of the set sits a book: "Six Seconds in Dallas." "Greetings," made five years after the assassination, is a picture of a nation obsessed with six seconds of 8 mm Kodak movie film. Right away, De Palma begins detailing the dissolution of the barrier between the personal and the political in American society; just as, in this and subsequent films, he will dissolve the barrier between the film and the audience, between horror and humor, between public and private.
It was 20 years ago that Oliver Stone fired "Platoon" straight at the heart of American myths about the war in Vietnam, and scored a direct hit. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1986, Stone won for directing, and a spectacular directorial career was launched. Previously, Stone had written the screenplays for the Alan Parker-directed "Midnight Express" (for which Stone won his first Oscar) and "Scarface," directed by Brian De Palma. He'd directed a horror film called "The Hand" in 1981, but with the one-two punch of "Salvador" and "Platoon" in 1986, Stone scored a big impression.
From Dennis Cozzalio, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule:
Brian De Palma’s exceedingly stimulating and sensational consideration of femme fatale iconography and the possibility of redemption within it begins with one of the director’s customarily brilliant, multilayered opening shots. Under the black of the producers credits, familiar voices are heard. It’s Fred MacMurray. Fade up on a shot of an extreme close-up of a TV. It’s MacMurray, 525 broadcast lines blown up to big-screen size, in "Double Indemnity". But a close examination of the image reveals a splash of color -- something else is visible here, contrasting with the black-and-white images of Billy Wilder’s film. It’s a reflected image of a half-naked woman stretched out perpendicular across the TV screen. She is watching "Double Indemnity", and we see her watching the movie in her reflection off the glass TV screen. "Double Indemnity" continues to play out, crosscutting between MacMurray and the original femme fatale, Barbara Stanwyck (as Phyllis Dietrichson).
The image of the young woman becomes clear, yet remains slightly ghostly, as the image in Wilder’s film darkens. MacMurray moves to close a window, when a shot rings out. Stanwyck has betrayed him with a bullet, and the title credit "Femme Fatale" pops on screen at the same time, as the ethereal image of the woman, reclining on her side, dispassionately watching the movie, lingers. (The title credit “A Film by Brian De Palma��? was earlier synchronized with Stanwyck’s first appearance on the TV.) Now De Palma’s camera begins to pull back. We see the cabinet of the TV, and we can now also observe that there are French subtitles superimposed on Wilder’s film. The image of the woman reflected in the TV seems even clearer now, as we continue to pull back, seeing her much more clearly in the flesh, gray tendrils rising from the cigarette she’s smoking while watching the TV. At this point there is double layering of the woman’s image, the reflection and the person being reflected, over the image of Stanwyck, who has taken a dominant position over her wounded lover as she confesses her machinations against him.