300: Rise of an Empire
In comparison with "300", this insane film is more engaging by dint of being absolutely impossible to take even a little bit seriously.
* 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.
Michael Mirasol shares what he wants to say to Roger after seeing "Life Itself".
Matt Zoller Seitz interviews Steve James, director of "Life Itself," a documentary adapting Roger Ebert's memoir.
The first recipients of the Sundance Institute's Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism make their debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
Sheila writes: Exciting news for Roger Ebert fans: Director Steve James ["Hoop Dreams"] is planning a full-length documentary about Roger Ebert called "Life Itself", which will follow the trajectory of Ebert's career as well as examine his vast influence on the movie industry and American culture as a whole. Martin Scorsese is executive producer. The documentary is being financed partially through a fundraising campaign hosted by Indiegogo, and we wanted to let Ebert Club Members know that the "Life Itself" filmmakers are offering a special deal EXCLUSIVE TO EBERT CLUB MEMBERS who pledge to this campaign!
You emailed me the questions to this interview on March 15, 2013. In your March 16th reply to my email, you said: The piece will go out to all my print syndication customers. (“Print!” How times change.)
Marie writes: Behold the entryway to the Institut Océanographique in Paris; and what might just be the most awesome sculpture to adorn an archway in the history of sculptures and archways. Photo @ pinterest
(click to enlarge.)
Ramin Bahrani, the best new American director of recent years, has until now focused on outsiders in this country: A pushcart operator from Pakistan, a Hispanic street orphan in New York, a cab driver from Senegal working in Winston-Salem. NC. His much-awaited new film, "At Any Price," is set in the Iowa heartland and is about two American icons: A family farmer and a race car driver. It plays Sunday and Monday in the Toronto Film Festival.
I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound magazine's famous poll to determine the greatest films of all time. Apart from my annual year's best lists, this is the only list I vote in. It is a challenge. After voting in 1972, 1982 and 1992, I came up with these ten titles in 2002:
I sent an e-mail the other day that was one of the hardest things I've ever had to write. It was to Jim Palmer and Maura Clare at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder. I told them I wouldn't be coming back this spring. I sent it, and stared into space, and was flooded with sadness.
I don't intend to write here about the Conference, which has allowed me to live more than nine months of my life in Boulder, one week at a time. I wrote about CWA in a 2009 blog entry titled the Leisure of the Theory Class. I need not tell you again about Howard Higman or Daddy Bruce Jr.
"For me, the border between feature films and documentaries has always been blurred. 'Fitzcarraldo' is my best documentary and 'Little Dieter Needs to Fly' is my best fiction film. I don't make such a clear distinction between them -- they're all movies."
-- Werner Herzog, interview with Index Magazine, 2004 - - - - - - - - - -
"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" was the first Werner Herzog film I ever saw, back when it was released in the United States in 1977. It was one of the first films I ever reviewed, too (for my college newspaper, the University of Washington Daily). All I knew about Herzog at the time was what I'd read in an extraordinary profile by Jonathan Cott in the November 18, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone, which portrayed Herzog as a mad visionary in search of new images, not unlike the obsessed outsiders at the heart of his movies.
I couldn't stop staring at the haunting photograph that surrounded the article, from (as I recall) such films as "Signs of Life," "Even Dwarfs Started Small," "Aguirre," "Kaspar Hauser" and "Heart of Glass." They certainly didn't look quite like any movies I'd seen before. And essential to the spectacle was the knowledge that Herzog had gone to remote and exotic places in order to capture these images and bring them back into the cinema. They were unquestionably photographical realities (imagine Herzog speaking that phrase), not optical tricks created in post-production. The boat in the tree in "Aguirre" -- the one the feverish characters could no longer recognize as real -- was an actual boat in an actual tree, not a miniature or a matte painting. Even the photographic effects -- the time-lapse clouds flowing through the mountains like a river around boulders in "Kaspar Hauser" "Heart of Glass"; or the high-speed "ski-flying" (high-altitude, long-distance ski-jumping) footage that allowed Walter Steiner to float through the air in "The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner" -- were actual recordings of real-world phenomena.
"People should look straight at a film... That's the only way to see one. Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates. And film culture is not analysis, it is agitation of the mind. Movies come from the country fair and circus, not from art and academicism."
-- Werner Herzog, 1978 interview quoted in John Sandford's book, "The New German Cinema" (1980)
We knew it was going to be interesting. Seeing "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) for the first time in 25 years (even though I'd seen it many times before) with Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani, Roger Ebert and a Conference on World Affairs Cinema Interruptus audience in Boulder, CO, last week reconfirmed that not only is Herzog a magnificent, instinctive director, but a first-class showman in the carnival tradition, a compelling speaker and storyteller, and a wonderful actor. Some of the wild tales he related to the audience in Macky Hall are, I'm told, also on the director's commentary track of the American DVD of "Aguirre" -- and some I've heard him tell many times over the years, but there's nothing quite like hearing Herzog spin his spiels in the flesh -- even (or maybe especially) when he's a booming voice in the dark.
... to write anything last week at CWA where there's hardly a moment to breathe (gasping at the mile-high altitude aside) between panels, conversations, lunches, parties, receptions (and -- for me, anyway -- precious sleep). You have to understand: I often go days without actually seeing or speaking to anybody; all this socializing is exhausting for me. I'll be looking back at the experience this week, but in the meantime, in case you missed it, Roger Ebert writes about the first day's Cinema Interruptus with Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani and "Aguirre, the Wrath of God."
(Above: Photo by Roger Ebert. And aren't Ramin's new frames terrific?)
I saw "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" for the first time in a defrocked Lutheran Church in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which Milos Stehlik had taken over for his newly-born Facets Multimedia. "It is a film you must see," he told me. "Bring a pillow. The pews can get hard."
I saw a great film, one of the greatest ever made. An essential film. In 1999, I made it one of the first titles in my Great Movies Collection. Now I wonder if I really saw it at all.
I'll be in Boulder this week for another round of the Conference on World Affairs.
I will be part of these panels, on such diverse topics as dogs and international politics (that's one subject), ad hominem mouthpieces in the media (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly), the politics of "Avatar," blatant and condescending forms of racism, and why we go to the movies. My pal Julia Sweeney will be joining the ranks of participants. And I get to be on two panels with the fantastic Ike Wilson, who's also delivering the keynote!
Oh yes: Ramin Bahrani will be returning for the Cinema Interruptus (last year he guided us through his own "Chop Shop") -- this time exploring, shot-by-shot, Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" with Herr Herzog himself, Roger Ebert (who, I hope, will be using his Mac voice), the audience, and me. I plan to handle remote control responsibilities to the best of my ability (pausing for questions and comments, rewinding and re-playing) -- but, for the most part, I intend to shut up and learn something. And, as usual, I know I will. And, whenever I get a chance, I will be posting (and tweeting) about it...
The first time I made a year-end list for Scanners, I did it by suggesting double-bills of 2006 films with older films (much like what contributors to The Auteurs did this year). In 2007, I made my first year-end movie, inspired by "L'Eclisse," as a tribute to the late Michelangelo Antonioni and a commentary on the WGA strike that was happening at the time. Last year, the concept was based on a shot of Hannah Schygulla, Goddess of Cinema, waking up, looking into the camera (in Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven") and dreaming fragments of the films on my list.
This year, I'm not quite sure how it came together (see opening title), but I took my cue from my favorite movie of the year, the Coens' "A Serious Man." I knew I didn't want to adhere to any rigid countdown hierarchy this time, but to let the movies converse with themselves through images. I chose the word "conversation" knowing there would be no dialog except at the very beginning and the very end, with the Jefferson Airplane song "Somebody to Love" (recurring element in "A Serious Man") in between. That gave me approximately 2 minutes and 58 seconds for the montage....
Once again, my favorite movies of the year engage in overlapping cinematic conversation with one another, blurring stylistic, thematic, national, linguistic, philosophical, theological and proprietary boundaries. No one is playing the blame game here. Happy new year!
(list and links after the jump...)
"Synecdoche, New York" is the best film of the decade. It intends no less than to evoke the strategies we use to live our lives. After beginning my first viewing in confusion, I began to glimpse its purpose and by the end was eager to see it again, then once again, and I am not finished. Charlie Kaufman understands how I live my life, and I suppose his own, and I suspect most of us. Faced with the bewildering demands of time, space, emotion, morality, lust, greed, hope, dreams, dreads and faiths, we build compartments in our minds. It is a way of seeming sane.
The mind is a concern in all his screenplays, but in "Synecdoche" (2008), his first film as a director, he makes it his subject, and what huge ambition that demonstrates. He's like a
Since Moses brought the tablets down from the mountain, lists have come in tens, not that we couldn't have done with several more commandments. Who says a year has Ten Best Films, anyway? Nobody but readers, editors, and most other movie critics. There was hell to pay last year when I published my list of Twenty Best. You'd have thought I belched at a funeral. So this year I have devoutly limited myself to exactly ten films.
"I just think that the young filmmakers today should take advantage of the opportunities and technology that they have now, that I didn't have, or the generations before me. 'Cause now you have no excuse.... If you want to be a filmmaker, there it is." -- Spike Lee, interview with Digital Camera Magazine
The means of production and promotion are in the hands of filmmakers in ways they have never been in the medium's history. As Spike Lee, director and tube-sock salesman (anybody remember the campaign for "She's Gotta Have It"?) has said, there are no excuses anymore. If you want to make a movie and get it seen, the tools are right there at your disposal. You don't need massive studio resources and hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars; all you need is a video camera, a computer, some software and access to the Internet and you've got a whole vertically-integrated world at your disposal: production, marketing, exhibition. A few well-targeted e-mails, some YouTube clips, a Facebook or MySpace page -- even an old-fashioned web site -- and suddenly thousands of people know about you and your film. A service like Withoutabox allows you to enter film festivals all over the world in a jiffy, right from your keyboard -- without so much as a trip to the post office until you know if you've been accepted or invited.
Over many years of interviewing filmmakers I've often asked them how they have the energy to make a film once they've managed to raise enough money to go into production. And I've wondered how they have enough stamina to work on getting their films seen once they're finished. Specialized film publicist extraordinaire Reid Rosefelt is amazed by the power of new technologies, but asks: "What Happens to the Filmmakers Who Can't Market Themselves?" At his blog, Shake Your Windows, he writes:
I admit that I am also ambivalent about marketing, because I am someone who loves movies first and promotes them second. I don't want a director to tell me what a movie means. I don't want to be saddled with the director's insistence that the reason they made the film defines what the movie is. In a lot of ways, the reason that a director thinks he or she made a film is irrelevant. They may not fully understand themselves as human beings, let alone understand their movie. Mysterious things come into play that they don't understand. That's the miracle of it, really.
Some filmmakers are very skilled about how to play the game of talking to the media. They have a natural facility for giving great quotes without giving away the store. Some, like Jarmusch, have a strong image that works into the way you perceive their movies, expanding and not contracting your reactions. Some are a hoot, like Almodovar, and draw you in with their high spirits. Some invent their own myth out of whole cloth, like Herzog. Many of the people who last the longest in pop culture are shape-shifters, like Dylan, Madonna and Robert Redford--they are omnipresent, hiding in plain sight, and the more you think you know about them, the less you do.
UPDATED with more examples -- and questions -- after the jump.
Can one bad shot ruin a movie? I can't think of any examples off the top of my head -- I don't think it happens very often -- but I do believe it's possible. I'm not among those who think the final shot of Hal Ashby's "Being There" takes a marvelously sustained balancing act and kicks it to the ground. But I can understand how somebody might feel that way.
But how can just one bad decision -- maybe on screen for just a second or two -- deflate a full-length motion picture? Well, roughly the same way a pinprick in a balloon can, I guess. It can puncture the thin membrane that's sustaining the thing. Without shape and purpose, there's nothing to keep it aloft any longer.
Try thinking of a movie like a pop song. One misplaced note in the melody, one cheesy chord, one tacky lyric, one mispronounced word ("Yes, I hate the way he says 'don't diszgard me' too," Robert Christgau wrote of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" in 1974, and I still remember him mentioning it 35 years later) can render the whole record unlistenable, depending on how sensitive you are to the particular offense.
Or think of a movie as a piece of architecture. A misplaced brick of the wrong color or texture, a sloppy corner, a window stuck in the wrong wall -- could conceivably demolish the overall effect of an otherwise well-designed building. Leave out a stone, or put in one of the wrong size or shape or strength, and all or part of the structure could come crashing down.
Or think of a movie as your face. With one festering pimple right there. And it's permanent. It doesn't take up a lot of facial real estate, but it mars the visage so that it's all anybody notices.
I have feelings more than ideas. I am tired, but very happy. My 11th annual film festival has just wrapped at the Virginia Theater in my home town, and what I can say is, it worked. There is no such thing as the best year or the worst year. But there is such a thing as a festival where every single film seemed to connect strongly with the audience. Sitting in the back row, seeing these films another time, sensing the audience response, I thought: Yes, these films are more than good, and this audience is a gathering of people who feel that.
Let me tell you about the last afternoon, the screening of a newly restored 70mm print of "Baraka." The 1,600 seats of the main floor and balcony were very nearly filled. The movie exists of about 96 minutes of images, music and sound. Nothing else. No narration. No subtitles. No plot, no characters. Just the awesome beauty of this planet and the people who live on it. The opening scene of a monkey, standing chest-deep in a warm pool in the snow, looking. Looking in a very long and patient shot, which invites us to see through his eyes. Then the stars in the sky above. "Baraka" is a meditation on what it means to be awake to the world.
I have lived more than nine months of my life in Boulder, Colorado, one week at a time. Here I am again. Here more than anywhere else I have heard for the first time about more new things, met more fascinating people who have nothing to do with the movies, learned more about debate, and trained under fire to think on my feet. So please don't zone out on me because I use the zzzzz-inducing term "Conference on World Affairs."
For 61 years, this annual meeting at the University of Colorado has persuaded a very mixed bag of people to travel to Boulder at their own expense, appear with each other on panels not of their choosing, live with local hosts who volunteer their homes, speak spontaneously on topics they learn about only after they arrive, are driven around town by volunteers, fed at lunch by the university, and in the evening by such as CWA chairman Jane Butcher in her own home. For years the conference founder Howard Higman personally cooked on Tuesday night. The hundreds of panels, demonstrations, concerts, polemics, poetry, politics and performances are and always have been free and open to the public.
Q. You wrote: "It's like the dilemma of the 10 hot dogs and eight buns: You can never come out even at the end." Well, of course you can come out even: Four packs of wienies and five packs of buns yields 40 hot dogs.
It's a good thing Ebertfest is no longer called the Overlooked Film Festival. One of my choices this year, "Frozen River," was in danger of being overlooked when I first invited it, but then it realized the dream of every indie film, found an audience and won two Oscar nominations. Yet even after the Oscar nods, it has grossed only about $2.5 million and has been unseen in theaters by most of the nation.
Those numbers underline the crisis in independent, foreign or documentary films--art films. More than ever, the monolithic U.S. distribution system freezes out films lacking big stars, big ad budgets, ready-made teenage audiences, or exploitable hooks. When an unconventional film like "Slumdog Millionaire" breaks out, it's the exception that proves the rule. While it was splendid, it was not as original or really as moving as the American indie "Chop Shop," made a year earlier. The difference is, the hero of "Chop Shop" wasn't trying to win a million rupees--just to survive.
Ramin Bahrani is the new great American director. After three films, each a master work, he has established himself as a gifted, confident filmmaker with ideas that involve who and where we are at this time. His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all. His subjects so far have been immigrants working hard to make a living in America. His fourth film, now in preparation, will be a Western. His hero will be named Tom. Well, he couldn't very well be named Huckleberry.
The Old West, too, was a land of immigrants, many of them speaking no English. But Bahrani never refers to his characters as immigrants. They are new Americans, climbing the lower rungs of the economic ladder. There is the Pakistani in "Man Push Cart," who operates a coffee-and-bagel wagon in Manhattan. The Latino kid in "Chop Shop," surviving in a vast auto parts bazaar in the shadow of Shea Stadium. The taxi driver from Senegal in "Goodbye Solo," who works long hours in Winston-Salem, N.C. ["Solo" opens March 27 in Chicago and New York.] These people are not grim and depressed, but hopeful when they have little to be hopeful about. They aren't walking around angry. Wounded, sometimes. They plan to prevail.