Sheila writes: Thank you all for taking the time to answer our survey! We will keep you posted on any changes that may come about. So let's get to the newsletter, shall we? Jack Kerouac famously wrote the majority of "On the Road" on one long scroll of paper. Kerouac found that taking the time to remove the finished pages off of the typewriter and replacing them with a fresh sheet interrupted his flow. California artist Paul Rogers, who has done ten book covers for Random House UK of Hemingway classic, has created an online scroll of beautiful illustrations for Kerouac's novel. Evocative and gritty, they make a great companion piece for "On the Road". You can see more of Paul Rogers' cool work at his site.
The original poster for "Ashes and Diamonds" resembles a desperate message written down in blood. Indeed, when Andrzej Wajda's film opened in Poland in March 1958, it was greeted with a sense of urgency by the nation at large. Finally (thirteen years after WW2 ended) a movie got made that acknowledged the plight of the Home Army: the true war heroes whose vision of a free Poland didn't include a communist takeover. For more than a decade, these people have been banned from collective memory and referred to only with state-approved derision. Suddenly, a Home Army officer was the focal point of a major film. And even though he died at the end, the viewers were identifying with his lost cause rather than with the winning one. They knew the latter all too well from their everyday lives to cheer it.
Some tricky music rights issues finally got resolved, and so Jerzy Skolimowski's "Deep End" is back on the map, and with a recent run at Brooklyn's BAMcinématek under its belt to prove it. A legendary specter for years - lusted after but near-impossible to track down and watch - it now arrives as part of the adventurous BFI Flipside series in a lush DVD/Blu-ray edition that will have you gasping equally at Jane Asher's copper-red coiffure and John Moulder-Brown's baby blue eyes (the latter firmly fixed on the former throughout the movie).
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Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," an independent American production, won the Gold Hugo as the best film in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival, and added Gold Plaques for best supporting actress (Jossie Thacker) and best screenplay (Mabry). It tells the harrowing story of three black children growing up in rural Mississippi in circumstances of violence and addiction. The film's trailer and an interview with Mabry are linked at the bottom.
Kylee Russell in "Mississippi Damned"
The winner of the Audience Award, announced Friday, was "Precious" (see below). The wins came over a crowed field of competitors from all over the world, many of them with much larger budgets. The other big winner at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East awards ceremony Saturday evening was by veteran master Marco Bellocchio of Italy, who won the Silver Hugo as best director for "Vincere," the story of Mussolini's younger brother. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi won Silver Hugos as best actress and actor, and Daniele Cipri won a Gold Plaque for best cinematography.
The Chicago International Film Festival is celebrating its 45th anniversary in better form than ever, I think. The festival, which opened Thursday, will be presenting 145 films from 45 countries. That's fewer than Toronto or Cannes but more, I believe, than any other American festival -- and besides, can you see 10 films a day?
I'm writing this the day after first posting this entry. I now regret it. The point I make about artists is perfectly valid but I realize I wasn't prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival's decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to "re-brand" Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this. It was naive for the plan's supporters to believe it would have the effect they hoped for. The original entry remains below. The first 50 or so comments were posted before these regrets.
¶ The tumult continues here about the decision to spotlight Tel Aviv in the City-to-City sidebar program of the Toronto Film Festival. The protesters say the festival is thereby recognizing the "apartheid regime" of Israel. The controversy shows no sign of abating, and indeed on Tuesday it was still big news in the Toronto newspapers, with the Star's front page featuring lineups of those opposing the TIFF decision (including Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortenson, Julie Christie and Danny Glover) and those supporting it (including Jerry Seinfeld, David Cronenberg, Sasha Baron Cohen, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Kudrow and Natalie Portman).
I can't think of another movie that makes me laugh and cry within the course of its opening shot. This is "The Big Animal" (2000), a feature directed by and starring Jerzy Stuhr, based on an early screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski. You may know Stuhr from Kieslowski's first feature, "Camera Buff" ("Amator"), "Three Colors: White," "Dekalog: 10" ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods") and other films by Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi and Angieszka Holland.
This shot could serve as an introduction -- perhaps an encapsulation -- of a certain Polish sensibility dear to my heart that is both absurd and poignant. It begins in the fog -- at least, we think it's fog, but the way it's blowing it looks more like smoke. Turns out it is smoke, from a pair of circus vans, and as they move past the camera and roll off into the distance, the right side of the frame clears and... there's a camel standing there.
Why is there a camel standing there? We don't know. It appears to have been left behind for some reason. The image is comical, incongruous, absurd. But if you think about it, it's rather sad. Poor camel. It just stands there. It looks around. It reverses direction. And just at the end of the shot, the two circus trucks in the background appear to be perched on top of its humps. (Camel fanciers will know that this is a Bactrian camel, not an Arabian dromedary, because it has two humps.)
The mild existential shock of this opening image sets us up for the satire -- of bureaucracy and toleration of individuality -- that is to come. A man and his wife adopt the stray camel. At first, everyone is happy. A camel is a novelty in this village, and it becomes the man's pride and joy. He is no longer ordinary, but exceptional. He has a camel!
But then man-made socio-political reality begins to set in. How do you license a camel? Surely pets must be licensed, but there is no such thing as a camel license (shades of Monty Python's fish license sketch). A dog license is not sufficient -- possibly even illegal -- because, clearly, this creature is not a dog. It's not a horse, either. But do you need a license for a horse?
And then there are the townspeople, who begin to wonder: "Why should this man get away with breaking the rules for a camel? Who does he think he is? Why does he need to stand out and flaunt his special status? Such things should not be allowed. Or should they not, at least, be properly taxed?"
Kieslowski's screenplay, from the story "The Camel" by Kazimierz Orlos, was written in 1973 as a fable about life in the Soviet bloc. But the 1994 "Bart Gets an Elephant" episode of "The Simpsons," where Homer exploits Stampy to pay the mammoth food bills, provides a capitalistic counterpoint. I love this "Big Animal."
"The Big Animal" is available on DVD from our friends Amy Heller and Dennis Doros at Milestone Film & Video.
[This is a contribution to the Krzysztof Kieslowski Blog-a-Thon at Quiet Bubble.]