An announcement of passes going on sale Friday, November 1st, for the next Ebertfest Film Festival that takes place April 15-18, 2020, in Champaign, Illinois.
Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and other beings rise up before me. -- inscription at the head of "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
I am head-over-heels in love with "Uncle Boonmee."
Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is the kind of movie that big screens (theatrical and HD) and Blu-ray were made for. I can't think of cinematic worlds more "immersive" (in current 3D parlance) than Apichatpong's last three features, "Tropical Malady" (2004), "Syndromes and a Century" (2006) and "Uncle Boonmee" (2010) -- all of which I have only recently encountered. (They're all on DVD, and "Uncle Boonmee" is now opening in U.S. theaters and is available on Region 2 Blu-ray.)¹
Talk about blissful: Apichatpong's pictures (say that five times real fast) are awake and alive to the joy of existence like few others I've seen. Sorry if that sounds too, you know, giddily "life-affirming," but I feel like Joe's movies sharpen and expand my senses while I'm watching them -- not unlike the peak experiences/memories I've had in the garden, or walking in the woods with my dogs, when I feel I'm living more intensely, soaking up more of the life within and around me. And in the case of these movies, there's the added thrill of Joe framing it all! What can I say? Apichatpong movies make me very happy. (They're really funny, too.)
Few other films or filmmakers have stirred this kind of awe-mixed-with-happiness in me. Seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey" at age 11 was the first time I can recall. (Joe's last three films have reminded me of various sections of that movie, in which you feel you're experiencing something both primally human and alien at the same time.) Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" also explores what I called, upon first seeing it in the late 1970s, "the strange familiarity of unfamiliar places" -- that feeling of entering a/the world that's both new and intimately recognizable, uncanny and ordinary. I get it from the Coens sometimes -- in "No Country for Old Men" and "A Serious Man," especially -- and Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven," "The New World") taps into it occasionally, too. It has something to do with the light, the air, the shapes, the sounds, the extraordinary mythology of the everyday seen with new eyes (yours, through Joe's).
I'm not a miracle. And neither are the Chilean miners. We are all alive today for perfectly rational reasons. Yet there is a common compulsion to describe unlikely outcomes as miraculous -- if they are happy, of course. If sad, they are simply reported on, or among the believing described as "the will of God." Some disasters are so horrible they don't qualify as the will of God, but as the work of Satan playing for the other team.
Ten years ago I was the emcee of my high school class reunion. This year I sat and watched. It was better this way. As I'd walked into the room I realized I knew almost everyone on first sight.
Now, as they passed in review, called up one by one, I saw a double image: The same person in 1960 and 2010. The same smile, the same gait, the same body language, the same eyes.
Marie writes: what do you get a man with a massive book collection who has artwork by Edward Lear and huge canvases by Gillian Ayres? What would a man with a Pulitzer and a Webby now renowned for the verbosity of his tweeting, like for his birthday? Much pondering went into answering that. Until suddenly a light-bulb went on above my head! (Click image.)Of course! It's so obvious - turn the Grand Poobah into a super hero! Super Critic: battling the forces of bad movies and championing the little guy, while tweeting where no critic has gone before! In the process, we'll get to see him wearing a red cape and blue tights. Perfect.Note: the artwork was done by Dave Fox of INTOON Productions. He makes personalized comic book covers and animation cels. Diane Kremmer, a long time friend and fellow artist, works and lives with Dave on Pender Island (one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of BC near Washington State.) I spent last weekend with them and took advantage of Dave's cartooning skills. I mention this because he did all the work. I just sat there and drank his wine. :-)
Richard Dawkins observed in The Selfish Gene that from the point of view of a gene, a living body is merely a carrier to transport it into the future. I believe we are now entering the century of the Selfish Mind. Man has always been a creature restlessly seeking a reality beyond himself. We cannot know what a chimpanzee thinks about when he gazes at the stars, or what ideas a dolphin has about air. But we know what we think, and we have traveled so high in the atmosphere we cannot breathe and then beyond. We have placed humans on the Moon, sent our devices to other planets, and our signals reaching out to the universe, not to be received until after our extinction, if then.
The earliest hominids must have had complex ideas, but they were trapped inside their minds. Out of the desire to share those ideas with other minds, they devised symbols, sounds and speech. I see you, I see this, I think this, I want to tell you. Many species make sounds--at first to warn or to frighten, then to express more complex needs. We don't know if speech itself was a goal, because we cannot be sure if they had a conception of what that might be. But from its first "words," mankind found itself driven to improve and extend its self-expression. I will not rehearse here the forms that drive has taken. A short list will do: Symbols, drawings, signs, writing, printing, analog information, now digital information. The storage, manipulation and transmission of digital data was a threshold step as crucial as the bone used as a tool in "2001." The bone became our key to the physical domain. The transistor chip became our key to the digital domain.
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.
Fanzines were mimeographed magazines that were circulated by mail among science fiction fans in the days before the internet. They still are, for all I know, although now they're generated by computer printers.
I first learned about them in a 1950s issue of Amazing Stories and eagerly sent away 10 or 20 cents to Buck and Juanita Coulson in Indiana, whose Yandro was one of the best and longest-running of them all. Overnight, I was a fan, although not yet a BNF (big name fan). It was a thrill for me to have a LOC (letter of comment) published on such issues as the demise of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters), and soon I was publishing my own fanzine, named Stymie.
No teenager could possibly have hurried more eagerly to an Elvis Presley concert on that day in the late 1950's when I led a delegation of the Urbana High School Science Fiction Club to attend a speech on the campus of the University of Illinois. The speaker was Sir Arthur C. Clarke, our hero not only for his great science fiction, but also for such concepts as the triangulated space satellite and the "space elevator." The first has paid off already with global communication. The second is still seriously proposed as using infinitely strong strings of Buckyballs to link earth to a space station.
Clarke was erudite, witty, friendly, and signed all my books. It was years later that I met him in connection with his screenplay for "2001: A Space Odyssey," still the greatest of all science fiction films. And years after that when I began receiving reproaches from his home in Sri Lanka that he had not received his quarterly update to the Cinemania CD-ROM. Cinemania, edited by Jim Emerson (now editor of this site), linked reviews, info and bios of movie people with the reviews of such as Pauline Kael, Leonard Maltin and myself.
It was a brilliant idea and became for a time the top-selling consumer CD, but Bill Gates was correct that the future of CDs was on the Internet, as the Internet Movie Database so abundantly proves. Also, IMDb got its content for free, and Cinemania actually paid for its reviews.
I explained sadly to Sir Arthur why there was not and never could be another update of Cinemania, but he died at 90 still unconsoled, and still writing indignant notes to Gates.
He was the most diligent of Answer Man sources. Once one of my reader's complained that in the vacuum of space he should not have been able to hear a tiny "click" when the astro-stewardess grabbed a floating ballpoint pen.
Clarke invited two friends, one a space expert, the other a blind friend with acute hearing, to listen for the click. Just as he thought, he said, there was no click.
Clarke was in the great tradition of classic science fiction -- converted by his first sight of Amazing Stories magazines, welding hard science speculation to robust adventures, and adding some whimsy in the form of "Tales from the White Hart." He died convinced Bill Gates had made a big mistake in not keeping the Cinemania CD-Rom in print.
View image Another evolutionary stage.
"I suspect that religion is a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species. And that's one of the interesting things about contact with other intelligences: we could see what role, if any, religion plays in their development. I think that religion may be some random by-product of mammalian reproduction. If that's true, would non-mammalian aliens have a religion?" -- Arthur C. Clarke, in a 1999 interview with Free Inquiry magazine
"I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be interpreted as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism." -- Albert Einstein
Edward Rothstein addresses the currently fashionable science vs. religion debate in a New York Times "appraisal" of the late Arthur C. Clarke's work ("For Clarke, Issues of Faith, but Tackled Scientifically"): “Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral” were the instructions left by Arthur C. Clarke, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90. This may not have surprised anyone who knew that this science-fiction writer, fabulist, fantasist and deep-sea diver had long seen religion as a symptom of humanity’s “infancy,” something to be outgrown and overcome.
But his fervor is still jarring [...]
Stanley Kubrick’s film of Mr. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” for example — a project developed with the author — is haunting not for its sci-fi imaginings of artificial intelligence and space-station engineering but for its evocation of humanity’s origins and its vision of a transcendent future embodied in a human fetus poised in space [...], a moment of transcendence in which some destiny is fulfilled, some possibility opened up.... a new evolutionary stage, inspiring as much horror as awe. You can sense where Rothstein is heading when he detects "fervor" in Clarke's funeral instructions. "Fervor"? Really? Seems to me that Clarke is simply leaving specific instructions about he wants. And why shouldn't he want his funeral to accurately reflect his beliefs? Rothstein tries a little too hard to create a dialectic between science and faith, claiming that "religion suffuses Mr. Clarke’s realm." But I think he confuses mystery with mysticism in "2001."
View image"The Shining": A bug under a microscope.
The most superficial and shopworn cliché about Stanley Kubrick is that he was a misanthrope. This is up there with calling Alfred Hitchcock "The Master of Suspense," and leaving it at that. The cliché may contain a partial truth, but it's not particularly enlightening. It's just trite.
In the free Seattle weekly tabloid The Stranger, Charles Mudede writes about a local Kubrick series, and begins by stating: "Kubrick hated humans. This hate for his own kind is the ground upon which his cinema stands." This is a nice grabber -- particularly for readers who don't know anything about Kubrick, or who want to feel the thrill of the forbidden when reading about him. ("Imagine! He hated humans!")
Unfortunately for readers, this is Mudede's thesis, and he's sticking to it. Here's his summary judgement of "2001: A Space Odyssey": As is made apparent by "2001: A Space Odyssey," his contempt was deep.
It went from the elegant surface of our space-faring civilization down, down, down to the bottom of our natures, the muck and mud of our animal instincts, our ape bodies, our hair, guts, hunger, and grunts. No matter how far we go into the future, into space, toward the stars, we will never break with our first and violent world. Even the robots we create, our marvelous machines, are limited (and undone) by our human emotions, pressures, primitive drives. For Kubrick, we have never been modern. OK, that's one interpretation (though it gets the direction of the movement entirely wrong), but I think it's a facile misreading of the film. Is there really something un-"modern" about portraying the raw, simple fact of evolution, with a little otherworldly nudge?
And why does Mudede have such contempt for apes and "animal instincts"? Is he going to apply "Meat is Murder" morality to primates? (Besides, they're so dirty!) Or does he not feel the awesome and primal beauty in the whole "Dawn of Man" sequence? If he doesn't, I suppose it's no wonder he sees no wonder in the rest of the movie.
Q. I've just read your review for "Sunshine" (2007), and I'm confused. You say that according to Isaac Asimov, the human body can survive in the cold vacuum of space for longer than I might think. I was under the impression that, in space, a naked human would initially freeze to death, and then summarily explode.
PARK CITY, UTAH – I have seen one of the wisest films I can remember about love and human intimacy. It is a film of integrity and truth, acted fearlessly, written and directed with quiet, implacable skill. I will not forget it. Now here is a dilemma: The film is so truthful and observant, so subtle and knowing about human nature, that it may be too much for most audiences. Moviegoers demand a little something in the way of formula, if only for reassurance, or as a road sign.
"Consider supporting Sarvodaya, the largest development charity in Sri Lanka, which has a 45 year track record in reaching out and helping the poorest of the poor. Sarvodaya has mounted a well organised, countrywide relief effort using their countrywide network of offices and volunteers who work in all parts of the country, well above ethnic and other divisions."
Q. In your review of "Lilo and Stitch," you were moaning that people would ignore this film in favor of "Scooby Doo." Well, "Lilo and Stitch" is on track to almost tie as the number one box office draw this weekend, with the second biggest opening ever for a traditional animated feature. And "Scooby-Doo" suffered a 57% drop of box office revenue. (Kenneth Chisholm, London ON)
From time to time I'll meet someone who was underwhelmed by "2001: A Space Odyssey." Because I consider it one of the great moviegoing experiences of my life, I ask them how they saw it. They invariably saw it on home video. Just as there are movies--"Moulin Rouge" seems to be one--that benefit from return visits via DVD, so there are a few movies that should not be seen that way--not the first time, anyway.