Matt writes: After producing a half-century of vital and game-changing documentaries, the Chicago-based company Kartemquin Films scored its first nomination for Best Documentary this year at the Academy Awards. Steve James, the acclaimed director of "Hoop Dreams" and "Life Itself," earned the nomination for his latest riveting marvel, "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail." He also served as an executive producer on Laura Checkoway's astonishing documentary short, "Edith+Eddie," which received a well-deserved Oscar nomination this year as well. Prior to last Sunday's Oscar ceremony, I got to speak with Steve and Laura about their incredible work.
Further evidence that Max von Sydow starred in more than just "Game of Thrones" and "Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens."
An excerpt from Michael Koresky's new book about the great filmmaker Terence Davies, the Marcel Proust of Liverpool.
Bob Fosse's masterpiece "All That Jazz" jumps back and forth through the past and the present, and through memory and fantasy, but it also collects the history of film editing in one story.
Marie writes: I recently heard from an ex-coworker named Athena aka the production manager on an animated series I'd painted digital backgrounds for. She sent me some great photos she'd found on various sites. More than few made me smile and thus inspired, I thought I'd share them with club members. I've added captions for fun but if you can come up with something better, feel free to submit your wit by way of posted comment. Note: I don't know who the photographers are; doesn't say. (Click pics to enlarge.)
"I want a peanut for every photo you took of me..."
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?
Barbie as Karen in "Superstar."
Maybe there should just be a category in the right column for "Lists." Here's one from the film and music writers of Time Out London (which will always be the only real Time Out) called "50 greatest music films ever except for 'Spinal Tap'." No, I added those last four words, but the editors explain in their intro that "we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians."
As if David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls never actually toured in the flesh? As if they aren't at least as "real" as, say, KISS or the Monkees or Hootie and the Blowfish, which contained no one named "Hootie" and nobody named "Blowfish." (BTW, the Ramones weren't really "Ramones"! Those were just stage names!) Oh, and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was about a guy named "Blake." Michael Pitt looked like Kurt Cobain, but it was only about Cobain in the sense that "Velvet Goldmine" is about Bowie or Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, or "Grace of My Heart" is about Carole King or Brian Wilson or any of the Brill Building writers (even though a lot of them wrote songs for the movie). Then there's "'Round Midnight" (which is on the list) with Dexter Gordon playing Dale Turner, a fictionalized version of Bud Powell...
View image Downey, CA: "What happened?" Third shot of "Superstar." Compare to second shot of "Zodiac" -- establishing a neighborhood, from a car on the street...
So, OK: No "Spinal Tap." But no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco"? No "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson"? No "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"? No "X: The Unheard Music"? No "The Girl Can't Help It"? No "Wattstax"? No "Woodstock"? No "The Kids are Alright"? No "No Direction Home"? No "The Buddy Holly Story"? No "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey"? No "Heart of Gold"? No "The Filth and the Fury"? No "We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen"? No "La Bamba"? No "Kurt and Courtney"? See how much fun this is? Really, though, I'd substitute any of these for several of the selections on the list.
But, OK, many of my favorites are included: "24 Hour Party People," "Jazz on a Summer's Day," "Stop Making Sense," "DIG!," "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (his autobiography, "Straight Life," is the best account of addiction I've ever read), "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I and II (The Metal Years)"...
View image No one here gets out alive.
At the toppermost of the poppermost: Todd Haynes' 1987 "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," a 45-minute lo-fi "dramatization" that was never officially released because of music clearance troubles (that is, brother Richard wouldn't let Haynes use any Carpenters tunes). Still, after 20 years as an "underground" item, it's available from Google Video here. It's something you really need to see: a documentary-style biopic of Karen Carpenter performed mostly by Barbie dolls. Yes, its a parody (so are most musical biopics, including others on the list -- see the upcoming Jake Kasdan/Judd Apatow picture, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" for more on that score). But it presents straightforward facts about anorexia that could have been excerpted from any PBS or 16mm educational doc of the period. It's also a formula showbiz melodrama. But for all the layers of artifice, like Haynes' Sirk opera "Far from Heaven," it becomes strangely, hypnotically -- and genuinely -- moving. Prepare yourself for Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There," by watching "Superstar" and "Velvet Goldmine."
ASIDE: From an interview with Haynes at The Reeler: I actually think that it's easier for people who know less about Dylan to go with it, if they're up for something different. Clearly, that's the first thing: Whether you know Dylan or not, you have to surrender to the movie to have a good time at all and get anything out of it. If you have a lot of Dylanisms in your head, it's kind of distracting, because you're sitting there with a whole second movie going on. You're annotating it as you go. It's kind of nice to sit back and let it take you. I think people get it: Even if you don't know which are the true facts and which are the fictional things, and when we're playing with fact and fiction, from the tone of it, you know that it's playing around with real life. In a way, that's what biopics always do. They just don't tell you that they're doing it, and they don't make it part of the fun. You have to follow the Johnny Cash story and just sort of think, "This is what really happened." Of course, you know it's being dramatized, but you're not in on the joke. You're not in on the game of that. In this movie, at least, you get tipped off to it.Oh yeah, but about that list. Here it is. Make of it what you will:
1 "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" (Todd Haynes, 1987) 2 "Don't Look Back" (DA Pennebaker, 1967) -- Bob Dylan 3 "Gimme Shelter" (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) --Rolling Stones 4 "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) -- Manchester scene 5 "Topsy-Turvy" (Mike Leigh, 1999) -- Gilbert and Sullivan 6 "Monterey Pop" (DA Pennebaker, 1968) -- concert 7 "Be Here to Love Me" (Margaret Brown, 2004) -- Townes Van Zandt 8 "Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould" (Francois Girard, 1993) -- Glenn Gould 9 "Cocksucker Blues" (Robert Frank, 1972) -- Rolling Stones 10 "Bird" (Clint Eastwood, 1988) -- Charlie Parker 11 "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese, 1978) -- The Band & Friends farewell concert 12 "Rude Boy" (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980) -- The Clash 13 "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" (Stephen Kijak, 2006) -- Scott Walker 14 "Bound for Glory" (Hal Ashby, 1976) -- Woody Guthrie 15 "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II" (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988) -- LA punk; '80s metal & hair bands 16 "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) -- Daniel Johnston 17 "Sweet Dreams" (Karel Reisz, 1982) -- Patsy Cline 18 "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (Don McGlynn, 1982) -- Art Pepper 19 "Elgar" (Ken Russell, 1962) -- Edward Elgar 20 "Rust Never Sleeps" (Neil Young, 1979) -- Neil Young 21 "The Future is Unwritten" (Julien Temple, 2006) -- Joe Strummer 22 "DiG!" (Ondi Timoner, 2004) -- Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols 23 "Some Kind Of Monster" (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) -- Metallica 24 "A Hard Day's Night" (Richard Lester, 1964) -- The Beatles 25 "Jimi Hendrix" (Joe Boyd, 1973) -- Jimi Hendrix(more)
"Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert," just published by the University of Chicago Press, achieves a first. Though the Sun-Times film critic remains the dean of American cineastes, his essential writings have never been collected in a single volume until now. "Awake in the Dark" surveys his 40-year catalog, including reviews, essays and interviews. The following is an excerpt from the book's introduction, and for the next five weeks we'll publish excerpts here from the collection's highlights in each decade, from the '60s to the '00s.
View image Three tales in "The Fountain": Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.
There's nothing tepid about Darren Aronofsky, and I love him for it. "The Fountain," his grand mythical fantasy that interweaves three tales about the fear of death and the quest for eternal life, is a terrifically ambitious spectacle that Aronofsky commits to completely. I have no idea how critics and audiences are going to receive it (I never do), but it's exhilarating to see somebody go this far out on a limb for his vision.
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz appear as versions of the same characters in all three narratives. Dr. Tommy Creo is research doctor studying brain tumors while his wife Izzy (or "Iz," as in "is") is dying of one; as Spanish conquistador Tomas Creo, serving Queen Isabella during the 16th century terror of the Inquisition, who is sent on a quest for the Tree of Life in a story called "The Fountain," written by Izzy; and as some kind of monk/space traveller hurling toward a nebula with the ancient tree in what looks like an interstellar snowglobe, haunted by the ghost of Izzy.
Neil Marshall's acclaimed British horror-thriller "The Descent" draws on plenty of other genre classics for visual inspiration, from otherworldly mysteries ("Picnic at Hanging Rock") to oudoor adventure ("Deliverance," "Jaws") to science-fiction ("Alien") and straight-out horror ("The Blair Witch Project"). All these movies are essential to any horror fan's movie education. Here's a sample of Roger Ebert's appraisals of these originals, from 1972 to 1999:
Q. My question concerns the backwards speech read over the speakers in the initial (pre-rumpy pumpy) gathering at the masquerade ball in "Eyes Wide Shut." It is obvious that something is being said backwards, but I don't particularly want to bring recording equipment into the theater to find out what it is. (Matt Thiesen, Maple Grove, MN)
LOS ANGELES Bill Paxton has an Oscar contender and a giant gorilla movie coming out within a couple of weeks of each other, and that's the story of his career. He makes little movies ("One False Move," "Traveller," "Trespass") and big ones ("True Lies," "Apollo 13," "Twister"). In the big ones, he is a stalwart leading man - like his hero, the fellow Texan Ben Johnson, whose every word sounded like the simple truth. In the little ones, Paxton plays regular guys who get twisted into strange traps of crime and guilt.
Q. A friend of mine reports a rumor regarding the upcoming "Psycho" remake. She says all the talk about a shot-for-shot remake is just a smoke screen. What Gus Van Sant actually plans to do is copy only the first half of the movie, lure the audience into thinking they're getting a straight remake, and then go off in a completely different direction. I was dubious until she pointed out that's exactly what Hitchcock did with "Psycho," where he suddenly kills off the main character. What do you think? Is there still hope? (Eric Brochu, Regina, Sas.)
TELLURIDE, Colo. -- In the blazing noon sun of Labor Day, on a panel discussion in Elks Park, the veteran critic Stanley Kauffmann put his finger on the kinds of films that the Telluride Film Festival does not exist to support: movies made of special effects and technology.
TORONTO -- The program for the Toronto Film Festival falls with the thud of the Yellow Pages. This year, more than 300 films from 53 countries will be shown at the largest and most important film festival in North America, which opened Thursday, and as usual, the crowds will be lining up for everything - literally everything. If your movie can't fill a theater at this festival, you might as well cut it up and use it to floss with.
TELLURIDE, Colo. For its 25th anniversary celebration, which more or less coincides with the first century of film, the Telluride Film Festival is plunging gleefully into the past. Although there's the usual selection of premieres, at least half of the screenings this year are retrospectives: a look at 1928, the last great year of silent film; personal selections from the festival's guest programmers over the years, and a salute to black-and-white cinematography.