An interview with actor Michael Pitt and writer/director Mike Cahill on their new film, "I Origins."
View image Writer-director Tom DiCillo in the limelight. (photo by Thompson McClellan)
After the Ebertfest screening of "Delirious" Thursday afternoon, writer-director Tom DiCillo ("Johnny Suede," "Living in Oblivion," "Box of Moonlight," "The Real Blonde" (1998)) recalled sending Roger Ebert an e-mail. He was in despair over the distributor's treatment of his latest film, which Ebert had reviewed quite favorably. Out of frustration, and although he'd never written to a critic before, DiCillo posed five pained (and semi-rhetorical) questions about the injustice of the movie business, the last of which was: "Is this all a Kafkaesque nightmare that will never end?"
Ebert wrote back and answered every question. To the final one, he said yes.
After the Ebertfest screening of "Delirious" Thursday afternoon, writer-director Tom DiCillo (pictured above and director of "Johnny Suede," "Living in Oblivion," "Box of Moonlight," "The Real Blonde") recalled sending Roger Ebert an e-mail. He was in despair over the distributor's treatment of his latest film, which Ebert had reviewed quite favorably. Out of frustration, and although he'd never written to a critic before, DiCillo posed five pained (and semi-rhetorical) questions about the injustice of the movie business, the last of which was: "Is this all a Kafkaesque nightmare that will never end?"
View image Nudge-nudge. (2008)
(My review of "Funny Games" is here. See also Your User's Guide to Movie Violence, a discussion below.)
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"You Must Admit, You Brought This On Yourself" -- advertising tagline, and line of dialog, from "Funny Games" (2008)
"Funny Games" (the 2008 Hollywood movie-star version of the virtually identical 1997 Euro-version) is a conceptual work, an aestheticized test. It's debatable whether the movie (already a replica) is necessary, except as an object that represents the larger concept -- like, say, an Andy Warhol Brillo box or Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners in plexiglass cases.
View image Wink-wink. (1997)
You could say something similar about the high-concept "Snakes On a Plane," and you'd be right. The difference is that the marketing campaign behind the packaging of "Snakes On a Plane" was designed to sell exactly the entertainment experience that the title promised. With "Funny Games," there's a deliberate element of bait-and-switch involved. It's being sold as entertainment, but that's not at all what it intends to deliver. The experience of "Funny Games" exists in the tension between the pitch and the delivery -- which will largely determine the relationship between the viewer and the film he/she sees.
So, the promotional materials for "Funny Games" (poster art, trailers, online videos, etc.) are more than the usual extensions or enhancements of the movie. They frame the experience, but they're also essential elements of the movie itself. Why you decide to watch it (or not) is every bit as central to the movie's concerns as anything in the movie itself. That may be true of any movie, but "Funny Games" puts it right there in the foreground where you can't miss it.
View image Promotional art for the 1997 version.
If you go expecting entertainment and are entertained (or, at least, terrified -- held hostage by your own expectations), that will be one thing. If you go expecting a moral lesson about the appeal of violence in movies, and you feel chastened and sullied, that will be another. If you go expecting a thriller or a comedy and find nothing thrilling or funny about it, that will be something else. If you go expecting to be toyed with and, say, enjoy feeling that you're ahead of the movie (maybe because you've already seen the 1997 version), that will provide yet another experience. If you value writer-director Michael Haneke's other work and want to see why he's chosen to remake this one... well, I hope you get the idea.
So, the first part of the experiment involves your decision to participate or not. The movie is the second part.
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)
CANNES, France – If you’re going to make a movie about a rock star who drifts into drugged oblivion and death, you basically have two choices. You could make one of those lurid biopics filled with flashbacks to a tortured childhood and lots of concert scenes and sex, while the star savors success before it destroys him.