• Video by Kevin B. Lee • Text by Steven Boone
German Expressionism, Soviet Montage, Italian Neo-Realism, the French New Wave , the Japanese New Wave, the Australian New Wave, Cinema Novo, the New American Cinema, Cinema du Look, the Black Pack, Dogme 95, mumblecore...
In the cinema world, film "waves"--movements of like minded filmmakers bound by generation, nationality, stylistic tendencies or social/political position--rise, crest and fall away every decade. But the latest wave is something different.
View image "Zabriskie Point" -- an Antonioni movie on the cover of LOOK magazine in 1969: "Had he violated the Mann Act when he staged a nude love-in in a national park? Does the film show an "anti-American" bias? As a member of the movie Establishment, is he distorting the aims of the young people's 'revolution'?"
Watching Ingmar Bergman's "Shame" (1968) over the weekend (which I was pleased to find that I had not seen before -- after 20 or 30 years, I sometimes forget), I recalled something that happened around 1982. Through the University of Washington Cinema Studies program, we brought the now-famous (then not-so-) story structure guru Robert McKee to campus to conduct a weekend screenwriting seminar. McKee, played by Brian Cox in Spike Jonze's and Charlie Kaufman's "Adapation." as the ultimate authority on how to write a salable screenplay, has probably been the single-most dominant influence in American screenwriting -- "Hollywood" and "independent" -- over the last two decades. Many would say "pernicious influence." (Syd Field is another.)
It's not necessarily McKee's fault that so many aspiring screenwriters and studio development executives have chosen to emphasize a cogent, three-act structure over all other aspects of the script, including things like character, ideas, and even coherent narrative. Structure, after all, is supposed to be merely the backbone of storytelling, not the be-all, end-all of screenwriting. But people focus on the things that are easiest to fix, that make something feel like a movie, moving from beat to beat, even if the finished product is just a waste of time.
The film McKee chose to illustrate the principles of a well-structured story that time was Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring."
"Shame" is another reminder that Bergman's movies weren't solely aimed at "art" -- they were made to appeal to an audience. Right up to its bleak ending, "Shame" is a rip-roaring story, with plenty of action, plot-twists, big emotional scenes for actors to play, gorgeously meticulous cinematography, explosive special effects and flat-out absurdist comedy. I don't know how "arty" it seemed in 1968, but it plays almost like classical mainstream moviemaking today. (And remember: Downbeat, nihilistic or inconclusive finales were very fashionable and popular in mainstream cinema in the late 1960's: "Bonnie and Clyde," "Blow-Up," "Easy Rider," "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...),
It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors -- who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form. (The Beatles, who in 1964-'65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after "A Hard Day's Night"!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood.
I went to one of the first editions of the Portland International Film Festival back in 1978 or 1979 (thanks to Ruth Hayler of Seven Gables Theatres), where I saw Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock" for the first time. They were also doing an Alexander Korda retrospective, and it was great fun to see "The Four Feathers," "Thief of Bagdhad" and "The Private Life of Henry VIII" on the big screen.
PIFF is now celebrating its 30th year, and DK Holm reports on the films, the fest -- and the audiences -- at GreenCine Daily: Portland breeds a different sort of filmgoer. This is the town where its seemingly unemployed Generation Why sit for hours within its numerous coffee houses drinking $5 dollar brews seriatim and typing endlessly into their brand new MacBooks. Everyone in Portland is "in a band." Or they own a brew pub. Or they virtually live in one. Portland Man rides his bike to work (cursing at the Earth-fracking cars the entire route), enters each of the city's monthly foot race marathons, works for the city (probably the Water Bureau), shops at Whole Foods, and to this day thinks back fondly on that wine tour of Provence he and the wife made back in '92. Portland Woman, by contrast, is an independent and independently minded citizen who can't find a worthy male. She is a mirror image of the "Sex in the City" gals but without the clothes. She is obsessed with shopping, eating, her figure, her co-workers and office politics, her favorite celebrities (or her favorite causes), and is either about to enter, is in, or has just departed her Fag Hag stage. They complain about never meeting any good men and then move in with a meth addict. Personals ads here are very popular and highly effective. People in Portland don't "date." They have a date, and then get married.
Within this context, it's a wonder that any films get seen at all. Yet over the years, the festival has expanded from one small venue to its current reach, four auditoria scattered throughout the city (though all of the theaters are confined to the city's downtown area), hosting a dizzying number of offerings.
FYI, I've still got lots and lots of Opening Shots stacked up to publish, including (off the top of my head): Truffaut's "Day for Night," Paul Schrader's "Cat People," Joe Dante's "the 'burbs," Bob Zemeckis's "Used Cars," Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev," Peter Weir's "Picnic at Haning Rock," Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch Drunk Love" and many, many others. Just haven't been able to work on this stuff as much as I should because of daily reviewing obligations. But I'm gonna try to get to another batch this week, if I possibly can...
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:
Shortly after 7:30 a.m. (CST) Tuesday, Motion Picture Academy President Frank Pierson and actress Sigourney Weaver will walk onstage at the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and announce the nominations for the 76th Academy Awards, and this article will instantly become obsolete. But until that moment, we can guess and speculate and predict about this year's nominees, and here goes.
Q. My wife showed me your review of "The Truman Show," and I was crushed with chagrin to learn the movie is constructed to reveal its secret slowly to the viewer. I've already seen the "Truman Show" commercials revealing the secret. I feel betrayed. This is the third time when the advance info has ruined a surprise. The first was "Terminator 2." On talk shows, Arnold Schwarzenegger beamed, "This time I'm a good terminator! The bad guy is a T-1000, made of liquid metal, which can look like anyone." In the theater, the details are calculatedly ambiguous right until the two terminators confront each other and Schwarzenegger suddenly turns and protects the kid. At that moment, I thought--I shouldn't have known the details beforehand! The same thing happened with "The Empire Strikes Back." Magazines had cover photos: "Here's Yoda! He's an old, eccentric, funny-looking creature who's really a Jedi master!" In viewing the film I realized the audience wasn't supposed to know Yoda's identity until he started conversing with the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan. Now here's "The Truman Show," with a marketing campaign spilling all the beans. My wife contends there is no other possible way for the studio to successfully advertise the movie, but I have to believe there's SOME way to do it. (Chris Rowland, Plainsboro, N.J.)
Jack Nicholson gets third billing in "Terms of Endearment," the heartwarming and heartbreaking new movie about 30 years in the lives of a mother and her daughter. He's billed after Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine, just as, 14 years ago, he was billed beneath Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in "Easy Rider." The uncanny thing is how Nicholson's third-billed appearances tend to haunt the memory. They're not "supporting roles," they're great and strange and funny characters who bring whole worlds into the movie with them.
LOS ANGELES - It was one of those California Sunday brunches where everyone's expected to fill up on organic bran muffins and honeydew melons and five flavors of herbal tea...the kind of brunch where Bianca Jagger is chatting with Peter Weir, this hot young Australian director, while a reporter from Variety stands between them, so eager to eavesdrop on the conversation.