Please Vote for Me (2007, Chen Weijun) IMDb
screened Tuesday January 22 2008 at the IFC Center Stranger Than Fiction series
Edwin Mak has embedded the entire film to be viewed on his site
Noyava Moskva / The New Moscow (1938, Alexander Medvedkin) IMDb
screened Friday January 25 2008 at the Walter Reade Theater Envisioning Russia series
From the director of one of the most outstanding films of 1934, Happiness (TSPDT #874) – and what a difference four years of Stalinist rule make. There’s some gentle ribbing of peasant culture as a young generation of Soviet urbanites blaze the way to the future by embracing infrastructural changes being imposed on the nation, with Moscow as the beacon example of modernity. You’d think that Medvedkin would employ an avant garde cinematic technique to match the subject, but the best he can manage is a uneven blending of coarse country comedy, romantic musical numbers and sci-fi kitsch. Nonetheless the film was still kept from a full release. Incidentally, Medvedkin’s life and turbulent career is the subject of Chris Marker’s exceptional biography The Last Bolshevik.
Superbad (2007, Greg Mottola) IMDb
screened Saturday January 26 2008 on DVD
Not as funny as everyone has made it out to be – so what if its unapologetically pubescent male outlook tells it like it is (as if we haven’t heard this story before? I miss the innocent days of Revenger of the Nerds). It’s as crudely, self-aggrandizingly in-your-face with its sleeve-worn juvenile precociousness as Juno. KNOCKED UP is so much better, managing to be both hilarious and emotionally multifacted.
Congratulations to Nicholas R., Michigan’s finest, for guessing all but one of the screen grabs correctly! He gets a copy of Criterion’s DVD of The Vanishing.
Nicholas was unable to guess one of the screengrabs – no one else could guess it either. First five people who can guess the following screengrab correctly will receive an mp3 package of the Village Voice Pazz n Jop Top 40 Songs of 2007.
Send answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here it is:
#17: The Vanishing
#16: La Haine
#15: The Official Story
#12: My Brilliant Career
#11: Sugar Cane Alley
#10: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
#9: Louisiana Story
#8: Land of Silence and Darkness
#7: The Heiress
#6: And God Created Woman
#5: Evil Dead II
#4: War and Peace
#3: Hail Mary
#1: Van Gogh
Bonus images (for tiebreaker purposes): These aren’t from the 20:07 mark, but nonetheless they are from some of my favorite films seen as part of the SDP project:
a) The Reckless Moment
b) La Ronde
screened Friday January 25 2008 at the IFC Center, New York
Though it would be extremely gauche for the IFC to mention this, their programming of The Fire Within this weekend (as part of an ongoing screening series of Louis Malle films) couldn’t be more eerily well-timed, occurring only days after the shocking death and alleged suicide of actor Heath Ledger. As it seems with the tragic case of Ledger, the film’s protagonist, Alain Leroy, is recently divorced, struggling with substance abuse, ensconced in a milieu of affluent socialites and yet thoroughly alienated from all of them. Watching the onscreen behavior of one self-destructive mind presented the temptation to link it to another’s.
Perhaps putting that much demand for insight on the film unfairly led to my initial disappointment following the screening. The film is compelling for much of its length, with Malle employing a cool observational approach, objectively following Alain as he checks out of a sanitarium and wanders from one friend to another, searching in vain for a true sense of connection and meaning. But offsetting the cinema verite approach are slick cutting techniques and a proto-jazz Eric Satie piano score that make the film at times resemble a cologne commercial for morbid despondents.
A gradual frustration sets in as the succession of encounters between Alain and his friends touch slight variations on the same note of bourgeois alienation: an academic comfortably settled in Egyptology and marriage as his domestic refuges; an artist (Jeanne Moreau) holed up in a shambling estate with a commune of drug addicts; and two brothers involved in vague left-wing political activities against the government. Alain’s vague, cursory exchanges with his friends is commendable for its anti-expository naturalism, but it doesn’t do quite enough to fulfill the ostensible argument of the film, that Alain’s suicide is justifiable; and the overall regard towards all of these individuals and their lifestyle choices feels underdeveloped. Thus in the penultimate moments ,when Alain reflects, “I can’t reach out with my hands – i can’t touch things – and when i do touch things – i feel nothing” it feels like a premature conclusion, or at best, a self-fulfilling farce.
However, going through my notes I recall that one of the recurring visual fascinations of this film is its preoccupation with people’s gazes, particularly at Alain. The film opens with Alain gazing at his lover-of-the-moment, a friend of his estranged wife, as Acquarello describes them, “struggling to decipher the elusive meaning beneath the wistful, attentive eyes, lingering beyond the point of reassuring tenderness to where the potentiality of the moment of connection has irretrievably slipped away, and all that is left is the inscrutable, opaque gaze.” From that point the film casts a consistent focus on people as both the lookers and the looked upon. Virtually every woman looks like they stepped off the pages of Vogue, and the way the camera casts carefully framed attention on them, the film’s technique partakes in the very objectification and classification of human presences that its protagonist rails against in his search for genuineness. Every other person in this movie, from a girl at a bookstore to a boy in a bathroom, cast teasing, enigmatic looks of interest at Alain — expressions of interest that are simultaneously charged with sensual energy and yet predicated on a superficial recognition of humanity that our hero thoroughly rejects.
I think this paradox, that humans’ attentions in each other, their gazes, their advances, can be full of energy and vitality and simultaneously empty and dehumanizing, is a substantial line of investigation offered by the film (moreso than its insights into the suicidal mind), and one worth considering in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death and the subsequent mass wave of interest bestowed upon him. Suddenly a life taken for granted is held up to intense scrutiny in a collective search for meaning behind its death. I found several images of Ledger online that I’m posting here, each suggesting a different side to him, a hint of an insight here and there behind an expression, giving way to an underlying unknowability; images that say something and nothing, except perhaps our own impulse to consume them. In this regard, Le Feu Follet, with its protagonist buckling under a world where he and everyone around him amount to image consumption objects, may be considered a film ahead of its time.
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I still need to read Stephanie Zacharek’s pan of TWBB, which I’ve heard is one of the best out there. But for now, here’s a good critique (with links to others) by Gabe Klinger, which I found via Facebook but is apparently also available on a site called cine-file.info, which gives thoughtful coverage of film events in Chicago (all the more valuable once Jonathan Rosenbaum retires from regular film coverage next month).
A skeleton film that takes for granted a lot about American history and the American character, P.T. Anderson’s story of the rise of an early 20th century oil man favors mystification and a modernistic structure, which allows for plenty of observation but asserts little by the way of a conclusion (except, perhaps, the accuracy of the prediction set forth in its title). THERE WILL BE BLOOD sifts through a hollowed field in which the main protagonist is supposed to register as the embodiment of destructive capitalist greed—he’s that, sure, though it’s secondary to his medieval capacity to threaten and ultimately shed the blood of others. Leading an otherwise forgettable set of background characters, Day-Lewis’s Daniel Plainview is as hard to place as Adam Sandler in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE: both characters are outsiders in any historical context and may be better explained through their pathologies. All of Anderson’s films have the impulse to make summary statements about cinema and people. Here he knocks about several decades, outlines a novel (by Upton Sinclair) and gives his talented leading actor no boundaries whatsoever in achieving the most out-of-control, grotesque performance of the year. Too much credit is given to filmmakers for naked ambition, and certainly the raves from Manohla Dargis, Scott Foundas and so many others seem hyperbolic. What’s ambition without studied form? The influence of Altman and Peckinpah in THERE WILL BE BLOOD’s bombastic and inelegant painting of America is decisive and fascinating, if more corrosive than the oil beneath Daniel Plainview’s feet.
Plenty more to be said, of course. The above is admittedly pretty cryptic.
My friend Dan Sallitt writes persuasively on why he didn’t feel involved in the film: http://www.panix.com/~sall
itt/blog/2008/01/i-am-not- convinced-that-p-t-anderso n-is.html
Armond White calls it PT Anderson’s latest “pretend epic”: http://www.nypress.com/21/
I don’t agree with everything White writes (for example that Plainview can only be seen as a thesis position) but I think he offers some good discussion points.Ed Gonzalez adds another dissenting voice, calling THERE WILL BE BLOOD “film-school-in-a-box”, which can be read either as good or bad, I guess: http://www.slantmagazine.c
Lastly, although Jonathan Rosenbaum doesn’t seem to fully endorse the film, he lists it in the Reader’s Critics’ Choice section:
I agree that it should be seen, but the hyperbole (one critic I usually admire wrote that it’s the “kind of film that people will be analyzing and admiring for as long as people will continue to do such things”) has really peeved me. Scott Foundas, a friend, wrote that Anderson has made one of the great American movies.I might say the same thing about John Gianvito’s PROFIT MOTIVE AND THE WHISPERING WIND, which takes a real stake in American history (one might call it a “free adaptation” of Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES), presents meaningful, clear images, and demystifies, in an original form, a lot of what THERE WILL BE BLOOD chooses to mystify about American capitalism. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is pure stlye, nothing else. It’s a muddled effort, I haven’t read a single argument to convince me otherwise.
Here’s what I wrote in reply:
Thoughts from anyone out there? I’m pondering just what are the nature of the joys to be found in TWBB. How much of what Gabe & Co.’s complaints can apply to other commonly touted great films? Are they missing the boat? Either way, I think that line, “What’s ambition without studied form?” is key.
People are welcome to send me or link me to any perceived visual (or aural) references between There Will Be Blood and other films or works of art. Great example is Filmbrain’s entry here. Here’s hoping Jurgen Fauth is paying attention.
The thing about powerlessness is that it tends to make you an asshole. A life of total denial makes every disagreement into a vicious affront, and every disappointment into a crushing blow; it also engenders a wicked sense of entitlement that only someone held back from participating in life can justify to oneself. Plus, film criticism was a substitute that could never give me the full gratification of saying that I was doing what I wanted to do on my own terms; and my dependency on help from the government didn’t exactly improve my outlook. Very often, I took people for what I could get, unwilling to believe I could get anything more fleeting immediate satisfactions, and this happened with Bill as it did with anyone else. I don’t know if that was self-criticism or self-exoneration, but whatever: I could be a prick.
This is a passage from a stunning entry, and possibly the last, by Travis Mackenzie Hoover for the Film Freak Central Blog. I’ve admired Travis’ writings for Reverse Shot and The House Next Door, and I featured his comments in my Shooting Down Pictures entry on My Brilliant Career. It’s an incredibly thoughtful piece on how a life-changing personal discovery triggered a radical reassessment of the role that cinema and film criticism had played in one’s life. Reading it caused a lot of reflection on my part along those lines. But first, here’s the key passage:
Ten years of unsalaried work pass. My uber-quack finally does me the honour of retiring, where it’s revealed that he had diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder without telling me. This meant that I was referred to a clinic that specialized in schizophrenia- a place of dedicated, caring professionals who were uniformly puzzled by my diagnosis. Half a year goes by with the doctors trying to figure out why the hell I had been sent there, with me half-wishing I was schizophrenic just so I’d have a name for the unnamable thing that had gripped me. And after ten years on the dole, and thirty-four years of stunned incomprehension at the world around me, It was finally decreed: Travis Mackenzie Hoover has Asperger’s syndrome.Plunk. The pieces finally fall into place. My narrow obsession with one subject, my series of fidgety mannerisms and “stims”, my inability to decipher social situations, my tendency to blurt things out without considering the consequences, my problems with empathy in situations that really demand it, my difficulty, my alienation: there was name, a face, and an assurance that none of this was my motherfucking fault. The syndrome wasn’t bad news, it was the key to understanding my behaviour and the behaviour of everyone around me, which before had been humiliating mysteries and which now revealed themselves to be the neurochemical luck of the draw. I wasn’t a victim of Asperger’s syndrome, I was a victim of not being told I had Asperger’s syndrome, and the information lifted my depression and shredded my fear and gave me the first proof that maybe this once-nightmarish world might not be such a bad place after all…
By some strange serendipity, I inherited a small amount of money recently. Not enough to change my life, but enough to get me a DV camera and a computer powerful enough to edit the footage, and it’s here that the next chapter of my life begins. I’m going to try and make something about my experience, and maybe some stuff totally unrelated- in any event, the diagnosis has finally given me the sense of emotional cause-and-effect I need to write convincingly. I’m going to put my theories into practice, and I’m going to see if I can claw my way out of the ghetto and put Aspie culture on the map. And that means I have to clear out certain distractions.By the end of ten years criticism had sort of become a soporific drug to numb the pain… I can now only do the stuff I want to see and write about, to make room for the other things I need to do; and it has to be more occasional, meaning I have to stop anything that keeps me on a grind, that has me doing soul-deadening things I don’t want to see on a treadmill. And that means, after ten years running down that road, I am hanging up my typewriter at Film Freak Central.
Wow. You have to be amazed at how one personal discovery can so radically realign one’s values, self-image and interests.
One one level, Travis’ essay has me thinking about what cinephilia and criticism (and blogging specifically) mean to me, and what value I place on all the time I spend watching, thinking about and writing movies. Especially because, like Travis, I have grander designs to be a filmmaker and I wonder a lot if the film writing encourages or encumbers the filmmaking. For now I’ve made a kind of reconciliation of the two through my video essays for the Shooting Project — they’ve been an opportunity to experiment with expressing my thoughts and defining my voice as both critic and filmmaker while engaging with a wide swath of cinema (sometimes I wonder if it’s too wide, to the point that I can’t proceed to consolidate my own vision amidst all this eclecticism). For now, I am content with the nature and extent of my participation in online cinema culture, though its constant evolution no doubt will keep me wondering…
But on another, deeper level, Travis’ essay really touched me on the level of self-esteem, and what effect certain events and choices can have in steering your self-image and self-esteem upward or downward. I was depressed for a good stretch of last year after I accepted a promotion at work, one that seemed related to my filmmaking ambitions (at least more related than my previous stint of answering calls and managing databases). It was the practical move, resulting in a 25% salary increase and a chance to hone some of my multimedia and editing skills (put to good personal use with my vid essays). But something was just not right… to the point that I started taking antidepressants. I had no time to work on my documentary and was putting in hours working on the script for my feature, whose shooting date seemed so far away from my humdrum everyday reality. Then around last month I finished the 7th draft of the script, the money was coming together from my partner (who will direct) and suddenly it was time to seriously start looking for our cast. I put out a casting call for our lead actress in New York, to play a South Asian high school girl. Because of my previous documentary work with the Desi community, I got a tremendous response, it was really a trip to be recognized as a brand name filmmaker in the South Asian American community. And these auditions have been an exalting experience – directing people in these readings makes me wonder what the fuck I’ve been wasting time with for the past few years, but that’s neither here nor there. This was all part of a process I had to go through, to experience, to learn, and to grow. Once you know, you go, and there’s no turning back.
There is nothing more valuable than feeling that you have the power to do what it is that you set out to do. I’ve known what it’s like not to feel that way, and don’t ever want to go back there. 2008 is going to be an awesome year. Hearing stories like Travis’ only encourages me more to keep pursuing that truest sense of who you are and act on that emerging understanding of inner truth.
I sure hope you make that movie, Travis, and make it brilliantly.
Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007, Kent Jones) IMDb
screened December 11, 2007 at the Walter Reade Theater, NYC
Into the Wild (2007, Sean Penn) IMDb
screened December 30, 2007 on DVD in South San Francisco, CA
Didn’t expect it to sneak up on me at the end — I wonder if they should have told the film in strict chronological order just to get Holbrook’s amazing presence in there sooner.
Persepolis (2007, Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Parounnaud) IMDb
screened December 31, 2007 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, NY
I much prefer the graphic novels – they are more evocative and not as ingratiatingly cutesy as I found this movie to be. Stlll I hope this film opens a lot of doors for greater understanding of Iran – boy do we need it more than ever.
There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul-Thomas Anderson) IMDb second viewing
screened January 7, 2008 at BAM
Jour de Fete (1949, Jacques Tati) IMDb
screened January 6, 2008 at Walter Reade Theater, NY
Saw the color print at the Walter Reade in Lincoln Center with Jonathan Rosenbaum introducing it. Not as highly touted as his later films, but I actually prefer it to M. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle, due to its inside-out knowingness of its characters and the world they inhabit, which allows it to exploit nearly every opportunity for humor and shrewd observation of social values and behavior. I suppose one could make the same argument for all of Tati’s great films, and in fact Rosenbaum has made the point that Tati’s films work together to make an epic chronology of everyday life in France in the modern era. Indeed, the pathos of this film doesn’t fully register unless you watch Mon Oncle or Playtime as a point of contrast – as a time capsule of a lost world it is quite poignant.
Still Life / Sanxia Haoren (2006, Jia Zhangke) IMDb second viewing
screened January 8, 2008 at Magno Studios, NY
Saw at a press screening in 35mm. DVD was much better – HD colors and lines really popped, on film it’s dark and muddled. Not as many subtexts blossomed out in the second viewing as I had expected, but it’s still a compelling film with some of Jia/Yu Lik Wai’s most inspired compositions, with an emerging subtext of masculinity and brotherhood not dealt with so deeply by Jia since his breakthrough Xiao Wu 10 years prior. Han Sanming is terrific in the lead.
Lake of Fire (2006, Tony Kaye) IMDb
screened January 10, 2008 on DVD in Weehawken, NJ
gutsy film – in my mind it subtly sides towards pro-choice (they seem to get the last word at every chapter in the story),but it shows more sides to the debate than any film I can think of. The last half hour is incredibly powerful, when we move past…() the rhetorical tug of war and get to spend time with a woman as she undergoes the procedure – and we see just how morally and emotionally conflicted an experience it is — and the sheer humanity of these scenes transcends political or rhetorical posturing.
No End in Sight (2007, Charles Ferguson) IMDb
screened January 10, 2008 on DVD in Weehawken, NJ
my only grievance is the absence of the key top-level players (no fault of the filmmakers, they tried I assume) and their account of what they were thinking (or not thinking) leaves a big frustrating chasm of accountability in this blistering narrative.
Ne touchez pas la hache / The Duchess of L’Anglaise (2007, Jacques Rivette) IMDb
screened January 14, 2008 at Magno Studio in New York, NY
last half hour is really great, but there’s a lot of stuffy costumed hemming and hawing that, while attentive to the gamesmanlike customs of the era it depicts, isn’t depicted with the singularity one would expect from a name like Rivette.
This is my textually terse but visually abundant submission to The House Next Door contributors’ 2007 wrap-up.
It has been a delight this past year to have The House Next Door as a generous channel for my quest to watch the 1000 greatest films of all time. I’m grateful for all of the feedback and insights offered. Special thanks to Keith for joining me in the first of what I hope to be a series of collaborations with critics and bloggers on the video essays that have helped to elevate this project from being a mere list-checking exercise.
Despite a setback in the project due to a major reshuffling of the list at the end of last month, which effectively puts me back to where I was a year ago in this project, I will continue this year to watch, write and video-ize the remaining 98 films on the list. The increase in the number of films left to see has reinforced my intention not to rush this project to completion, and that I’d rather get a lot out of watching a handful of films than get through a lot of films in a handful of days or weeks. The mantra remains, it’s not how many films you see, but how much you see in them – a credo that I think is upheld by the often stunningly insightful pieces found on The House.
I should mention that the change in # of films I have seen has induced the need for a new numbering system, since some of the films I have seen for the blog are no longer on the official list of 1000. I will designate those films with a parenthetical number corresponding to its order in which I watched it for the blog [i.e. Hold Me While I'm Naked, which was the second film I saw for the blog but is no longer on the list, is now x(2)]. Films that are still on the list will be denoted by their present order in my project as well as the order in which I watched it for the blog [i.e. Il Posto, the 937th film I saw on the former top 1000 and the 39th that I watched for the blog, and is now the 901st film that I've seen in the current 1000 will be re-numbered as 901(39)]. Hopefully this will make sense as we go on.
Enough of taxonomic headaches – let’s play. To celebrate the past year of Shooting Down Pictures, I would like to present a series of screen grabs from several of the films I saw as part of the project. I’m shamelessly ripping off Nathaniel at The Film Experience by offering screen grabs from the 20th minute and 07th second of films I saw in 2007. Tell you what, I’ll even throw in a prize a la Filmbrain — the one who guesses the most screen grabs correctly will receive a DVD (or else some digital version) of any of the 41 TSP films I saw last year (where available – I highly doubt if Ernie Gehr’s Still is on video) Full list can be found on my blogroll. I’m feeling generous in the weeks I have left of earning a steady income, before I embark on another venture…
Listed by ascending order of personal preference – good luck:
#15: (this is probably the hardest to guess):
Bonus images (for tiebreaker purposes): These aren’t from the 20:07 mark, but nonetheless they are from some of my favorite films seen as part of the SDP project:
I’m very pleased that Opera Jawa, one of my favorite films of 2006, is getting its New York debut at the MOMA Global Lens series. Quite unexpectedly, a controversy has erupted around this film, provoked by Chicago Reader’s soon-to-be-retiring Jonathan Rosenbaum over a seemingly throwaway brief review of the film by Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. Rosenbaum’s Reader Blog entry accuses Catsoulis’ review of being an “ugly, xenophobic” throwback to what he considers the prevailing disposition of the Times in “when a barbarian like Bosley Crowther was smugly ruling the roost.” (He does pay compliment to today’s Times film review staff as being “better than it’s ever been before,” thanks to “the lively prose of Manohla Dargis, the literary intelligence (if not the film background) of A.O. Scott, and the critical and scholarly chops of Dave Kehr.”)
A pretty heated discussion ensued in the comments section of the blog, which featured a range of contentions about, the quality of the piece, its perceived impact (and that of Times reviews in general) on the film’s potential audience, and the perils of newspaper film reviewing in general. I just want to point out some key contentions, and I’d be curious to hear what others think:
- Do you agree with Rosenbaum’s description of Catsoulis’ review as “xenophobic” and insulting to Indonesians?
- (pursuant to comments by m(ike) d’a(ngelo), harry tuttle, vadim (rizov) et al: is it possible to do justice to a challenging avant garde film in a review of under 200 words? (if you think so, feel free to post your own favorite instances that you’ve encountered
- To what extent is plot or contextual information essential when faced with a brief capsule review?
- re: Matt Zoller Seitz’ second comment in response to (Chris) wells. Which do you think is more likely to arouse a viewer’s interest in Opera Jawa: that it was one of the films produced for the New Crowned Hope series of third world films produced by Peter Sellars for the 250th birthday of Mozart; or that lead actor Eko Supriyanto was a dancer on Madonna’s Drowned World Tour?
Answer all four correctly and you may receive a DVD screener of Opera Jawa mailed to you (just don’t ask where you’ll get it from).
I think the blog commenter named “Mizoguchi” is Dave Kehr, who I believe was shaking his head vigorously while Jonathan was nodding his even more vigorously when I asked them what they thought of the film after they had both seen it in Venice. “Mizoguchi” calls the film “a rather heavy-handed excercise in European avant-garde theater… I found the overlay of European Po-Mo on the traditional material actually rather offensive — just another bit of cultural imperialism, this time extended from the left.” But this has me wondering to what degree these remarks could apply to all third world filmmakers who have been schooled and influenced by the left-wing European art establishment, from Brazil’s Glauber Rocha to Mozambique’s Abdherrahmane Sissako and all post-colonial parts in between. I find that “cultural imperialism” knock rather unfair, or at least in need of serious unpacking.