August 2009

100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films

<i>Fantasmagorie (1908)</i> by Émile Cohl

Fantasmagorie (1908) by Émile Cohl

100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films:  Background

This list of 100 important directors of animated short films was assembled in late 2008 to serve as a complement to “Brief Encounters,” a proposed list of 250 great short films (both animated and live-action) which was to be developed by the folks at the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? website.  Unfortunately, that 250-film list is in limbo, leaving our list without a home.

The “100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films” list is not intended to be comprehensive.  These are simply 100 directors whom we feel are important and deserving of increased recognition by film lovers.  For each director, we selected three “highly recommended” movies.  In addition, we included a category of “TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts” to highlight any of these directors’ films which were tentatively slated to place on the abandoned Brief Encounters list.

This project was facilitated by Lee Price (lee-109) on the IMDb Classic Film message board.  Project team:  Lee Price, Robert Reynolds (Illtdesq), Jorge Didaco (jdidaco), Bill Kamberger (bkamberger), and Rob Tomshany (RobT-2), with additional input from animation fans on the IMDb Classic Film message board. Continue Reading »

Best of the Decade Derby Serial Killer Showdown: Zodiac vs. Memories of Murder with Andrew Grant and Vadim Rizov

memories_of_murder-1zodiac-3

On this installment of BoDD we’re delving into the case of not one but two serial killer movies to determine which one is a better candidate for Best of the Decade. In one corner, we have Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, a critical and box office smash in Korea that flopped in the U.S., though not without a few raves by a handful of critics who caught it. In the other corner, David Fincher’s Zodiac, which also flopped in the U.S., though well received by a critical contingent.

In this lively podcast, I discuss both films with Andrew Grant, aka Filmbrain, of the popular blog Like Anna Karina’s Sweater, and Vadim Rizov, film critic and contributor to the Indie Eye blog at IFC.com. We discuss our experiences watching both films, as well as Bong’s and Fincher’s’ defining characteristics, what made Memories a commercial success and Zodiac a flop with their respective target audiences, the juggernaut that was Korean cinema in the early half of this decade, and other topics. Also listen to find out which film is the #2 pick of the decade for which podcast interviewee…

Click to play (right click to download)

Taking a break from video essays to serve the community

While video essays have been the majority of my creative output for the past couple of years, I still keep a hand in other types of video production, especially when it’s for a good cause. I just received word that a video I produced for the Sikh Coalition has been accepted to the Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Toronto, September 25-27. The video, “From the Classroom to the Capitol” was produced for the Sikh Coalition’s first annual awards gala earlier in August.  It was posted on the Coalition’s YouTube page this week, and apparently the Spinning Wheel Festival caught it and liked it enough to add to their program.

I’ve been involved with the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh community for several years now, most notably through the production of a short documentary “Dastaar: Defending Sikh Identity.” I’ve done a lot of work with the Coalition in building up their capacity to make videos on their own, thanks to a grant from Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The Sikh community remains one of the most misunderstood people in the U.S. and the victim of ongoing bias and hate attacks, often violent ones. The Sikh Coalition has done much since 9/11 to combat prejudice, defend people’s civil rights and educate the nation at large about the Sikh identity. I am extremely proud to be involved in these efforts.

Here’s the new video “From the Classroom to the Capitol”:

from dGenerate: Chinese indie cinema @ NYFF & Jia Zhangke controversy

a couple informative pieces posted at one of my gigs:

Ghost_Town

Lu Chen has a great essay on Ghost Town, the only Chinese film selected for the main lineup of this year’s New York Festival. She gets into the NYFF’s history with Chinese films and the significance of Ghost Town’s selection to the prestigious fest. Full disclosure: dGenerate Films will be working with Zhao Dayong and the Ghost Town team on their US distribution and festival run.  If you’re interested in screening Ghost Town at your festival or venue, please contact us.

In addition to Ghost Town, it’s worth pointing out that the NYFF will also screen 20 classic Chinese movies dating from 1949-1965, a crucial period of Chinese cinema that covers the first 17 years of the People’s Republic of China.  I’m already busy at work on a video piece tied into this screening series (which could mean fewer updates on this blog for the next couple weeks, but let’s hope not).

I’ve also posted another CinemaTalk podcast, this time with Michael Berry, Associate Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  He is the author of the BFI Film Classics monograph Jia Zhang-ke’s Hometown Trilogy, which offers extended analysis of the films Xiao Wu, Platform, and Unknown Pleasures.

Professor Berry shares his insights on Jia Zhangke, specifically his career development since the “Hometown Trilogy” and his recent controversy at the Melbourne International Film Festival.   Be sure to read Jia’s statement of withdrawal from the Melbourne Film Festival as a point of reference.

Listen to the podcast

Best of the Decade Derby: A.I. liveblog with Keith Uhlich and Michael Joshua Rowin

Keith Uhlich in Black
Michael Joshua Rowin in Blue
Me in Green

OPENING REMARKS:

KU – I saw it at the Ziegfeld on opening night. I remember a Rex Reed quote pertaining to another film he saw, where he maintained, “I’m not affected by the audience.”  Well, when I saw A.I., it was the last 30 minutes or so when the hatred of the audience was palpable, I could feel the audience seething in dead silence, and it really affected me.

So I didn’t like the movie when it first came out. But there was some discussion of it on the Brian De Palma Forum that was interesting.

So I saw it again on my own and this time it not only worked but it really turned Spielberg around for me. This film convinced me that Spielberg was worth my complete, devoted attention.

MJR:  I was in college. I was a huge Kubrick-head. I had a professor at the time who was great, but he was going on about A.I. and how he would never see it because it was Kubrick’s project but Spielberg took it over, and Spielberg just wasn’t worthy. I was impressionable and thought the same, and frankly I hadn’t liked Spielberg since I saw E.T. as a kid. His name to me meant schmaltz, big budget corporate spectacle. So I never saw it when it came out. I also heard from my brother and other people that they hated it.

And then, later on, when I was a little older I came across other people I respected and had an appreciation of Spielberg and really liked A.I. I came around and checked it out – it was just a couple years ago. And I was blown away in ways that were deeply emotional and philosophical. But I was also profoundly agitated by certain things that were going on that I felt were classic Spielberg manipulation.

Also, one thing I want to put out is that Spielberg is the Michael Jackson of cinema - someone who has an innate brilliance in putting together the elements of mass entertainment into something truly exceptional. I’ll get into that more as we watch the movie.

KBL: I saw this opening night at the Sony Lincoln Square. I had read the reviews by A.O. Scott and Jonathan Rosenbaum which were highly favorable. Especially Rosenbaum’s which actually argued against what many other critics were saying, that Spielberg doing Kubrick was a disaster. Instead he claimed that they compensated for each other, Spielberg’s heart joined with Kubrick’s brain, or something. Anyway I saw it in a packed theater and near the end, like with Keith’s initial experience, the feeling among the audience was one of disbelief and ridicule. It was one of those rare weird experiences where you’re on a completely different wavelength than the people around you, and in a way I kind of felt like David in this movie, just alienated. But I left feeling like my mind had been blown, that a Hollywood movie had presented a slew of ideas about the nature and the future of the human race I had never thought about before.

CONTINUE TO THE FULL LIVEBLOG Continue Reading »

Video Essay for 956 (98). Lucifer Rising (1972, Kenneth Anger)

Many thanks to Moving Image Source for hosting this effort – you can read the full text of the essay on their site.  And special thanks to Brandon Soderberg (aka one of the best hip-hop/music video writers I know) for the big assist on this baby. This was a fun one fu sho’:

Best of the Decade Derby: Video Essay on L’Intrus for the Reverse Shot Claire Denis Symposium

Reverse Shot has just published another of their storied auteur symposiums, where pieces on just about every film by a director are given serious critical appreciation by a talented host of young writers. I’ve contributed to past symposiums, including one on Hou Hsiao Hsien last year. This time they’re casting a much-deserved spotlight on Claire Denis, who I think is doing some of the most amazing work of any director working at the moment.

For this symposium I wanted to contribute a piece on L’Intrus, given that it’s a solid contender for my own “best of decade” list – only to find out that several other would-be contributors proposed to write on the same film. The honor eventually went to Genevieve Yue, who offers a lengthy, erudite essay that’s simply fantastic to read, and does much to elucidate a film that at times is as impenetrable as it is hypnotic.

Meanwhile, my way to get at L’Intrus was to do an appreciation via video essay. What I didn’t expect was how difficult this film would be to penetrate and elucidate, especially in a video essay format. This is probably the most challenging time I’ve had with a video essay and I owe thanks to several people for their encouragement, including Michael Baute, Daniel Kasman, Ryland Walker Knight, and of course Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert of Reverse Shot. The results, well, here they are:

981 (113). The Ladies’ Man (1961, Jerry Lewis)

Screened August 7 2009 on Paramount DVD in New York , NY

IMDb Wiki

ladiesman-title

Maybe it’s only in America where a man can act like an unrepentant juvenile and become a multimillionaire megastar… and a master filmmaker. Moreso than Spielberg, Lucas or early Judd Apatow, Jerry Lewis takes the boy-in-a-man’s-world ethos to heart, and it powers his moviemaking at every level: not just in his performance, but in the very way his films are constructed. Here his trademark nebbish cowers in a boarding house full of women; it’s less a coherent story than a series of one-offs riffing on Lewis’ klutzy gynophobia. While the results range from flat misfires to riotous genius, the relentless repetition of these set-ups amount to as much of a compulsive ritual as Wile E. Coyote’s pursuit of the Road Runner, and just as captivating in its flurried variations.

But unlike the Coyote’s Sisyphean purgatory of ambition-cum-self-torment, what gets Lewis enacts again and again is a spasmodic rebelliousness that champions the eternal wellspring of boy-like wonder. It’s a world where adult concerns for structure and story give way to childlike free play with objects in a seemingly elastic space. Something as rudimentary as narrative is regarded like a rigid schoolmarm that both threatens and gives form to Lewis’ playtime. And for all his undeniably male preoccupations with the terrifying spectre known as woman (in this instance, an entire house full of them), the fact that Lewis’ legendary million-dollar set amounts to a super-sized dollhouse suggests a boy who likes to play with dolls. The libido on display isn’t hurtling towards manhood; it’s actively resisting the obligation to fall into the pigeonhole of masculinity.

That said, there’s plenty of male scopophilia on display, with the two knockout musical numbers near the beginning and end expressing breathless pleasure at watching how women move, set to vivacious jazz. It surprises me that in all the articles I’ve dug up about Jerry Lewis and The Ladies Man, not once do I find a reference about Lewis possibly being the most jazz-informed filmmaker of his time. Again, it’s the sense of taking a bare-bones theme and freestyling it to the rafters, unafraid of hitting false notes (and there are not a few in this film) for the sake of striking golden ones (and there are not a few in this film). When Andrew Sarris complained that Lewis “never put one brilliant comedy from fade in to fade out,” he missed the point entirely. Being a Hollywood classicalist, Sarris couldn’t entertain the notion of a post-narrative comedy in the John Coltrane/Ornette Coleman era, where story comes second to the revelations of a spontaneous, inspired moment, as eruptive and unexpected as laughter itself.

Now, four decades later, Lewis’ filmmaking feels even more apropo to the digital age, when classical storytelling, both in Hollywood and the arthouse, is yielding to the impulse for immediacy that rules the day, for better (e.g. Public Enemies) or worse (e.g. Transformers). But championing The Ladies Man as a template for a Cinema of Our Time doesn’t mean we write a blank check to slack, formless filmmaking trying to catch cinematic moments with a torn butterfly net. Ultimately, The Ladies Man does have a profound reverence for form – though it’s not classical story form, but the form of the two-dimensional movie screen. Like a pre-Columbian cartographer, Lewis accepts that the world is flat, but he takes that and goes the distance with it, with brilliant gags that open up new pockets of space within the frame (i.e. falling through his “bunk” bed; the play with non-existent mirrors in the girl-crazed morning number; encased butterflies that come to life). Working within limitations, his revelations hint at limitless discoveries, as well as a few paradoxes. His megalomanical control of spatial and character interactions explodes into a comic free-for all. Likewise, he validates his auteur status, a self-proclaimed “total filmmaker,” by regressing wholeheartedly into a terminally narcissistic childhood.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN MORE? Continue Reading »

980 (112). Central do Brasil / Central Station (1998, Walter Salles)

Screened Sunday July 26 2009 on Sony Classics DVD in Brooklyn, NY

TSPDT rank #966   IMDb Wiki


The Sundance aesthetic was vindicated – at least in terms of awards and box office – by this Sundance Labs project that announced Brazilian cinema’s resurgence in the late ’90s (culminating in 2002′s City of God). This story of the unlikely bond between selfish city dweller Fernanda Montenegro compelled to help lost child Vinicius de Oliveira find his father in the countryside becomes a parable for a nation in search of its soul. It’s a journey that delivers its protagonists from a compressed cityscape of random violence, organ trafficking and overall nastiness to an expansive pastoral oasis decorated with familial empathy and spiritual exaltation. Central Station is a work of rehabilitation, for a nation’s soul as well as its film industry.

Setting aside the film’s significance to its nation’s cinematic emergence, I can’t say I can drum up much enthusiasm for this film beyond faint praise. As expected of a Sundance Labs project, it seems to do everything it sets out to do, checklist wise: unlikely cross-generational pairing of adorable child who unlocks a curmudgeon’s redemptive maternal instincts; adrenalin-churning crime movie episode; picturesque countryside road trip; unassailable social consciousness agenda. Add to that some Oscar-worthy acting and impeccable lenswork and its as polished and audience-friendly as it can be.

I don’t begrudge this kind of film for what it is, let alone its value in opening its nation’s filmmakers to greater opportunities to produce work of all kinds. But as far as what I think a movie should do, which is to reflect its reality as honestly as possible, I could do without all this packaging; it gets in the way of what’s there. Even the “real life” non-professional actors at the beginning of the film, shot in a real life Brazilian location, feel like they’re on a movie set. Ironic that Pixote, another landmark film about delinquency in Brazil, one that was shot on sets more than Central Station, is the more raw, immersive experience, one whose jagged narrative doesn’t feel like it’s being nudged towards a pre-assigned grace note.

Continue Reading »

Best of the Decade Derby: Looney Tunes: Back in Action liveblog with Keith Uhlich

In searching for the ten best films of the decade, I’ve taken a special interest in two genres that I feel are routinely given short shrift when generally thinking about the “best” films: animation and comedy. So I was happy to follow the recommendation of Keith Uhlich to watch Looney Tunes: Back in Action as part of the Best of the Decade Derby. Keith assures me that this film is highly likely to make his own top ten list (I think I know Keith well enough to predict what his list will look like: A.I., Five, Generation Kill, The House of Mirth, Inland Empire, Miami Vice, The New World…). It was fun listening to Keith take on a personal tour through Looney Tunes, especially after having watched The Incredibles, two films that seem diametrically opposed in their philosophies towards form, structure and sensibility in mainstream feature animation, as different as, say, the classic era of Warner Bros. vs. Disney. Given that I’ve been increasingly seduced by classical Hollywood form and craft (something that my re-watching of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein shook me out of, at least momentarily), it was good for Keith to remind me of how when I was a kid I preferred the manic anarchy of Warner Bros. over the impeccable prettiness of Disney. This opposition was definitely on Joe Dante’s mind when he made this film, as Keith’s liveblog comments (with my occasional interjections) bear out: Continue Reading »

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