Northwest Cinemas

I’m visiting Portland for the weekend and was originally planning on interviewing the TCM V.P. of New Media about his erotic fantasies involving Joe Eszterhas, but he decided to stay in Atlanta instead. (Something about a wife, a birth, and a child – but I bet what he’s really doing is hiding out in his man-cave playing Halo 3 instead.) To be fair to him, it’s not so much Eszterhas as Showgirls which gets him excited. In his words, Showgirls is “a brilliant political commentary on the moral bankruptcy and depravity of American culture.  It’s film negative should dipped in gold and displayed next to the Constitution on Capital Hill with a permanent 24hr angel choir stationed nearby.” His words, not mine. Me? I’m in Portland enjoying the offerings of a vibrant film community that honors both the past and the present – no angel choirs needed, just some good beers to accentuate the good cheer. [...MORE]

Children of Invention: ‘Home Alone’ for a New Economy

Movie-goers are bemoaning the lack of decent Hollywood movies in the cineplexes this summer. Not only are the studios releasing fewer films than in past years, but most of those that end up on the big screen have sacrificed good storytelling and craftsmanship for expensive gimmicks like 3-D, CGI, and Michael Bay-style hyper-editing that assaults the senses and insults intelligence. Fortunately, in Chicago, movie-lovers can rely on several venues that show independent films, classics, or other alternative fare to satisfy their cinematic urges, from the Golden Age movies at the Bank of America Theater to the Chicago Silent Film Society’s Silent Summer Festival to the indie films at Facets and the Music Box Theater.

Among my favorite indie movies so far this year is a modest drama titled Children of Invention, which played at Facets in late May. Because of the problems plaguing the distribution and marketing of independent films, many indies shown at Facets rarely exhibit outside the major urban markets and therefore suffer as DVD or home-viewing releases because renters don’t recognize their titles. Yet, the way the producers have handled the distribution and exhibition of Children of Invention has made it an exception, and perhaps a model for future indie releases.

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The Cinema In-Between: The Anchorage and Agrarian Utopia

“He [D.W. Griffith] missed a certain beauty he thought had disappeared from film, from the way people saw life — ‘the beauty of the moving wind in the trees, the little movement in a beautiful blowing on the blossoms in the trees. That they have forgotten entirely. . . We have lost beauty.’ On that note, Griffith fell silent.” -Richard Schickel, D.W. GRIFFITH: AN AMERICAN LIFE

Griffith’s deathbed lament has turned into something of a mission statement for a disparate group of filmmakers on the experimental side of documentary practice,  who combine anthropological impulses (recording “the wind in the trees”) with a rigorously constructed visual formalism (regaining its “beauty”), blurring the boundary between fiction and non. The great French avant-gardist Jean-Marie Straub is a main influence, and seems to have popularized the quote, as recounted by director John Gianvito and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. Griffith’s words have exerted almost as much influence as Straub and late partner Daniele Huillet’s austere long-take style. I’ve never found the original 1947 interview from which Griffith’s words were taken, so any help on this front would be much obliged.

I was led to three of these hybrid films: Sweetgrass (which I discussed here), The Anchorage, and Agrarian Utopia, by Robert Koehler in his Cinema Scope essay, “Agrarian Utopias/Dystopias“.  Here he introduces his concept of a “cinema of in-between-ness”, which is not a movement as much as a tendency, where “a zone of a cinema free of, or perhaps more precisely in between, hardened fact and invented fiction permits all manner of wild possibilities.” Most of these possibilites, he finds, are focused on “subjects about humans working on the surface of the earth.”

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Shirin: Keep Your Eyes on the Screen

Abbas Kiarostami has retreated from the international scene for most of this past decade, working on a variety of museum installations and digital video experiments that received little to no distribution in the U.S. These pursuits, which include the installation Looking at Taziyeh, the long-take landscape film Five Dedicated to Ozu, and his latest, Shirin extend his interest in off-screen space and ways of seeing. Taziyeh is a mixed-multimedia work, with Kiarostami directing a live stage performance of a Shiite passion play (Ta’ziyeh is a folk theater form that re-enacts the murder of Hussein, the grandson of Muhammad), while giant monitors near the stage depict Iranian audience members reacting to a previous version of the play.

Kiarostami told The Guardian that “Ta’ziyeh is strictly linked to its audience – the event is actually created by the rapport between actors and spectators.”  Five Dedicated to Ozu, available on DVD from Kino (full disclosure: a company I work for), is a series of fixed-camera long takes of a beach on the Caspian Sea that capture ducks, dogs, shorelines, and reflections of the moon. It is an academic exercise imbued with Kiarostami’s wry humor and keen compositional eye. It asks for a patient, involved viewer, as it unveils split-second narratives and fugitive plastic beauties. While watching it, one can be emotionally involved in a duck’s fate, then pull back to enjoy the framing of driftwood on the horizon, or simply leave it on as an impossibly hip screen-saver.

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I Can See You

I CAN SEE YOU poster.“So much about this movie and its characters should be annoying, but the sensory disorientation climaxes in a freakout that wipes all troubles away, as well as anything else in your head.” (The Village Voice)

“…without a doubt one of the most intriguing and well-crafted low-budget horror films in recent memory.” (Fangoria)

“It’s akin to an acid trip, actually. Take a hit right as the movie starts up, and chances are as soon as the acid kicks in, the movie starts twisting at the same time.” (DreadCentral.com)

I Can See You heralds a splendid new filmmaker with one eye on genre mechanics, one eye on avant-garde conceits and a third eye for transcendental weirdness.” (The New York Times) [...MORE]

Unearthed Japanese Craziness from 1977 – Hausu

Poster for HOUSE

Janus Films, the distributor of high-brow and classic arthouse films such as Rashomon, Rules of the Game, and Pierrot le fou, has struck out in an entirely unexpected direction by picking up the rights to a very bizarre and overlooked Japanese horror film by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Originally released over thirty years ago, Hausu (aka: House) is currently making the rounds again, nation-wide, at very select theaters (It airs on TCM Underground this Friday night – Jan. 13, 2012 at 2 am ET). This movie about a young girl who takes some friends with her to her grandmother’s house out in the country, only to discover it’s haunted and ready to eat some victims. The film is – to use the words of film critic J. Seaver – “batshit crazy from start to finish.”   [...MORE]

Science Fiction + Westerns + Music = Fun

Stingray Sam's spaceship.

Last weekend my film series was privileged to host the Colorado premiere of Stingray Sam – the latest creation by talented director/musician/writer/artist/actor Cory McAbee. Although it’s tempting to draw parallels between this film and Cory’s other sci-fi/western/musical, The American Astronaut (2001), they are two very different creatures. For one thing; Stingray Sam was designed “for screens of all sizes” and was meant to be distributed as six downloadable webisodes, with each episode being about ten minutes in length. Also; each episode has a song and cliffhanger. And although both feature planet-hopping around from a seedy interstellar space saloon to other planets with serious gender issues and onward, Stingray Sam has a different cast of characters, a different rhythm, a different style, and zips along at a nice clip with more material condensed into shorter bits. [...MORE]

Highlights from the Telluride Film Festival

A scene from THE ROAD.Last week I talked about the exceptional Red Riding trilogy the debuted at the 36th annual Telluride Film Festival. Now that the festival can be seen receding in my rear view mirror, it’s time to reflect on some of the other films that were also screened there. Let’s start with The Road[...MORE]

Further Adventures in VOD

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After exploring Hulu for cinematic surprises two weeks back, I discovered the nifty search engine SpeedCine [Speed-Sinny], which claims to make  “it easy to find legal feature-length movies on your computer”. Founded by film publicist Reid Rosefelt, it trawls the web for films that can be viewed on VOD for free or through rental, purchase, or subscription. It’s very simple to use, and with a quick click on the FREE button, and a leisurely scroll through its large A-Z library, I uncovered a wide variety of oddities and masterpieces that won’t cost you a dime (the FAQ informs us that not all titles are listed in the index, that some can only be found through the search function. Mysterious! Let me know if you find any hidden nuggets through this feature). These free titles are all ad-supported on various sites, with commercials popping up at different intervals. Most sites offer their “top” titles as rentals or purchases only (without ads), while shuffling their lesser known material into the “free”, ad-supported category.

Searching for free titles filters out the Herculean efforts of The Auteurs to bring a cinematheque to your computer (at a reasonable $5 a film, with a few titles gratis), but I discussed them earlier this year. They’re the most forward thinking VOD operators around, with the best content, so by all means check them out. But this week I’m focusing on the questionably curated free VOD sites that SpeedCine introduced me to, like Crackle, Jaman, Fancast, and EZ Takes, all of which vary wildly in quality.  I’ll profile each of these sites on various arbitrary categories (streaming quality, commercial interruptions, etc.) and offer some viewing recommendations on each. In any case, SpeedCine is a remarkably useful tool for those interested in excavating the vast trove of cinema available on these here tubes.

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Francis Ford Coppola’s TETRO

Coppola on the set of TETRO.

I’m not of much use when the heat gets above 90 degrees. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to fly to Portland last week – I figured it’d be a reasonable temperature while my homestead here in the Rockies baked under summer sun. And what happens? Boulder got hit with rain and weather in the 50′s while Portland was scorched under record-breaking temperatures that reached 107 degrees. And there I was on the second floor of the Hawthorne Youth Hostel, with no air-conditioning, reeling about in buckets of sweat like Martin Sheen on the tail-end of a drinking binge about to go mad in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. As many people do who look for a reprieve from extreme heat, I sought my refuge in the cool halls of a movie theater. And with Coppola and madness in mind, I found his latest film, Tetro, playing at the Living Room Theaters. [...MORE]

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