Archive for September, 2009

What’s going on over there?

September 30, 2009

Y’know, I was gonna try and get over to the galleries at Memorial Union to check out and write up a little somethin’-somethin’ on the new batch of exhibits currently on display, but until I find the time to do so, please feel free to go ahead and cheat on me by reading fellow UW student Emily Genco’s review of the four new shows, published over at my former stomping ground (I call it that with more than a pinch of facetiousness), the Badger Herald. (Nice to see they’ve still got some decent arts coverage going on over there.) Emily makes the shows sound pretty darn interesting, and her discussion of some of the ideas being kicked around by the artists is refreshingly sophisticated (though tragically restrained due to the spatial constraints inherent to writing for a student newspaper). More of this, please.

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The Front National vs. Sarkozy and… Polanski

September 30, 2009

I suppose it was inevitable that Jean-Marie Le Pen, being an excessively proud Frenchman and all, would have something or other to say about the recent Roman Polanski debacle. Here it is, a statement that Le Pen made in tandem with his daughter and soon-to-be-boss of the Front National, Marine (courtesy of the NY Times):

On the extreme right, the father and daughter politicians Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen also criticized the ministers, saying they were supporting “a criminal pedophile in the name of the rights of the political-artistic class.”

Obviously, Le Pen isn’t sounding off on Polanski so much as he’s sniping at his enemy Sarkozy, who is all too eager to run around bearing a bull’s-eye; nevertheless, the presumably contentious relationship between the FN and European artists has been of great interest to me as of late, so if anyone knows of another instance of Le Pen criticizing or even endorsing a filmmaker, novelist, painter, whoever—don’t hesitate to enlighten me.

UPDATE (12:26PM): Richard Brody offers his own, decidedly more nuanced take on the Polanski affair, and I agree with more or less everything he says. Sure, the law’s the law and it ought to be upheld 99.99% of the time, but what about when the law is functioning to smack Lady Justice right in the kisser? Polanski is certainly guilty of some undeniably sordid and skeezy acts, but the court was also guilty of practicing a parody of prosecution against him. The whole situation is as bizarre as it is troubling. Many commentators are arguing that letting Polanski off would amount to allowing the rich and famous to play by a dramatically less restrictive set of rules (as if they don’t already), but what about the court that fumbled Polanski’s case so badly, or the dishonest, attention-starved judge who presided over and orchestrated this disgustingly drawn-out charade? Justice, ladies and germs, is a two-way street, not a cul-de-sac.

Tuesdays are for new DVDs

September 29, 2009

Of all the new DVDs that arrived today at Madison’s own Four Star Video Heaven, the one you probably want to check out is Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (2009). I missed out on a handful of opportunities to treat myself to The Girlfriend Experience this summer while performing all kinds of bitch work on the super mean streets of downtown Manhattan, so I was very grateful to get another crack at seeing this film; having watched it this morning, I’m pleased to find that it met my expectations with ease. The Girlfriend Experience is disjunctive, slippery, fascinatingly constructed and scarily on-point in its attempts to capture the gaudy affluence and cloaked apathy of contemporary Manhattan. Looking at Soderbergh’s compositions is like squeezing thick chunks of ice: bitterly cold until they begin to burn. The Girlfriend Experience is perhaps too uneven and sketch-like to be a legitimate contender for 2009’s best, but nevertheless it’s a film that anyone who has spent some time in NYC ought to see. For good measure, I give you the trailer:

UPDATE (5:49PM): Glenn Kenny chimes in with a couple words about The Girlfriend Experience DVD and about his own role in the film as an online escort critic (seriously). Q-tips…

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 9/28

September 28, 2009

Very soon I’ll be the proud owner of one of them newfangled Kodak Zi8 HD camcorder device gadget things, which I’m obviously quite excited about, but until it actually arrives, the wait will continue to kill me. This desire to get my hands on a camera and start shooting anything and everything leads me to today’s quote, a fragmentary meditation on the nature of photography, written by one of my favorites, Susan Sontag. The quote is taken from her slightly notorious book On Photography, a divisive work that tries to come to grips with cameras, images, time and other equally light subjects. I chose this particular quote (from the essay “Melancholy Objects”) because in it Sontag ties her theory of the photographic image to cinema, and I just so happen to like me some cinema, yes sir. We here at CineMadison aren’t feeling especially profound today.

But the relation of a still photograph to a film is intrinsically misleading. To quote from a movie is not the same as quoting from a book. Whereas the reading time of a book is up to the reader, the viewing of a film is set by the filmmaker and the images are perceived only as fast or as slowly as the editing permits. Thus, a still, which allows one to linger over a single moment as long as one likes, contradicts the very form of film, as a set of photographs that freezes moments in a life or a society contradicts their form, which is a process, a flow in time. The photographed world stands in the same, essentially inaccurate relation to the real world as stills do to movies. Life is not about significant details, illuminated in a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.

To all those who have passed or who intend to pass judgment on the recently detained Roman Polanski…

September 28, 2009

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You’ve got two films you ought to watch (that is, if you haven’t already seen them): Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (on his career, the circumstances of his crime and his circus of a trial) and, as a sort of counterpoint, his 1976 film The Tenant (a film that has a great deal to say about its own maker, none of which is very flattering).

Exactly how you wanted to start your week, I’m sure

September 28, 2009

In today’s issue of the Daily Cardinal: my remarkably negative review of Sin Nombre, which screened this past weekend at the Play Circle. Sheesh, I must’ve been feeling pretty down when I wrote that.

What it’s like to be a guerilla filmmaker in China

September 27, 2009

Just saw this on the Times’ website this morning: an article profiling the emerging class of independent Chinese filmmakers struggling to produce interesting, provocative work without the consent of the overbearing, parochial state. It’s worth noting that, as of late, the Chinese government has been a bit more laissez-faire when it comes to regulating cinematic production, which may have something to do with the critical successes of directors like Jia Zhangke, who is almost universally regarded as being one of the most important artists working in cinema today and who doesn’t shy away from grappling with some of Chinese history’s most controversial topics. Jia’s most recent features (The World, Still Life and 24 City) have been almost Fassbinderian in their critical attitude towards China’s past and present, yet all three were produced with governmental approval (though it’d be naive to believe that the approvals didn’t have a great many strings attached). Of course, the films of directors like Jia remain far more popular on the festival circuit and in American and European art-houses than they are in China, so who knows. But yeah, check out the article.

Why, I nearly forgot that the Cinematheque is screening Vincente Minnelli’s ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ tonight at 7:30PM

September 26, 2009

Today’s just one of those days when the title of a post might as well say it all. Obviously I apologize for waiting until the last minute to write this sucker; my plate’s a little overloaded at the moment.

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The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is definitely a must-see if you’ve never. It’s the rare work of art that functions both as a vicious backhand and as an emphatic pat-on-the-back; it’s also got some outstanding performances by the perpetually and adorably ridiculous Gloria Grahame, the slippery and macho Kirk Douglas, and a toppling tower of a sell job by Dick Powell, who is outstanding as an academic man’s man and prominent member of the Southern literati who gets dragged into the pervasive craziness of the Hollywood machine.

The Bad and the Beautiful feels as though it contains much, much more than it really does, which is to say that it’s marked by illusions of excess, and all its cinematographic flashiness and melodramatic pyrotechnics cover up the fact that the film is rather simply designed and assembled. To borrow a term from Robert Venturi, The Bad and the Beautiful is a decorated shed, but it’s a shed that you probably want to visit.

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 9/25

September 25, 2009

Alright, full disclosure: Today marks the 21st anniversary of my birth. Where did the past 21 years go? What evidence is there that they actually happened? If only I had some sort of slow-motion effect I could apply to the events that have constituted the short time I’ve spent on this tiny mass of rock and water floating in an ever-expanding vacuum… with that in mind, I give you today’s quote, taken from Jean-Luc Godard’s Scenario du film ‘Sauve qui peut (la vie)’ (1979), in which JLG turns to the devices of video art to perform this same reflective function of looking at things more closely, scrutinizing them to find something worth affirming, something worth contemplating, something that had previously lingered in the shadows of Benjamin’s optical unconscious or of Heidegger’s ready-to-hand. Or maybe he just thought slow-mo looked cool.

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We often say that events move too quickly: It’s impossible to see the beginning of an illness or of happiness. So, [I’m] slowing [things] down in order to see, and not just to see what is there, but, first, to see if there is something to see.

Tonight at the Cinematheque: Buñuel and Almodóvar

September 25, 2009

The Cinematheque is rolling out an intriguing double feature tonight, especially if you happen to speak Spanish: Luis Buñuel’s The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955) at 7:30PM and Pedro Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (1997) at 9:10PM; the former sounds as though it’s exactly what you’d expect of a Buñuel film from the 1950s (meaning that it’s unsettling, perverse, ultra-black, discreetly freaky and a lot of fun), while the latter is described on the Cinematheque’s website as “a complex tapestry of destiny and guilt” and “[a] stylish, sexy film noir.” I’ve yet to see anything by Almodóvar, though occasional CineMadison contributor Nick Nugent tells me that Live Flesh is definitely worth seeing.

If you show up at 6:00PM there’s going to be a lecture given by visiting University of Colorado-Boulder film professor Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz, presumably on the stylistic parallels between Buñuel and Almodóvar.

It’s because of events such as these that I argue, with no irony whatsoever, that Madison has an amazing cinema scene during the school year.