Archive for September, 2009

Beware: ‘Basterds’ at the Orpheum

September 25, 2009

If you haven’t yet gotten the chance to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest film (which hardly needs to be mentioned by name at this point), it opens today at the Orpheum on State St, between Henry St. and Carroll St. The Orpheum strikes me as being a particularly awesome venue for viewing a film of such overwhelming force, though that may have everything to do with the fact that its decor eerily resembles that of Shoshanna’s theater in the film. Also currently playing at the Orpheum is The Hurt Locker, which has received more than enough attention from this blog for the time being. Look how dismal the weather is today. Go to the movies.

Somewhat out of left field (pun intended)

September 24, 2009

Venezuelan prez Hugo Chavez and Bolivian prez Evo Morales appeared on stage at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan last night in support of Oliver Stone’s new documentary, South of the Border (2009), which screened at the Walter Reade Theater. Weird, I was in Manhattan just yesterday and yet neither of them gave me a call. Nevertheless, it’s pretty remarkable that these two men, who are widely perceived in the US as being a pair of Stalin-types (and if Chavez’s rhetoric is any indication, the feeling is mutual), came to NYC to watch and discuss a film.

South of the Border is a profile of Chavez and the ideology he embodies, Bolivarianism. Given Stone’s political leanings, it’s difficult to imagine that the film’s tone will be anything short of… positive. Maybe a lil’ gushy even. Morales, who, according to IMDB, has appeared in four documentaries now, is seemingly developing into a fairly screen-friendly head of state. (How could you not with a ’do like that?) Strange times we’re living in.

Diggin’ up crow

September 24, 2009

In today’s edition of the Daily Cardinal my colleague Kevin Slane calls for the restoration and re-release of the classic (and ostensibly racist) Disney animated film Song of the South (1946), which currently isn’t available on DVD. Kevin’s argument is based on the potentially didactic effect such a revival might have for the current generation of young moviegoers, exposing them to the ugliness of the Jim Crow South by means of a more palatable form than, say, a historical text or even a straight-up documentary. (Though, as a commenter astutely points out, the white characters in Song of the South, which I’ve never seen, are deliberately portrayed as ridiculous and reprehensible caricatures, much like the most impassioned anti-Semites in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.)


While I’m sort of astonished that anybody could feel so strongly about the revival of a Disney film, I’m definitely on board with Kevin’s broader point: unsavory moments in (cinematic) history shouldn’t be brushed under the rug but instead should be subjected to even more exposure and analysis, lest we find ourselves drifting backwards under the pretense of progress. In his article Kevin quotes George Santayana’s somewhat clichéd remark about the importance of historical memory, so I might as well offer one that I like a little better:

To forget is also to forgive what should not be forgiven if justice and freedom are to prevail. Such forgiveness reproduces the conditions which reproduce injustice and enslavement: to forget past suffering is to forgive the forces that caused it—without defeating these forces. The wounds that heal in time are also the wounds that contain the poison.

-Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization

Takin’ a couple days off…

September 22, 2009

… be good while I’m gone.

Answers to question(naire)s

September 21, 2009

I admit it: I lifted this variation on the Proust questionnaire from the New Yorker’s Richard Brody (who lifted it from Libération film critic Didier Péron). Nevertheless, this struck me as a set of questions worth taking the time to answer.

The first image?

Dinosaur Bob by William Joyce (the children’s author, not the fascist).

The film (or the scene) that traumatized your childhood?

I’ve always been extraordinarily sensitive to horror films, so maybe Kubrick’s The Shining, which, I remain convinced, is the most horrifying film a 12-year-old could possibly see.

The movie your parents prevented you from seeing?

Can’t really recall any. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Your fetish scene:

The final scene of Stroszek, dancing chicken and all.

You’re directing a remake. Which one?

Antonioni’s L’avventura (it’d be a very, very loose remake).

What makes you laugh?

Groucho Marx.

Your life becomes a bio-pic. Who plays the role of you? And who directs?

I’d be played by a non-professional whom nobody’s ever heard of. The film would be directed by Robert Bresson until he’d quit the production due to the general incompetence of the cast and crew (especially the scatterbrained script supervisor, who’d be me); the production would then be finished under the direction of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (not much of a drop-off, if any, in terms of vision).

A film that makes you say “Never again!”

All so-called “torture porn” horror films.

The character who most sets you dreaming.

Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) from Masculin féminin.

The absolute filmmaker, in your eyes?

Agnès Varda. Actually, on second thought: Sergei Eisenstein.

The actor or actress you’d like to have been.

Late-1940s Orson Welles.

The last film you saw? With whom? How was it?

Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, all by my lonesome, and one could say that it successfully performed the job I assigned it.

If you were to adapt a book?

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations, on a shoestring budget.

The craziest thing you’ve seen on the Internet?

Hmm… maybe Werner Herzog becoming the victim of an air-rifle drive-by while giving an interview.

If someone called you a cinephile, how would you react?

I guess I wouldn’t be able to deny it.

DVD or more-or-less-legal downloading?

In theory: downloading. In practice: DVD.

The masterpiece that everyone talks to you about but that you’ve never managed to see.

Hundreds of films would work here but since I wrote about it just last week: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, noli me tangere.

The last image?


‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ at Memorial Union

September 21, 2009

This Thursday night WUD Film is running the first film in their year-long documentary series “Real to Reel” with Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), a work that chronicles the efforts of a coalition of Liberian women struggling to achieve peace in their mess of a country and eventually helping to get a woman, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, elected as President of Liberia following the end of the nightmarish reign of demagogic warlord Charles Taylor. Should be pretty remarkable. The screening begins at 7:30PM in the Play Circle Theater. For good measure, here are reviews by the A.V. Club’s Noel Murray and the NY Times’ Manohla Dargis, plus an interview with the film’s director Gini Reticker, courtesy of

Sonic Denis

September 19, 2009

Courtesy of Reverse Angle is this short essay, written by Damon Smith, on the music videos for two singles from Sonic Youth’s 2006 album Rather Ripped, “Incinerate” and “Jams Run Free,” both of which were directed by the amazing Claire Denis. It’s very rare to stumble upon analysis of music videos, so this is a real treat. Funny: Sonic Youth is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my favorite band, and Denis is a director whose phenomenal work is just now entering my life, yet I had no clue that they’d ever collaborated. An extremely welcome discovery. I wonder whether Thurston Moore agrees with Smith’s claim that he possesses a “gorgeously effeminate mouth.” Obviously both videos are worth checking out. And here’s hoping that either of Denis’s two most recent films, last year’s 35 Shots of Rum and/or this year’s White Material, come to Madison sometime sooner than never (35 Shots of Rum just began a two-week run at NYC’s Film Forum, so if you’re in the Tri-State you really ought to consider going to see it).

Lars von Trier speaks some more

September 19, 2009

Here’s a link to yet another worthwhile interview with Antichrist director Lars von Trier, this one from the new issue of Vice Magazine. The von Trier presented here is very unlike the von Trier I’ve seen and read in the past: he’s unusually casual, candid, comfortable and unconcerned with maintaining his public image by being as provocative as possible for the sake of being as provocative as possible. Moreover, he has a handful of remarkable things to say about his recent (and much-publicized) struggle with depression and about his career:

Seriously, it’s true that I pushed Björk a lot, maybe too far, but I was also very happy with her performance. She gave everything she had. As a director you do what you can to get the performance you want, that’s your job, and sometimes you have tap into people’s past experiences and memories to bring that out. I usually have very good relationships with my actresses, but Björk and I didn’t get along.

And now she’ll never act again.
Yeah, and that’s not all, she even wrote Nicole Kidman a letter telling her not to do Dogville.

Really? What did she say?
She said I had destroyed her soul.

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 9/18

September 18, 2009

From time to time the name “Martin Heidegger” has popped up in posts on this blog, usually followed by a statement to the effect of “but I don’t really feel like getting into Heidegger at the moment.” I’m certainly no expert on Heidegger, whose thought was as profound as his life was reprehensible, but I’m enough of an admirer from the sidelines that I feel relatively guilt-free discussing a few of his ideas that have had a formative role in determining how I personally perceive this loud, silly world in which we find ourselves thrown.

Heidegger’s philosophy is by no means infallible (though I’m sure many Heidegger scholars would lead you to believe otherwise), but ever since I was introduced to Heidegger’s work through reading “The Question Concerning Technology” a couple years ago for a philosophy course, I’ve found his ideas pretty damn useful in making sense of all sorts of stuff I’ve encountered. And what have I encountered more often than works of art?

Luckily for me, Heidegger confronted art head-on in the latter stages of his life, writing the very worthwhile (and very obtuse) “The Origin of the Work of Art”, which can be found in a collection of his writings entitled Poetry, Language, Thought. For Heidegger, as for many other art theorists, the essential function of art has something or other to do with truth, with creating or beholding an object which somehow relates to something else in the world. Of course, Heidegger had a very different conception of truth than what most people are familiar with: for Heidegger, truth is aletheia, the unveiling of something concealed, the process by which something in the shadowy shadows of the ready-to-hand (the realm of stuff which we’re not really conscious of or aren’t directly related to but which nevertheless must be there in order for the world to be what it is) moves into the bright sunny light of the present-at-hand (just the opposite of the ready-to-hand, that is to say, the realm of stuff that humans can consciously access).

For Heidegger, then, it logically follows that art is a mode of aletheia, a process by which something concealed is revealed to the spectator. The work of art is the vehicle that transports something dwelling in the darkness (the subject of a work of art) into the light of human access. This process is described in the first paragraph of the passage I’ve quoted below.

The second paragraph deals with the phenomenon I brought up the other day: the general lack of reflectiveness amongst folks my age. Now, people have been complaining about unreflectiveness since forever ago; but Heidegger interestingly linked unreflectiveness to artistic discourse, specifically in the case of the tendency to label a work of art “a masterpiece” or “a classic” or anything to that effect. For Heidegger, employing such language is the easy way out: it’s a means of deflecting the responsibility of really coming to grips with what a work of arts stands for and what a work of art does. I empathize with this sentiment, though I’m obviously guilty of using those unthoughtful words myself.

Thinking about art, as Heidegger explains, is an imperative task so long as art exists as something for humans to encounter. If we follow this path, it then becomes the task of the critic to think about and try to come to grips with works of art without employing language which makes the task easier than it ought to be. This is partly why in my film reviews you’ll almost never see me summarize a film’s story or declare that it’s some sort of transcendent masterpiece: these are fine ways of getting around the real job of the critic, which is to take a work of art and actually try to do something meaningful with it. Besides, I’m too forgetful to retain most of the events that make up your run-of-the-mill cinematic narrative.

Art, as the setting-into-work of truth, is poetry. Not only the creation of the work is poetic, but equally poetic, though in its own way, is the preserving of the work; for a work is in actual effect as a work only when we remove ourselves from our commonplace routine and move into what is disclosed by the work, so as to bring our own nature itself to take a stand in the truth of what is.

[…] To be sure, people speak of immortal works of art and of art as an eternal value. Speaking this way means using that language which does not trouble with precision in all essential matters, for fear that in the end to be precise would call for—thinking. And is there any greater fear today than that of thinking? Does this talk about immortal works and the eternal value of art have any content or substance? Or are these merely the half-baked clichés of an age when great art, together with its nature, has departed from among men?

Quick correction

September 18, 2009

As I mentioned earlier in the week, Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate (1948) will be screening at the Cinematheque this weekend, but it’s actually playing tomorrow night (9/19) rather than tonight (9/18). My bad.

Tonight the Cinematheque is screening the finest musical about cricket ever produced, Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), a film whose length of 224 minutes is just daunting enough to persuade me that I can afford to abstain from watching any movies for one night. (I might even try to interact with other human beings instead!)