Maybe I’m just in a mood, but this seems like one of the greatest documentaries ever. In filming eight locations (four sets of antipodes – places on land directly opposite the globe from each other), much fun is had with lenses and camera orientation. The music and sound design is terrific as well as the cinematography, and the movie’s gimmick and structure aside, he is filming absolute magic and wonder. In fact, the antipode concept is only mentioned in some opening titles, and from there it’s just observation of the chosen locations, left to viewer’s imagination and his excellent visual transitions between locales to draw geographic connections.

Won an award at the 2012 True/False Fest. We hope to attend next year, so we’re catching up on some docs we missed.

Filming locations:

Argentina/Shanghai:

I looked up a little about Kossakovsky. He teaches a documentary class – among the rules he presents to students:

– Don’t film if you can live without filming.

– Don’t film if you want to say something – just say it or write it. Film only if you want to show something, or you want people to see something. This concerns both the film as a whole and every single shot within the film.

– Don’t film something you just hate. Don’t film something you just love. Film when you aren’t sure if you hate it or love it. Doubts are crucial for making art. Film when you hate and love at the same time.

– You need your brain both before and after filming, but don’t use your brain during filming. Just film using your instinct and intuition.

– Story is important for documentary, but perception is even more important. Think, first, what the viewers will feel while seeing your shots. Then, form a dramatic structure of your film using the changes to their feelings.

– Documentary is the only art where every esthetical element almost always has ethical aspects and every ethical aspect can be used esthetically. Try to remain human, especially whilst editing your films. Maybe, nice people should not make documentaries.

Hawaii:

New Zealand/Spain:

“The reign of the hyenas has begun.”

The famously wealthy (“richer than the World Bank”) Linguère Ramatou is returning to her village of Colobane after 30 years away. The village has fallen on hard times lately, so is doing everything it can to impress her so she’ll leave a generous gift, including promise the upcoming mayoral “election” to shop-owner Dramaan Drameh, a former flame of Linguère’s.

Turns out she has returned to take revenge on Dramaan, who got her pregnant 30 years ago but wouldn’t marry her, leaving her exiled from town to become a prostitute. We don’t know how she became rich and renowned after this, but it doesn’t matter – she offers the town more money than they can spend if they’ll just agree to kill Dramaan for her. Everyone says aloud that this is absurd, that lives aren’t for sale and they’ll never agree to sacrifice the beloved Dramaan, but everyone starts stealing from his store, denying him privileges, following him around and not allowing him to leave town. The women, including Dramaan’s wife, stockpile modern appliances on credit and won’t answer when Dramaan asks them how they plan to pay the bill.

Dramaan leading the welcome party:

In the end, the townspeople tell themselves they’re enacting delayed justice, carrying out a sentence on Dramaan for his unfair treatment of 17-year-old Linguère Ramatou. Though they’re cynically murdering him for the money, at the behest of a bitter woman who tells her servants “The world turned me into a whore. I’ll make the world a whorehouse.”

Ramatou and her entourage:

Played Cannes in competition with The Long Day Closes, Fire Walk With Me and Simple Men. I guess I’ve seen all available Mambéty films… nothing more to look forward to. Based on a popular Swiss play also adapted by Bernhard Wicki (with Ingrid Bergman) and about ten others.

California Newsreel:

Hyènes was conceived as the second installment, following on Touki Bouki, of a trilogy on power and insanity. The grand theme, once again, is human greed. As Mambety himself observed, the story shows how neocolonial relations in Africa are “betraying the hopes of independence for the false promises of Western materialism,” and how Africans have been corrupted by that materialism … After unleashing this pessimistic vision of humanity and society, Mambety began a trilogy of short films about “little people,” whom he called “the only true, consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves.”

The director, playing an ex-judge now working for Ramatou:

Mambety:

The hyena comes out only at night … He is a liar, the hyena. The hyena is a permanent presence in humans, and that is why man will never be perfect. The hyena has no sense of shame, but it represents nudity, which is the shame of human beings.

Strong feminist single-mom “Mme Brouette” Mati (Price of Forgiveness star Rokhaya Niang) is trying to get by with her wheelbarrow business, inspiring her friend Ndaxte to leave her own abusive husband. Mati meets friendly and attentive young policeman Naago and falls for him. Unfortunately he’s actually a drunkard whose hobbies include chasing every woman in sight, shaking down local businesses for protection money, and hanging out with his trashy loanshark buddy. Now Mati is trapped and pregnant, turning to crime (smuggling) to open her own cafe, which I think Naago burns down at the end – he surely burns down something, to repay his shitty friend. Mati doesn’t initially have the nerve to just shoot the guy, but her daughter does.

Mati/Brouette is arrested for murder, the end, Kinda a depressing movie, flashing between the climactic murder scene and backstory, enlivened by musical numbers – what Time Out calls an “Afro-Brechtian griot chorus.”

Played the Berlin Fest in competition with 25th Hour, Hero, Soderbergh’s Solaris, Alexandra’s Project, Twilight Samurai and winner In This World.

Two by Djibril Diop Mambety

Contras City (1968)

Playful travelogue doc of Dakar. Strange, and the humor and political content are mostly lost on us, a couple continents and decades removed. Ubu says it’s considered Africa’s first comedy film.

Uncredited description of this film online:

Djibril Diop Mambety’s deeply ironic and biting commentary on the divided city that was Dakar in 1969: on the one hand, colonial, affluent and pompous, on the other, indigenous, poor but genuine.

Would make good marathon viewing with other wry short travel docs: Vigo’s À Propos de Nice, Varda’s Du Coté de la Côte, Lindsay Anderson’s O Dreamland, Ivens’s A Valparaíso, Marker’s Sunday in Peking.

Woman looking at French magazines at the newsstand:


Badou Boy (1970)

Adventures of the Badou Boy, a thief who helps run a bus service while dodging the ineffectual Officer Al. There’s also a blind musician, a hat-and-cane fancyman (played by the director) and Badou’s white-hatted buddy Moussa, who I think helps him escape Al at the end. Or maybe Badou is caught – there are flash-forwards, so I’m not always sure where we are.

Officer Al:

Voices are fully overdubbed. Music and effects and voices sometimes seem to be working against the picture, instead of with it. That’s not a complaint – since Contras City opens with a classy symphonic song which then warps and slows to a halt, it’s clear that Mambety is purposely screwing around with sound possibilities. It’s also clear that he’d been watching some French New Wave pictures.

Also playing with the camera – here focus is on the driver’s hand instead of Badou:

Our festival of Senegalese movies got stalled after this. Contras City made Katy sleepy, and she was having none of Badou Boy.

Maybe not as New-Wave-influenced as I thought… Mambety:

It’s the way I dream. To do that, one must have a mad belief that everything is possible–you have to be mad to the point of being irresponsible. Because I know that cinema must be reinvented, reinvented each time, and whoever ventures into cinema also has a share in its reinvention.

Mark Cousins:

[Its] sonic complexity, its state of the nation-ness, its Joycean wandering, its allegorical fun, convinced me that Badou Boy is undisputedly a lost classic. It is as important to African cinema as, say, Le Sang d’un poete is to French cinema – perhaps more so. It reveals the origins of the aesthetic confidence, the joy in mocking, filming and thinking that can be seen in Touki Bouki.

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.


Amateur
Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.


Badger
Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.


Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.


Deloused
I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Equilibrium
Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Falling
Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).


Grandad
Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.


Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.


Invincible
Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.


Jesus
I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.


Knell
Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.


Legacy
Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.


Masticate
Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.


Nexus
Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.


Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.


P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.


Questionnaire
While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.


Roulette
German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.


Split
Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.


Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.


Utopia
Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.


Vacation
Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.


Wish
Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.


Xylophone
Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.


Youth
Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.


Zygote
Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

Took a van trip to Filmstreams and watched with Katy’s class. Set in Mali but shot in Mauritania, Sissako continues in his style of portraying a central character conflict (a murder over a dead cow) while frequently cutting away to daily life and smaller events in the surrounding town. In this case, the daily life segments involve their own, larger conflict: an invasion of the town by militant islamists attempting to impose their own laws. Inevitably these things collide as the invaders’ court decides to execute the herder who killed a fisherman, as well as the herder’s wife and another guy who seems to have simply given her a ride.

Promo screenshots stolen from Film Comment:

Wonders and horrors abound. An adulterous couple is buried then stoned to death. A Rooster Lady does inexplicable things. The local imam engages the invaders in futile discussion. Music and soccer and smoking are outlawed and punished with whippings, though the invaders are shown to be hypocrites in many of these cases, enjoying the same past times on the sly. Sissako makes them seem absurd, and could’ve made a comedy with some of the same material (a man is ordered to shorten his pants so he removes them; a jihadist can’t get through his propaganda video), but their frequent, meaningless acts of violence maintain an air of menace. As in Bamako he stages a song as an act of rebellion.

The movie keeps returning to the doomed herder and his beautiful family. Despite the repression and crime of the jihadists, it’s the herder Kidane’s murder of a fisherman who killed his prize cow which is shot as a cosmic event, ending with surely the greatest wide shot of the year as Kidane runs across the waist-deep water leaving a trail of silt, the mortally wounded fisherman struggling to his feet on the other side.

Cinematographer Sofian El Fani shot Blue is the Warmest Color, which had a very different look. The only actor I think I’ve seen before is Fatoumata Diawara, a star of Genesis, as the lashed singer pictured above.

G. Kenny:

The really killing thing about all the conflict that tears this place and its people apart is how calm everyone is about it. Nobody raises his or her voices; nobody raises a hand in impulsive anger. Violence, when it occurs, is done in a very deliberate way. The jihadists need to conduct themselves “properly,” as this conveys their rectitude. But their stance only barely disguises their old-fashioned bullying. The treatment of women in particular is just misogyny with unconvincing window dressing. The jihadist who wants the young woman in marriage expects no argument; the girl is his right. And the fact that he asks for her politely, in the logic he lays out, only underscores his alleged right. It doesn’t matter anyway; if he is refused, he calmly states, “I’ll come again in a bad way.”

P. Labuza:

There is a critique here, and it is the failure of jidhadism as a cultural translator. This comes in literal form, as numerous scenes feature the jihadis having to work through translators to make their demands. … Numerous sequences feature characters simply trying to explain their point of view to one another, but the sides clearly aren’t listening. When one man confesses his deepest and most personal want to the jihadi leader, the leader asks his translator to stop. He knows that in order to continue his fight, he cannot listen. These jihadis only see prey.

“This is a film about objects. It refers to another film about objects.”

“Negritude is an anti-racist racism. It is memory and imagination.”

We used to have this bowl!

“Western countries routinely deny Africans access to these artworks through enforced localization – no western country will grant an African a visa merely to visit a museum in Europe or America.”

Wanted to like this because of the Marker connection – it’s a response film to Statues Also Die. But it’s not for me (it’s for others!). Perhaps these others are people in the art world or postcolonialist academics with a high tolerance for black screens and long pauses.

And whatever this is:

The movie devises itself as it goes, lists off its theories and experiments. Not as elegant as a Marker film. Wonder what Campbell thinks of the opening of Timbuktu.

The least well-restored Criterion movie I’ve seen, maybe because it’s the least-worthy, mainly included in the Paul Robeson set for historical reference. Even the movie’s own DVD extras call it “embarrassing.” But Jomo Kenyatta (future president of Kenya) and Robeson were behind it at the time, believing it would turn out much better. It seems semi-competently slapped together by today’s location-shoot standards, though it was the biggest-budget British film of its time.

Robeson hails his unimpressed white rulers:

Leslie Banks, evil hunter of The Most Dangerous Game, now reduced to pleasant englishman, is Sanders, the local colonial ruler, bringing peace to multiple formerly-embattled tribes. Sandy is against slavery, but also against African self-rule, acting the father to his “misguided children”, with second-in-command Lt. Tibbets, never realizing that names like Sandy and Tibbets diminish their authority. He sounds like Dr. Moreau saying things like “I am Sandy who gives you the law. I will punish with a great punishment all those who break the law.” A smiling Robeson is one of the tribe leaders, or at least its representative to the white powers.

McKinney:

All is going smoothly until Sandy comes down with malaria and leaves town for a moment and his replacement Ferguson proves not a strong-enough father-figure to keep his misguided children from fighting. Evil King Muffuletta kidnaps and kills Fergie, and intends to do the same to Robeson’s wife Lilongo (gorgeous Nina Mae McKinney, star of Hallelujah), sending Sandy scurrying back to Africa to make peace. The music is nice, anyway, and there are nude-breasted dancing women (because Africa).

King Muffeletta gets speared:

The Trap and The Power of Nightmares felt like they presented central points (clearly expressed in the open of each episode), then assembled evidence in an orderly fashion, supporting their points in a complex, sometimes roundabout way. This one presents a number of points with related themes. Each episode opens with different titles and explores different events which don’t directly relate back to each other. During episode 2 I was wondering when the Ayn Rand story would come back, but during #3 I realized it had been there all along, that this time Curtis is drawing the connections without explicitly calling back to previous subjects all the time. The movies are starting to link together in interesting ways. At this point, you could fill an “art and world politics” course just by running all his movies and assigning his blog as the textbook.

Episode 1 “begins with a strange woman in the 1950’s in New York,” connects Ayn Rand with Alan Greenspan and Silicon Valley, tracing the failures of her personal life and lack of acceptance in her philosphies, comparing to their massive influence decades later among people in power over the global economy. Rand rejected altruism and supported rational egoism, so surprisingly there’s no relation to the RAND Corporation discussed in The Trap, which worked on game theory, positing human behavior as perfectly selfish.

Part 2 is about natural ecosystems, and the myth that they remain perfectly in balance – Curtis says more recent, complex models show them to be in constant flux. Loved the ecology discussions, the scientific project that attempted to precisely measure every detail of a particular field. This is shown alongside early communes (humans trying to live in perfect balance without power structures) and recent national revolts (glorious-looking uprisings by “the people” against authoritarian power, only to see it replaced by new authoritarian power a year later).

Part 3 discusses the social tendency to view people as individually unimportant parts of a large, self-balancing system. We get stories of a game-theory biologist and his colleagues who theorised that all behavior of living creatures is a result of the needs of their genes – more depowering thoughts. We close in Africa where another animal behaviorist, Dian Fossey, was working, showing how false theories on human behavior and evolution combined with the desires of technology companies led to disaster for the people of Congo/Zaire and Rwanda.

So the movie’s often-mentioned “rise of the machines” isn’t literal so much as a social-control concept, caused by simplifying models of natural behavior. It seems perfect that I finished watching this the day before seeing The World’s End, which is about the rise of actual machines that aim to simplify human behavior.

I also read a bunch of articles from Adam Curtis’s amazing blog – sadly without the video segments since I was sitting at the airport sans wifi. Essay called “You think you are a consumer but maybe you have been consumed” about Texas oilman HL Hunt, caricatured in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain. “The roots of so much of the distrust of the media today lie back with him and his ideas.” One called “Paradiabolical” on Somalia and Algeria, one on England’s history of bumbling spies, and one on animal shows before the rise of David Attenberg Attenborough.