Loyally following the director’s intent, I watched this on an iPod. Seven episodes, supposedly released over seven days, but I started on day eight and watched at my own pace. Supposedly a fat young boy “blogger” is backstage at a fashion show watching events unfold over seven days, editing together segments from single-take interviews with participants backstage. Some of the performances are very fun to watch – especially Jude Law as a diva cross-dressing model who keeps dropping his fake accent. I’m happy to play along, expecting, if not a new favorite film along the lines of Yes and Orlando, at least a smart, good time. In the first place it seems a bad sign that she’s written a takedown of the fashion industry. I’ve seen enough Project Runway to know there’s no need.

J. Kipp:

The movie is supposedly being made on an intern’s camera phone and these actors embody characters eager to share their experiences about the bitter, hypocritical world of fashion. Does that sound remotely interesting to you? Not at all, I’ll bet, because you’re already way ahead of the movie—we know inherently that the fashion world is superficial, and having a gallery of famous personalities line up and preach to the art house converted is nobody’s idea of a good time.

Sorry, Kipp, but halfway through I realized the movie isn’t a fashion attack at all. It’s something worse – a woman my mom’s age coming to terms with the power of the internet. The fun performances start getting watered down by hysterical ones. Increasingly ludicrous plot developments undermine the movie’s believability, and it devolves into the kind of camp I’d feared it would be when I first heard the premise.

Potter:

Funnily enough, I never thought of it as a film about the fashion industry. I thought of it as a film about people who happen to be in that setting. But as a filmmaker, what’s interesting about it is that it’s a world dedicated to appearances. But what the story’s about is what lies behind appearances, the tension between what you see and the reality underneath. It’s not really about fashion so much as about industry in crisis and individuals becoming unmasked … and finally, the gradual dawning realization that the person in the room with power is the youngest one, because he understands this new age of information on the Internet.

So our blogger Michelangelo (never seen or heard) watches as fabulous designer Merlin (Simon Abkarian: “He” in Yes) launches his new fashion line with models Jude Law, Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), and at least two others unseen. Also at the company are serious Bob Balaban (Christopher Guest regular, the film critic in Lady in the Water), “invisible” hispanic worker Adriana Barraza (the medium in Drag Me To Hell), and Dianne Wiest (recently of Synecdoche New York but I remember her best from Edward Scissorhands) as a manager who yearns for the old times when everyone knew everyone and all manufacturing wasn’t done in China.

Highlights of the movie are the interviews with jaded critic Judi Dench, wiry war photographer Steve Buscemi, fashion mogul Eddie Izzard, and his nervous caffeine-addicted bodyguard John Leguizamo. Lily Cole and pizza delivery-man-turned-fashion runway motorcyclist Riz Ahmed (of Dead Set) have the only semi-interesting character developments (Cole flees the scene and stays at Michelangelo’s house – a sweet ending, and the only non-bluescreen shot)

Not faring too well: Swedish Ben Affleck-lookalike Jakob Cedergren and Last King of Scotland vet David Oyelowo as an ineffectual Shakespeare-quoting cop, both of whom act angry at Michelangelo towards the end yelling at him to stop filming, while they stand in front of his bluescreen and look into the camera.

A model dies in the runway, her long scarf caught in Riz’s motorcycle wheel and the company decides to hold another show two days later, in which another model is shot to death. By that time the movie’s plot has already become way suspect, and the themes of fame and success, image and the power of the internet have reared their ugly heads. Apparently guns were handed to all the models as part of the show, and the audience was overrun with kids attracted by Michelangelo’s blog videos and I’m not sure what happened then, but people start yelling into his camera that Mich is the one with all the power here because he controls their images’ distribution over the rabble-rousing internet. Adriana cries that she is no longer invisible, D. Wiest joins the protesters against her own company, and nobody thinks to slap Mich upside the head, take away his camera and remove him from the premises. Maybe it’s more of an interesting concept and performance piece than a finished product, but it got my strict attention and I’m still very interested in Potter and whatever’s on her mind, so I went quote-hunting.

NY Press:

Potter defies the digital era’s fascination with new technology by emphasizing its limitations. … Her video technique doesn’t substitute for cinematic variety or photochemical richness. Instead, strict adherence to the basic things that digital media record (a face, place, moment) helps to appreciate the difference between video and film. Eschewing the lazy carelessness of so many misguided digital enthusiasts, Potter’s rigor becomes a refreshing reminder of true cinematic values.

J. Romney:

The novelty turn is Jude Law cross-dressing as supermodel Minx, sporting a series of preposterous wigs and an intermittent Russian accent (is Minx from Minsk?). All flirty grandeur (“Are you shy because I am celebrity, yes?”), it’s Law’s most theatrical screen performance yet, but it’s perfect here, both a larky send-up of his own beauty and a comment on the catwalk model as imaginary woman. But the people most redolent of the flesh-and-blood humanity that fashion operates to obscure are Steve Buscemi and British model Lily Cole. … As a purely plastic creation, an unusually sensuous essay in cinema povera, Rage is oddly compelling, a genuine one-off.

Slant:

The sketch-like focus on dialogue and characterization, as opposed to plot or mise-en-scene, is clearly the most logical direction for the burgeoning online/mobile entertainment movement, where grandiose visual concepts are dwarfed into 3.5 horizontal inches and uninspired set pieces are scrubbed ahead with the flick of a pinky. The advantage of Rage is its stylistic redundancy and still-life portraiture feel; one could pause the film at any time to check their email and return without having severed the narrative flow. The disadvantage is that the movie’s serenely glabrous surface lacks dynamism: Aside from the colored backgrounds that match each respective character’s eyes, garments, and/or hair, there are no visual indicators of plot development or tension, which lends itself to 98 minutes of occasionally soporific sameness. … While the stark visual formalism of the experiment is ideal for shrunken PDA and laptop screens, the monochromatic backgrounds and crystalline digital sheen seem borrowed from online commercials. Mute the sound, and you’ve got an adequately produced Apple ad.

M. Atkinson:

Rage has made itself noteworthy as the latest effort of a name filmmaker to address … the fact that cinema, as it’s traditionally made and consumed, is being starved by digital culture. Everyone knows the drill – movies, TV, music, newspapers, publishing, etc. are all dying pig-stuck deaths because of the internet, although no one dares to say that the internet is, in fact, the problem, and increases its dominance at a very real and looming set of costs to us all. … The film’s proud artifice rubs the mock-doc set-up the wrong way if you’re keeping score, except that “fashion” is all about the dishonesty of surfaces, and Potter’s film seems to be less about its subject and story than about how to make movies with as little as possible (another Warhol principle) and conform them to the new digital world. (In an interview in the latest Sight & Sound, she calls it “survivalist filmmaking, a no-waste aesthetic.”)

Potter again:

I think there is a deeper feel of rage, a kind of quiet rage on a mass scale and not knowing where to focus this rage which is the negative end of globalization. The positive end is the internet in my view, but the negative end which is about greater and greater ownership by anonymous corporate entities and less and less about freedom for the individual.

About women filmmakers:

It is making some headway because when I first started there were no women in the context where I was working. And that was a very lonely place, and I’ve watched that shift gradually. People used to come up to me in all parts of the world and said oh I loved The Piano and I said no that was Jane (Campion). And she and I would meet up now and then at festivals and she would say that people keep telling me they love Orlando and I’d say yes, sorry. So it was as if there were two of us in a sort of vaguely conspicuous, visible place in the pantheon of directors and that’s changed surely.

Good to see this again. Funny that all I really remembered is one of the first scenes with Agnes asking a couple reluctant women about gleaning, and Agnes talking about her own hands.

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I’m feeling uninspired, so we’ll let Senses of Cinema do the talking:

The official subject of this film is gleaning, the act of gathering remnants of crops from a field after the harvest. As Varda demonstrates, people can be discovered throughout the French countryside gleaning everything from potatoes to grapes, apples to oysters, much as they did hundreds of years ago (though no longer in organised groups). More figuratively, there are also urban gleaners who salvage scraps from bins, appliances from the side of the road, or vegetables from stalls after the markets have closed. And then there’s Varda herself, a gleaner of images, driving around France with a digital camera and a tiny crew (at times, she wields a smaller camera herself, permitting an even greater degree of intimacy).

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Varda has a (sometimes contested) reputation as a feminist, left-wing artist, and this is very much a political film, though it offers a series of poetic metaphors and concrete encounters in lieu of an explicit, closely reasoned argument. My guess (based mainly on anecdotal evidence) is that the political outlook of The Gleaners And I has a lot to do with its popular success – even if Varda herself, who began filming back in 1999, wasn’t fully aware how thoroughly she was tapping into the zeitgeist. Without specifically referring to political movements or events, the film embodies a quasi-anarchist ethos now in the air in all sorts of ways – a resistance to consumerism, a suspicion of authority, and a desire to reconnect politics with everyday life.

Agnès enjoys a pilfered fig:
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Katy liked the movie, and the next day she felt like going out to pick figs. Shot on a handheld digital videocamera. The picture/framing isn’t always beautiful, but she keeps things quirky enough to stay interesting amongst all the talking heads.

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As with Le Bonheur, Varda has taken over the DVD’s special features section herself with a whole hour-long follow-up film entitled Gleaners & I: Two Years Later (2002) Gleaners was her most locally popular and globally well-distributed films in decades, and she racked up awards and fan mail, so here she addresses concerns and gaps in the previous film and catches up with some of its stars.

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Killer finale, the heart potatoes, symbol of the Gleaners film, old and wrinkled as it sprouts new life. As the credits roll, sudden cutaways to closeups of the potatoes, exactly as in the opening credits with the sunflower in Le Bonheur.

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The two stars of Big Bang Love: Juvenile A are back – Ryuhei Matsuda (the weak hero) as the titular Nightmare Detective and Masanobu Ando (tattooed superdude) as a curly-haired regular detective. It would seem like an inversion of their roles in the other film, except amazingly it’s not – the title character is weaker than everyone else in this movie. He has the power (at great personal risk) to enter the nightmares of others, but not to do anything else, so once inside he’s just bitter and afraid. It’d be kind of hilarious but there were always too many terrifying blurs of action to laugh.

your (very upset) nightmare detective:
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I suppose our main character is Keiko (played by singularly-named Hitomi). That’s her at the bottom warming her hands on a giant plastic brain-looking creature. Keiko works with rookie Wakamiya (Masanobu Ando) under chief Sekiya (Ren Osugi of MPD Psycho and Achilles and the Tortoise). Initially Keiko has a strained relationship with the others, since she formerly worked a desk job and doesn’t handle crime scenes well but all that’s forgotten when the shit goes down.

Ando and Osugi:
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Movie has a very video look, a la Haze or MPD Psycho. The horror action is never seen – pieces of blades or the color red may be glimpsed, but mostly you know that a fast, screaming blur is approaching the character, something unstoppable and terrifying (Tetsuo-like).

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The screaming blur is actually nightmare terrorist/suicide-assistance provider Zero (played by our director), who takes phone calls from depressed people then comes to slaughter them in their dreams, causing them to kill themselves (all with stabbing implements, I believe) in reality while still sleeping. He’s sort of a Freddy Krueger for hire. After a couple of people die, Wakamiya dials Zero (ha) as part of the investigation and ends up suffering the same fate, telling Keiko as he awakens “I didn’t even realize that I wanted to die.”

Zero/Shinya Tsukamoto:
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So Kagenuma, the nightmare detective, is drawn quite unwillingly into the investigation, more than halfway through the movie. He turns out to be juuust enough of a hero to get the job done, actually rushing the villain in a fit of bravery. Keiko, having dialed up Zero herself leading to a three-way battle inside her head, decides to live after all.

Tsukamoto: “The killer appears to be revealing the true terror of death to the willing.”

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Much of the online writing on this movie mentions the crappy performance of Hitomi in the lead role. I guess I just figured she was your typical buttoned-up brainiac movie detective and wasn’t supposed to emote. Or I was spending all my energy thinking “where is the nightmare detective? why is he barely in the movie?” From the look of the trailer, the upcoming sequel looks quieter, more contemplative, with less violent stabbing. This was great – Tsukamoto’s movies seem to get better and better – so I’m looking forward to it.

For the first time, this is an entry about a book I’ve read, not a movie I’ve watched. It’s a book about film though, so I think it fits in.

I enjoyed P.C. Usai’s writings in the “1000 Movie Moments” book, so I finally tracked this down. Full of short (never more than a page long) interrelated statements about film destruction and preservation, mostly over-academic. But for each statement on the right-hand page, there’s an interesting captioned photograph on the left-hand page, so whenever I’d read the words on the right with no understanding or enjoyment, at least I’d get the photo to keep me turning to the next page. Short book, anyway, and ends with a “reader’s report” which nicely condenses the long-winded despair of the author into a few pages of focused and readable despair on the impossibility of any sort of complete archive of film history – not that such a thing would necessarily be desirable.

Some bits I liked:

p. 19: “If all moving images were available, the massive fact of their presence would impede any effort to establish criteria of relevance – more so, indeed, than if they had all been obliterated, for then, at least, selective comprehension would be replaced by pure conjecture.”

p. 49, given the degradation of the original image, and the viewer’s lack of total attention (including blinking of the eyes), “no viewer can claim to have seen a moving image in its entirety.” That one-ups F. Camper’s claims that if you’ve seen a movie on video, you haven’t seen the movie. Not even he has seen the movie!

p. 51: “It is expected that a time will come when the loneliness of the spectator will be detrimental to the pleasure of experiencing moving images.”

p. 89: “The ultimate goal of film history is an account of its own disappearance, or its transformation into another entity.”

p. 109: “The real questions is, are viewers willing to accept the slow fading to nothing of what they are looking at? Is it fair to encourage them to believe that they will never witness the inevitable, and that its actuial experience will be left to someone else?”

p. 129: “…all lost moving images have at least existed for some viewer in the past. The unseen is an integral part of our lives, even if not directly our own. … The fact that the unseen is beyond our control is an excellent antidote to our claim of authority over the visible world, and administers a good shaking up to our deluded obsession with permanence. Sooner or later you and I will both disappear, along with our visions and memories of what we have seen and the way we have seen it.”

World premiere of this doc, which will double-feature with Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind at Tribeca in a couple weeks, so I watched Profit Motive on video then ran out to see this one in the theater. Unfortunately, Hidden In Plain Sight was also on video, and looked considerably worse projected in the theater than Profit Motive looked on DVD on my laptop. Shot in 16mm and video (you can sometimes see interlacing, especially at the end), then the whole thing thrown into an ugly low-grade digital video mash. If this bothered the director (in attendance), he didn’t mention it, nor did he mention how the music seemed to skip every couple of seconds, so I have to assume these things were intentional. It’s a movie about looking and seeing. Street, somewhat pretentiously (and comparing himself to Godard and Vertov along the way) wants to teach us new ways to look at city scapes. Leaving the theater I was very happy that my city was full of natural light and color, non-interlaced, without any of the dull ambient music (seemingly ripped from last night’s “experimental” shorts) that plagued Hidden.

Street visits Dakar, Santiago, Marseilles and Hanoi, stands on street corners and films stuff. Just whatever. Then there’ll be some black and an intertitle with a quote or an organizational header, then more street corners. Sometimes sync sound, sometimes sound from elsewhere or ambient music or silence. I was content to be bored for the hour, but Street lost some goodwill when he talked some crap about how he enjoyed seeing San Francisco disfigured by the 1989 earthquake… then lost more when he tried to make a point about tourists seeing a wide view of the city, and locals seeing more narrowly, observing finer details. It’s actually a fine point, but he is a tourist, and his street-corner tourist-gaze is far from a local’s view of the city. Shooting stuff that tourists aren’t expected to shoot (walls, locals walking around, more walls) does not make one a local and I resent his attempt to educate the audience and show us “unique perspectives” via banal images. Gianvito’s Profit Motive (or Marker’s Sans Soleil, or Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera, or Akerman’s From the Other Side) this ain’t.

Program kinda sucked this year. Feels like I spent enough time on it already, so not gonna spend too much more writing about it. I’m sure each film felt “experimental” to its creator, but there was nothing here we hadn’t seen before. Also with few exceptions people feel the need to accompany their “experimental” images with “abstract” blippy swimmy music, ugh. Also also, forget any references to “film” below, since everything but Shake Off was on video (and Shake Off either originated on HD or at least had mostly digital components). Why can’t everyone call ’em “movies” like I do? All quotes are from the film festival booklet, with their queer use of commas intact.

Doxology (Michael Langan)
“An experimental comedy…” Cute. Tennis balls and automobiles and vegetables defy space and time – funny and not overlong. Probably would’ve been my favorite here, but the picture was fucked and distorted, stretched out much wider than it should have been. Thanks, AFF365/Landmark.

Such As It Is (Walter Ungerer)
“The film is divided into four parts and four themes: the underground in the city; above ground in the city; a field in the country; and fog and the ocean. Each theme has its separate identity, yet they are not separate. Through manipulation and abstraction of imagery the four parts are joined, as the land, and the air, and the oceans are joined by the earth.” Besides the over-use of commas at the end there, this description is far better than the film it describes. The interminable subway bit, tiny flicks of reflected light turned into digital noise on an ugly gray glowing background, seemed suddenly less crappy in comparison when I saw a cityscape turned into spinning 3D cubes within cubes. What did they mean by the title? How is it? This was the first of a bunch of ugly video-projected shorts (from digibeta or dvd?). I do a bit of quality-control on our video deliveries at work, and I never would’ve allowed this thing to go out with all the banding issues it had. Go check your After Effects settings, re-render in 16-bit and bring it back to me later.

A Convolution of Imagined Histories (Micah Stansell)
“The film is comprised of four chapters, telling four separate stories that make up a meta-narrative. The works are the result of imagining the visual track to the story of someone else’s memories.” One of those short films where a narrator talks about shit their parents did when they were young or before they were born, like The Moon and the Son but with less animation and more overlapping sounds and video and slow/fast effects… anything to make it seem interesting (which it was, but only barely). Director in attendance seemed a nice enough guy. Talks not about “filmmaking” but “compositing”. Experimental Short Composites would be a more honest name for the program.

Dear Bill Gates (Sarah J. Christman)
“A poetic visual essay exploring the ownership of our visual history and culture.” Thought I was in trouble when the voiceover said “40,000 years ago…” but it was well-done, with deep storage of photos in old mines subliminally connected with “data-mining” and the mining of our memories. The longest of the shorts, and interesting enough to justify its runtime.

Passage (Peter Byrne)
“A reflection on the peripheral… this work visually catches sight of experience, as it moves past.” Notes I took in the theater read: “flickering, fluttering digital colored mess overlapped w/ blurry video of birds w/ sucky jangly music. These all have crappy music. I can hear yawning.” Film festival directors: I am available to write blurbs for your shorts programs!

Office Mobius (Seung Hyung Lee)
“An abstract story…” I didn’t find it abstract at all. Kinda cute buncha office collisions, with one character who got laughter whenever he’s on screen – a star in the making. My notes say “butt-ugly digi credit titles.” Letterboxed within the 1.33:1 projector frame within the 1.85 movie screen.

24 Frames Per Day (Sonali Gulati)
“The film raises important questions around immigration, cultural stereotypes, and the meaning of home from a transnational perspective.” Bunch of field recordings interspersed with a fake-sounding conversation (perhaps based on a real one) between director and “cab driver”. The stop-motion visuals of a hallway manage to be less interesting than the soundtrack. They say it was shot 24fpd over nine months, but La Region Centrale (or even 37/78 Tree Again) this ain’t.

Drop (Bryan Leister)
“The aesthetic journey of a drop of water – animation sound and image are combined to create a zen-like exploration of fluidity and nature.” I might have written: “a bit of nothing to fill out four minutes in the program.” Nice to hear actual music, though.

Rewind (Atul Taishete)
“The film moves in reverse towards the beginning as the opening of the film evolves as the climax.” Clumsily worded, but what they mean is the film’s shot totally in reverse, not just in reverse-ordered segments like Memento. Unlike Memento, there’s no reason within the narrative to justify the reversal, except I suppose that it wouldn’t have been as cool (or “experimental”) in regular motion. It’s about a blind guy in a diamond heist and ahhh, I’m not going into it. This also had music.

Shake Off (Hans Beenhakker)
“A perspiring boy dances magically across borders.” Seriously, a perspiring boy? I would’ve called him a “dancer” as do the credits, but then they would’ve had to think of a synonym for “dances” as an action verb. Can’t tell if it was the same dance footage looped four times, or just a similar performance. The dance and fluid camera movements weren’t enough – they had to put fakey digital backdrops behind the guy and with David Fincher zooms and cuts that appear seamless. A nice dance & technology demo.

The last two (both non-U.S.) are the only ones listed on IMDB. I spend so much time on that site, sometimes I consider making a film JUST so I can be listed on IMDB. These compositors have different ambitions than I do.

Sometimes I consider taking this “blog” off the internet and making it for my eyes only. I just know one of the filmmakers is going to google themselves, find this page and be offended. I’m sorry!

Yay!

A purely textural, immersive experience, defies all description or explanation. The actors in a film become their characters, teleporting to Poland, psychics and unknowns, and of course, Rabbits.

Sam writes: “most impressive to me was its function as a purely visceral machine. The sound in the theater was booming, giving his shock-moments of menacing narrative intrusion a physical as well as mental impact. The endless distorted close-ups, his use of darkness and blinding brightness, and the excellently interpolated sequences of abstraction (and those verging on it) contribute at least as much to this effect. Perhaps this is what has been missing in his films since Eraserhead: his attempts at messing with our imagination were only interesting inasmuch as we were interested in his, while in these two very medium-specific movies he ropes our physiological responses into the mix, and cuts far deeper in every way. In an era when the loudest and flashiest action films can actually seem boring (even when combined with artistic pretention as in Children of Men), the emergence of a truly shaking cinematic experience is good news indeed.”

Katy didn’t go.