Would you believe that this is the hundredth May ’68 movie I’ve watched, and the first to explain how “May ’68” started and what it was about and how it ended? Sure I could’ve wikipediaed it, but I figured cinema would provide all answers, and eventually it did. This is an essay film using only preexisting footage, mixing archive footage from Paris with thoughts on the filmmaker’s mom visiting China and on other revolutions, examining subconscious behavior of the (usually anonymous) camerapeople capturing history and noting how the framing reflects their political positions. The movie is more emotional that this academic description might sound, Joao’s soft-spoken narration leading us from one country and era to another and back again whenever it feels right, without a preconceived structure, often letting large chunks of footage play out. Anyway, I take it this didn’t open in a ton of cities, and we got it for a week plus a Q&A with the director, so sometimes it’s alright living in Lincoln.

Travis, an ace photographer and committed activist, explores his own sordid family history, which only gets more shameful as he goes on, trying to atone for the crimes of his heritage by at least bringing them to light. Travis was in the room, reading live narration and triggering clips, making the experience more interesting and confrontational. His research leads him through some truly fiction-sounding scenarios – he’s told to quit searching and is chased out of town, and eventually digs up multiple rapes and another murder. This one has been written up extensively, and more elegantly than I can manage.

A. Taubin from Sundance:

Set in the deep South, in the small town of Dothan, Alabama, where S.E. Branch, a white supremacist and Wilkerson’s great-grandfather, shot and killed a black man named Bill Spann in Branch’s grocery store. Branch was charged with murder, but the case never went to trial and he suffered no consequences … How is it that some people escape the racism and misogyny in which they are raised (Branch abused his wife and daughters and likely killed more than one black man) and some cling to it as their reason for existence? Wilkerson doesn’t offer an answer. But raising the question — at this moment when families are torn apart by what they believe America is and should be — is more than enough.

J. Cronk:

What he found, and what we watch and listen to him deliberate upon, was not news of a single murder, but an entire history of racism and brutal violence against the local black community. Branch, he discovers, was an outspoken bigot linked to multiple instances of violence and abuse against black men and women. With only a pair of vague news clippings and Spann’s death certificate as evidence, Wilkerson proceeded to trace the entwined fates of the Branch and Spann families … The futility of this quest is the crux of the film and the aspect of the project that most plagues Wilkerson, whose narration is in a constant state of second-guessing, self-indictment, and flat-out shame at the extent of the atrocities … When, in the course of his research, Wilkerson discovers that his mother’s sister is a practising white supremacist, the film takes on an increasingly disturbing urgency.

V. Murthi:

Wilkerson isn’t being disingenuous in his emotions or approach, but some of the moves on display feel too forced to be truly effective, especially when they’re juxtaposed next to others that are above board. This is the one film I feel most conflicted about. On one hand, I’m not sure I should judge an individual’s personal, politically motivated expression, but on the other hand, I can’t lie and say that there weren’t times when it made me feel uncomfortable outside the scope of Wilkerson’s perceived intentions. With that being said, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? was one of the very best things I saw at the festival precisely because it got under my skin.

Lovely event by The Ross. Went out to dinner with director and cinematographer, and it occurred to me towards the end to feel guilty to be celebrating with the filmmakers of a documentary I’m probably not going to like. Docs about artists tend not to be very artistic themselves, and talking-head interview movies seem pointless to watch in theaters. So I was expecting another Altman, but this doc was great. Yvonne had a fascinating life, and the movie does a good job following it, showing groovy clips of dance routines and films, and not playing the “then this happened, then that happened” narrator games. Yvonne had breast cancer and got a mastectomy, then would stand in classic shirtless male-model poses. Later in the Q&A someone asked if she had breast cancer and I thought “of course she did,” but I guess the movie didn’t explicitly state this, just expected you to follow the stories. This counted as the U.S. theatrical premiere – that’s for a regular week-long release, since it played festivals already.

Screening Room: Yvonne Rainer (1977)

To prep for the Yvonne doc, I watched most of this TV special, in which the great Robert Gardner interviews Yvonne about her film Kristina Talking Pictures, showing about a half hour of it. Local film critic Deac Rossell joined the conversation, and the two men seemed very anxious to talk about film technique, leaving Yvonne to mostly smile in the background – a shame, since I watched this to hear what she’d have to say. I was most uninterested in the film itself at first, with its typically dry, amateur acting, but then I started to notice the unconvincing actors were discussing unconvincing acting in films, and towards the end of the episode the clips played with sync sound in a cool way. So I still haven’t seen a full Yvonne Rainer film, but I know a lot more about her.

Kristina Talking Pictures:

Yvonne:

A good night, with the energetic director in attendance, introducing then discussing her film. It’s an impressive feat too, an animated feature made by a very small team, 2D animation composited onto paper mache backgrounds. Not completely crazy about the movie since it felt like a wearying illustrated audiobook after a while with her relentless narration, but it’s a mostly charming work about her family history of depression and suicide.

Grandma is well educated but runs off with her nationalist entrepeneur boss and bears eight children in a secluded forest, as Latvia is fought over by Russians and nazis and nationalism becomes irrelevant. She raises the kids, tends the animals, carries buckets of water up the hill all day while the entrepeneur works for years on his anti-Russian manifesto, which is burned when discovered by the kids years later. It’s said that grandma would have drowned herself but she kept floating because she didn’t know to put rocks in her pockets. Signe explores her family history while dealing with her own periodic depression, learning about strange and suicidal cousins, before returning to her own feelings and the way she deals with them through art.

December 2008:
Watched again on video, and it only gets better. Five (five!) commentary tracks to go, and two discs full of extras, wooo!

Peter Jackson as Father Christmas:
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Marsha from Spaced:
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March 2007:
The trailer set it up right – supercop Simon Pegg is making the department look bad in comparison, so he’s shipped to the safest small town in England and paired up with lazy son-of-the-chief Nick Frost. All is well until the town elders turn out to be involved in a Wicker-Man-like conspiracy to beautify their town by any means possible (usually murder). Very suddenly it turns into an all-out war, with the police dept. (minus the evil chief) and Simon and Nick (or Shaun and Ed, as I still think of them) against the neighborhood watch.

Extremely funny and a great action flick. Nothing much or bad to say about it. The crowd gave big response to particularly gruesome killings, the jump kick to an old woman’s head, and Bill Nighy. Edgar says they were happy to be working with an ex James Bond (Timothy Dalton) and three oscar winners in this one (Cate Blanchett, Peter Jackson and Jim Broadbent, the former two uncredited). Such a very fun movie, this and Grindhouse have put me in the mood to watch less serious-minded movies, hence the appearance of Saw 3 on this page.

This film was banned by Iranian authorities for no declared reason, then released six years later, uncut, again for no reason. Also no reason why, a decade later, its director came to Emory to present it in person followed by a confrontational Q&A. Screening was packed – must’ve been every Iranian-Atlantan in that building at once.

Banoo (Miriam, “The Lady”) is left by her international-businessman husband (who has been having an affair abroad with a younger woman), frightened to be in the huge house by herself. Meanwhile, her neighbor the groundskeeper and his pregnant, sick, bitchy wife, are kicked out of their shack and she invites them to move in. They invite other family members, including a friendly young woman with babies, and one of their fathers, Khan Salar, a good cook but a habitual liar and thief. The maid quits and the poor family takes over the rich house (a la Viridiana). Banoo is pleased with her new family, and they have a lovely feast of a dinner one night, the peak of happiness in the movie.

After that, it’s all downhill, mostly because Khan Salar starts stealing everything in the house and selling it with his crooked partner, while Banoo retreats upstairs into a daze and stops eating or talking to anyone. She’s friends with a doctor, who says he always wanted to marry her, but she acts strangely cold towards him in the second half and never tries to get his non-medical help. Finally the husband comes home, pays off everybody to leave permanently, and tries to fix up his wife.

Also watched 30-minute Dear Cousin Is Lost from a 2000 compilation film (involving M. Makhmalbaf), which the director claims is his favorite work because it’s more freeform, with a more experimental narrative than his others. A movie is being filmed, but the director is fretting over the shot of an actor on a high tower at the beach, yelling for him not to allow the despair of the sunset to reflect in his eyes. Actor, meanwhile, spaces out on his long-lost girl who disappeared into the sea. She reappears as a ghost, wanders around with him while the movie crew wonders why their actor has just died up on the tower. As paramedics are rising to bring his body down, he returns, wakes up. I don’t think the director gets his shot, though. Oh, and there’s dream-logic stuff about stealing electronic equipment and getting in fights.

Director got upset at people who think the characters in the movie represent all of Iran, who suggest the lead female character wasn’t strong & independent enough, and who ask what he thinks of other Iranian filmmakers, but still managed not to come off as cranky. I enjoyed the interview and the movies.

Ezzatolah Entezami (played old guy Khan Salar) starred in M. Makhmalbaf’s Once Upon a Time, Cinema the same year, and Mehrjui’s debut feature The Cow in 1969. Guy who played the doctor is better known as a cinematographer – shot Offside, The Wind Will Carry Us, Salaam Cinema, and the short we just watched. Banoo herself only in a few other movies, including Mehrjui’s earlier Hamoun. Screening was dedicated to Khosro Shakibai, an actor who played the lead(?) in the short and the husband in The Lady, who died in July of this year.

Last time I saw a filmmaker personally touring his film trilogy around the country it was Crispin Glover, whose new one is called It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. Hertzfeldt’s first two are called Everything Will Be OK and I Am So Proud Of You. Similarities end there, though.

Kicked it off with The Meaning of Life, which I hadn’t seen in a while but didn’t remember liking. Removed from the post-Rejected anticipation and taken in context of his recent introspective films, it’s not bad at all, just a bit one-note. We all die, and we are only one step in the evolutionary chain, not necessarily the best and final form of life. Wotever, Mr. Hertzfeldt. Looks super-nice on 35mm. I said mean things last time I saw it.

He played Rejected and Billy’s Balloon, both of which I have memorized and I think most of the crowd has too. Broke up the next two movies with Intermission in the 3rd Dimension, a fluffy piece of ridiculousness which I think both Don and the crowd wish he’d do more of.

Everything Will Be OK and I Am So Proud Of You are the first two parts of a planned trilogy about Bill. The first section focuses on Bill’s unnamed illness, his inability to function in everyday life. The second flashes back and forth through time exploring Bill’s childhood, present, old age, and ancestors and all the awful ways they all died. They’re good movies, and I love the look of the peephole split-screens. I mostly feel they’re depressing midlife-crisis movies, but there’s just (barely) enough warmth and love in there to keep it from falling apart.

Experimental shorts program at the Nashville Film Festival. Below in italics I’ve quoted their online program notes for each film and added my thoughts in regular text. Unfortunately my memory is very bad and I was neither taking notes nor concentrating on remembering details during the screening, just getting lost in the films, so my thoughts might be wrong or meaningless. I will say it was a cool program, a little saggy in the middle/end but mostly high-quality work, very enjoyable. Most of these were on video, but not the first few I don’t think.

Olivo Barbieri’s Sevilla (06) (Italy 2006,13 min.) is a tale about the perception of Europe in Africa…from the vantage point of an airplane.

Deceptive to call it a “tale” since it’s non-narrative. Also I thought it was from a helicopter – there are helicopter noises on the soundtrack (along with harsh electronic sounds coinciding with some edits, mostly near the beginning and end). I struggled throughout this one to tell if it was out-of-focus, if my eyes had gone funny, or if it’s just supposed to look that way. Didn’t know what city I was ever in, assumed Sevilla, Spain. Whether caused by the focus effect or not, it looked very much like models, a giant, detailed model city, until I’d see traffic moving. Think I liked it, anyway a nice way to start the program. I still remember the percussive music, but I bet I won’t the next time I read this. How to describe music?

Combining live action, stop-frame animation and a kinetic sculpture, Harrachov (Matt Hulse, Joost van Veen, Netherlands 2006, 10 min.) explores the effect of an arcane force that, like a black hole or an immensely powerful electromagnet, exerts a far-reaching and irresistible power upon certain objects and materials, willfully seducing, centralizing and internalizing them.

Junk moves across uninhabited ground towards a sinister shed, pulled by unseen strings, magnets, animated by stop-motion or simply tossed and rolled. Very cool movie, black and white, really brought to life by the great sound effects. We never see the final assembled creation, unless it was obscured in darkness or I blinked and missed it, but it’s shown on the website:
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In The Drift (Kelly Sears, USA 2008,9 min.), a mysterious disappearance on a space journey gone awry launches the counter-cultural revolution at the end of the 1960s.

Not quite slow-zooms on still 1960’s photos, because slight motion is added to the “photos”. This one had a story and a voiceover, unusual for the program, and the woman next to me whispered “was that experimental?” From the director’s website statement: “The Drift uses frame-by-frame techniques to weave an absurd fable about our country’s unflinching frontierism and the desire to push too far, too fast. Images dug out of thrift store bookshelves and flea market bins are animated to create an alternate take on what really happened behind the face of ground control, the space program, and the American psyche.” A cool little movie about a contagious space-disease, certainly better than The Astronaut’s Wife. The drift theory would probably answer some of Werner Herzog’s questions about the inhabitants of Antarctica.

Sera Sera (John Murphy, USA 2007, 3 min.) sets atomic-bomb-testing footage to a reggae-ized version to hypnotic effect.

Director was in attendance but I had to haul ass to Phantom Love (which it turns out was cancelled, so I could’ve stayed, sorry Mr. Murphy, and sorry also for not being able to remember your film clearly but I do recall that it was short and felt like a good music video and that’s not an insult because I like a good music video). Come to think of it, the music was a trippy “que sera sera” remix. Wait, it’s coming back to me, 60’s footage treated with Tscherkasskian film-off-the-rails effects.

With water imagery as the foundation, Number One (Leighton Pierce, USA 2006,11 min.) engages the experience of elasticity between varying states of mind.

A flowing, sometimes symmetrical composition with a sliver of image in the center, and mirrored or continuous images on the left and right. And sometimes it’s something else entirely. Put me in a happy mood. Can be bought in digital form from the iTunes store.

Dig (Robert Todd, USA 2007, 3 min.) is a constricted frame in agitation, with the sweet music of jackhammers raging throughout – with intermission.

Haha, Mr. Todd, the “sweet music of jackhammers,” I get it. A desperately irritating movie about the annoyance of road construction. Actually, it’s pretty cool visually, rapid-rapid-fire shots of painted road markings spinning and sliding – would watch it again with the sound turned off. This is when people started walking out, about 3-4 per film from now until the end.
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Kip Masker (Maria Petschnig, Austria 2007, 3 min.) disguises body parts in altered pieces of clothing to create semi-abstract compositions that defamiliarize the human form.

J. Schaffer says: “Soft, strained breathing accompanies the picture, intermixed with the occasional crackling of latex. From the start, I am faced with the task of disentangling the compositions magnified on screen: a hole purposely cut into a white bra with a shoulder muscle swelling over the seams? A white supporter for a packer (a silicone penis), worn the other way around?” And so on. I actually got and appreciated the intention of this film, a rarity for me. People next to me didn’t like it one bit.

The Green Bag/Documentary Happens (Tim Sharp, Austria 2007, 7 min.) is a single take, real-time documentary shot from the terrace of the Circle Hotel restaurant in Gondor, Ethiopia. While it allows a brief look at the density and multiplicity of everyday interactions taking place around the camera, the film also stimulates questions related to defining the essence of what documentary film is as a cultural artifact.

I was mesmerized by a green plastic bag blowing in the wind… dancing with me. Just kidding, I was actually bored to tears by this dull documentary by Wes Bentley, errr Tim Sharp. It stimulated questions like “when will it end?” and “how many more people will walk out?” Movie had a stunt ending: the appearance of a different-colored plastic bag. A different bag! Reminded me very much of Hidden In Plain Sight. Apparently there’s a new trend in filming stuff nobody cares about and calling it an experimental documentary. Paging Andy Warhol…

With super high-speed cinematography, reminiscent of adored science education films from our childhood, gun fetishization is taken to a surrealist extreme in Kogel Vogel (Frederico Campanale, Netherlands 2006, 6 min.).

Gun shoots bullet through glass in super-slo-mo – whoosh! Liked it, but not much there besides art-i-fying those mentioned education films.

In Ariana Gerstein’s 96 (USA 2007, 7 min.), the space between being 90 and 6 is always shifting in this moving picture portrait.

Something about photographs and a little girl? I don’t remember! I think the sensual overload of the next film acted as a memory-blanker.

Daddy I’m Scared (Tijmen Hauer, Netherlands 2006, 4 min.) is an iconoclastic video piece consisting of thirteen different children’s cartoons layered on top of one another, transforming their innocent qualities to an aggressive and mesmerizing inferno of image and sound.

Almost interesting, but the clips don’t seem to be meaningfully combined, just thrown atop each other to form a red-tinted fiery Disney nightmare. I recognized Aladdin by sound and Hunchback by visual. It was short at least.

In Light Is Waiting (Michael Robinson, USA 2007, 11 min.), a very special episode of television’s Full House devours itself from the inside out, excavating a hypnotic nightmare of a culture lost at sea.

The one I’d been looking forward to (and the reason I didn’t wander away unhappily during the green plastic bag doc) didn’t quite live up to expectations. Funnier as described to me than to actually watch. Excerpt of a Full House ep (which Katy remembers) where they drop a TV from a great height turns into SCREAMING BLINKING PAIN turns into a mirrored, folding-in-upon-itself color-tinted noisy nightmare, an extreme slow-mo excerpt from a different episode on some fantasy island (which Katy also remembers). Good move equating Full House with shrieking hell, but not actually much fun to watch. I want some Peter Tscherkassky, please.

I’m glad Katy and Nick liked this movie… in fact, I’m glad I liked it the second time around. It’s just as good as I remembered, even without the director and Farmer John around to influence my thinking. I guess from here it’ll play on PBS then I’ll never hear about it again, but was fun while it lasted.