Scenes and pieces from decades of filmmaking. In the first scene you hear her breathing and whispering behind the camera, making little gleeful sounds whenever the shot works out, then a gasp and sneezing right before the title, so immediately drawing attention to the filmmaker, making you see the rest of the movie as moments shared, not just captured.

She returns to some people and locations over the course of the film: memories of her alzheimer’s-afflicted mother, conversations with Muslim Bosnian survivors (some with inconsistent stories), a boxing match that doesn’t go well, and it’s punctuated with one-offs: a stray Michael Moore interview with a defecting soldier, post-Citizenfour evidence destruction, Jacques Derrida trying to keep Kirsten from running into traffic while filming him. The blu extras discussing the production and editing process are essential, and rewatching some of the scenes really brings back what a wonderful (meta-)documentary this turned out to be.

M. Sicinski:

Not only does Kirsten Johnson bring together two forms of filmmaking (nonfiction advocacy cinema and poetic / associative diary) that typically have nothing to do with one another. She finds that the two modes can strengthen each other, making something vital and unique, rather than watering each other down… The power of Cameraperson is a cumulative one, because we have seen these building blocks before, but they are usually arranged into a very different kind of edifice, one far less idiosyncratic and alive.

Johnson:

My experience is that when you make a documentary you decide on one story, when in fact in the making of that you’re experiencing many, many, many stories. That’s a part of what I wanted to evoke and, you know, the fact that it is fragmentary indicates how many more stories could have been told.

M. Almereyda in the Criterion essay:

Johnson studied painting and literature in the late 1980s at Brown University, where she had a political awakening, stirred by the anti-apartheid movement roiling the campus. Upon graduation, making an uncommon move, she transplanted herself to Senegal and interned there on a film written by the great Ousmane Sembène. In 1991, she was the first American to enroll at La Fémis, the French national film school, where she entered the camera department and discovered a vocation.


The Above (2015, Kirsten Johnson)

Nice photography of the US surveillance blimp above Kabul, Afghanistan, and then the similar one over Maryland, ending with a terrible quote from officials saying that whether the blimps have cameras or not, people behave differently when they’re visible. This is where the ferris wheel shots in Cameraperson come from.


Project X (2016, Laura Poitras & Henrik Moltke)

Kirsten didn’t shoot this, but she’s worked with Poitras, and we just missed this short playing at True/False, so I thought I’d catch it online. Sinister shots of an AT&T building where the NSA camps out to collect all our communications, explained by titles and celebrity voiceover. Blueprints and guidelines for covert travel to collection sites in unmarked cars. Pairs very well with The Above.

1. Right Then, Wrong Now

Film director Chun-soo (Jae-yeong Jeong of Our Sunhi) is in the suburbs for a screening and Q&A, meets the very cute Hee-jung (Min-hee Kim, the Lady in The Handmaiden) while killing time then follows her around, to her art studio, a sushi place, and a friend’s party, where he gets drunk and embarrassing. Next day, the Q&A goes badly and he heads home.

Right Then:

2. Right Now, Wrong Then

The same 24 hours but with variations. His narration has disappeared and scenes are shot from different angles. The director is less complimentary about her paintings, more amorous (and honest) at the sushi place, embarrassing in a whole different way at the party, and the Q&A goes well.

Right Now:

Besides these variations, the film itself is a variation on The Day He Arrives (male film director in another town for one night drinks too much soju with strangers). And there was snow, drunkenness and film directors giving bad Q&As in Oki’s Movie as well. Hong still likes shooting scenes in long takes, changing the framing with sudden zooms and occasional pans – simply filmed and staged, these are actor showcases and “what if” cosmic contemplations.

The Director with film student Bora:

M. D’Angelo:

Think of it as Mulholland Dr. in reverse: grim reality first, wish-fulfillment fantasy second. What makes it even richer is that it’s not entirely clear whose fantasy version of the encounter we’re seeing — his, it would seem for most of the second half, but the ending strongly suggests that it could be hers, which makes just as much sense in retrospect. Either way, or both ways, this ranks among Hong’s most purely entertaining films, with perhaps the best chemistry ever between his male and female leads (both of whom, Hong admitted in a recent interview, were extremely drunk during the twin bar scenes).

Hong in Cinema Scope:

Some elements can be well connected, and make the audience feel that they can explain the difference between the two in terms of morals and attitudes. But some elements are not meant to be like that, and the two worlds are meant to be quite independent … Once you find a clear meaning between them, then these worlds themselves disappear … So all the questions are kept alive if there’s an infinite possibility of worlds. It’s like a permanent reverberation.

Won the top prize at Locarno competing with the likes of Cosmos, Chevalier, Happy Hour and No Home Movie. In the party scene I spotted Ken Loach and Leos Carax film posters on the wall.

Kind of Maddin’s most difficult film and his most purely comic one at the same time. Behind the scenes on the filming of great Canadian war epic Hyena Road, Guy reflects on being an extra (dead body in the desert) and subverts his other job as EPK flunky, while the effects-minded Johnsons toy and screw with the footage. I happened to watch Cuadecuc Vampir a few days earlier, one of this film’s most obvious predecessors.

N. Rapold in Film Comment:

The closest these flagrantly uninformative digressions come to a standard featurette is a couple of outtakes of a producer doing a walk-and-talk TV-ad bumper. While earning Maddin some needed cash, this supposed promotional project burlesques the look of a seamless studio-grade war movie — and its very notion. It’s like any number of subversive reappropriations of mainstream genre cinema, except with the added nose-thumbing of having been done with full permission, during the production. But if Maddin expresses some frustration or resentment about Gross’s comparatively big-budget illusionism, he also can’t help but see the playful, bizarre, and beautiful possibilities in these expensive toys.

Watched this right after the Mulholland Dr. extras where Lynch says his film’s title was originally intended for another, cancelled project – and here’s Rivette saying the same. Out as the opposite of In, since in the late 1960’s everything was “in,” and 1 because if it was successful a sequel would be filmed the following year. I also learned that Noli me tangere was a Rivette-approved optional subtitle of the long version, added during the 1990 restoration. “You can make up what you like about the title. There will be 500 interpretations I haven’t even thought of. That’s what titles are for, to give the critics something to play with.”

Interesting that Igor gets a row:

He hadn’t actually read History of the 13 yet when shooting Out 1, nor had any of the actors, and Rivette only read the first of the three stories later while editing the film and the other two years later – hence Rohmer’s appearance as guest expert. Rivette became a huge Balzac appreciator though, and based Don’t Touch the Axe on one of those belatedly-read stories.

Rivette saw an 11-hour private rough cut screening of the otherwise normal-length Jean Rouch movie Petit à petit, loved the experience of watching it, which gave him the initial idea – so the long duration of Out 1 was part of its initial conception.

Rivette never told the cameramen how to shoot the scenes, and never told the actors exactly what to say or do. Cast and crew would have to recap at the end of the day, discuss what had been said and done, so the next day they could cover or explain things the improvising actors had previously put on film

Rewatched this in less-than-optimal conditions (not on my fucking telephone, at least), but I’ve seen it so many times already. It’s hard to watch without the fan theories I read online in 2002 popping into my head… can’t let the mystery of it all wash over me when my mind keeps fitting the pieces into a puzzle. Granted, the theories work pretty well. And each scene is fantastic whether it makes narrative sense or not.

Classic Hollywood: landlady Coco is Ann Miller of Kiss Me Kate and On The Town, and the ranting woman wandering the apartment halls is Lee Grant of Detective Story and Shampoo. Betty’s new friend at the airport is Mary’s mom in Eraserhead. Since this came out I’ve seen Naomi Watts in a few things (none of them very good except Eastern Promises), Laura Harring in nothing, and Justin Theroux in Wanderlust and Charlie’s Angels 2. Most upsetting is when Patrick Fischler, the scared guy in the diner, shows up in a movie or TV show, as he does more regularly than his Mulholland costars.

Learned from the interview extras: Lynch says the title Mulholland Dr. was originally for a cancelled Twin Peaks spinoff, and The Cowboy is wearing Tom Mix’s original clothes.

2500th post!

I wasn’t thinking of anything when I rewatched Mulholland Dr. the same week we saw La La Land, another movie with great songs in which a girl follows her dreams to Hollywood. Emma Stone’s Mia eventually becomes the star that Betty only dreams of being, after a casting agent sees her one-woman show. Her man Ryan Gosling sets aside his own dreams of running a jazz club to tour with his friend John Legend’s band Jazzhammer. Everyone acts like this is a tragic move on Ryan’s part, but he was broke, so how was he gonna afford his own club without building up cash from those lucrative Jazzhammer tours? Either way, Emma thinks he’s selling out his dreams, and their jobs mean they have to spend months apart, and there’s a fight, and suddenly it’s five years later and Emma and her husband duck into Ryan’s successful new club for a bittersweet Umbrellas of Cherbourg-style ending (noticed a suspicious Parapluies shop on the studio backlot, too), but not before indulging in a (shared?) musical fantasy of how their relationship might have worked out.

Nice to see a strong musical with dancing and singing and Rebel Without a Cause references on the big scope-letterboxed cinema screen. Katy thinks all couples should always end up together at the end of movies, but otherwise she liked it.

J. Rosenbaum:

If the movie’s opening and closing production numbers are by far the most impressive and powerful, this is because they’re both responses to realities perceived as unbearable — which becomes all the more unbearable in the latter case by being disguised as a phony happy ending … La La Land is far more about the death of cinema and the death of jazz than it is about their rebirth or survival. It’s about boarded-up movie houses, antiquated analog recordings, and artistic aspirations that can only be fulfilled (as well as fueled) by fantasy.

Catching up on recent true-falsey docs in prep for True/False. To be fair, nothing here can be proven false, but with all the identity-hiding, illegal activity, perspective-switching and popular suspicion that the whole thing might be a put-on, it totally counts.

First half follows obsessive videographer Thierry who becomes fascinated with street artists (including Shepard Fairey, who I just saw in The Color of Noise) and starts following them around, recording their work, claiming to be assembling a documentary about the scene. Thierry finally meets his legendary hero Banksy, gains his confidence and documents some of his projects. Then after Thierry’s idea of a street art documentary is revealed to be very different from everyone else’s, Banksy takes over the footage and turns the camera back on Thierry, who rebrands himself Mr. Brainwash, launching his own art career with an overly ambitious solo exhibit.

Too bad Inside Job won the oscar, because I would’ve liked to see Banksy’s acceptance speech.

“We’re realists while they’re fantasists!”
“Realism will lose!”

I always watch the wrong Sion Sono movies. I heard either Love Exposure or Guilty of Romance was good, so somehow I got the idea to watch this instead – and I hated it, so now my chance of ever watching those others is lower.

Okay, I didn’t hate it. You can’t hate a movie where a group of young, failed filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers end up choreographing an actual gang war, and where stuff like this happens:

But it feels like Sono has cult-ready ideas, good-enough execution, and little sense of timing. Endless hours of build-up, and everything gets repeated to death by the time the end finally comes. Maybe it feels different at a midnight screening with a giddy audience, and at least it’s an improvement on Noriko’s Dinner Table (which I just realized has similar plot points to Alps).

Lead gangster is Jun Kunimura, who I just saw playing the devil, probably, in The Wailing. His daughter, a former advertisement star and the rainbow swordsman above, is Fumi Nikaidou (Lesson of Evil). Rival leader Ikegami is Shinichi Tsutsumi of One Missed Call. Hirata (Shin Godzilla star Hiroki Hasegawa) is the lead Fuck Bomber, and his Bruce Lee-prototype star is Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi, star of Versus).

C. Marsh in Cinema Scope:

When Hirata dreams of filmmaking, he dreams of the practice’s classical conception, romanticized with the rigor of a hardcore purist: he envisions rack lighting, metres-long camera dollies on steel rails, a trained crew of hundreds, and, above all else, the sprocketed hum of rolling celluloid. In the end that’s what he gets, and it costs him everything. Sono seems sympathetic to the sentiment – he relishes the physicality of the traditional film equipment as much as Hirata does – but he ultimately undermines it. The form itself is a joke. The movie was shot digitally, on Red Epic: and though his characters would be doubtless loathe to admit it, the results look more than fine.

Margherita Buy (the pope’s analyst in Habemus Papam) is in the middle of a difficult film shoot (“a lame social drama about workers occupying a factory,” per Cinema Scope) with attention-hog lead actor John Turturro while her mother Ada’s health is failing. Involved in the family crisis are Margherita’s daughter Livia, her brother Giovanni (played by the director) and two exes (I think Federico and Vittorio).

Not a straightforward crisis-drama. There are dreams and flashbacks, which aren’t always clearly defined. The emotional build is consistent, but the scenes are allowed to stand alone, not necessarily progressing narratively from each other. A standout moment was Giovanni quitting his job without real explanation or plan of what he’ll do next, just an example of the grief and confusion in the family’s lives. Apparently made as a tribute to Moretti’s own mother (a Latin teacher like Ada) who died while he was working on Habemus Papam.

Ehrlich:

It’s not just the work/life balance that this film gets so right, but also — and more crucially — how you can never master your own life to the point where a personal hardship can’t make you feel like an utter amateur.

Won a prize at last year’s Cannes, was Cahiers’ pick for film of the year, and won Buy her fifth Italian best-actress award. It’s really good.