A treasure trove of film prints, largely of silent movies thought long-lost, were discovered buried in Dawson City, but the films weren’t any good – dramas so generic that Morrison has fun editing together scenes from them, changing the source film with every shot and showing how it still coheres. So rather than spotlight the films on their own merit, we follow the fascinating story of Dawson City, its famous former residents and unfamous locals, illustrating this history lesson with clips from the discovered films and others, and showcasing some astounding glass-plate photography from the era under discussion. And of course we’re not limited to the most well-preserved films – different kinds of decay and destruction are discussed and displayed. Dawson City was a primary Canadian gold rush town, so it’s full of sordid and enterprising stories, and he sidetracks into any exciting bit for as long as it takes. Exciting is relative, though – Bill’s into drawing things out, slowing them down to the wavelength of the great Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) score, my favorite yet in a Morrison movie. What could’ve been a one-hour informational PBS special becomes a two-hour feature, and Katy wanted things to move more quickly.
In-depth into the shower scene in Psycho, how it was done, why it was important, context and reactions. Entertaining, and full of film clips from Psycho and others, celebrity and critic talking heads, and even some fun reenactments. Definite highlights are Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double), and Elijah Wood and his buddies having a great time. The director previously made docs about zombie culture, Star Wars fans’ opinions of George Lucas, and the soccer-prediction octopus.
There are nine days left in the year and I only finished my SHOCKtober posts yesterday, so I’m gonna have to rush some entries… not that I had an awful lot to say about this movie either way.
I assumed this movie about a kidnapped bunker boy trying to remake the TV show his fake-dad created to educate/protect him would be more fun and absurd, but it was flat and quiet, like Lars and the Real Bear, mostly people chatting in medium shots. Any episode of fellow bunker comedy Kimmy Schmidt has more laughs… even the mostly underwhelming serial-remake comedy Be Kind Rewind was funnier. At least this one has a sweet scene with Kate Lyn Sheil in a diner.
James is Kyle Mooney from SNL. A sad Matt Walsh plays James’s real dad, Mark Hamill his bunker dad, Greg Kinnear the cop who ends up working with him on the show. Even a Lonely Island comedy draws the same scattered retirees to the Ross. We stood outside after, watching the hundreds of kids streaming past from an It screening at the multiplex.
The followcam gets shaky, but not the worst I’ve seen, and I stopped noticing it as the movie got stranger. Leo, a dude with serious eyebrows who is supposed to be writing a screenplay, is instead wandering some roads and fields, failing to pick up a young guy named Yoan, then succeeding in picking up a female sheepherd – and his success is signaled by a completely unexpected cut from them talking about moving in together to a close-up birthing scene.
Leo (Damien Bonnard – I think he drowned in Dunkirk) continues to hit on the dude Yoan, who lives with the muuuch older Marcel (Christian Bouillette, in movies since 1970). And one day Leo’s girl (India Hair of Camille Rewinds) leaves forever, and Leo is stuck living with their baby and her Bluto-looking dad (Raphaël Thierry). Bluto doesn’t take this well, steals the baby and tries to leave it outside for the wolves. And Leo goes on some Ornithologist-like journey along a river to visit a new-agey friend – I didn’t really follow this part.
Soon the movie loses its marbles: everyone is attracted to Leo, his girl is shacked up with Yoan, a panicked Leo flees into the river to escape his movie’s producers, he is beaten and stripped by a homeless gang, and finally Leo makes local headlines for having sex with Old Man Marcel while assisting his suicide. A flash-forward shows everyone living semi-normally, but the movie leaves us with Leo and Bluto surrounded by wolves.
Whatever it all meant, it’s a huge step up from Stranger by the Lake, and all the partner-swapping and unusual desires and wolf-lust felt fresh and enticing. Some scenes were too dark to be legible on my TV. The 13th I’ve seen of the 21 films in Cannes competition last year, and like Paterson and Slack Bay it never played theaters here.
The camera prowls a nice house full of artworks and memorabilia, two visitors conversing on the soundtrack, their footsteps clomping through the halls, but never seen, as a piece of music comes and go in scraps.
Then Manoel de Oliveira introduces himself (“Cinema is my passion”), speaking directly to us. He walks to a new room, the color of his sweater changing and a small picture of the Mona Lisa following him into every camera angle, then shows us home movies with loud projector noise.
Back to the visitors, who were supposed to be meeting someone at the house and feel self-conscious about their intrusion, but not enough to leave… back to Manuel, and so on. Manuel’s deliberately-paced stories of the past in plain language feel like a school report, conflicting strangely with the poetry and superstition of the visitor segments. He eventually tells us that he’s a visitor here himself, having sold his childhood home to pay for his films.
Halfway through, we interview Manuel’s wife Maria Isabel, only the second person we’ve seen in the film. Manuel gets less narrative and more philosophical after this break. He talks about his recent films (and the one he was writing: Non), and we head unexpectedly into reenactment territory with the story of his arrest by the fascist government soon after the premiere of Acto de Primavera.
Oliveira spoke like he was at the end of his life, not realizing that another 22 years and half his body of work was still ahead of him. His final narration, “and I disappear,” then a quick slideshow from the family album until the film runs out of the projector. This was withheld from public release until after the maestro’s death, a fitting finale.
Right after I watched Five Came Back, here’s its inverse: British documentary filmmaker is asked by the war office to make a rousing feature, since nobody enjoys newsreels. Columnist Gemma Arterton (The Girl With All The Gifts, Byzantium) is hired as screenwriter, and washed-up detective-franchise star Bill Nighy as actor, and the movie mostly follows Gemma as she tries to make good work while falling for her cowriter Sam Claflin (a fantasy/action franchise specialist), while breaking up with her not-really-husband Jack Huston (John’s grandson – another Five Came Back connection!).
The movie’s fine, with some weird choices (near the end everything gets bright and quiet when Claflin is killed by some rickety film equipment), some in-fashion feminism, and the same old “yay, people who helped the WWII war effort” which is starting to give me the sinking feeling that that’s the last time people worked together for the common good – since then it’s been harsh wars and solo heroes. Original novel title Their Finest Hour and a Half was lots better, written by a TV writer/producer. Director Scherfig made An Education, which I thought was supposed to be good, but apparently not good enough to make my must-see list. I’ll be seeing at least one more Battle of Dunkirk movie this year – wonder how it’ll compare.
Bill Nighy is great, and refreshingly not dead (I got him confused with Alan Rickman). Erlich: “Alas, the lanky British baritone has no business being the standout of a story that exists in order to celebrate the value of female storytellers; Bill Nighy is many things, but a woman isn’t one of them.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.