This is Not a Film (2011, Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)

Set up to be a doc of house-arrested filmmaker Panahi by his documentarian friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, with Panahi explaining and roughly staging the next film he would have made if the authorities had let him (coincidentally[?] to be filmed inside a house, concerning a girl who is not allowed to leave). But Panahi cuts off the play-acting and gets philosophical, showing scenes from his work and telling us that if films could be explained, they wouldn’t have to be made. He then takes over the not-film, finally picking up the camera, following a maintenance man outside to a small-scale replay of Offside‘s finale. Throughout, there are definite signs that either this movie was much more cleverly planned than it’s meant to appear, or that Panahi’s life is full of happy coincidences and unplanned art. Either way, I’d been afraid that this would be a movie solely acclaimed because of its subversion, its very existence as political protest, which would’ve been enough, but was delighted than the entire work justifies its Cannes-acclaimed reputation.

Panahi’s daughter’s pet iguana provides the special effects, an unseen neighbor who needs a dog-sitter so she can participate in the celebratory new-year fireworks provides humor, and Jafar’s phone conversations with his attorney provide context on the project.

Panahi attempts to use the internet inside Iran. “Wherever you go, it’s blocked. Most websites are filtered. The rest don’t say anything.”

Mirtahmasb: “Take a shot of me, so in case I’m arrested there will be some images left.”

Panahi’s next film was going to be made with Mohammad Rasoulof, who now suffers the same political fate as Panahi and filmed his own response while out on appeal, Goodbye, which hasn’t made it to video yet.

M. Peranson in Cinema Scope:

Of special note… is Panahi’s bootleg DVD collection, which features the Ryan Reynolds-in-a-coffin film Buried facing us, clearly placed there to make a point.

The work feels completely effortless but my money says it’s an elaborate sound and image construction: though it claims to be a day in the life of Panahi, Mirtahmasb explained in interviews that the film was shot over four days.

Century of the Self (2002, Adam Curtis)

Quoth a banker: “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed.”

Another Adam Curtis miracle. Katy and I are pleased as punch by the film’s research, structure and presentation, while being terrified by its content.

Curtis tells how Freud’s theories were pitched in the States by his nephew Edward Bernays, who thought to use his uncle’s psychological techniques in advertising and public relations, a field he effectively started. Freud’s theories are thought to explain the rise of naziism, so the American power elite looks to his daughter Anna for ideas on how to control the peoples’ minds. Former Freud student Wilhelm Reich who became a sex hippie (see also W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism), is the godfather of the opposite side: freeing your mind from conformity, and while Reich himself is imprisoned, his work destroyed by the U.S. government, his ideas inspire industry to promote self-identity through spending. Still later, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (so apparently well-meaning, yet so deflated by the Adam Curtis docs) use focus groups to turn government and politics into a kind of marketing. And Curtis uses the same language that he’d return to in The Trap: what our leaders and big business presented as a new form of freedom became instead a form of control.

Some Television in 2011

The Mighty Boosh season 3

The one in which they work for Naboo at his shop. I liked this and season one better than S2 – it helps to keep the nonsense somewhat grounded with the workplace location. But it’s a minor quibble, and altogether quite a great show. Except for the moon.

Apparently the Boosh did some specials and a live show I’ve gotta find. Also, I keep thinking getting confused by this Richard Ayoade fellow – he played Saboo, not Naboo. Who was Saboo? Anyway, he stars in The IT Crowd, directed the movies Submarine and AD/BC: A Rock Opera and made the shows Man to Man with Dean Lerner, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Nathan Barley, all of which sound good, and some of which co-star Howard Moon and/or Vince Noir. Howard also starred in Edgar Wright’s Asylum – and what’s this: Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge! Must find.

The Thick of It season 1

Even if the rest of the show had been useless, this would be worth watching for Malcolm’s daily, creatively profane insult spree. His first line in the series is “He’s as useless as a marzipan dildo.” But it’s a brutally good show all around, as I’d suspected, having seen the film version In the Loop a couple times. Hugh Abbott, minister of social affairs (his predecessor got sacked in the first episode) bumbles into various minor media scandals with help from his staff Glenn, Terry and Ollie, while trying not to be yelled at by Malcolm. It’s exactly how I assume government actually works. Hugh (Chris Langham, a writer on The Muppet Show) didn’t return, but the other main actors made it into the movie. Peter Capaldi (Malcolm) wrote/directed the short Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, has appeared in a couple other things I’ve seen (like Neverwhere) but I wouldn’t recognize him from this unless he was swearing up a storm.

Arrested Development season 1

I can’t believe all that was only one season. Seems like four or five years’ worth of plot twists crammed into one. I mean, if they’ve already followed at least two incest plot lines, produced a long-lost identical twin brother, resolved a number of love affairs and hangups and family members moving in and out, sunk the family yacht, burned down the banana stand, broken out of jail a couple times and adopted a Korean kid, what’s left for the next two seasons? Creator Mitch Hurwitz also wrote Running Wilde with Will Arnett, an animated show full of Arrested Development alum called Sit Down Shut Up, and coincidentally, an unaired American remake of The Thick of It, with Oliver Platt as Malcolm. Iannucci says that was awful. Series directors included the Russo brothers (You, Me and Dupree), Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers).

Mr. Show season 1

Obviously I’ve seen this all before, but I was hurting for some comedy to half-pay-attention-to whilst sorting receipts and other junk on my floor and realized I’ve never played the DVD commentaries all the way through. And now that my floor is half clean and I’m only four episodes into the series’s 30-episode run, it’s clear that I never will.

Still super funny: Ronnie Dobbs, all appearances by Jack Black and Brian Posehn, incubation pants, the hated milking machine, limberlegs, bag hutch, “dear globochem, somebody is trying to kill me.” I know they think it didn’t work, but I love that the early episodes each had interwoven sketches with thematic connections. It was really ambitious for a cheap sketch show shot in a restaurant.

Semi-related shows I still need to watch – there are so many – Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Tim and Eric, more Aqua Teen, Ben Stiller Show, Running Wilde (again), Freak Show, Tom Goes to the Mayor, Breaking Bad, Funny or Die, Pity Card/Derek and Simon, more Sarah Silverman Program, Bob’s Burgers, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Moral Orel, State of the Union and Bored to Death.

It Felt Like a Kiss (2009, Adam Curtis)

Different from the other Curtis docs I’ve seen in that it’s not assembling semi-obscure facts to analyze human/political behavior, but assembling well-known facts to create a mood, and lead to an understanding through experience. Of course I’m missing part of this experience, since the film was part of a multimedia show inside a deserted office building set to music by Damon Albarn and the Kronos Quartet.

Traces a semi-chronological historical path through key events (chimps in space), tragedies (kennedy assassinations, manson family) and future tragedies (WTC construction) but mostly uses pop songs as history, letting artist bios (tina turner, lou reed) and the lyrics themselves tell the stories of disenchantment.

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What results has Lynchian overtones with its dark seeds beneath 1950’s suburban pop, and shades of Craig Baldwin, using newsreel montages to create new stories, to confuse and not inform. But it’s still got Curtis written all over it, in the pacing and clip selection, that old familiar typeface, and the sense that the film makes your brain understand things in ways not explicitly told by the narration, making covert connections. Most importantly, when it was over I had the same urge to immediately watch it again that I got after The Power of Nightmares and The Trap.

C. Brooker:

Where his preceding works have occasionally been a touch eccentric, this one takes the piss. It is completely and utterly demented – in a positive way. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense; if anything, it forges its own new brand of coherence whether you like it or not. This is a documentary running on alien software. I’m at a loss to describe it. For starters, the trademark Curtis voiceover has gone completely, replaced instead by occasional, simple captions. Music is at the forefront. Ominous soundscapes and bubblegum pop weave their way around the images: archive news, Hollywood movies. It’s hypnotic.

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Brooker also gets us some Curtis quotes. I’ve brutally edited so as not to copy his entire article:

I wanted to do a film about what it actually felt like to live through that time … Where you could see the roots of the uncertainties we feel today, the things they did out on the dark fringes of the world that they didn’t really notice at the time, which would then come back to haunt us. … The politics of our time are deeply embedded in this idea of individualism, which is far wider than … consumerism or anything like that. It’s how you feel. … But it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s not an absolute. It’s a way of feeling and thinking which is a product of a particular time and power. The notion that you only achieve your true self if your desires, your dreams, are satisfied … It’s a political idea. … What you desire is the most important thing. But a great paradox of our time is that what you desire may not be coming from within you. … The iPhone is a good example. People really feel they want one – to express themselves. But they all want one, at the same time. Where does that come from? From within or without? Because we live in an age where the individual is paramount and everything is seen from the perspective of ‘you’, we’ve lost sight of the bigger forces at work. Which has limited us. Not only in our understanding of the world; it’s made us very powerless. I think that’s what I’m really trying to get at in this.

Curtis keeps a blog, which I need to start reading, and I’ve been watching Mr. Brooker’s own TV series, to which Curtis has recently contributed.

Collapse (2009, Chris Smith)

“In the new human paradigm everything will be local.”

L.A. policeman starts by talking about the CIA smuggling drugs into the country, moves on to the recent/current financial crises, explains the concept of peak oil (we’re running out) then leads us down the Road to global devastation, huge drops in population, suburbanites starving in their homes.

I need to start growing vegetables in our back yard this spring. Quitting my job, opening a bicycle repair shop. Can rain barrels be used for drinking water?

In The Loop (2009, Armando Iannucci)

This is a spinoff movie from a series called The Thick of It, which also starred Peter Capaldi as the terribly insulting PR guy, and which I must watch soon. Tom Hollander as the wishy-washy but morally secure minister and his head staffer Gina McKee (of MirrorMask) are new to the movie, but Tom’s assistant Chris Addison was in the show playing a different character. Kinda surprising, that, since in the movie he’s the new guy (and kinda our main character).

One lucky break: the new guy/main character isn’t a bland, naive kid who leads us insultingly through the situation, a conceit used by so many crappy movies. Everyone sorta knows what they’re doing here, and even though our guy is a fuckup (misses a major meeting, his girlfriend leaves him for cheating), he knows his way around his job. Anyway, movie follows these government guys as they trade secrets and rumors, fiddle with their publicity, and ultimately start an international war for the stupidest reasons possible – and it’s damned hilarious, and I’ve forgotten every joke so I must watch it again after catching up with the show.

Of course it’s not a british comedy without a Steve Coogan cameo (The Boat That Rocked, therefore, was not a british comedy). Here he plays Tom’s neighbor who starts a PR stink over a crumbling garden wall. I wouldn’t say it’s a non-comic role, but he has less funny dialogue than anyone else in the film, which seems odd.

Being There (1979, Hal Ashby)

I don’t know much about Ashby – I’m sure he’s wonderful, but it’s Sellers and the writing that make this one of my favorite comedies. It’s not Ashby’s last movie (he made 5-7 more) but it’s the last one I’ve heard of. He lets scenes linger longer than most comedy directors would, stretching the movie out over two hours, but not to its detriment (like Avanti!). Since most of the fun is in Sellers’ delayed reactions to the world around him, slowly taking everything in, the pacing works. Besides, the movie is called Being There, not Getting There.

Sellers vs. MacLaine:
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Round 2:
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Jack Warden was a good choice to play the president, and 80-year-old Macon native Melvyn Douglas (of The Old Dark House) brings essential humor to the role of the dying rich “kingmaker” with whom Chance the Gardener accidentally finds himself after getting hit by Melvyn’s wife Shirley MacLaine. MST3K punchlines Richard Dysart and Richard Basehart play the old man’s doctor and the Russian ambassador whom Chance talks up at a party, respectively.

Melvyn & Sellers:
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More Melvyn, More Sellers:
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Peter & Jack:
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Katy might’ve liked this, but the day I rented it she was mad at me for not wanting to watch a girl movie with her, and I figured suggesting we watch a male-centric political satire wouldn’t help anything. Actually I think I did suggest and it and she got madder, oops.

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The Power of Nightmares (2004, Adam Curtis)

Another 3-hour Adam Curtis documentary (no Yo La Tengo songs this time) and again it’s one of the most amazing, revelatory things I’ll watch all year. This time I didn’t take notes like I did with The Trap, so I’ll just have to take my word for it. I do remember that the founder of neoconservatism was a huge fan of television, especially Gunsmoke and Perry Mason. And that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist – or it didn’t until we invented it – I remember that. Man, I wish I’d watched this when it came out. But however depressing it is that I’ve spent the last five years not knowing most of this stuff, that’s balanced by the joy of watching it when neo-cons aren’t in power in the U.S. at the moment.

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Roger & Me (1989, Michael Moore)

It’s fun to see the pre-Awful Truth days when every corporate headquarters didn’t have an Official Michael Moore Policy and when Moore was thrown out of an event not because of who he is but because one of Ralph Nader’s relatives was with him. It’s also fun to see what a good movie Moore can make when he devotes all his time and energy to a single cause instead of bouncing from one populist hot topic to the next (Columbine, Fahrenheit) or tackling issues that are too large to fit in a movie (Sicko). He stays (mostly) in Michigan, covers a couple years’ worth of plant closings, visits and revisits local people (the eviction deputy, for one) and tries to get answers from (and stir up debate against) the corporate overlords and policies seen to be the cause of the problems. We’d been meaning to watch this for a long time, and thought the week of G.M.’s collapse (and Moore’s latest email about it) made for good timing.