Still my #1 or #2 favorite documentary of the decade (grizzly man? same river twice? farmer john?). Saw Ross McElwee speak twice today. What I learned:

– His movies are all interconnected, which I’d know if I bothered to watch some of them.
– He considers Time Indefinite to be the sequel to Sherman’s March
– was impressed by DA Pennebaker docs but particularly by Fred Wiseman’s Titticut Follies, which he said made him want to make docs, but not the same way as DA and Fred… example of the crazy naked man staring back at the camera, put a human face behind the camera so it’s not as much a weapon (my words)
– tries to capture these little moments of feeling, of humanity in each picture. Showed us a scene of a mechanic discussing his daughter’s death, Ross says he once tried to find the exact frame where the man’s face flashes, changes, but he couldn’t find it. “The moment must have been between the frames”.
– question whether he’s considering the film, the big picture, while filming each small scene, he says “even while you’re having these conversations about life, death and god, you have to be thinking ‘how am I gonna edit this?'”
– Ross was once fired by Miramax (apparently, The Six O’Clock News deals with this)
– says his future films will have more old footage juxtaposed with the new stuff, will deal more with memory and pictures and how time and preservation change things.

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Favorite bits are still the film scholar wheeling Ross around (says he showed the movie to a group of self-important film scholars and they *howled* at that scene), the little revelations and plot twists, the cousin’s house of memorabilia, the beach / fish rescue ending.

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Ross films himself walking across a yard, pumpkins in the foreground, garden sculptures behind, with a little dog yapping at his feet. The dog has ruined his shot, the shot of himself contemplating all that he’s learned, so he gets rid of the dog and does the shot again, self-consciously narrating these facts and including both versions in the final film. That’s one of my favorite documentary scenes… the part where the narrative stops, and he reminds us that he’s making this movie, that we’re watching a movie that he made… it’s not Life Exactly As It Happened, it’s not The Pure Unedited Truth, it is Ross’s movie and he shows and tells us everything through his own filter. It’s a creation, a film, like The Godfather or Rushmore, a work of mostly non-fiction, but still a valid creative work. And usually, USUALLY (see: American Movie?) the minds behind this work are more important than the subject matter. Gotta remember that the next time I’m tempted to see dreck like Enron or Gunner Palace. Ross is my hero.

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Jean Gabin is Pepel, lifelong thief, lives in a shifty boarding house, likes his girlfriend’s sister. Girlfriend’s dad owns the place but doesn’t enjoy it one bit. Along comes Louis Jouvet as The Baron, or ex-Baron, as he’s fired from his post for unpaid gambling debts as soon as he’s introduced. Pepel met the Baron after breaking into his house, and they become good friends at the boarding house. But life is hard: the resident poet kills himself and Pepel gets into trouble when the old man dies in a fight. But in the end, Pepel gets off easily, wanders into the sunset with his new girlfriend, and the Baron stays behind.

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Leave it to Renoir to turn a bitter, harsh reality-check on the “lower depths” of humanity into actually a pretty upbeat and hopeful movie, if you look at it a certain way. Enjoyed it pretty well… more than La Bete Humanine for the most part. Will wait for further comment till I see the Kurosawa version. Katy did not watch it, but I’m sure she wanted to.

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Katy would not have liked it. Not sure that I liked it. But at least I watched it, and now I don’t have to watch it again.

Details so that I won’t have to watch it again:
– Ringo Starr doing a fake interview show dressed as Frank Zappa
– Zappa on drums once, guitar a few times, but mostly absent
– the main guys bouncing delightedly through the movie were Flo & Eddie (?)
– some kind of devil/tempter keeps offering people dumb stuff if they’ll sign in blood
– groupie girls show up from time to time
– ten-minute animated dentist duck segment right in the middle
– Jimmy Carl Black sang “Lonesome Cowboy Burt”
– most of the music/concert scenes were really good
– lots of video (not film: video) effects. Lots. LOTS.
– some kind of druggachusetts episode where the effects were just off the hook

Not a “good” movie by any means, but interesting to see what those guys were up to. Will have to check out the footage from Uncle Meat sometimes, cuz that’s another double album that never made much sense.

Addendum March ’07: after seeing parts of this movie again while working on the DVD project, I like it a lot more. The music, the centerville segment, the endless self-referentiality of it all work together well. Gotta cut it some slack too, after watching the doc and reading about the mess of a production it turned out to be. I even like the soundtrack better now.

Takeshi Kitano plays sort-of-himself, a superstar gangster actor. But mostly he plays a beat-down loser wannabe actor who keeps failing auditions for small parts on TV shows. His neighbors laugh at him, and he works at a convenience store. But one day a real gangster hides in the store then dies in the back room, and the loser Kitano finds himself with a Falling Down-style bag full of guns… goes on a mighty rampage. Or does he? Dream sequences and fantasies are flowing in and out of the picture.

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There aren’t as many Kitanos as I thought there’d be, and the whole thing made more sense than I thought it would. Lesson learned again and again: when everyone says a movie is difficult and confusing, that don’t necessarily make it so.

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As usual, The Internets come in handy here. A couple weeks later, I saw the dvdbeaver review with a ton of great screen shots… really a great looking movie, full of signature Kitano setups, but I was too busy following the story and reading subtitles to notice at the time.

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Rotterdam Film Festival calls it “a mocking, almost surrealist film about the star Kitano, his oeuvre and his failed alter ego”.

Trivia: Tetsu Watanabe the noodle cook was in Fireworks and Sonatine, Kitano’s friend Susumu Terajima was in Brother and Fireworks and everything else, and the manager & taxi driver was Ren Osugi, the chief from MPD Psycho.

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So two approaches. I’m tempted to consider this viewing a test run, this writing a rough draft, and sit down with all of Kitano’s films, watch or rewatch them, then see this one again to catch more of the references. On the other hand, even though it’s an extremely self-referential film, I know the Kitano persona well enough to get the overall joke, and I enjoyed watching this… why not take it on its own merits instead of turning it into a study project? Kitano’s films are all worth re/watching anyway… maybe I’ll get to ’em after my upcoming Seijun Suzuki fest.

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In the meantime I’ll have to say I liked this one more than I thought I would… it pretty much made sense, and looked great.

A thorough viewing of the second disc of my favorite DVD set in the world this weekend. Some thoughts:

I do not know how to talk about Brakhage. Mostly on this site I talk about story, quality of performance… how do I talk about a non-narrative motion painting? Don’t have the background or vocabulary for that.

Cat’s Cradle and Window Water Baby Moving are early ones with actual camera shots of actual things. The editing of Window Water is entrancing.

Mothlight will be great forever. I’ve watched it twenty times now.

Then, chronologically, came Dog Star Man and Act Of Seeing, which I haven’t watched yet because I am afraid of them. The scariest nightmare I’ve had in a decade resulted from falling asleep during my only attempted viewing of Dog Star Man, and if Window Water is so attractive and disturbing, I can just not imagine how my stomach will feel after viewing The Act Of Seeing.

Eye Myth (a nine-second film) took a year to complete because Brakhage had to convince himself that it could be done, had never done a hand-painted film before. Mothlight was almost a decade earlier, but I guess Eye Myth was a big step. I’ve watched it a ton of times just because I can.

I’m not so wild about the visuals of The Wold Shadow (painting on glass over a view of the forest) or The Stars Are Beautiful (creation myths with shots of home and chickens with sync sound) or Kindering (kids at play), but then The Dante Quartet and Rage Net hit hard… some of my favorites of the painted films.

Black Ice and Delicacies and Study In Color are creepy. The screen shots below reveal nothing about those two. The Dark Tower is always a favorite. And I don’t remember ever seeing Commingled Containers before so I watched it three times. Can’t understand what it is, what those things are, what is happening. Something in a stream? What are “containers”? Beautiful, of course. That applies to all of the above… beautiful, beautiful, blah.

Need to read Brakhage’s book(s), to read Fred Camper’s writings, to read the DVD liner notes again and listen to the interviews with Brakhage on the discs. But I don’t expect to learn much that will gain me a deeper appreciation of the films… they need no explanation.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker were Brakhage’s students. He acted in Cannibal the Musical and loved the South Park movie. Incredible.

Katy did not watch it. I’m afraid to show her any Brakhage. What if she doesn’t love it? How will I explain or convince?

A barrage of screen shots.

Cat’s Cradle
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Window Water Baby Moving
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Mothlight
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Eye Myth
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The Wold Shadow
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The Garden of Earthly Delights
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The Stars Are Beautiful
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Kindering
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I… Dreaming
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The Dante Quartet
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Nightmusic
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Rage Net
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Glaze of Cathexis
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Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse
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For Marilyn
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Black Ice
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Study in Color and Black and White
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Stellar
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Crack Glass Eulogy
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The Dark Tower
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Commingled Containers
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Love Song
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Felt very little like Haneke’s other movies, maybe because it wasn’t set in modern-day Europe but in Kafka’s time, with horse-drawn carriages and long walks through the snow. Never got a handle on exactly what the lead character K was up to, except that he wanted to get to the Castle, felt he needed to get there in order to be important or get a better job or find his destiny or something, and used everyone around him for that purpose. They caught on, or knew all along, that he was being selfish and greedy and never let them into their world, never let on what they knew about the Castle or anything else… he remained an outsider. Sounds like it actually had a moral, a reason for K to be denied everything… seems kinda unlike Kafka. I mean the protagonist of The Trial never deserved what he got… truly he was sort of weaselly and oversensitive, but I thought he was an everyman, not a specific character type being punished for his flaws.

Had Haneke’s characteristic blackouts between scenes, and ended very apruptly, while K was in the middle of walking from one place to another through the snow for the forty-somethingth time. Not all bad as a movie, but a little dull, and horrid quality third-gen VHS makes for an unpleasant viewing experience. One day I’ll finally crack the book and see how faithful it was. Hopefully not too faithful, cuz that’s a big book and I’m hoping for more excitement than I got from the movie.

Katy did not watch it.

One day, OCD number-freak IRS auditor Will Ferrell hears Emma Thompson narrating his life. He seeks help from English professor Dustin Hoffman, and spends his days auditing free-spirited baker Maggie Gyllenhaal. Queen Latifah is also there but I’m not sure why.

Lively Spoon soundtrack keeps me happy while I stare at Maggie and wonder about Will’s mostly non-acting. Guess he learned from the Truman Show and tried the less-is-more thing instead. Dustin Hoffman spends more time lifeguarding the pool than teaching classes. No really stupid parts, some funny bits, some clever writing. Somehow Emma’s novel is the greatest piece of American Literature in years but only if Will gets killed, and somehow Maggie falls in love with Will because he sings a Wreckless Eric song. Spoon’s new one “The Book I Write” is pretty good. Katy liked it too.

Katy picked this out. I liked it, maybe better than either of Luhrmann’s other movies, but still wish we’d watched Henry & June instead.

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Scott wants to dance his own wild made-up steps at the ballroom dance competition but everyone tells him he’s being selfish and stupid and will ruin everything. His own partner goes off with the fancypants guy, and then the fancy guy is dancing with the superstar super girl. Now Scott needs to audition a partner and quick. In comes Fran, dance student at Scott’s parents’ studio who wants to dance Scott’s steps at the competition, and has a few of her own to contribute. A happy ending is had by all. Even though most of the movie looks like it was filmed in a gymnasium, it still manages to look great the whole time. The dancing not so impressive, even the big finale, but at least it’s well presented.

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40 minutes or so of short movies. The evolution of Robert Morgan!

The Man in the Lower-Left Hand Corner of the Photograph (1999)
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Too slow and draggy with meat and maggots, all Svankmajery and dingy and stuff. Lonely guy watches his neighbor kill herself, drags her home, feeds her to his pet maggot, and she sorta comes to life all maggoty and sleeps with him and he puts their photos together or whatever.

The Cat with Hands (2001)
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Short and awesome, about a cat slowly becoming human by eating people and taking their parts.

The Separation (2003)
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Another good one, slow and dreary like the first, but not overdoing it this time. Conjoined twins are separated then consider getting back together again while working at a doll factory.

Monsters (2004)
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All live action, boy has nightmares, threatens to turn psycho, sister shows last-minute sympathy. Very nice looking. Guy’s got a bright future.

Katy glimpsed parts, thought was gross.