Errata
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— Errata Movie Podcast —
July 2004

This weekend's Sunday New York Times includes a witty review of Penn Jillette's new novel, Sock. The review is written by Teller. It makes me curious about the book, I suppose, but it also contains some insights about both reading and writing critical reviews:

In 1985, Penn Jillette and I opened our show ''Penn & Teller'' off Broadway. At the opening-night party, our producer read one review aloud. It was a rave, a career maker. The guests burst into applause. But Penn and I were appalled. What the reviewer had described was nothing like the show Penn and I thought we were doing.

Later we talked. ''A reviewer,'' Penn said, ''is always on a first date. He's not actually watching the show; he's thinking about what he's going to say to his date afterwards.'' So I wrote a grateful letter to the generous critic, and Penn and I made a solemn vow never again to read our own reviews.

It's nearly two decades later, and I find myself trying to write about Penn's novel, Sock. I have sympathy for that old theater critic now. As I sat and read Sock, every time I laughed or felt my pulse pounding, every time I was struck by an insight or charmed by a piquant phrase, I suddenly began hearing in my head what I'd say afterward to you, the reader — my date. To any thinking person, this undermines my credibility.

There's another reason not to trust me: I'm biased. But do you really want an unbiased review? An impersonal report that weighs a work of art on antiseptic scales in units of cosmic goodness? Of course not. That's no fun. You want to learn the bias of a hotheaded reviewer and read him in that light. Since I've chosen Penn as my lifelong artistic partner, my prejudices should be obvious. I can't react impartially to Penn's newborn baby. I see in its fierce little eyes all the traits I know in its father.

I have to admit that I only skimmed the rest of Teller's review, because I sometimes don't like to read too much about a book I may read soon or a movie I may see soon. But here's the last paragraph:

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure: six times a week onstage in Las Vegas, Penn fires a .357 Magnum revolver at my face. It's a trick. I end up alive and healthy with the bullet neatly caught between my teeth. I survive, in large part, because Penn always does his part of the trick correctly. I assure you, however, this would never skew my view of Penn's literary achievement.
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2004, U.S.
director: Stacy Peralta

There are places on this earth where wind, gravity, and air pressure can thrust thousands of gallons of water up from the ocean into immense, towering walls. What's even more amazing is that there are people who will stand on a plank of fiberglass at the top of such a wall and skim down its face. Voluntarily. Eagerly. They're insane, but they're called big wave surfers, and Stacy Peralta's thoroughly enjoyable new film, Riding Giants, tells their story, from the early days of surfing, through its impact on the music and movies of the 50s and 60s, to the exploits of its most dedicated daredevils, past and present. It's just about as fun as a history lesson can be.

Most of the fun is supplied by a cast of colorful characters — like Laird Hamilton and Greg Noll — each of them a surfing icon who gladly and vividly recounts the first day he or she caught a particular wave or got up the gumption to do what had never been done. And Peralta is willing to listen. His film finds a sweet spot between amusement and reverence, honoring the sport by neither taking it too seriously nor gawking at its proponents like they're freaks. It listens to their tales, stands alongside them as they gaze out at the foamy blue, and gives us a pretty good idea of what it's like to walk a mile in their flip-flops.

The movie is filled with stunning footage of painful wipeouts, just-in-time rescues, and amazing physical phenomena, but it also races through boxes and boxes of still photos using animation to make them pop out of the screen like the 3D vistas of a View-Master reel. The effect is similar to the treatment of photos in The Kid Stays in the Picture, a fitting embellishment that makes flat frames seem as thick and glowing as the translucent tubes that the surfers chase. The pictures are propelled by an eclectic mix of songs, including music born of the surf era like the guitar solos of Dick Dale — and music that just sounds like it was born of that era, like the songs of the Stray Cats — as well as modern adrenaline pumpers like Linkin Park and the Hives.

As a dynamic collage, Riding Giants is a dervish, so much so that it's often hard to tell, especially in the movie's rapid first third, whether we're seeing the actual event being discussed or just something similar. But in general the footage is well integrated and frequently awe inspiring. Peralta has a good sense of pace and knows when to be manic and when to slow things down to a dramatic crawl. He has a firm grasp of his material, although he may have a bit too much of it. There's always a bigger wave waiting to be discovered, and for a time it feels like the film may show us all of them, like the projectionist may have spliced one of the reels into a continuous loop whose waves are going to pound the shores into the wee hours.

But the movie eventually arrives at a rousing conclusion, and when one of the surfers seems offended by the term "beach bum," we understand him a little better than we might have at the outset. He might be certifiable, but he's no bum. And although the sport is associated with the beach, that's just because the beach is next to the water. It's like calling star gazers "hill bums" because of where they plant their feet; it's not a love of the hill that turns their eyes upward.

When the Waterboys' anthemic "This is the Sea" plays over the movie's final minutes, any excess repetition is forgiven; all else is forgotten but the mysterious magnitude of the water. "That was the river," Mike Scott sings, "and this is the sea."

I'm not sure if big wave surfers hear music when they ride waves, but this movie makes me think they do: the music of the ocean, the rhythm of their pulse.

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2003, U.S.
director: Bob Smeaton

In the summer of 1970, rock promoters Ken Walker and Thor Eaton organized a traveling music festival that made its way across Canada in a train that was dubbed the Festival Express. The train occasionally stopped for concerts, but for the musicians onboard, including The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Band, the journey itself was as much fun as each of the stops.

Filmmaker Bob Smeaton says that when he recently told one of the musicians about the plans to make a film about the historic tour, he replied, "Great! But what are you gonna use for footage?" To which Smeaton replied, "There were cameras on the train," and the guy said, "There were?" There were, indeed, cameras and tape recorders on the train, but they were so unobtrusive and the spirit so festive that they were hardly noticed.

A festive spirit is exactly what Walker and Eaton were going for, believing that the best way to have great shows was to keep the musicians happy, so they filled the train with free food and booze and even made an impromptu stop in Saskatoon when supplies were running low. One car of the train was dedicated to non-stop jamming, and jam is exactly what the travelers did.

Smeaton has assembled a fun and intimate look at musicians doing what they love, playing music and feeding off of each other's creativity, and like the train that his film documents, he never swerves away from the music and camaraderie. He only pauses here and there to touch on the external forces that could have derailed the tour or the film. Joplin died only two months after the trip, and in the same year many of the bands began to realize the difficulty of remaining at this juncture of culture and commerce. At one stop, fans who objected to the show's $14 price tag tried to crash the party, which frustrated some of the musicians who thought it was a fair price for a day's worth of great music. True to form, Jerry Garcia calmed the angry crowd, and the Dead performed a free set in a nearby park.

The promoters lost a bundle on the venture. Smeaton tells that tale, and he nods to the events that marked the symbolic end of the 1960s, but before getting too far off track he always comes back to the music, which includes "The Weight" by The Band, several songs from the Dead, and no-holds-barred performances of "Cry Baby" and "Tell Mama" by Janis Joplin that bring down the house. The low-key noodling on the train is just as enjoyable as some of the stage performances. The duets between Garcia and Joplin and the late-night jams of Garcia and Buddy Guy show these folks at their most relaxed, enjoying every minute of a ride that came to feel like an oasis in a hectic world.

It all looks effortless, which given the circumstances is quite a feat. The footage shot on the train was scattered around Canada for years, and it was never properly synced with the sound recordings, so gathering the negatives and recordings in one place was merely the first step toward assembling a model train engine that had no instructions. Each concert yielded an audio recording and hours of film from multiple cameras — and that doesn't count the round-the-clock jamming on the train — but few notes existed that might help an editor link a particular audio recording to its related film, so just putting sound with the pictures was a painstaking process. It's amazing that it all looks and sounds so good.

Smeaton retains the grainy appearance of the 16mm film, which has been blown up to 35mm but is otherwise unprocessed, aside from a de rigueur split screen here and there. In some spots the limited selection shows. The Flying Burrito Brothers, for instance, appear without front-man Gram Parsons, and although Buddy Guy launches into a searing version of "Money" he disappears before the end of the song, and his band, finally deciding that he's not coming back to the stage, winds it up without him. It also would be nice to see more footage from the train, but cameramen, unlike musicians, need their sleep.

Still, Festival Express includes enough high points to make the trip worth taking. We're lucky to have this material at all, even with a few rough edges. It's impossible to imagine present-day musicians of this stature being so candid on film and so open to close observation. It was the right time and right place, and even the people onboard seem to know it. Thanking Walker and Eaton onstage, Joplin says, "The next time you throw a train, invite me, man." But it wasn't to be.

screened2004.04.17
San Francisco International Film Festival
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7-14 The Door in the Floor (Williams)
7-14 Thirst (Snitow/Kaufman) [TV]
7-15/22 Pippi Longstocking TV Series, Episodes 1-4 [DVD] [1968]
7-19/21 Curb Your Enthusiasm First Season, Episodes 7-10 [DVD]
7-20 Playtime (Tati) [70mm]
7-21 Time of the Wolf (Haneke)
7-22 I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (Hodges)
7-23 The Hunting of the President (Perry/Thomason)
7-24 Riding Giants (Peralta)
7-26 Tomorrow We Move (Akerman)

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A few administrative notes about this web site:

  • I've recently overhauled some things internally, but externally you should see little difference. One thing though: everything posted to this site will now go through this blog. Before, the reviews and articles were outside of the blog, and I found myself pointing at them ("go read this") since it wasn't always obvious. Now they'll just appear here, too, even the articles with their crazy little sticky notes.
  • If you read Errata via an RSS reader, note that there is now only one feed for the whole site, not two. It's available in multiple versions, but they refer to the same content. I recommend the RSS 2.0 feed, which is the default, because it has pretty pictures. Your current feed will continue to work, but you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe if you want to upgrade to the latest/greatest version. (Look in the lower-left margin of this page for subscription information.)

Thanks.

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apology
We would like to apologize for this site's recent downtime and would like to relay a piece of valuable advice: where possible, avoid hiring a cinephile to maintain your web site. When we asked our administrator why our site was down, he said, "Shh. I am smoking." And he was. "You cannot treat me like one of the factory workers in Modern Times," he told us when we pointed at our blank screens. "You are acting like Lee Marvin in Point Blank," he told us when we said "404 Not Found" in unison. 404! Not Found!
and so
After we exhausted all of the entries in the Cinephile Yellow Pages (we may not renew our subscription when August 2007 rolls around) we resorted to more traditional means to find a tech worker who would not discuss the MacGuffins in our code, ask repeatedly whether the problem was with focus or framing, decry our use of video ("This is not celluloid. I can do nothing."), and drone endlessly about the chiaroscuro lighting in our server room. The guy who brought us back up said only, "There," and later added something about Apache pearls, but we don't think it was a Marxist rant nor an anti-American reference to the history of Manhattan, so we will call him back if things snap again. We apologize for this lapse.
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I always enjoy Reverse Shot, but this time they may have outdone themselves. Just when you think you've seen the entire issue, there's another fascinating tidbit. OK, actually I haven't read any of it, yet. I've just browsed the index, but I'll be soon be working my way through the following:

  • a special focus on Richard Linklater, with some 16 articles;
  • an interview with Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer for Wong Kar-Wai, the guy who shot Hero, and arguably the single strongest argument for watching Last Life in the Universe when it hits theaters later this year;
  • an interview with Thom Andersen whose masterful Los Angeles Plays Itself is one of my favorites of the year;
  • plus reviews of some recent movies and not-so-recent movies, including Ozu's Floating Weeds, a review I glanced at just long enough to see that it takes Roger Ebert to task for loving Ozu but slamming Abbas Kiarostami at every opportunity. I never understood that, myself.
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2003, France
director: Bruno Dumont

In Claire Denis's Friday Night, a woman named Laure momentarily leaves a stranger in the passenger seat of her gridlocked car, and when she returns, he's behind the wheel. She climbs into the passenger seat, and for a few manic moments her car — her life — is out of her control as the man whips through alleys and side streets to circumvent the traffic jam. Laure is on the eve of moving in with her fiancé. She's reticent about the prospect, but Denis lets Laure's fear direct the camera just as it directs Laure's melancholy gaze. By catching just the right faces and turns, the camera conveys Laure's sense of possessiveness toward her car as if it's the last gasp of her vanishing freedom.

Writing about Bruno Dumont's new film Twentynine Palms in Senses of Cinema, Darren Hughes says, "when all is said and done — after the endless driving, the pain-faced orgasms, the countless miscommunications, and the brutal, brutal violence — Twentynine Palms, I think, is really a film about a red truck."

He may be right. Dumont started his filmmaking career by shooting industrial videos, and he has cited a particular shot of a candy factory — where his camera moved into a chocolate machine — as the first time he captured an emotion on video tape, an emotion triggered not by people but by twisting ribbons of dark creamy goo. It's an odd statement, but it may explain why the characters in his more recent features are so mechanical, so tactile, why their sex is so robotic, and why the red Hummer that David and Katia use for scouting photo-shoot locations in Twentynine Palms seems less like a mere conveyance and more like the outer shell of the people inside. They live at the whims of their deeply-programmed desires but are unable, or unwilling, to reconcile them where they conflict, casually stroking themselves while watching TV that they find by turns abhorrent or amazing, unable to turn away, unable to decide if ice cream tastes good or bad, unable to stop eating. But when they're in the truck, these two bundles of contradictions must move together in the same direction, and one of them needs to drive.

Like Laure's car in Friday Night, the red Hummer's trials and fortunes are inextricably tied to those of its occupants, and vice-versa. David and Katia get equal time on the screen, but Katia is so dramatically simple that the character seems to be David's exaggerated view of the woman, and perhaps all women: she can't drive, she's childishly indecisive, she breaks into tears when he glances at a passing woman, and she asks him if he could ever molest children. It seems clear to him that sharing this pool with her will somehow destroy him, but he plunges in headlong anyway. He's courting danger. As they drive across the Mars-like rubble, he stops the truck, jumps out, and urges Katia into the driver's seat as he jogs around to the other side. He's as game, as willfully careless, as Laure when she lets a stranger into her passenger seat, but he goes a step further by encouraging his partner to take the wheel, something that Laure's companion did only when she wasn't looking.

Katia veers into chaparral and scrapes the truck, of course, but this is only the beginning. The truck with the double-entendre name, whose color matches Katia's hair and whose blemishes are removed with a cream similar to Katia's, gradually slips from David's control. Even when he retakes the wheel he remains within Katia's sphere. He drives past a rural house, and she leans out of the passenger window to encourage a couple of dogs to run alongside. One of them is hit. To her, David's callous response proves that he's heartless. Dumont waves his hand and miraculously solves the problem, but David files the incident away and knows that more is coming.

More is coming. Katia attracts another pack of dogs, or so it seems, more vicious than the last, and the two lose control of their truck, but in a bizarre twist of fate, contrary to David's implicit prediction, Katia was not the catalyst of the attack, not even the target. When he realizes this, his picture of himself and his world is upended. His destruction is complete in his feminization, or rather in his reluctant acceptance of Katia's view of men as he understands it. Each of the film's awkward, harshly lit sex scenes concludes with a stylized male orgasm — a man's animal-like grunts — and as the film moves toward its inevitable conflict, Dumont gradually transfers those sounds to violence.

Twentynine Palms is another in a string of recent French movies that seem to be stretching the bounds of what's filmmable. The body is no longer sacred, no longer even a reflection of a person but rather an object, a churning, jerking, oozing machine. But unlike many of their peers, Dumont and Denis seem to be working toward human discovery. Denis uses objects and bodies as windows into her characters' jealously guarded thoughts and as carefully coordinated guides through elliptical stories. And Dumont, for all of his attempts to shoot landscapes devoid of beauty, sex scenes devoid of titilation, and conversations devoid of content, and for all of his attempts to equate humans and machines, he seems to be reducing humanity not to meaninglessness but to its few essential elements — desire, fear, companionship, love, hate, and, death — and the junctures where they conflict.

Dumont's third feature is not an enjoyable movie. I'm not even sure it's a worthwhile experiment. And despite a picaresque locale that screams for such treatment, no single shot in Twentynine Palms comes close to the long shot in Humanité of a man walking briskly along a ridge, nor the shot of his car disappearing into the distance down a country road. But at the very least Dumont is interested in more than just clever games, which positions him leagues away from the likes of Gaspar Noé. In talking about his shot of the chocolate machine, that pivotal point early in his career, Dumont surmised that people are drawn to the turning gears because the machine mirrors their own thought processes. Thus, his films don't so much mechanize humans as humanize machines. He searches for people within their creations, be they trucks or relationships.

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6-15 Sunrise (Murnau) [DVD]
6-16/18 The Office, Series 2 [DVD]
6-18 Twentynine Palms (Dumont)
6-28 Fahrenheit 9/11 (Moore)
6-30 The Atomic Cafe (Loader, Rafferty, Rafferty) [DVD]
7-1 unknown doc about Jean Rouch, after 1967 [10-minute clip]
7-1 Jaguar (Rouch)
7-1 Petit ? petit (Rouch) [6-minute clip]
7-2 Before Sunset (Linklater)
7-5 The Trial (Welles)
7-6 Confidential Report (aka Mr. Arkadin) (Welles) [Janus print w/ flashback]
7-8 Humanit? (Dumont) [DVD]
7-9 Spider-Man 2 (Raimi)
7-11 The Circus (Chaplin)

I posted some thoughts about the Rouch films at filmjourney, and I'll post capsules on some of the other films shortly. Twentynine Palms, at least.

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Here's what I'm considering for this week: a couple of trashy movies, some silents, and a TV documentary.

  • Spider-Man 2 — Every once in a while I get excited about a blockbuster, and the last one that I approached with eager anticipation — I'm not sure why — was the first Spider-Man movie. Actually, I can take a few guesses. As a fan of Sam Raimi (Evil Dead 2, Darkman) I'd been lamenting his Hollywood output of the last decade until A Simple Plan renewed my hope. Then there was that teaser trailer, pulled from circulation after September 11, in which the high-tech thieves' helicopter is caught in a giant web slung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Of course I'm usually disappointed by these roller coasters, but here I am, ready to get in line again. Maybe it's the surprisingly positive critical response that the sequel is receiving — none of which I've read, but, to paraphrase Seinfeld, it's like looking at the sun... you get a sense of it and look away. Or maybe it's the fact that the villain is played by Alfred Molina who was so great and two-armed and un-villain like in Coffee & Cigarettes. Whatever the reason, I may see this one. Too bad it's only showing every hour, on the hour, at half the theaters in town.
  • SF Silent Film Festival — Yep, another festival, but this one has a big advantage: nobody makes silent movies any more, so the festival only lasts two days, Saturday and Sunday, and all of the movies are at a single theater. You really can see them all. Read David Hudson's excellent introduction at GreenCine Daily for all the reasons why the festival is worth a weekend. If you only have time for one film, why not make it Chaplin's The Circus, playing Sunday night? It's often forgotten, sandwiched as it is between The Gold Rush and City Lights, two classics for the ages. The Circus is sentimental without quite reaching the dramatic heights of those two, but it's nevertheless among Chaplin's funniest and most visually beautiful features, and the sweetness is gentle, maybe because he doesn't try too hard to tug at our heartstrings. The automaton-with-blackjack gag — wonderfully scored by Chaplin — makes me laugh every time, and the tightrope scenes are priceless. Also, you'll hear an elderly Chaplin singing the opening song, since the festival will be showing the version with Chaplin's own orchestral score, recorded in 1968.
  • Fanny & Alexander — If the silent fest isn't your thing, the PFA has begun a great Bergman series. On Saturday and Sunday they'll be showing Fanny & Alexander, but silent film fans need not worry; the Castro will be showing the film for a full week in August, and will host a number of the other Bergman films, too.
  • Rollercoaster — As a fan of fast rides, I have trouble resisting this one when it falls into my line of sight, ridiculous as it is. I just never expected to see it projected at the Pacific Film Archive, as it will be on Wednesday. Timothy Bottoms is a mad bomber being tracked by George Segal. Will Segal stop him before he destroys Magic Mountain's Revolution on its opening weekend? The PFA is rigging up something similar to Sensurround so the audience will feel the rumbling of trains and bombs, as they were intended to. I'm sure this will enhance the film a great deal. True story: I gave my brother a poster like the one on the PFA site for Christmas one year.
  • Life and Nothing More (aka And Life Goes On) — On Thursday, the PFA will switch gears dramatically to show Kiarostami's dramatization of his attempt to return to the village where he filmed Where is the Friend's House, recently struck by a devastating earthquake. In this movie, an actor plays Kiarostami, who is shown driving from Tehran with his son amid the aftermath of a natural disaster. It draws parallels between city and rural life and contrasts the importance of movies with the importance of food, water, shelter, communication, and companionship. It's one of Kiarostami's best films, and Sensurround won't be required.
  • PBS: Thirst — On their POV series this week, PBS will be showing a documentary about attempts to privatize water supplies. Although I've mentioned this series of documentaries previously, I keep missing them. (Oh, to have a Tivo.) I'm going to try hard to catch this one, because I've had a real interest, lately, for several reasons, in the somewhat related topic of water rights in California.

Continuing movies that I can recommend: Control Room, Fahrenheit 9/11 (join the national discussion), and Before Sunset.

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  • Filmbrain noticed that an English-language web site has gone up for Hou Hsiao-Hsien's next film, which I've been calling Coffee Time but now seems to have been retitled Café Lumière. A new Hou movie is always newsworthy, but the fact that this one is an homage to Ozu makes it doubly so. How nice to see "Distrubtion by Shochiku" at the bottom of that page. The background: I believe three filmmakers, Hou among them, were approached about contributing to an anthology for Ozu's centenary celebration, but Hou said no, preferring instead to make an entire feature in the style of Ozu, a much better idea, in my opinion. The movie was shot by longtime Hou collaborator Lee Ping-Bing, so expect it to look gorgeous.
  • The SF Jewish Film Festival will start in a couple of weeks, and I mention it now only because it's easy to overlook a fantastic tidbit, even after looking over the brief schedule at the Castro: they'll be showing the latest film by Chantal Akerman on Monday, July 26th. As a bonus, note that the web site says "Filmmaker invited" at the bottom. I can't wait.
  • For what it's worth, I've posted some outtakes from my recent conversation with Jim Jarmusch. Nothing incriminating.
  • Scorsese's documentary on Italian film is outstanding, but besides a few festival screenings and an appearance on Turner Classic Movies, it hasn't been easy to see. Now it's available on video, but before you check it out, be sure to read the caveats since the movie is quite a spoiler.
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For the last month or so, James Tata has been following the appreciation of the latest issue of McSweeney's, an almost all-comic issue edited by Chris Ware. See his comments and links here, here, and here. I have the issue, but it's still in my book stack. It sure is a neat cover, though.

Just the other day I was walking down Valencia Street and for some reason I was on the opposite side of where I usually walk, which means I was on the opposite side of the McSweeney's storefront at 826 Valencia. (Yes, it's a pirate supply store. Yes, it's an after-school writing program for kids. Say what you will about Eggers and Co., but those are both pretty cool endeavors.)

I don't know how long it's been up there, but above the store, extending all the way to the top of the building's facade, is a mural by the graphically talented Mr. Ware. It's not your typical mural. It's monochromatic and uses Ware's characteristic grammar of boxes and arrows. When I read his books and comics, I pull his pictures up close to my face and rotate the page like it's the wheel of a pirate ship. I don't know what you do with a building. Cartwheels, I suppose. In fact it's pretty impossible to make out anything in that photo, and you can only see it a little better in real life, it's so high up. I stood on the sidewalk for a minute but decided to come back another day with binoculars.

I should walk on the other side more often. In general, I mean. Not so often that the other side becomes the other side. You know what I mean.

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I'm sure it'll be obvious why I didn't use most of these tangential, film-geeky tidbits from my April 15th conversation with Jim Jarmusch in the final article, but I think they're kind of cool, anyway.
Jim Jarmusch
Coffee & Cigarettes
Echoes, dubious relations, Blue in the Face, looking back vs. going forward, and Chantal Akerman.
Robert Davis: So from what I understand Coffee & Cigarettes was shot over a long period of time... in order to capture the natural aging process —
Jim Jarmusch: [laughs] Yeah.
R: — of Tom Waits and Iggy Pop.
J: Yes, exactly my intention.
R: Actually it's surprising to me how rich the themes are given how it was made and how, you know, you didn't start with these ideas necessarily, but they do resonate.
J: Well, yeah, it's just an organic thing, kinda. It just starts growing and you try to pay a little attention to which way it's leaning.
R: "Twins," the one with Steve Buscemi and the Lee "twins" — that short predates the White Stripes, I'm sure.
J: Yes.
R: And yet it sort of echoes this joke in the media about the White Stripes—
J: Are they brother and sister?
R: Yeah, it's implied in this weird way, in this other short that existed before the band.
J: Yeah, and in the script for Meg & Jack, you know, we take the tack that they are brother and sister, in a way. Cause it's like, "Remember when we were little and you had the Barbie thing." And he says, "Are you going bowling tomorrow night?" You know. Yeah. And then the cousins—
R: Are Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan cousins, or not?
J: Right. And GZA and RZA are cousins, too, so there's that, and the cousins and the cousins [Cate Blanchett and fictional cousin Shelly].
R: That's neat how those things recur. The opening one with Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni — they switch seats, and they also switch places at the dentist. It's a gag, and it's funny, but it does sort of blossom into this thing later where people are mistaken for each other or they switch places.
J: Hmm.
R: I think it shows up after you've seen a bunch of them.
J: Yeah, I never really thought of that, even, the switching and that resonating.
Shelly says she got into a bar when they thought she was Cate. The Lee siblings confuse their clothes ("get your own style!"). Bill Murray is posing as a waiter ("just don't tell anybody"). Somewhat related is the recurring one-up-manship: Molina and Coogan over star power, Cate and Shelly over class differences, and Waits and Iggy Pop over the jukebox and the drummer.
R: Elvis and his evil twin switch places.
J: Yeah. Hmm.
R: [At the festival screening] you said that you felt like you finally had enough songs for a record album. The movie does feel like a mix tape in a way, and your conversation with Harvey Keitel in Blue in the Face could almost be a bonus track on this album. You've been thinking about cigarettes for a long time.
J: Yeah, although that wasn't my idea, you know, that was Paul Auster's. But he gave me some subjects, some ideas, and I made some more. Then I went in and Harvey was like, "Hey I'm half asleep today, man. I hope you got something, cause I got nothin'." I was like, uh oh, and I wrote a list and I made them put it right outside the camera so I could have a list of subjects to ramble on about.
R: I don't remember all of the details, but I know that every time I see a Nazi smoking a cigarette — which isn't that often, actually — I think of how you mention that they hold them in that funny way.
J: Yeah, and I still am obsessed with people throwing guns away. Like they run out of ammo and they throw the gun away — wha? wha? — that still astounds me.
R: Was it Top Secret or one of the Naked Gun movies where they start throwing the guns at each other?
J: Yeah. [laughs] It was one of those Naked Guns.
R: It's cool that [Coffee & Cigarettes is] kind of a trip through your body of work. It has familiar faces from the past, and familiar locations, like Memphis, and I like that, because I like revisiting your movies, I guess, but I wondered — I read somewhere that you don't like to look back at your movies.
J: No, I don't.
R: But this project sort of requires it, at least in little snippets. Did you see new things when you went back to look at the shorts?
J: I don't know if I saw new things, but when you put them together it becomes a new whole thing, with the echoes, so that allowed me not to have that stigma for myself. Instead it was like... I'm going forward by constructing something out of elements, some of which were filmed a long time ago. So it wasn't so painful in that way for me. It was kind of fun, actually, to see how they interrelated.
R: I don't know if you've seen this thing that Chantal Akerman did. It was for a French TV show, just an hour. She was supposed to do a portrait of herself, and instead of doing that she took clips from her movies and just assembled them.
J: Really?
R: And they were — yeah — it's kind of mysterious because it's not clear what a given clip says about her, but she feels it says something about her. There's no commentary about any of them, you just see a series of clips. It seems like Coffee & Cigarettes may not be personal in that way, but it's still a cool summation of sorts.
J: Yeah, wow that's a beautiful idea. She always has some really beautiful ideas. Do you know a film she made called Toute une nuit? It all takes place in one night and keeps jumping among different characters and back around. It's really a beautiful film. It's one of my favorites of hers. She's pretty amazing.
World Cinema, Take 1
Film festivals, region-free DVD players, Chaplin's A King in New York, and a Chaplinesque moment in Dead Man?
J: Are you covering a lot of stuff from the festival?
R: Well, I'm seeing a lot of stuff, so I'm looking forward to that. I'll probably only write about some of it.
J: It's quite a good program.
R: Yeah. Are you gonna get to see much or any of it?
J: No, I usually don't at festivals, you know, any more. I get kind of burned out and then I want to kind of distance myself a little and go off and check out other things. I do see films at festivals but not as many as I would like to. I'd like to go to some when I don't have a film there, you know, and just be there for the films, but...
R: Yeah. Well it's unfortunate that in most places you can't see these movies anywhere else [but a festival].
J: I know.
R: And so you end up packing them into two weeks, but if you had the opportunity you'd spread them out.
J: Yeah, it can be rough, seeing like 3 a day, and stuff.
R: But I really feel like there's pressure building on the wall around the American multiplex. I mean Paste [the magazine for whom the interview was conducted] is out there looking for signs of life, and DVD distributors are figuring out that there's interest in things like Tokyo Story, and the Internet has all this information. Do you think that's true?
J: Yeah, I love the idea. I mean, I have an "illegal" multi-system DVD player and it's so great, man, you can buy them anywhere. I get all regions.
I meant to ask about how the "wall around the American multiplex" affected him as a filmmaker of such independence, but I think it's telling how quickly Jarmusch views the topic through the eyes of a film-watcher. It's always surprising to me how few filmmakers actually seem to love cinema. Jarmusch is obviously an exception.
R: You can place the order over the Internet and it takes just a few days longer to get it from, like, France.
J: I know. I just ordered the box set of Feuillade's Fantômas from France. It's a beautiful set. A friend of mine had it and I saw it. It's really cool. I can't wait till I get it.
R: Does that include Les Vampires? Or that was already on DVD?
J: No that's a separate box that came out, wow, maybe four years ago. I have that actually on videotape not on DVD.
R: Speaking of box sets, this Chaplin box set that MK2 put together recently — I saw your comments on A King in New York. Did you choose that movie to comment on?
J: I did.
R: That's an interesting choice.
J: They first wanted me to do Modern Times, which seems so obvious and really is his great film, probably. But I just thought it was an overlooked film that kind of resonated with the world now. But, you know, it has some really great things in it. It's not a masterpiece of cinema, but it's a pretty fascinating artifact and an interesting film. I mean, I'm a Keaton fan, myself. I have the Keaton box set. Oh man, that's very precious to me. But I did it because I thought that film is kind of overlooked.
R: Yeah, it's gotta be his least remembered movie, of the ones he starred in.
J: But it has some incredible insights into commercial American culture, you know? Even rock-and-roll. It's quite amazing. And I love it when he hoses down the House Un-American Activities Committee. That's really good. [laughs]
R: [laughs]
J: Or that thing in the restaurant, where he's doing — he wants a lobster and he does all these pantomimes —
R: A turtle or something.
J: Yeah, turtle soup! Oh that's great. He always comes up with some incredible shit.
continued: Next page
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Here's an email that was sent yesterday to members of the group that sponsors the San Francisco International Film Festival:

Dear Film Society members,

Every year, the San Francisco Film Society aims to bring to the Bay Area as many filmmakers as possible during the San Francisco International Film Festival. Unfortunately, we do not have enough hotel rooms at our disposal in order to accommodate everyone. Currently, we are looking for different ways in which to accommodate our filmmakers, and we believe that the comfort of a home offers a nice alternative to a hotel.

We are looking for people interested in providing temporary homestays for our filmmakers during the upcoming 48th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21 - May 5, 2005. ?Many of our guests include short filmmakers [therefore, even a tiny bed would do] and youth filmmakers with a chaperone. ?One of the benefits of a film festival is the interaction between the filmmakers and their audience. ?A homestay gives the filmmakers an opportunity to be embraced by the community and assures that they fully experience the wonders and diversity of the Bay Area. With your assistance in providing these filmmakers housing, we would be able to achieve our goal of including all of the filmmakers wishing to come to the festival.

Hosting a filmmaker is an excellent way for members and friends to show their support of the Film Society and the Festival. If you, or someone you know, would be willing to host a filmmaker, please contact us at XXX@YYY as soon as possible. ?If you do respond, this letter will be followed by a questionnaire that will be sent via e-mail in order to gather basic information on hosts and accommodations.

We hope to hear from you!

Filmmakers, come to San Francisco to show us your new movie. Enjoy the city's beautiful vistas and 1000 world-class restaurants. Marvel at the nearly-vertical hills and the cable cars that climb them. Gaze at the many lovely hotels, towering, whimsical, and quaintly elegant... as you stroll past them on the sidewalk and wonder what we're doing about the homeless problem.

You want room service? Let me see if Aunt Mabel will make you some eggs.

Posted by davis | Link | Comments (2)
2004, U.S.
director: Michael Moore

Fahrenheit 9/11 is easily Michael Moore's best film, not only because it's the most urgent but also because it has the most elegant form, a complete arc that begins with the decision makers and concludes with the people in the trenches, two poles that are given roughly equal time and feel half a world apart, in every way.

The decision making end, of course, centers around President Bush, and while Moore has a few new details that haven't appeared on the front pages of the major newspapers, most of the movie's impact isn't in the pieces of data that it presents but in how it connects them. Or, rather, how it disconnects them, since one of the central themes of the movie hinges on a simple, irrefutable fact: most of the people doing the fighting in our military are from lower classes and most of the people making the decisions to send troops into battle aren't, a point that Moore makes by first going to his home town of Flint, Michigan, where it's easy to find people who have relatives in the military, then by trying to confront members of Congress, only one of whom has a child in Iraq. In this movie, his trademark ambush tactics feel less like attention grabbing stunts and more like comic illustrations that hang on the outside of a sturdier and far more somber trunk.

Moore's treatment of the September 11th attack in the movie's opening minutes is apolitical and incredibly moving, even now, after every screen and page in the country has shown some version of the event and we've been reflecting on it for over two years. The sequence is more effective, more cinematic, than anything he's ever done, topped only by his later discussion with Lila Lipscomb, a woman whose family has a long record of service in the military, including Iraq. She's articulate and emotional, and she seems to make Moore's points so well that one wonders where he found her. Actually, he says where: she's from Flint.

Part of what's effective about her story is that it's not an argument. It's a woman, a person, a family, caught in the middle and trying to make sense of everything. She's not a prop or a puppet, and it's hard to imagine someone — conservative or liberal — not being moved by her situation and her words. Moore's interview is unlike those he's done in the past; he's rarely seen or heard when she's talking. He lets her go on at length describing the difficulty of living a life connected to the military and reading a letter from her son in a sequence that left the full theater where I saw the movie sniffling and silent. War is sadness and pain, this war, every war, whether you agree that Bush is at fault or not.

There are moments, however, when Moore is also trying to tell us something about himself. While talking to Lipscomb, he makes sure to say that this is a great country, which breaks the flow somewhat because it sounds like a personal defense against his critics, one that he shouldn't have to make, of course, but in these times who can blame him for reminding us, even awkwardly. But later, when Lipscomb walks the mall in Washington to get a glimpse of the White House, he shows uncharacteristic restraint. His camera follows her as she strolls, which provokes an unknown woman to intervene, move in front of the camera, and announce that the whole thing is staged. In earlier movies, it would be hard to imagine him hanging back at this moment, but in this one he lets the two women settle it, stepping in audibly only once to ask Lipscomb to clarify something that the microphone wasn't able to pick up.

Unfortunately, those who are unsympathetic to Moore's cause may be so turned off by the first half of the movie that even the last half, which should be of interest to anyone whose votes or tax dollars are supporting a war, may instead seem like manipulation, typical tear-jerking tricks of the bleeding hearts on the left, after the low blows and cheap shots, the goofy music, the silly superimposing of the administration's heads onto cowboy bodies, and the unflattering, out-of-context footage of Bush. Further, it may seem exploitative of a woman in pain, although a premise of the movie is that this is exactly the sort of thing the elites don't get to see up close, so here's their chance. Critics may also note that for all the names that Moore throws out attempting to connect Bush to oil cartels, he actually draws very few lines between those names and fails to build anything more than a hazy, oil-drenched picture.

I suppose this is the problem with Michael Moore. He's so polarizing, and so notoriously loose with the facts, that the legitimate questions he raises are often lost in the noise. And this movie has as much noise as any of his others. Every lucid observation is nestled in a bed of crackpot fragments. Nevertheless, despite the lack of clarity in parts of his argument, isn't it at least unseemly for so many of the key players in this game to be oil company executives, defense contractors, and financial partners of the ruling family? Isn't it at least worrying that our supposedly merit-based society, which prides itself on a system that connects actions to rewards and penalties, allows such distance between the have-nots who are doing the dirty work and the aristocracy that directs them? And isn't it a bit broad to say that someone like Moore is un-American for criticizing the government in a time of war, especially since the president has said the end of that war should come only after the elimination of something that has existed for nearly all of recorded history?

It doesn't take an acute social or political sense to make these observations, but it's helpful to see them compressed, even amid static, into a concentrated reflection on recent U.S. military action that's far less vindictive than emotional, and worthy of — demanding — a response.

Posted by davis | Link | Comments (1)