Via Chicago
— Errata Movie Podcast —
September 2004
As you know, Errata has the long-term goal of opening our own theatre to cater to the needs of film lovers who are not currently served by large chains. To that end, we've taken the first steps toward outfitting the lobby. We've purchased a deep fat fryer in reasonably good condition, and we've hired an out of work computer programmer to design a video game. Nouvelle Nouvelle Revolution 2000 will be a cooperative two-player game with state-of-the art graphics and sound effects. Try to get past the riot police to break into the cinematheque before the digital Man sets the place ablaze. Don't let the police officer's baton knock your glasses off. Leap above the throng to catch the supportive telegrams from Carl Th. Dreyer and Josef v. Sternberg that waft from helicopters before the cops chomp them in their teeth. In level two, the first player to get a 4000-word essay on Andre Tarkovsky published in a magazine with Meg Ryan on the cover receives a bonus Milk Dud. Collect enough Duds or you'll have to leave the theatre for lunch.
going forward
We're confident that with the right mix of in-lobby amenities and bubbly staff we'll attract a clientele that truly ♥s cinema.
Posted by editor | Link | Other Corrections

Proposition L on San Francisco's November ballot reads:

Shall 15% of the existing hotel tax surcharge be set aside to acquire, preserve and maintain neighborhood and single-screen movie theaters and promote the local film-making industry?

And the answer that the city's film lovers are chanting is No. I have to admit that I did a double-take when I saw the petitioner outside the Roxie a few months ago. The city's single-screen independents have been hit hard in the last decade. Downtown San Francisco boasts two major new multiplexes and a third on the way, but many (not all) of the theaters that show more interesting movies are struggling. Since I moved here in 1995, the following theaters have closed forever: Regency 1 and 2, Royal, Presidio, Cinema 21, Alhambra, and Alexandria. The Vogue and Coronet are closing soon. The aforementioned Roxie was on the brink but was saved by its release of Rivers & Tides, or so I read somewhere.

I'm not trying to be a good capitalist or anything, but it seems that the best way to contribute to your favorite local theater is to go there to see movies, not to siphon funds from the hotel tax to give to — whom again? To fund which theatres?

Here's what Leah Garchik wrote in yesterday's Chronicle:

A gaggle of irate movie and arts people met at Tosca last week to plan opposition to Proposition L. They say the proposition purports to save neighborhood theaters but would drain the Hotel Tax Fund and the coffers of every arts group in the city for unspecified purposes. It's opposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, every supervisor, the San Francisco Labor Council and both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The group, more than 100 people gathered by Jeannette Etheredge, included Carolyn Macmillan of the Fine Arts Museums; Stefanie Pleet Coyote, the city's designated film czarina; her husband, Peter Coyote; film commissioners Rory Enke and Maurice Kanbar; Kim Aubry of Zoetrope; Phil Kaufman; Sean Penn; the S. F. Film Society's Hilary Hart; Miguel Pendas and Linda Blackaby; Gary Meyer of the Balboa; Anita Monga of the Castro; Bill Banning of the Roxie; and the Film Arts Foundation's Fidelma McGinn. A public service announcement is in the talking stages.

Here's the official stance of the San Francisco Film Society.

And here's the offical voter guide (pdf) from the department of elections.

I'll be voting No. But I'll be renewing my membership to the Pacific Film Archive, attending Hearts and Minds this week at the Castro, closely monitoring the schedules of the Red Vic and Roxie, and otherwise enjoying the city's wealth of movie opportunities while we still have 'em.

Posted by davis | Link | Comments (11)

I'm catching up with my viewing log.

8-9 The Brown Bunny (Gallo)
8-14 Collateral (Mann)
8-20 In the Mood for Love (Wong) [DVD]
8-21 The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
8-22 The White Nights (Visconti)
8-22 The Stranger (Visconti)

9-9 Notre Musique (Godard) [Toronto Int. Film Fest]
9-9 Le Fantôme d'Henri Langlois (Richard) [TIFF]
9-10 Tropical Malady (Weerasethakul) [TIFF]
9-10 Heaven's Gate (Cimino) [TIFF]
9-10 Whisky Romeo Zulu (Piñeyro) [TIFF]
9-10 Turtles Can Fly (Ghobadi) [TIFF]
9-11 Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (Epstein) [TIFF]
9-11 Nobody Knows (Kore-eda) [TIFF]
9-11 My Summer of Love (Pawlikowski) [TIFF]
9-12 House of Flying Daggers (Zhang) [TIFF]
9-12 3-Iron (Kim) [TIFF]
9-12 Tarnation (Caouette) [TIFF]
9-12 The Woodsman (Kassell) [TIFF]
9-12 Tell Them Who You Are (M. Wexler) [TIFF]
9-13 A Letter to True (Weber) [TIFF]
9-13 Cinévardaphoto (Varda) [TIFF]
9-13 Moolaadé (Sembene) [TIFF]
9-13 Brothers (Bier) [TIFF]
9-14 Tenth District Court (Depardon) [TIFF]
9-14 Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry (Butler) [TIFF]
9-14 Stray Dogs (Meshkini) [TIFF]
9-15 La Noire de... (Sembene) [TIFF]
9-15 The Holy Girl (Martel) [TIFF]
9-15 Café Lumière (Hou) [TIFF]
9-15 Land of Plenty (Wenders) [TIFF]
9-16 L'Intrus (Denis) [TIFF]
9-16 Eros (Wong, Soderbergh, Antonioni) [TIFF]
9-17 Evolution of a Filipino Family (Diaz) [TIFF] [60%]
9-18 As Follows (Veiroj) [TIFF] [short]
9-18 Whisky (Rebella/Stoll) [TIFF]

9-20 No Fear, No Die (Denis) [VHS]
9-21 Nénette et Boni (Denis) [VHS]

Posted by davis | Link | Comments (12)

These paragraphs are buried in Jonathan Rosenbaum's review of The Five Obstructions:

The most beautiful experimental film I've seen this year — a 17-minute 35-millimeter film by Michelangelo Antonioni called Michelangelo Eye to Eye — doesn't look experimental at all. It wasn't shown to the press or advertised, and it played only twice as a separate attraction at a few theaters in the Landmark chain one weekend in mid-August. I wanted to make it a Critic's Choice the following week, but it got yanked. Apparently the screenings were held so the film would qualify for an Oscar nomination, and we might not see it again if it doesn't get nominated and win.

Antonioni, who's about to turn 92, has been confined to a wheelchair since he had a stroke in 1985. Yet this recent film shows him on his feet, without a cane, entering Saint Peter's in Rome to gaze at and briefly caress the restoration of Michelangelo's Moses, then leaving. An opening title explains that this is possible because of the "magic of movies." This is evidently digital trickery, but it looks seamlessly real. I'd argue that the process whereby the restoration of one Michelangelo is able to interact with the restoration of another is profoundly experimental — much more so than either The Five Obstructions or What the Bleep Do We Know?, both opening this week.

I enjoyed the film, too, and if I hadn't seen it I might have concluded from Eros that Antonioni had quite recently flipped his lid.

Posted by davis | Link

Oh hello. Sorry to leave you sitting there in the dark like that. Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? Is this thing on?

The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up last weekend, and I'm still feeling that post-festival melancholy. I wish there were more movies, but thank God there are no more movies.

I had the opportunity to catch up with a few friends, meeting some of them in person for the first time, which turned out to be a real highlight of the festival, despite my having been in social retreat for a couple of months (I've been writing less — I wonder if there's a causal relationship?). I strongly encourage you to read their own thoughts on the festival: Doug Cummings, J. Robert Parks, Darren Hughes, and Girish Shambu.

I also, surprisingly, found that random strangers were eager to talk to me about movies. As regular readers of this site know, I myself am a random stranger. What are the odds that two random strangers would be sitting right next to each other? Out of all those people! Such serendipity.

A woman I met at my very first screening went over her entire schedule with me. Although I was scheduled to see 40-some movies and she was scheduled for a couple dozen, we had very few in common. The festival is that big, and each attendee's choices are quite personal. Her calendar wasn't much like mine, but we did run into each other again. We compared notes on "that annoying French film", which of course I loved.

There's the older woman who sat next to me and muttered, "Love films. Just love films. Can't get enough of them," a comment that can't be left to hang in the wind, no matter how softly it's spoken, so we struck up a conversation about how rock-and-roll is here to stay, daddy, and you know it. Well, actually we talked about movies. What else? The man who had three back-to-backs at the Cumberland Theatre shared his thoughts on the "filmmakers' dialogue" that he'd just attended. And I managed to exchange some words with some friends of friends. Lorraine even flew in for the last few days, and we roamed downtown Toronto and ate lox on bagels in the back of a cafe whose walls are lined with books. I gave her one of my movie tickets. She came all this way....

My summary, in brief:

My Favorites

  • Our Music (Notre Musique) — Jean-Luc Godard's blend of fact and fiction, of essay and poem, has a deceptive symmetry that entices the viewer to cleave it up the middle and watch the scales balance just so, all the while arguing against such geometric views of the world. He's packed more ideas into Notre Musique than I could process in a single viewing, but I loved snatching whatever I could. It's cerebral and perplexing, but it's also surprisingly moving. I'm hoping to catch the movie again soon, thanks to the Mill Valley Film Festival.
  • The Intruder (L'Intrus) — Also exploring problematic symmetries, the latest film from Claire Denis, finished just two weeks before the festival, is probably the most challenging and most mysterious film I've seen from her, and it may be my favorite film of the festival. Doug Cummings at has called L'Intrus "confounding" and I have to agree, even though I love it. To me the film is an abstract, circular exploration of an individual's relationship to things foreign, of the barriers that we build around ourselves, of the desire to choose what penetrates those barriers and choose what expanses we'll cross, and ultimately of our inability to patrol these personal borders with surgical precision. Despite our best efforts, what permeates our skin is necessarily a mixed bag. The movie repeatedly gives cues that it's not meant to be taken literally: a bloody heart in the snow, a man dragged by horses, an audition for sons that recalls for me the "voices of fathers" from Donald Barthelme's The Dead Father, albeit in reverse, and a scar that appears on Michel Subor's torso, making him both the Frankensteinian scientist who lives in seclusion and the scientist's pieced-together creation. I had the opportunity to speak with director Claire Denis for a forthcoming article in Paste Magazine (which I'll post here after it appears in print). She didn't clear up all of the movie's ambiguities, naturally, but she did offer a few fascinating insights.
  • Café Lumière — I wasn't sure how far the great Hou Hsiao-Hsien would go to celebrate Yasujiro Ozu's 100th year. Would he make a few loose allusions to the work of the Japanese master or would he let Ozu's distinctive style envelop his own, adapting it to modern material, something like Todd Haynes did with his Douglas Sirkian Far From Heaven? As interesting as such a technical exercise might be, Hou has instead made a lovely film that's wholly his own, and I suspect that this is the film that will last. It's no stunt. The nods to Ozu are fleeting winks, a household interior here, a train interior there. Three people seated at a noodle counter. He forgoes Ozu's tatami-eye view, letting his camera instead look down at people seated at tables; he shoots each scene with a single long take, reframing and refocusing to follow the characters; and, except for an opening shot of power lines which fades to black, his scenes are abruptly but poignantly assembled, sometimes jumping from day to night, from light to pitch black, in the same setting, with no Ozu-like static cushions between them. All of which means that Café Lumière is stylistically 100% Hou, but he keeps Ozu firmly in mind by merging their worlds. The result is a universe of careful observation and family evolution nestled in a womb of criss-crossing trains. Like all of Hou's films, I'll need to see it again before I know what to make of it, but I already feel that it has pockets of brilliance.
  • Whisky — A gem discovered on the last day of the festival, and one that I knew almost nothing about when I entered the theatre, this second film from Uruguayan filmmakers Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll has been aptly described as a bittersweet, deadpan comedy in the style of Aki Kaurismäki. The daily routine of a small-time sock factory is presented in careful detail then upset when the owner's more successful brother comes to town. It's a movie of gentle smiles, not belly laughs, confident to let the small gestures of its characters speak louder than the dialogue. The owner of the factory ropes his assistant Marta into a scheme to convince his brother that he's more successful than he really is, and the trip that the trio embarks on feels like something from Stranger Than Paradise but with older characters. Like the girl in Paradise, Marta follows the program but has a will of her own. Although it's very low-key, the film is quite accessible, and I hope it'll be widely distributed. The title, by the way, is what photographers tell their subjects: "Say whisky!"
  • Tell Them Who You Are — A documentary in the same vein as My Architect or The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, but the best of the three, Tell Them Who You Are is Mark Wexler's portrait of his father, famous cinematographer Haskell Wexler. One reason the film rises above other father-child biographies is that this father is not only still present but feisty as hell, even with 80 years under his belt, and his beloved vocation is the same one that his son must step into to make this film, creating natural conflict that's evident from the movie's first moments; Haskell criticizes Mark's direction like an overbearing father grabbing his child's hand to help him make his letters straight. But that's not the only reason this movie shines. Mark displays a keen sense of patterns by not only talking with people who knew and worked with Haskell, as any documentarian would, but also pointing out that many of those people see aspects of their own fathers in Haskell or their own children in Mark. He shows tremendous restraint, not afraid of emotion, but not seeking it, either. Nathaniel Kahn found the perfect visual summation for his film — the son roller skating between the parallel wings of his father's Salk building as they reach toward the ocean — and Mark finds his while his father swims across a pool, a rare moment when the father and son meet half-way. It's one of the few moments of optimism in the film, but of course even then a camera stands between them.

Movies I Enjoyed a Great Deal

  • Cinévardaphoto
  • My Summer of Love
  • The Holy Girl
  • Brothers
  • Le Fantôme d'Henri Langlois
  • Tropical Malady

Important Humanist Critiques

  • Moolaadé
  • Turtles Can Fly
  • Stray Dogs
  • Land of Plenty
  • La Noire de... — a classic I saw for the first time

Documentaries I'm Still Considering

  • Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
  • Tenth District Court
  • Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate

How Can I Not Mention...

  • Evolution of a Filipino Family — The program notes said that this fiction feature was 9 hours long, but that turned out to be a mistake. It was 9 hours and 50 minutes. I'm just glad the powers-that-be scheduled a 10-minute intermission at the 6-hour mark or I might've gotten stiff. Actually, I took a rather lengthy break during the last half, and I don't know if it was late-night, post-marathon giddiness that made me chuckle, but I got a kick of out the following tidbits, at roughly 12:30am: 1) the film closes with the quote "I know how Jean Vigo died." Sadly, the text went by too quickly for me to see who it's attributed to (and, yes, I suspect "went by too quickly" will not be a common phrase in reviews of this film); 2) the director, Lav Diaz, said that he initially intended the film as it exists today to be the flashback portion of a slightly longer film. The frame tale would have taken place in present-day America; 3) Q: "Is the movie finished?" A: "The Toronto cut is finished. This is actually an older version because our hard-drive crashed. Also, we're doing a week of additional shooting when I get home." (paraphrased) By the way: the movie wasn't bad. Despite my levity here — this isn't a review — the movie is a serious work, and I commend filmmakers who recognize and shatter our understandings of the limits of film, whatever they may be.
  • The House of Flying Daggers — More exciting, and I think more beautiful, than Hero, this is Zhang Yimou's second action movie. It's not a sequel to Hero, but it's in the same vein. I liked the movie but wanted a more engaging third act.
  • Heaven's Gate — I'd never seen this. I'd read about it, of course, Michael Cimino's notorious, career-killing flop, made in 1980 right after he swept the Oscars with The Deer Hunter. As I expected, the restored 3-hour and 45-minute original cut isn't bad. In fact it's quite beautiful to look at and has a nice, slow pace. The characters are too simple to support such an epic, I think, but it's quite clear that the lore of Heaven's Gate is based on 2% cinema and 98% business and media. I'm glad that I saw the film the day before I saw the making-of documentary, mentioned above, which is worth seeing for production-related anecdotes but lacks any deep analysis of either the movie business or the film itself.

It was a long-but-short 10 days, somehow not as tiring as I expected, nor as tiring as some other festival experiences have been. Obviously, keeping the brain engaged, by movies and people, was the key.

You know you've had a long day when the director of the day's first film thanks the audience for coming to such an early screening and the director of the day's last film thanks the audience for coming to such a late one. But you know it was a good day when you didn't notice that it was a late screening until someone pointed it out.

Posted by davis | Link

As you may know, one of my peeves is the undue support that studios, media, and critics give to the notion that the world of film is relatively small and knowable in toto by a knowledgeable person. I like A. O. Scott's comments in his coverage of the TIFF in the New York Times:

When critics ask one another, "What have you seen?" what they really want to know is, "What have I missed?"

The honest answer — an admission that haunts dispatches like this one, whether or not the author acknowledges it — is "just about everything." This is not a matter of laziness or lack of will, but of simple mathematics. By the time this year's Toronto International Film Festival ends on Saturday, 328 films will have been screened. Spread over the 10 days of the festival, which began on Thursday, that comes to more than 30 movies a day, which means, according to my bleary-eyed calculations, that to see one movie is to miss about seven others, and that the statistical accuracy of any single critic's impressions of the festival as a whole will be roughly 12.5 percent.

What this suggests is that the Toronto festival, which has become, during the last decade or so, the most important such event in North America, is really 8 or 12 or 35 festivals gathered under one roof. (The numbers are wildly imprecise, and the roof is metaphorical, because the screenings are in shopping-mall multiplexes, college auditoriums and concert halls scattered across this city's sprawling downtown business and entertainment districts.)

As for me, I'm aiming for a statistical accuracy of, say, 9 percent, and doing pretty well so far, if I do say so myself. This assumes I'll be 100 percent accurate on any film that I do manage to see, naturally. How could it be anything less? What I haven't done is post any reactions. I will. But in the precious gaps between movies, I've mostly been trying to carve out moments of quiet. It's been a great festival so far, and most of my must-sees are still in the queue.

To be continued...

Posted by davis | Link

Here are the movies I'm scheduled to see at Toronto from the 9th to the 18th. If I'm reading the email confirmation correctly, I got all of my first choices. I won't see all of them, but my pass allowed a certain number so I pretty much filled the schedule, and aside from a handful of must-sees, I'll decide later based on, you know, temperature and fatigue and eye strain and so on.

Posted by davis | Link | Comments (2)