As we mourn the tragic, too-soon (would it ever not have been?) loss of the multi-talented Adam Yauch (aka MCA) of the Beastie Boys, I think it’s important to remember what I hope to be his lasting legacy in the film world, Oscilloscope. An independent film company with both production and distribution wings (amongst other areas), it has become in the last five years one of the most treasured imprints in American cinema. In recent years, as major studios tighten their funding for their arthouse subsidiaries – championing mostly established names and (hopeful) crossover fare – it has come down to genuine independent companies like Oscilloscope to pick up the slack and give voice to unestablished or perhaps the more idiosyncratic works produced in the US and elsewhere. This no small feat, considering the long list of short-lived and defunct independent companies the last two decades have witnessed. Oscilloscope has become a haven for music (Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour) and political (the exquisite and important Burma V.J.) documentaries as well as a place for exciting talents like Kelly Reichardt. None of it would have been possible without the love for the artform and the enthusiasm of Adam Yauch, a longtime cinema devotee who notably directed a number of the Beastie Boys videos under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower. Jumping early on the Theatrical Release VOD model, as well as streaming services like Netflix, Oscilloscope has allowed for a much broader audience to find these intriguing works. I haven’t seen all of their releases, but whether it’s good or bad, I know when I watch a film they’ve produced or distributed it will certainly be interesting. Here is a list of six of those ‘interesting’ films – some are magnificent, others merely intriguing, but all are worth your time.
November 2, 2011
Perhaps the most significant and heated discussion in the film blogosphere this year was spawned by Dan Kois’ article in the New York Times Magazine about ‘cultural vegetables’ – i.e. the deliberately paced (read: slow) art films so venerated by critical culture that one who runs in that circle might feel nervous about expressing dissent toward the prevailing consensus. Inspired by Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, Kois saw fit to take swings at the narrative-forgoing Treme, Derek Jarman’s deathbed work Blue, and the contemplative (or dull, depending on your viewpoint) films of Tarkovsky and Antonioni. Blogs and selected twitter feeds lit up in anger from both sides, and several months later, the dust still hasn’t entirely settled. Even I contemplated entering the fray, though with the certain knowledge that nobody of influence would actually read it, but I abandoned it to the recesses of my hard drive for no particular reason. I didn’t like Kois’ article – his broadsides against film critic snobbery were just another form of snobbery after all – but it does bring up an interesting quandary in a roundabout way: how do you judge a film that isn’t meant to be straightforwardly entertaining? Meek’s Cutoff is, no matter if you liked it or not, intended to be slow and even boring and repetitive at times. One of the features of the trek across the Oregon Trail it wants to highlight is the mind numbing tediousness of it all. It isn’t fun, but it isn’t supposed to be. There are lot more facets to that film, and I’m not here to talk about it at length, but if you’ve seen it, you hopefully understand my point. It took less than ten minutes of Ronald Bronstein’s 2007 debut Frownland for me to start reaching for the remote, anxious to turn it off. It wasn’t just that it was remarkably unpleasant, though it certainly was, but also I could tell it was never going to get any better. This was the film Bronstein wanted to make, and I’m reasonably sure it was never intended to be enjoyable in the slightest for the viewer. Read the rest of this entry »