A deviation from the standard (though admittedly irregular) for this blog.  This is something I drafted when throwing around ideas with the director of Parque Central for an article he was invited to write.  This was my experience scouting the documentary, which you can still contribute to at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1808754869/parque-central

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The idea for what would become Parque Central came when the director and conceiver of the project, Ricardo, went to Antigua Guatemala on holiday. He had fallen in love with city and even went back in a relatively short period of time. During his visit he had his boots shined by a kid in the park, and the image stayed with him – an American tourist looking down at a brown-skinned adolescent huddled over his shoes, shining them with rapid precision. It’s an uncomfortable image to think about if you’re coming from a position of privilege, but one that also represents a reality of the kind of labour necessary to survive. The kid probably thought nothing of it, because he’s just trying to make a living. Read the rest of this entry »

Jodorowsky’s Dune

May 3, 2014

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It’s fitting that Frank Pavich’s documentary, Jodoworksy’s Dune, opens with a series of panning close-ups of drawings, models, books, and other esoterica from the titular director’s office, for that is what this film is almost entirely composed of outside of its talking heads.  The film recounts, through interviews and access to original artwork, the two plus years of work Alejandro Jodoworsky and his team of “warriors” put into a cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune that would ultimately be halted before production began when the studios didn’t feel confident enough to pony up the $15 million budget.  What is left is a large, hardcover book of the entire film storyboarded as well as concept art and character design and notations, initially printed and presented to the studios to assure them they knew how to achieve the strange and extravagant vision Jodoworsky was intent on creating.  By the end of the documentary, it seems clear that the book should be reprinted for collectors – I, for once, would jump on the chance to own a copy to thumb through – but it also seems clear that the documentary itself should be included as a bonus for said book rather than a standalone feature.

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The Missing Picture

April 10, 2014

 

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“There is no truth. Only cinema.”

Spoken by the narrator of Rithy Panh’s part-documentary, part-poetic memoir, The Missing Picture, the line refers to the footage of the collective farms taken by the cameramen of the Khmer Rouge depicting a working, productive society of ‘revolutionary’ comrades.  It’s a distillation of the thesis of Panh’s towering work on the traumatic history of his country and his youth that also functions as a withering riposte as well as a backhanded agreement to Jean Luc Godard’s belief that cinema failed by not capturing the concentration camps of the Holocaust.  After all, if the Nazis had filmed it, would they not have obstructed some elemental truth of it in favour of propaganda?  Even if they hadn’t, what would the value of seeing it have?  Using clay figures in miniature settings to depict his time as a teenager moving around the collectivist farms and eventually forests of Khmer Rouge Cambodia (or, rather, Democratic Kampuchea as it was known), Panh laments the false images captured by the government and attempts to reclaim the artistic representation of the atrocity.  Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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10.  Poetry

Mija is an elderly woman looking after her grandson.  She’s a part-time in-home caretaker to make ends meet.  She goes to the doctor to see about a pain in her arm and learns that she’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Soon after, a local girl’s suicide is tied to her selfish, carless teenage grandson and everything begins to fall apart.  In the midst of all this, she decides to take a poetry class at a local college.  Jeong-hie Yun plays Mija with thoughtfulness, confusion, and a reservoir of able understanding.  It’s one of the best performances of the year, and it’s the centre of Chang-dong Lee’s extraordinary character study Poetry.  As she comes to grips with the fact that her normal life is all but ending, she attempts to come to terms and fix the predicaments she finds herself in while also awakening to the possibilities of her creative self.  Her struggle to understand poetry and what it takes to write a poem gives her an aura of wonderment that those she comes in contact with assume is a goofy thoughtlessness.  Her slow understanding of the transcendent power of creativity and art, and her final attempts to truly know herself, make for a stunning, thoughtful film.

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Marwencol

May 4, 2011

In attempting to explain a particularly inscrutable dream sequence from his particularly inscrutable TV series John from Cincinnati, David Milch discusses the significance of cave paintings.  The general crux of his argument is that when those early humans scrawled a buffalo onto the wall, it was a signifier that there was a herd nearby.  When they added human characters with spears chasing them down, it became a narrative.  It was the first instance of humans using stories to organize the world around them.  Milch goes on to declare this is how we imitate and connect (and possibly create) God, but the general organizing principle is itself important.  The power of narrative and art to allow us to better understand ourselves and the world around us might be its most important element.

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I’ve never really liked Banksy. I should add that I have no real eye or understanding of art, so I can’t say much more than ‘while aesthetically pleasing, a majority of his work suffers from insipid political statements about consumerism and war and whatever else.’ The protester is about to launch a molotov cocktail…oh wait a minute, that’s a bouquet of flowers. It’s the kind of half-assed ‘sticking it to The Man’ nonsense that bothers me, so even if the sentiments are generally in the right direction, I snobbishly snub my nose at the kids buying his coffee table book. So with that out of the way, we can press on with Banksy’s first film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Read the rest of this entry »