Thursday, September 21, 2006

- Some sad news as of yesterday - Sven Kykvist, one of the world's greatest
cinematographer, passed away at age 83. He left an unforgettable mark on the film world with his intimate, sparsely-lit photography for Ingmar Bergman's 60's and 70's films Through a Glass Darkly, Persona, Fanny and Alexander, and many others, not to mention Crimes and Misdemenors, Celebrity, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

- Went to check out The Black Dahlia the other night and enjoyed it greatly, although it is definitely not a film I would reccomend to anybody except the most hard-core of DePalma fans. It's a labyrinth of old film references, conventions turned on their heads, and about a thousand little details that all add up to a film guaranteed to delight or confound audiences. According to its 31% Tomatometer rating, it seems that the majority of American critics are in the confounded camp, dismissing it as style without substance and a plot that meanders and doesn't really go anywhere (but honestly, could you really say anything different about The Big Sleep?), although all of that seems to be entirely intentional. Like last year's King Kong, it's a movie that's more an examination movies themselves, and our obsession with them, and that seems to have gone straght over the heads of those who were expecting straightforward narratives about murder mysteries and giant gorillas.

- The Science of Sleep comes out tomorrow! If it's anywhere near as good as the trailers make it look, Michel Gondry could safely be called one of the greatest young filmmakers working today. And the IMDb summary for his next project, Be Kind Rewind, sounds amazing: "A man (Black) whose brain becomes magnetized unintentionally destroys every tape in his friend's video store. In order to satisfy the store's most loyal renter, an aging woman with signs of dementia, the two men set out to remake the lost films, which include Back to the Future, The Lion King, and Robocop."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dear Wheeler. You provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war.

Had a great little film-related adventure yesterday. I'd seen flyers posted up around school for a DVD sale at Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell Building to benefit the Museum of African-American Cinema. I went over to check it out and had a nice chat with some of the staff. They've recieved permission from the state and a handful of grants, but are still working towards the funding they need to build and set up their museum. When it's finished it'll contain a wealth of artifacts detailing the history of African-American films and will also hold screenings of movies both classic and current. I told them I'd be more than happy to help out at any future fundraising events that they do, and walked off with a copy of Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai and The Warriors to help the cause.

I also discovered a wonderful theater today I'd never been to before; the Clearview Ziegfeld on West 54th Street. It's a gorgeous, old-fashioned style movie palace with an enormous screen, 1,000+ comfy seats (including a balcony in the back), and it's all upholstered in beautiful red and gold just like the movie theaters you've seen in photographs but never knew still existed. According to Cinema Treasures, it was built in the 60's after the original Ziegfeld was demolished.

The Ziegfeld is currently showing a series entitled Hollywood Classics: Five Weeks of Solid Movie-Going, a series of popular favorites assorted by theme. This week was "All-Time Classics Week", which boasts showings of Citizen Kane, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Casablanca all week long. I saw the former two yesterday and the experience was just magical, especially Kane. The grandeur of this film is really too grand and sweeping for a TV set to do justice to. The print of The Good, the Bad was the extended version, which I have to say I don't care for as much...I think the restored scenes slow down the story somewhat, and it's really weird to hear somebody else's voice coming out of Lee Van Cleef's mouth, but that's only a small complaint about an otherwise awesome experience of seeing one of the coolest movies of all time on the big screen. I'm eagerly looking forward to the Ziegfeld's "Speilberg Week" (Jaws, Back to the Future and E.T.) and "Superhero Week" (Batman, Spider-Man and Superman: The Movie), as well as their sister cinema the Clearview Chelsea's upcoming showings of various Rock Hudson/Doris Day and Bette Davis movies, Airport 1975 and Carrie.

On top of that, I've got even more good news to share with everybody who lives nearby - a full-page ad in Tuesday's New York Times proclaimed that the Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater would be hosting a series of talks by filmmakers aimed at film students entitled The Next Generation of Film. Next Sunday, fly-on-the-wall documentarian Frederick Wiseman (Titticut Follies, High School) will be present, on October 14th, Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter) is going to be there, and on October 22nd, they're hosting Paul Schrader. And, AND, a little footnote at the bottom of the ad reads "Coming in November: Martin Scorsese". If you're as excited for this event as I am, you can buy tickets online at the Film Society's website.

Friday, September 08, 2006

We don't disclose that information!

"Most Important Film of the Year" is a misnomer that's thrown around enough that it's almost lost its meaning, but in reference to the Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, it applies one hundred per cent - at least from the point of view of filmmakers and people who love and care about movies.

Everyone knows the MPAA's Movie Ratings System is much stricter with sex than it is with violence, but it's interesting to see what particular kind of sex is most offensive to them - homosexual sex, male genetilia, and prolonged female orgasms are three things that almost guarantee an NC-17 rating. Generally speaking, filmic sex that is serious and emotionally frank is more offensive than if it's handled in a jokey way involving apple pies. Dick, the director of Twist of Faith and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, bewildered by the MPAA's long-standing lenience towards violence and low tolorance of sexuality in the cinema and having heard the desperate cries of numerous filmmakers who'd been shafted by the system, set out to find out the truth about this mysterious group. What he found out was a lot of things that I had absolutely no clue about. For starters:

The MPAA Ratings Board is a completely secret society.
Like the CIA, the only other organization in the country which does this, members of the MPAA never reveal their identities. All their movies are watched in a building in Los Angeles which is locked up tight as a drum to shield its members from the "pressure" of "outside influence." However, there are a select few who do know the names of board members, and those are the heads of film studios. Hmmm.

To find out more about these mysterious, puppet master-like deciders of movies' fates, Dick hires private investigator Becky Altringer to snoop them out. Altringer is a friendly, enthusiastic, middle-aged lesbian who gleefully takes down licence plate numbers with the help of her teenage daughter. She follows the elusive raters out of their building as they go for their lunch breaks, using miniature cameras concealed within scarves, and rooting through their garbage cans at night searching for clues. The woman is relentless and a total pro, and has the enthusiasm of a kid playing 'spy.' And what she ends up uncovering (and Dick ends up exposing in the film) is pretty damned amazing.

Dick also interviews a slew of scorned filmmakers who all had their movie slapped with an NC-17, unsurprisingly, for sexual content, including Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, Atom Egoyan, Kimberly Pierce, and Matt Stone. There's many an anecdote of a movie that got slapped with an NC-17 rating for one pelvic thrust too many. Maria Bello recalls being enraged when Wayne Kramer's The Cooler recieved an NC-17 for a glimpse of her pubic hair during a love scene with William H. Macy. Prior to hearing this news, she had just gone to see Scary Movie, which features a breast implant removed with a butcher knife, a girl plastered to the ceiling in a geyser of jism, and Shawn Wayans being stabbed through the brain with somebody else's penis. John Waters, who gives the funniest and most charming interview of the whole set, muses that due to the internet, teenaged kids today have probably seen twice as much hardcore pornography as their parents, because, well, it's there. "What, do you think they're really doing homework up there?!", Waters chuckles. It's true, really. Trying to protect these kids from images of sex is like trying to protect squirrels from too many nuts. So slapping movies that only adults would be able to see anyway with an NC-17, destroying its chances of being seen by anyone, makes even less sense.

Fortunatley, unlike a Michael Moore documentary, which really just preaches to the converted and really does little good for its cause, this movie might actually become very valuable baby step towards getting something done about the MPAA. From what I hear, it's in pretty limited release right now, but when the DVD comes out I strongly encourage everyone who cares about cinema to go and see it. This stuff is just too important not to know about.