Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Week in Review

I've had another relatively quiet week for film. Maybe it's the calm before the storm - coming up soon we have a veritable tidal wave of cinema.

  • West (Daniel Krige, Australia, 2007)
  • Once (John Carney, Ireland, 2007)
  • Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde & Muffie Meyer, USA, 1975)
There was only one thing I liked about this film - the opening credits, and I'm neither joking nor exaggerating. A story about two best friends/cousins who seem to drink, take (and sell) drugs and have sex. Right from the start, by the way they interacted, it was obvious these were a couple of moronic bogan losers going nowhere. The dialogue was stupid and unconvincing, the acting mediocre and the personal chemistry worse. The narrative was predictable and there were some ridiculous narrative impossibilities (someone with his head bashed three times with a large steel pipe doesn't talk back - rather he would look a little like the gentleman in Gaspar Noe's Irreversible after he got up close and personal with a fire extinguisher).

The film was dull, depressing and worst of all, it was impossible to discern the point of the exercise. It wasn't like a Tsilimidos film, infused with a sense of humanity, meaning and gritty realism. I could have walked out at any point after two minutes, and as the film progressed, a number of people did. The session was an AFI screening (free for us members), and I did get to meet up with Glenn from Stale Popcorn, who more or less agreed with me (though I don't think he liked the credits).

Once is unashamedly sentimental and is yet a very endearing film. In spite of its emotional manipulation, director John Carney manages to successfully pull it off by having a simple, well-written story, a credible cast (it is mostly a two-hander) and an earthy reality that grounds the film. The film is full of emotional honesty that engages with the audience.

While I disliked the unnecessary shakiness of the hand-held camera (a pet hate of mine), there were some excellent tracking shots. A stand-out was when the the girl (played by Markéta Irglová) went down the street to buy some batteries in her pyjamas. I loved the way the camera preceded her (like the music video of The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony) in one long take, passing details like a builder's skip. Dublin was depicted very aesthetically.

Apparently the film is semi-autobiographical, depicting a relationship the director once had. The guy (played by Glen Hansard) is a current member of The Frames while the director is a former member.

The film has been described as a musical, which it may be, but not in the conventional sense. The music certainly plays an integral part of the narrative and is both moving and uplifting. The film has timeless appeal with both an old-style feel about it, but in a contemporary setting. I recommend it as an intelligent feel-good film and especially as a date film.

Grey Gardens
Having missed the recent screening of Grey Gardens on the big screen at ACMI, I had to contend with seeing it on DVD. I don't have a problem with that as generally I find documentaries are better suited for the small screen. I also had the advantage of the DVD extras, which in this case was a recent short film by a young obsessive fan of the Maysles' film which provided an interesting update.

Grey Gardens is a fascinating view into another world, that belonging to mother and daughter Edith and Edi Beale, who were the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy. The title refers to the name of the 28-room mansion they inhabited in the Hamptons on Long Island. It had fallen into disrepair and the local authorities had threatened to evict them from the property on health and safety grounds.

The Maysle brothers took their camera into the lives of these strangely eccentric women and documented the nature of their love-hate relationship, their lifestyle and their cats. While on one hand one could view these women with pity, the reality is that they lived the life they wished to. The Maysles were criticised for being exploitative of people who were clearly deluded (if not mentally ill), though they always stood by their film, pointing out that the Beales were staunch supporters of it. It reminded me of what Alkinos Tsilimidos told me about Harry, the subject of his graduation film (Man of Straw), who used to hire his copy of the video to make an extra buck or two.

Edith was once a singer and even in her eighties, she still had a fine voice (though she would often belittle Edie, including her attempts at singing). Edie was passionate about dancing, and dressed extravagantly, befitting a show business performer. In fact, after the death of her mother and the sale of Grey Gardens, Edie did perform in New York City for a time.

Apparently this film is right up there with Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line as one of the most influential documentaries of all time. My primary interest in seeing the film on this occasion was its being named by Tsilimidos as influencing his style of film-making on Man of Straw (included as a DVD extra on the Silent Partner DVD). That fact enhanced my appreciation for both films.

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