Monday, November 30, 2009

The Week in Review - 29/11/09

Yeah, yeah, time flies and I still don't have my new PC set up right. Maybe if my contract isn't extended at the end of the year I'll have time for some catch up. It should be a dream desktop when I'm finished.

Meanwhile, it's been a fascinating week of film and I just had to post a little on what I've seen.

  • Prime Mover (David Caesar, Australia, 2009)
  • Moonrise (Frank Borzage, USA, 1948)
  • Until They Get Me (Frank Borzage, USA, 1917)
  • Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland, 2009)
  • Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, USA, 1969)
Prime Mover
I saw this with reasonably low expectations, and well, I got what I expected. David Caesar ain't a bad film-maker; he's competent enough, but his films never really get beyond mildly entertaining. I actually like Mullet more than most, but this one feels like it's just going through the motions, and has that traditional flatness that most of our films of the last five years or so have suffered.

I've always found Ben Mendelsohn irritating, and I'm not sure what it is. Maybe his acting is too theatrical, but it never convinces. His role in this is pretty silly but it's really the writing of the film that lets it down. It never fully commits to full-on genre or full-on small-scale drama, trying to have a bit both ways. Speaking of which, Sarah Watts was on board as producer, and her influence with the animation is overtly reminiscent of Look Both Ways. In short, OK as a time-filler.

I can't say I've seen a lot of film noir, but this I really liked. It's unconventional (part-melodrama), looks great and has some pretty wild characterisations.

Until They Get Me
Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my experience of silent era film was limited to Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops. This Borzage film displays much more complexity and drama, with themes similar to Moonrise, which screened prior. Both are about men who have killed, and are pursued by the law. The endings also have much in common, seemingly conventional, but with happiness in adversity. They make good companion pieces and demonstrate some of the breadth of Borzage's work.

This is a difficult film for me to write about, and a difficult film to watch. I can understand anyone hating this film or finding it offensive. I can also understand criticisms of the film being deliberately provocative. It certainly is the latter (and offensive, too, for that matter), but gratuitously? I don't know. It's not a film one enjoys and it really is horror, almost torture porn. I neither like nor dislike the film. I respect the effort and I also respect the so-called anti-female message, particularly for being anti-politically correct. But I dispute that that makes von Trier misogynistic.

For me, it's a film to be experienced but I don't think it will have much of a lasting impression. It's as disturbing as Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, which I think leaves a stronger impression than Antichrist. The hand-held camera is distracting at times but otherwise the visuals are mostly quite stunning. I love the opening and closing black and white. I also love the symbolism of the animals and the women, though I understand neither. Maybe others know or have researched the meaning. I don't care if I don't know, because the mystery is alluring. One senses there is meaning, even if one doesn't get it.

Easy Rider
Having really dug the Hopper exhibition at ACMI (do go see it if you haven't), I'm really looking forward to the Focus on Hopper's America. Getting into the groove, I checked out his seminal and ground-breaking Easy Rider, which has been newly restored and is getting a long play at ACMI. I have very fond memories of seeing this at the Clayton drive-in in the early 70s, and it left me with a lasting impression. Of course, at that time, I knew nothing of Hopper, who both stars in the film and directs it.

The film is credited as heralding in a new - but short-lived - golden era of Hollywood, the first of a number of independent films that were distributed by the big studios, and allowed for the rise of luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola and others. Looking at it now, on one level it doesn't seem like a 'great' film, and yet it was so revolutionary, so confronting and so encapsulated an era. I've often been critical of contemporary films that paint the 60s and 70s - the hippy era - as stylised, hip, flower power as if it was some kind of commercial fad. The rawness of this Hopper film shows it as I remember it, rough, crude and unsophisticated.

The characterisations by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson are just terrific. There's an experimental element to the film that I'd forgotten, that might be considered a bit crude now, but reflect emerging styles of the period. The film is a blast and I've really got to see it on ACMI's big screen when it opens for two weeks from Boxing Day. And the Focus on Hopper's America starts this week (3 - 13 December).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dennis Hopper & the New Hollywood

Yeah, I've been absent from the blogosphere longer than intended. I'm still having problems getting my PC set-up and life also intrudes on occasions. Health-wise, I'm getting back on track. I commuted by bicycle twice this week, more than I have since July, and both days were in mid-30s weather, which I've never done before. I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Another thing I'm feeling pretty good about is attending a preview of ACMI's latest exhibition, Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood. Hopper is a person I've always found intriguing. From his early ground-breaking film, Easy Rider (which I saw on the big screen as a teenager) to his memorable performance as Frank Booth, the ultimate psychopath in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Hopper has always stood out.

In the last year, ACMI has screened a couple of films that I made a point of seeing because of Hopper's involvement: Mad Dog Morgan and Night Tide, and I thoroughly enjoyed both (and they both feature in ACMI's exhibition).

What I never realised is how voluminous and varied Hopper's career has been. Not only has he acted, directed and written for the screen but, for some five decades he's been photographing, creating art, sculpture, and collaborating with others. Selections of his work, curated by the French Cinémathèque's Matthieu Orleán are on show, along with pieces by other artists from Hopper's private collection.

I was surprised at the depth and breadth of Hopper's work. It's so varied in scale, style and media. There's a huge sculpture, an over-sized bomb-release. There's massive realist painting, smaller works, abstract, collage, photography of celebrities, friends and the seemingly mundane. There's information posted that puts Hopper's work in context with what was happening at the time, and in context to his life's work.

What stands out is that Hopper is an individualst, an outsider who has always carved his own path and seems not to be particularly motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by the creative process, surrounding himself with like-minded people, and collaborating with them.

The exhibition includes numerous clips and short films, and ACMI's screenings of Easy Rider and the Focus on Hopper's America should really enhance this exhibition. I highly recommend it.