Monday, June 29, 2009

The Week in Review - 28/6/09

FILMS:
  • En construcción (Work in Progress, José Luis Guerín, Spain, 2001)
  • Innisfree (José Luis Guerín, Spain, 1990)
  • Bastardy +Q&A (Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Australia, 2008)
  • Le renard et l'enfant (The Fox and the Child, Luc Jacquet, France, 2007)
DVD:
  • T is for Teacher (Rohan Spong, Australia/USA, 2009)
SHORT FILMS:
  • MIAF - International Program #3
  • MIAF - Studio Watch: The Mill

Work in Progress
Quite a fascinating film whose documentation of the demolition of an old neighbourhood is reminiscent of the films of Pedro Costa (though without the same level of bleakness - not a criticism of either director's work). I don't have a lot to say about it other than, like In the City of Sylvia, Guerín demonstrates a photographer's fascination with capturing the soul of a city and its inhabitants.

Innisfree
Guerín's unconventional style is anything but mainstream. This is quite an odd film, an ode to the locations where John Ford shot The Quiet Man. Once again, Guerín is fascinated by location, this time rural Ireland. He certainly is an enigma.

Bastardy
Remarkably, Amiel Courtin-Wilson spent some seven or so years making this film, and in the Q&A session afterwards he explained why. Firstly, there was an issue with money, that came in dribs and drabs. The fact that the subject spent significant periods incarcerated also caused problems.

As I have mentioned previously, I met Jack Charles a few years ago and, having found him a very colourful and gregarious character, was keen to learn more about him. What a journey! As a 10 month old baby, he became a member of the Stolen Generation, and has never known his father. He discovered acting at age 19, set up the first Aboriginal theatre troupe in the 1960s, has been addicted to heroin since 1973, He's subsisted on burglary ("collecting the rent", he called it), has seen the walls of HM Pentridge up close and personal several times and has been homeless for large stretches of his life. There's more - much more - but that's it in a nutshell.

I found it fascinating that Jack sat in the front row (I was two rows directly behind him), with every conceivable shame on full display to him and the audience that filled the large Kino cinema. I was going to ask him during the Q&A how he felt about seeing himself like that, but he addressed it anyway. He said something to the effect that he was inspired to be able to set an example to his own people of what can be achieved, how he had left all this behind him and was now a respected elder of his mob. Since his last release from Deer Park prison, he's gone straight and says there's no going back to that life. I sincerely hope so.

[Pictured: John Safran, Jack Charles and Amiel Courtin-Wilson]

MIAF
From my perspective, animation shorts are a good interlude to serious film-going, which could be interpreted as some sort of snobbery, but that's what it is for me. I saw one of the international programs as well as a curated selection of shorts from The Mill, a London studio that has made many award-winning advertisements (some of which have appeared on Australian TV), music videos and short films. The Mill's work is very impressive and many of the pieces were not obviously animated, using animation to create hyper-reality to various situations.

T is for Teacher
I'm reviewing this ahead of the films screening at the Bayside Film Festival. I liked this a lot, and (with Rhys Graham's Skin) it's screening at 7pm on Thursday 16 July at Palace Brighton Bay, followed by a Q&A with director Rohan Spong. The film documents four transgender individuals as they transition from men to women in their roles as high school teachers in the US. My review is coming soon.

The Fox and the Child
This is a beautiful looking film that merges documentary with fiction. Basically, it takes a glorious rural landscape in France and contrives a little story - almost a fairy tale - about a young girl who befriends a wild fox. I would have preferred seeing the original French version, but the voice-over narration by Kate Winslet is quite OK and obviously makes it more marketable to an English-speaking audience. The story sometimes goes on a bit longer than necessary, but this is a very enjoyable film that is also well-suited for children.

Skolimowski at Cinémathèque

Poetry, Paradox, Politics: The Film of Jerzy Skolimowski
Screening at ACMI, July 1 - 15

The Melbourne Cinémathèque is proud to present, in association with The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland, & the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs, a season of films from one of Poland’s greatest living directors, Jerzy Skolimowski.

Commencing July 1, this season of specially imported 35mm prints provides a provocative sample of Skolimowski’s politically explosive filmmaking trajectory. Skolimowski, who is also a screenwriter, actor and poet, was an accomplished writer by his early twenties. His love of jazz added another dimension to his restless filmmaking style, particularly his penchant for improvisation, and brought him into contact with composer Krzysztof Komeda. Skolimowski has also collaborated with filmmakers of the “Polish School” including Andrej Wajda and Roman Polanski.

Long and tangled threads of irony, absurdity, poetry and fantasy link the deeply political work of Skolimowski, a director whose career spans five decades and who made films in several countries. This season includes his semi-autobiographical Andrej Leszczyc trilogy [Identification Marks: None (Ryopsis) (1964), Walkover (1965) and Skolimowski’s favourite of his own work, Hands Up! (1967/1981)], his stylistically inventive Barrier (1966), key works of his non-Polish career [Deep End (1971), Moonlighting (1982)], as well as the Melbourne premiere of Four Nights With Anna (2008), his return to filmmaking after a 16-year hiatus. Screening as follows:


Wednesday July 1
  • 7.00pm Four Nights with Anna (2008)
  • 8.40pm Skolimowski early shorts: Oko wykol (The Menacing Eye, 2", 1960), ErotykErotique, 3", 1960), Hamles (Little Hamlet, 9", 1960), Pieniadze albo zycie (Your Money or Your Life, 5", 1961)
  • 9.00pm Deep End (1971)
Wednesday July 8
  • 7.00pm Identification Marks: None (Ryopsis, 1964)
  • 8.25pm Walkover (1965)
  • 9.55pm Barrier (1966)
Wednesday July 15
  • 7.00pm Moonlighting (1982)
  • 8.50pm Hand
  • s Up! (1967/1981)
Link: The Age article by Jake Wilson


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

MIFF Meet the Programmers

I received the following in my Inbox this afternoon, and I'm in two minds about it.

Dear MIFF member,

This year MIFF is pleased to present our members with an exclusive inner sanctum Festival experience!

MEET THE MIFF PROGRAMMERS

Here is your chance to hear first hand from MIFF’s Executive Director, Richard Moore, and Senior Programmer, Michelle Carey.

• Ever wondered what it’s like to travel the world attending festivals such as Berlin, Cannes, Rotterdam and Toronto?
• How are films selected for MIFF each year?
• What is the selection criteria? What makes a film relevant?
• Want to know what are the must-see films of MIFF 09?
• What part does the Festival play in launching films selected for local theatrical release?
• Does the Festival have a place in fostering and developing Australian filmmakers?
• What is the future for film festivals amid growing entertainment and digital options.

All will be revealed at this special event - MEET THE MIFF PROGRAMMERS.

Richard and Michelle will speak at length with moderator Michael Agar about their personal experience in the arts and specifically the trials, tribulations and thrills of programming Australia’s largest film festival. Members will be able to ask questions from the floor following the presentation.

Now, this is an event that interests me. It presents a great opportunity for MIFF to market itself by opening up itself to its members and demonstrating the value of membership if the event were free. But it's not. It's $10 for a member and $13 for a member's guest.
Please note that this is a ticketed event. See below for details on how to purchase your tickets. Each MIFF member is able to bring along one guest.
I'm a sucker for this sort of event and will probably go, but I think it will further fuel the criticisms of MIFF by the proletariat. You know, they could have probably hosted such an event at their own modest offices, and put it on for free, but they're obviously aiming at a particular demographic by holding it at the Sofitel. Anyway, I'm sure there'll be some sniping, but that'll happen regardless anytime you do anything. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, and everyone wants everything for nothing. Fuck it, yeah I will go. What's ten lousy bucks? Go on, gripe on below; you know you want to. Or any other comments welcome.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Week in Review - 21/6/09

Winter solstice - I love it! There's a change in energy and from today the days start to get longer. The two-week Guerín season started at Melbourne Cinémathèque and, if you missed this week (a highlight of my year so far), make sure you see the coming screenings on Wednesday.

FILMS:
  • Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, Australia/USA, 1971)
  • En la ciudad de Sylvia (In the City of Sylvia, José Luis Guerín, Spain, 2007)
  • Unas fotos en la ciudad de Sylvia (Some Photos in the City of Sylvia, José Luis Guerín, Spain, 2007)
  • Tren de sombras (Train of Shadows, José Luis Guerín, Spain, 1997)
  • Reservations (Aloura Melissa Charles, USA, 2008)
Wake in Fright + Q&A session
I don't have time to go into detail. I found this really enjoyable, a gutsy Australian film, made by a Canadian. Maybe it takes an outsider to take an honest look at ourselves, for that is what Kotcheff achieved. It's very authentic and has dated really well. It looks a helluva lot better than the pirated DVD copy of a VHS that screened at MUFF last year, but I was aghast when about a minute or two disappeared from the screening I attended. Grant wants to leave the pub when the cop (Chips Rafferty) is about to take him to task for not offering to shout a drink in return. We missed that, but the first-time audience wouldn't know it.

The Q&A was with director Ted Kotcheff, editor Anthony Buckley and moderated by Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood). Various stories and anecdotes were shared and enhanced the evening. I raised the issue of the missing bits, but given that the speakers weren't in attendance during the screening, couldn't really comment. Buckley assured me that the film is present in its entirety, so I'm assuming it was a one-off glitch.

In the City of Sylvia
José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia has been described using various well-deserved superlatives. Not only is Guerin's unique film an amazing cinematic accomplishment, but it does it with almost no dialogue. It taps into primal human desires for connection and desire, exploring the nature of memory.

Humanity is a strange beast, full of contradictions. On the one hand, “man is gregarious” and we desire love, friendship, community and so on. On the other, there is an inherent incompatibility between both individuals and communities, who seemed destined for conflict. True friendship is, it appears, quite rare and many friendships seem to depend on absence for sustenance (a type of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, I suppose).

The Melbourne Cinémathèque screening of In the City of Sylvia was greatly enhanced by Some Photos in the City of Sylvia which is much more compelling than it looks on paper. Not only is it completely silent (no dialogue, voiceover or music - which highlighted my rumbling belly and no doubt disturbed those sitting close to me), but there are no moving images either. It consists of a series of still photographs by Guerín that effectively constitute (unconventionally) a type of making-of documentary that explains the original film.

Not only is the original film highly autobiographical or self-reflexive, dramatising the director’s own experiences over twenty years earlier in the same locations, but it sheds light on his intentions with the film and the theme of the struggle between the human desire to connect and the natural resistance to the same, or disconnection.

The film has both a naturalistic look and feel, yet stylistically heightened. The visuals are stunning, with Strasbourg an amazing backdrop as our artist protagonist traverses the streets of this picturesque small city in search of his lost Sylvia. The film assumes a voyeuristic perspective, highly observational, perhaps as the guy sees the city. We see lots of images of women, particularly young women. Some are gorgeous, some not. Often they are backdropped by large perfume advertisements that feature the faces of gorgeous young models, underscoring the director’s fascination with femininity.

Guerín’s preoccupation with faces takes various forms and he often portrays how people appear from the voyeur’s perspective. He could almost be toying with the audience, demonstrating how from a distance one person looks relative to another: they are not seated together but from the viewer’s perspective appear to relate. Deep focus is used to good effect, differentiating between the different scenarios. Similarly, Guerín seems fascinated by the dual or parallel imagery of filming someone through a window whose reflections superimpose over the person, creating a unique kind of visual experience.

Couples kissing are a recurring theme. Several characters reappear intermittently, like the African belt seller. A homeless woman is sitting in the street and, while we don’t see her again, we recognise her discarded beer bottles. “LAURE JE T’AIME” appears to be scrawled all around the city. Who is this Laure? And who is her lover?

In a film where dialogue is near absent, the music takes on a heightened sense of importance. It powerfully punctuates the narrative in an organic manner as our protagonists wander the steets. Sometimes there are performers at the conservatoire, buskers in the street or music blaring over speakers in a bar or passing car.

In the City of Sylvia is poetic, original, beautiful, captivating and moving. It is an experience and a privilege. If you get the chance to see it, don’t miss it.

Tren de sombras
Fatigue set in during this screening and I don't think I imbibed it as well as I could have otherwise. So I don't want to comment on it, other than to say I'd like to see it again.

Reservations
Nice film, but unexceptional. Co-presented by ACMI and Women in Film and Television, it naturally has a woman director and features Australia's Kerry Armstrong in top billing in an ensemble piece. Like In the City of Sylvia, it deals with themes of human disconnection as we encounter various lonely individuals spending one night in the same New York hotel.

Reservations is what I find myself now calling a "worthy" film, and that's not a compliment. Like many local films of recent years that tackle "worthy" issues, it somehow lacks dramatic impact. Sure, a film doesn't have to be hyper-real, but it just lacks pizzazz, oomph, mojo, something. We can see where it's going, it seems a bit too derivative and the film's conclusion is a bit too neat. But it's worthy!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beggars Belief

I was down Lygon St. this evening and a woman was sitting on the cold and dark pavement asking for money. I consider myself a generous person, but I've had a long-standing policy of not giving to beggars. I'll give to buskers, I'll give to Big Issue vendors, even sometimes I give to charity (selectively) but generally I don't give to beggars.

Why? Partly it's an intuitive thing that I find hard to rationalise, but I'll try. I give to others, because I feel they're doing something, they're taking initiative and doing something to justify others giving. Beggars are often substance abusers who - we assume - are going to misuse the money for things other than basic necessities. I'm happy to part of a solution but not part of the problem and don't want to fund someone's nicotine, alcohol or other drug habit.

In recent years, I've loosened my attitude to beggars. It probably started with seeing Alkinos Tsilimidos' Tom White, a film that affected me deeply and made me look at homelessness differently. Isn't that what cinema is all about? I still tend to avoid those beggars that are obviously (at least, in my opinion or perception) are drug addicts. Depending on the demands on my time, sometimes I've taken to questioning the beggar, as I did twice tonight in short succession (and with hindsight, I suspect they're a male and female team).

Sometimes I've had conversations with homeless people and mental illness is clearly a factor for many of them. Sometimes I'll offer to buy food for the person, but this offer has never been taken up. I could mention a few stories, but that'll have to wait for another time (right, always another time).

So this 30-something woman, better-spoken than most and no obvious signs of addiction or mental illness asks for money. "What for", I ask. "For food and a room", comes the reply. "I won't give you money", I say, "but I'm happy to buy you a meal". "Nuh", she says, "I just want to buy some bread or something". "Well, let's go buy some bread". "Nuh, I just need $38 for a room for the night". And I walk away. A person says they want food, you offer food, but they just want the money.

As I'm walking away, I think about it. Maybe she said food, but really she just wants a room. Maybe I could have given something. I dunno, this is a hard one. This is where intuition plays a part, not that it's necessarily reliable.

I cross the road and find myself in a similar conversation with a guy of similar age. When I ask similar questions, he says he wants $38 for a room for the night in St. Kilda. OK, I give him $5. I'd just given the Big Issue vendor $5 and I was wondering what he thought of my charity. I suspected that he thought I was being conned; maybe I was.

When I crossed the road again, I handed the woman the $5 and said "I don't know what you're going to do with this, but I don't want to be part of someone's problem. If you're genuine, you can't survive like this". "I know", she said, "God bless". Goddamn, I hate that. It sounds so fucking false and bullshit. It occurred to me that these two are both claiming they need the same amount and are probably working together. We really don't know who is genuinely in need, and whether our contribution is making things better, or contributing to someone's decline. I find it sad that homelessness has become a bigger and bigger issue over time.

A final word: I will never give to a beggar who hassles people while they're eating a meal or having a coffee. I'm thinking specifically of Degraves St. This is a pet hate of mine and no culture on the planet accepts that you harrass people while they're eating. It's a kind of ambush where people don't want indigestion so are less likely to tell you to fuck off and have nowhere to go.

While this post might seem to have little to do with cinema, it touches on themes that recur regularly, and affect me most in films. Social issues and themes that touch on the nature of life, death and everything can be conveyed most magnificently and effectively through cinema, don't you think?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Orbweavers: Graphite & Diamonds

Album Cover: The Orbweavers - Graphite & Diamonds
I wake up to RRR each morning using my trusty Sony clock-radio (made in Japan, which gives you some idea of its age). I lay there this morning after listening to the news, about to get up when an amazing number stopped me in my tracks. I hadn't had a new artist impress me this much since a few years ago when I walked past JB Hi-Fi in the city and heard Carla Werner (and promptly bought her still much-loved album Departures).

It was a few more minutes before the breakfast program announced the song details which I promptly wrote down: the song is Diving Bell off Graphite & Diamonds by Orbweaver. I was in Polyester Music in Fitzroy this evening, but they'd not heard of it, nor was it in their system. Getting home and looking them up on the web, I discovered to my surprise that they're a Melbourne band and the album is their newly released debut. The only place I could find to buy the album was their own website and I've just ordered it.

The CD is $19 including postage & handling within Australia. You can sample the music at Amie Street, my favourite music download store, and if you can work out how to buy the mp3 version, it's only US$2.20 (it seems to be unavailable to Australian accounts, or maybe there's a glitch with my computer or their website). Otherwise, you can also download it from iTunes ($16.99).

The band's Facebook site describes them as:
a Melbourne quartet, salvaged from the tangled threads of Brunswick's derelict knitting mills. Their songs wander somewhere between folk noir and "Twin Peaks-style dark country" (Inpress). Creaking violin, chiming electric guitar and percussion. Dark and dulcet.
I'm no music reviewer but I can't argue that. I'd describe the sound as most closely resembling Mazzy Star - a sort of haunting New York sound. I'm looking forward to receiving the album and adding it to my iPod Touch.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Next week at ACMI

I thought I'd try out a new feature on this blog: a "what's on" at ACMI for next week. I'm just trialling it; I want to see if the cut and paste is manageable and my memory is up to the task. We'll see.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a big supporter of ACMI; nearly 50% of the 250 or so films I see each year are at the place. That's more than the number of films I see at more than ten other venues combined (which, for the record, are in order Nova, Forum (for MIFF only), Como, Kino, Greater Union (again, for MIFF only), Sun, Rivoli, Astor, Melbourne Central, Balwyn, Classic, Westgarth, William Kerr Theatrette and the George).

Over the years, I've become increasingly indifferent to new releases and become much more selective about what I'm prepared to spend my time watching. The money isn't really an issue - ten or fifteen bucks for a couple of hours entertainment has got to be the best value around. Melbourne Cinémathèque is often the high point of the week for me; for 41 weeks of the year, you can be assured of top quality cinema. Well, there's the occasional dog, but that's a matter of taste, really. If you want to subscribe to a star value system, most cinema releases aim for mediocrity - around 2.5 to 3 stars, usually 3.5 at best. I'm sick of 3-star films and even 3.5 doesn't excite me. When you know how profound cinema can be, why settle for cheap entertainment.

Ironically, other than Cinémathèque's profound Guerín season, there's not a lot on at ACMI this week. But I support what they're about, and so here's what's on. Oh, and excuse the lower-case titles. Blame ACMI and their hopelessly dated insistence on being hip, and my not having the time to change it. I just couldn't be fucked.

Monday 22 June

frost / nixon thumbnail
frost / nixon M
1.30pm
Ron Howard's suspenseful account of the historic 1977 television interviews between David Frost and disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon.
Wednesday 24 June
work in progress + innisfree thumbnail
work in progress + innisfree
7pm
Guerin chronicles the effects of a new apartment block in Barcelona, and presents a cinephilic journey through the locales of Ford's The Quiet Man.
Friday 26 June
tank girl thumbnail
tank girl M
10pm
Tank Girl employs live action, animation and CGI to re-create a kick-ass comic strip aesthetic for the big screen.
Saturday 27 June
the grocer's son thumbnail
the grocer's son M
11am
Thirty-year-old Antoine reluctantly returns to the family home in Provence to help out when his father takes ill.
Sunday 28 June
wall.e thumbnail
wall.e G
10.30am & 1pm
An extraordinary tale about a wide-eyed robot who travels to the deepest reaches of space in search of a friend.
the grocer's son thumbnail
the grocer's son M
11am
Thirty-year-old Antoine reluctantly returns to the family home in Provence to help out when his father takes ill.
Edit: I overlooked the animation festival:

melbourne international animation festival 2009

the necktie
The Necktie
With over 300 films in over 30 programs from all over the world, MIAF combines the best new animation with retrospective programs to challenge and inspire audiences and to showcase the diversity of animation.

Monday 22 June - Sunday 28 June 2009


For the full program visit the MIAF website

Download the schedule and booking form here

Festival Pass: Full $80 Concession $65
Mini Pass (6 sessions): Full $48 Concession $36

Opening Night Premiere Screening: Full $25 Concession $20
Single Tickets: Full $14 Concession $11
Best of the Next: $5 per session
Panorama Programs: $5 per session
Animation 101 sessions: $5
Kids Program: $5
Careers in Animation forum: Free (ticket required)

Monday, June 15, 2009

6th Annual Bayside Film Festival

This looks like a nice little film festival. I added the Q&A info to my previous post, but I don't think that does justice to what this festival, put on by Bayside City Council, has on offer. I'm just going to post the media release, and keep your eye out on the official website for further info. This should be a real treat for those in the Brighton area, as it's being held at Palace Brighton Bay, 294 Bay Street, Brighton. I'm on the other side of the city, but I'll make it there if I can fit it in.

Don’t Go Stateside…stay BAYSIDE for the 6th Annual BAYSIDE FILM FESTIVAL!

The electrifying BAYSIDE FILM FESTIVAL will take place from 15th to 18th July at Palace Brighton Bay Cinemas. An event that celebrates and encourages young filmmakers via a range of filmmaking initiatives and screening programmes, BAYSIDE FILM FESTIVAL is committed to introducing today’s youth to the endless possibilities that film, in its many guises, affords.

Lively and informative workshops will play a key role in the 2009 line-up, including an in-depth Q&A with Adam Elliot and Melanie Coombs on their latest movie, Mary and Max. Likewise, renowned filmmaker Rohan Spong will discuss his fascinating documentary ‘T’ is for Teacher. Actor Lisa Maza (City Homicide, Stolen), will provide a first-hand insight on the making of her first documentary, Living in Two Worlds, whilst director Anna Brady and actor Blair McDonough (Sea Patrol, Heart Beat, Neighbours) will conduct a workshop on their film-noir spoof, Strangers on a Sushi Train.

In celebration of humanity’s indomitable spirit, the 2009 Festival will also highlight films that illustrate qualities such as courage and strength, suspense and truth. These qualities are in evidence throughout the Festival’s four-part Beyond Our Shores strand, which will screen fifteen diverse short films ranging from powerhouse documentaries like Skin, ‘T’ is for Teacher and Old Country, New Country (exec-produced by George Negus and Kirsty Cockburn), to David Michôd’s endearing Netherland Dwarf, which played at the recent Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals.

And have you ever wondered what the youth of Australia are really thinking? Well, find out at Jump Cut, where we screen films from around the country, created by 13 to 25 year-olds.

In 2009, nine secondary schools from both within and beyond Bayside, participated in the Festival’s much lauded Youth Documentary and Digital Stories projects. Innovative and educational, these projects aim to develop self-expression and investigation through the experience of making short films.

Youth Documentary invites year 9 and 10 students, working in small crews, to make a short documentary of their choice. In tandem with media teachers, professional filmmakers assist participants via a series of film production workshops over a three-month period, resulting in many amazing short films that will form part of the 2009 line-up.

Digital Stories provides students with a positive, alternative platform for self-expression, as opposed to more traditional forms of literacy, encouraging them to express themselves via a range of mediums, such as video, music or photography to create ‘mini movies’ in first-person narrative.

Visit the Festival Website at: www.bayside.vic.gov.au/filmfestival




Upcoming Q&A sessions

I consider Q&A sessions the 'cream on the cake' of the cinema experience and there's a number of them coming up soon:
  • Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) - Nova, Tuesday 16 June, 6.30pm
    Director Ted Kotecheff and editor Anthony Buckley in discussion with filmmaker Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood). This really is an awesome Australian film, made by a Canadian, and recently salvaged from destruction. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or in 1971, has been fully restored and it should be an ace experience to see it on the big screen (I saw it at MUFF last year, projected from a dubious quality pirated DVD).
  • Last Ride (Glendyn Ivin) - Nova, Tuesday 23 June, 6.30pm
    Director Glendyn Ivin, moderated by Triple J's Paul Verhoeven.
    Reliable sources (via Sydney Film Festival) inform me this is a film to see. The film screens with Ivin's Cracker Bag, the film that took out the Palme d'Or for best short film in 2003.
  • Bastardy (Amiel Courtin-Wilson) - Kino, Thursday 25 June, 6.30pm
    Jack Charles has for forty years juggled heroin addiction, homelessness, cat-burglary and acting. He founded the first Aboriginal theatre company in the 1970s and appeared in numerous films and TV series. Both the director and the subject of the film will be discussing the film, hosted by John Safran. I'm looking forward to this - I don't usually go to Thursday night screenings, but I'll be pushing it with the missus to go.
  • The 6th Annual Bayside Film Festival includes a number of events such as a Q&A with Mary and Max director Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Combes; filmmaker Rohan Spong will discuss his documentary ‘T’ is for Teacher, actor Lisa Maza (City Homicide, Stolen), will provide a first-hand insight on the making of her first documentary, Living in Two Worlds, and director Anna Brady and actor Blair McDonough (Sea Patrol, Heart Beat, Neighbours) will conduct a workshop on their film-noir spoof, Strangers on a Sushi Train. The festival is being held at Palace Brighton Bay from 15-18 July. Keep an eye on the website for further details.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Week in Review - 14/6/09

FILMS:
  • Disgrace (Steve Jacobs, Australia/South Africa, 2008)
  • Pisutoru opera (Pistol Opera, Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 2001)
  • Minagoroshi no reika (I, the Executioner, Tai Kato, Japan, 1968)
  • Overlord (Stuart Cooper, UK, 1975)

Japanese noir at Melbourne Cinémathèque
The final night of this season was a lot of fun. The two films are as different as chalk and cheese but the full colour and hyper-reality of Pistol Opera combined with the revenge story of I, the Executioner, both could well have been inspirational for Tarantino's Kill Bill. I found the vivid visuals, stylisation and bizarre narrative of Pistol Opera (in which any attempts at reality are completely quashed) to be an absolute joy. I, the Executioner doesn't have quite the same level of impact, but the two made for a strong finish to the Japanese noir season. I'm now looking forward to a two week season of films by José Luis Guerín, especially the acclaimed In the City of Sylvia, which I somehow missed at La Mirada Film Festival last year.

My Life Without Sex - Emily's List fundraiser

While My Year Without Sex isn't my taste in film, I do think Emily's List is a worthwhile cause. It's aim is to get "more progressive Labor women elected to Parliament". This Thursday, it's putting on a fund-raiser at my local cinema, the Sun Theatre in Yarraville. Emily's List is not just a female concern; it behooves all of society to have greater diversity of government representation. The event is for both genders, though I expect numbers could be weighted towards the female of the species. Hey, that could be a good way to pick up a chick, guys!

Here's their blurb:
EMILY’s List Film Night – My Year Without Sex – Thursday June 18th

EMILY’s List has organised a Film Night for you to enjoy a night out with friends and support EL & an Australian film directed by a woman – a Comedy this time!

AFI Award winning director Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways) returns with a quintessentially Aussie comedy starring Sasha Horler and Matt Day as working class parents Natalie and Ross living in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Natalie is a happily married woman who collapses with a brain aneurysm and on doctor's orders has to abstain from sex for a while. With understated humour and a keen eye for the surreal edges of suburbia, My Year Without Sex is a knowing and defiantly celebratory snapshot of ordinary lives, seen through the eyes of a 30-something couple coping with two young children, a life-threatening illness, precarious jobs and existential mysteries such as the existence of God and an underperforming football team.

Come and have a laugh with friends & meet other EL supporters!

Date & Time: 7pm Thursday 18th June
Venue: Sun Theatre, 8 Ballarat Street, Yarraville 3013 Victoria
Cost: $18.00
Inquiries: Email: emilyslistvictoria@gmail.com or phone: Sally on 0419 389 590

Friday, June 12, 2009

Overlord

Overlord (Stuart Cooper, UK, 1975)
Overlord is one of the most startling war films which, like Come and See, is more a human story, set during war. It is highly innovative and visually spectacular. The screening I attended was introduced by the director, Stuart Cooper, who explained briefly some of the film's history.

Cooper was given full access to the Imperial War Archives. When asked by the archive's manager what he wanted to see, he responded rather naively, "the whole lot". She asked him when he wanted to start and he said "Monday". In response to her questions, he indicated he'd be coming five days a week, nine to five. "In that case", she said, "you'll need nine years to get through all this."

As it turned out, Cooper viewed some 3,000 hours of archive footage, taken variously by members of the army, navy and air force. It wasn't just prints he viewed, but the actual original nitrate negatives, which enabled him to use in his film the best quality images possible, and the visuals are truly impressive.

Rather than work from a script, Cooper assembled various pieces of footage and constructed a dramatisation that would fit seamlessly within the actual documentary footage. He used cameras and lenses from 1936 and 1938 and old black and white film stock. The result is remarkable and the fusion of fiction and non-fiction is often indistinguishable.

The story traces a young British conscript, Tommy Beddows as he answers the call to arms, takes up training and ultimately takes part in D-Day, coded-named Overlord. Originally intended as a documentary, the film's integration of dramatisation achieves a result that surpasses both documentary and fiction. The dramatisation is sparse and authentic with use of music that bleeds into the non-fiction, rendering the documentary aspect in a whole new light.

The film has some personal resonance as my father participated in the D-Day landings. At the mere age of 14 he changed his birth certificate and enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was 17 and working below deck on a frigate that came under fire several times. Unfortunately he died seven years ago and left scant details of his navy experience. He never spoke about it during my childhood.

If the film's amazing camera work looks familiar, it's because it's by the highly acclaimed John Alcott who worked on Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and The Shining. Overlord won the Berlin Festival's Silver Bear for Direction in 1975 but without a wide release, somehow fell into obscurity. Like Soy Cuba, this is an amazing gem that has been recently rediscovered and is belatedly getting the recognition it deserves.

According to the ACMI website:
Stanley Kubrick said the only problem with Overlord was that it was "an hour-and-half too short". After seeing this remarkable filmmaking achievement, one would have to agree.
And I do. I would normally include this film in my Sunday evening Week in Review post, but seeing as Melbournians still have two more chances to see it at ACMI this weekend (as part of the First Look series), I thought I'd bring this forward. It's screening tomorrow (Saturday) at 7pm and Sunday at 5.30pm. The Sunday screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the director, Stuart Cooper, and Paul Harris.

Links: Overlord official website / Criterion essay by Kent Jones

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Guerín season at Cinémathèque

The Japanese noir season at Melbourne Cinémathèque ended on a high tonight and, given the very cold and wet conditions, I was surprised by a very strong turn-out. I was a couple of minutes late and struggled to find a decent seat.

Starting next week, we have the highly anticipated Guerín season. Following is the official Melbourne Cinémathèque blurb:
Searching for Paradise Lost: The Films of José Luis Guerín
Screening at ACMI, June 17 –June 24

The Melbourne Cinémathèque is excited to present a season of films by highly acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Jose Luis Guerín.

Commencing June 17, this season of specially imported 35mm prints presents all the key works of Guerín’s fascinating career. Guerín has created a body of work that is intensely personal and highly film literate. Like the work of Chris Marker and Pedro Costa, his films are classifiably non-fiction, and yet they transcend the conventional definitions of the documentary form, exploring the spatial, temporal, geographic and mercurially quotidian qualities of the cinema. His latest film, In the City of Sylvia (2007) appeared in numerous 2007 “best of” lists and Guerín’s work has been the subject of recent retrospectives at the Harvard Film Archive and the BFI.

The season opens with Guerín’s latest and most celebrated opus, In the City of Sylvia (2007). Guerín’s portrait of Strasbourg is a lingering, romantic work that characteristically explores the themes of longing, unfulfilled desire and voyeuristic pleasure. Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007) is a companion piece to his feature film that “revisits” many of the situations, emotions and places of its fictionalized counterpart. The season also includes three films that explore time, past, film history and environments forever gone: Tren de Sombras (1997), Work in Progress (2001) and his homage to the world of John Ford, Innisfree (1990). Screening as follows:

Wednesday June 17
  • 7.00pm In the City of Sylvia (2007)
  • 8.35pm Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007)
  • 9.50pm Tren De Sombras (1997)
Wedneday June 24
  • 7.00pm Work in Progress (2001)
  • 9.15pm Innisfree (1990)
FURTHER INFORMATION about Melbourne Cinémathèque and 2009 program details please visit http://www.melbournecinematheque.org/

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Week in Review - 7/6/09

Yeah, I'm a bit late getting this one up, even with a long weekend. Such is life.

The highlight of last week's screenings was For a Few Dollars More, which screened as part of the Melbourne Italian Festival's retrospective of Sergio Leone. It's a lot of fun, but then I'm probably the last person around to have seen it, and you all probably knew that already. Unfortunately I missed out on Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (which I have on Blu-ray, but was hoping to see on the big screen first).

There doesn't seem to be much out there on theatrical release, and was once again disappointed by the only new release I saw, Two Lovers. Melbourne Cinémathèque can always be counted on for something at least half decent. While I didn't find the Japanese noir screenings anything special, they're a welcome part of my film self-education. It's certainly fascinating to see this curated season, to discover a common aesthetic and themes of films of the post-war era.

FILMS:
  • Kuroi kawa (Black River, Masaki Kobayashi, Japan, 1957)
  • Taiyo no hakaba (Sun's Burial, Nagisa Oshima, Japan, 1960)
  • Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More, Sergio Leone, Italy/Spain/West Germany/Monaco, 1965)
  • Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things (Giulio Reale, Italy, 2006)
  • Giù la testa (A Fistful of Dynamite, Sergio Leone, Italy, 1971)
  • Two Lovers (James Gray, USA, 2008)
Black River & Sun's Burial
I don't intend to analyse these two Japanese films in any particular detail. However, what struck me most about these is firstly, the frankness of the sex and violence - something you generally wouldn't see in films from most countries of the day - and secondly, how squalid and depressing life was depicted in post-war Japan.

For a Few Dollars More
This film is a helluva lot of fun. The lack of dialogue and the almost total reliance on visuals and sound (including a magnificent score by the great Ennio Morricone) reinvents and rejuvenates the Western genre. The film crosses the boundaries, or perhaps fuses, the classifications of film as entertainment or art. I doubt that there's any deep meaning to the film, but I'm open to being corrected. Clint Eastwood is at his charismatic best, together with Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach making for an awesome triumvirate.

Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things
This is not a particularly expository documentary but, interviewing those who worked with Leone, offers some good behind-the-scenes insights into what made him tick and the ideas behind his film-making.

A Fistful of Dynamite
I actually found this tedious after For a Few Dollars More. Perhaps it was too ambitious - it obviously had a much bigger budget than the earlier film. For me, it tries too hard, trying to cover too many bases with too many special effects and action sequences. The music is nowhere near as good either.

Two Lovers
I found Two Lovers quite a let-down and having heard conflicting reviews, I went in with an open mind but low expectations. I didn't think much of the dance sequence at all; it doesn't really add anything to the film. The opening scene, with Joaquin Phoenix's Leonard jumping from a pier is my favourite, but the film does nothing with it. It had so much potential but then falls flat.

Is the director Australian? I'm joking, of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking so, because the film has the unfortunate structure of a long line of Australian films that tackle some worthy issues, look OK, contain reasonable performances but fail to take off dramatically. Like I said about My Year Without Sex (a film I found myself comparing it to), it's just dramatically flat. It doesn't make me want to care about anyone in it or what happens to them. Leonard can jump in the sea, or hook up with either the blond or the pretty girl and I wouldn't give a toss either way.

BTW, the Nova session I went to was packed. I spoke to a couple of respectable middle-aged women afterwards, confident they would have loved it. They had a similar reaction to the film as myself. I even found myself nodding off from time to time.

Disgrace

Disgrace (Steve Jacobs, Australia/South Africa, 2008)
Steve Jacobs' first film, La Spagnola, was an excellent debut that had the great misfortune of opening on September 11, 2001 and consequently didn’t get the exposure it deserved. It’s about a Spanish woman’s post-war migrant experience in Australia and is beautifully filmed. It is full of drama, passion and interspersed with comic moments that make it a largely undiscovered gem.

Disgrace represents a much more ambitious project by Jacobs. It’s an Australian-South African co-production, based on the Booker Prize-winning novel of the same title by the esteemed former South African (and now South Australian) writer, J.M. Coetzee. It is set in South Africa and stars John Malkovich as David Lurie, a Cape Town university professor of poetry. Like Ben Kingsley's character in Elegy, Lurie is a sexual predator who targets his female students.

That’s about the only comparison I would make with Elegy. Malkovich’s performance is perhaps his best in several years. He performs as an actor rather than the Malkovich stereotype we’ve come to accept (and sometimes hate). There’s none of that psychopathic screaming, for example, even though he plays a not particularly endearing character. In fact, the emotional baggage we may carry for Malkovich works in his favour, with the restraint adding a new-found nuance to his acting.

The uniting element between Jacobs’ films is a preoccupation with a country’s culture, albeit from different perspectives. La Spagnola depicts the difficulties of a Spanish immigrant, who gravitates towards the local Italian community. She is an outsider to both the Australian and immigrant communities. In Disgrace, Lurie's sexual indiscretions find him forced to resign from his long-held university position. He takes up residence in self-imposed exile with Lucy, his lesbian daughter on her remote rural farm. Here, Lurie finds himself in a totally different culture, one he struggles to come to terms with because of the violent local politics.

I haven’t read Coetzee’s book, so I don’t know how faithful to its source material the film is. But it feels weighed down, very much like a book-to-screen translation. Like a novel, the film withholds information. In a book, the writer completely controls the flow of information with words. In the film, various nuances were lost on me and I failed to comprehend gaps in information.

Generally, I’m all for not having narrative fully expounded. Imagination and deduction can be powerfully utilised in cinematic story-telling. The film does respect an audience’s intelligence in not spoon-feeding every little detail, but it also doesn’t convey details that may be required. It felt like it was emulating the source material’s structure without sufficient adaptation. On the plus side, the film leaves room for ambiguity and no doubt there will be countless debates over the motivations of different characters.

The story is largely concerned with Lurie’s relationships with women – in particular Melanie, the student he seduces, and his daughter Lucy, with whom he has a strained relationship. Jacobs’ exploration of these relationships remains cold and distant. We never see any warmth, affection or meaningful dialogue between Lurie and the women in his life (and this is the exact opposite of La Spagnola). These two women remain angry and we are never privy to their internalisations. Emotionally, it has the effect of distancing us from the characters. We only have Lurie’s misogynistic perspective, and he’s not particularly insightful or redeeming a character.

I felt Lucy’s lesbianism is largely inconsequential to the story and wonder whether this aspect of her life needed to be included. I acknowledge that her orientation is relevant in some respects, but it’s an element of the story that seems under-developed.

It will be interesting to see how Disgrace is received by both critics and audiences. I think most will be more impressed by it than I was. It should appeal to the same demographic that embraced I Have Always Loved You, for example. I suspect it will also appeal to those who have read the book and have more of an understanding of what is happening in the background, both in terms of the politics and the women's internalisations.

It is nice to see the film adding diversity to the year's local films, so maybe 2009 will be a turning point for the Australian industry. For me, though, this film doesn’t match some of the year’s stronger contenders.

Disgrace opens in cinemas on 18 June.

Cinema Nova is hosting an advance screening on Sunday 14 June at 5pm, followed by an impressive line-up for a panel discussion: Which is better? The book or the film? From Nova:
To celebrate the release of the film adaptation of J. M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize winning novel DISGRACE, starring John Malkovich, Cinema Nova in partnership with Readings are proudly present the first in an ongoing series of discussions to try and settle the age-old dinner party dispute: WHICH IS BETTER? THE BOOK OR THE MOVIE?

Melbourne’s best and brightest film, publishing and arts identities will join the panel and try to settle the score.

Elliot Perlman is a barrister and award-winning writer who adapted his own book, THREE DOLLARS, for Robert Connolly’s drama starring David Wenham.

Sue Maslin is the multi-award winning producer of Japanese Story and the executive producer of Irresistible starring Sam Neill, Emily Blunt and Susan Sarandon.

Catherine Deveny is a controversial social commentator for The Age, was named amongst the 100 Most Influential Melbournians and co-wrote the 2005 AFI awards with Russell Crowe.

Tom Ryan has been the film critic for The Sunday Age in Melbourne since 1989. A film lecturer in Australia and the UK, he has also contributed to several international film magazines.

Peter Rose is the editor of Australian Book Review. He was a publisher at Oxford University Press and is author the much loved memoir Rose Boys.

To be moderated by Michael Veitch a performer, broadcaster and writer, Michael started his career in TV comedy on legendary shows such as The D-Generation and Fast Forward. Born into a family of journalists, he has written as a theatre and literary critic for The Age, Australian and Herald-Sun newspapers. Michael is the host of ABC’s vastly popular Sunday Arts program.

MORE PANELISTS TO BE CONFIRMED CLOSER TO THE EVENT!

Buy the book before the event! 10% discount for in-store purchases of DISGRACE (Conditions: only at Readings Carlton, with a valid cinema ticket from the screening)