31 January 2012

David Holzman's Diary

"Okay, well, Penny is ridiculous. She's pride. She behaves melodramatically. She just - not credible. I know you didn't set it up, I know she really got annoyed. But I - I don't know somehow it just - it's not believable. Because - you listen, like very bad actress, in a very bad script -- horrible movie, just horrible movie. Um -- you know, I like her, it's alright. I - you know, if you want to live in her bad movie it's alright because - some people's lives are good movies, some people's lives are bad movies, and Penny's life's a very bad movie, but don't make me look at it on the screen, please. You know it -- (drags from a cigarette) -- the problem is that you wanna make a movie out of your life, alright, so you wanna be in it, you want Penny to be in it, and me to be in it, and your apartment my apartment, but, I'm an interesting character to watch, but you're not an interesting character, and Penny is certainly not an interesting character at all. And uh, I don't know, if you want to make a good movie just write a script, I'm sure you can write a better script than that. But this is not a good one. Your life is not a very good script, but, ugh. Somehow I - I don't think that you want to make a good movie. What you want do is find things about your life, find out the truth. There's something that happens that you don't understand, you wanna get to the core of it. Well David I don't think that you're gonna find it this way because if something happens and you don't understand it, [something], you're not gonna understand it any better by freezing it on celluloid and looking at it over and over again. You know - what you have to do is try to understand it the first time. And uh -- I don't know. (Drags from a cigarette.) But - you don't understand the basic principle: as soon as you start filming something, whatever happens in front of the camera is not reality anymore. It becomes part of something else. It becomes a movie. And, uh - you've stopped living, somehow. And you get very self-conscious about anything you do. 'Should I put my hand here, should I put my hand here?' 'Should I place myself this side of the frame, should I place myself this side of the frame?' And your decisions stop being moral decisions and they become aesthetical decisions. And your whole life stops being your life and becomes a work of art. And a very bad work of art this time. But, ahem (drags a cigarette, puts cigarette out). I don't know, it's just very foolish to think that there's any spontaneity in what's happening in this movie because you say to me,
'Look, I'm onna show you the film I'm doing, and I want you to tell me what you think of it.' And then what do you do? You place me in front of the mural, you make me move the table out of the way so you can see it all, and uh, you knew exactly what I was gonna say.

You didn't put words in my mouth, you didn't tell me what to say, but you knew what I was gonna say because you know me, and uh, and I'm not gonna say anything that will harm you. I won't say any truth, because I don't know you, I just know a little bit of you, and it's same way with the film, you wanna put - a little bit of David, safe part of David, the David that you wouldn't be afraid to show to anybody. But there's a David that you don't want to be in the film, and that David may be the truth. And uh -- that's what you should try to put in the film, if you don't dare face yourself other ways. Confess things to the camera. I don't know, say, say the things that -- that you're most ashamed of, things that you don't want to remember. Things that you don't want anybody to know. Maybe, maybe that way there'll be some truth. Or perhaps you should take off all your clothes and stand in front of the camera for hours. And and not do anything, just stand in front of the camera. Perhaps something magical will happen. Perhaps some truth will come out -- like, I'm not sure. But, you know, one thing I'm pretty sure of - you know, hmm -- the way you're handling this whole thing, you just getting half-truths. You're not getting truths, you're just getting half-truths, and, I think that's what's done a lot. It's very good. Okay, that - that's all I have to say. (Beat).

David, I don't want to play any games, please, turn it off."

30 January 2012

Sugar Hill ('74)!

Valentine: You know it's strange, after you and I split, it took a long time to get over the fact that you took up with Langston.
Diana: Yeah, but you got over it all right.
Valentine: In any case, I never thought I'd be questioning you about his death.
Diana: Murder. First time I met him was right here. He came up to me and he asked my name. It's Diana Hill I said. He said, well from now on you're gonna be called Sugar, Miss Sugar, 'cause you look as sweet as sugar tastes.

Sugar Hill is a blacksploitation Voodoo black magic crime action film from the mid-70s.

Diana 'Sugar' Hill (above) wants to sell her soul to the greatest of Voodoo gods, Baron Samedi (first photo), to avenge her boyfriend, Langston, who was murdered by a honky crime syndicate that wants control of his night club.

Baron: Tell me, why do you want my power?
Sugar: There are some men I want punished.
Baron: Punished?
Sugar: DEAD.

The screenplay was by prolific playwright Tim Kelly, who wrote over three hundred plays before he died at 61. It is the sole directorial credit for Paul Maslansky, producer of over thirty films, including the Police Academy films, Cop and a Half, Raw Meat, Circle of Iron, and Damnation Alley. Star Marki Bey had a short career that began with a role in Hal Ashby's first film The Landlord.

O'Brien: You're not going to do anything crazy, are you?
Sugar: You mean like I did to Tank?
O'Brien: Tha-that was you? I don't believe it.

Sugar: You're about to become a believer.

Slave shackles are used as Jujus (Voodoo charms) to resurrect a zombie murder gang of living dead slaves brought from Guinea to America in the 1840s. Sugar, Baron Samedi, and the living dead slave gang kill off the members of the honky crime syndicate one at a time.

There's a bar fight between Sugar and a blonde lady that begins with a bunch of slaps.

I have described the essential elements of the movie Sugar Hill.

26 January 2012

Weekend (2011)

I've always wanted to make this movie. This movie has played countless times in my head.

Seeing Weekend was like, wow, this is sweet, and this works. 

 Beautiful poetic realism,

naturalism (not one moment feels false IMO, which most naturalistic movies have at least a couple moments that feel false),

 tenderness, honesty, earnestness,

reflective introspection,

contemplative and curious rumination,

and romance. It's cool with me that I don't have to make this movie now, it has been made, it is Weekend.

23 January 2012

The Strange Case of Angelica (and some Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl)

I like movies about old people (e.g. Elsa and Fred, Poetry), movies by old people (e.g. Around a Small Mountain), and movies made by old people about old people (e.g. Wild Grass). I believe the elderly are to be cherished, not least of all in the arts. Because you know it amazes me that John Huston was 77 when he directed Under the Volcano, you can imagine how extra amazed I was when I enjoyed Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl, a film directed by 100-year-old Manoel de Oliveira. I wonder how much he learned in the year between that film and The Strange Case of Angelica, and if you can tell the change in someone's perspective after one year's time when the person has already lived a century.

The Strange Case of Angelica, like Eccentricities, has gorgeous photographic compositions, engaging uses of sound and music, blooming long takes, and earnest passions. Oliveira's command of the movie medium is expansive and relevant to modern cinema, as any artist who engages in the exploration of an artform's potential will continue to be relevant. So, as to say, The Strange Case of Angelica is a film by a 101 year old man, but it is not just that.

As quoted here (what a great find Kino Caviar was!):
The cinema started with movement, ‘kino’, but the real difference between photography and the cinema is not movement, it is the content of each shot. Each shot resembles a photograph, but it is within context, while the photograph is out of context. The context is within the photograph, while in the cinema the context is outside the shot, in the relationship between shots. That is the great difference between cinema and photography. It is not movement, or rather it is movement between shots and above all as a possibility of introducing sound. If there is no movement, there can be no music; sounds do not exist without movement…. One does not need movement to show an image, but one does for sound.  One might say, therefore, that sound is more cinematic than the image.
 Manoel de Oliveira in an interview with Jean A. Gill, 1992 
in Manoel de Oliveira, Randall Johnson, 2007

A man, Isaac (Ricardo Trêpa, also the star of Eccentricities), is summoned on a rainy night to take photographs of a dead woman for an aristocratic family. While he takes these photos the woman opens her eyes, and a fantastical love story begins. Oliveira, writer/director, tells his story as factual occurrence, blending unreal moments with the real, reminiscent of magical realism. His writerly voice also possesses the droll, dry tone that some magical realism writers used.

A poem by Texeira de Pascoaes, read aloud by Isaac near the film's beginning, frames the story: "Dance! O stars, that in constant dizzying heights you follow unchanging. Exalt, and escape for an instant the path that you are chained to. Time, stand still, and you, former beings, who roam fantastical, celestial ways ... Angels, open the gates of heaven, for in my night is day, and in me is God."

Again from Kino Caviar,
“It’s a film. It’s not reality,” Oliveira explained to Jean A. Gili in a 1992 interview. “But what’s a film? A film is a phantasm, it is not life. On the other hand, life doesn’t exist; it too is a phantasm. Without books, without historians, without memory, not a trace would be left. The moment is ephemeral. To struggle against oblivion, humans have a need to remake what touches them, a will to preserve that which is important to them.” To this end Oliveira rejects a style of filmmaking that insists that life on the screen is “real” and the spectator is right there with it, in complete but passive emotional and psychological identification with the characters. Instead Oliveira invites the spectator to actively participate in making the film — to remake life — which is, in cinematic terms, resurrecting its spirit from the tangibles of the world.

Returning from his phantasmagoric flight, Isaac muses, "That strange reality ... Perhaps it was just a hallucination? But it was just as real as this. Could I have been to that place of absolute love I've heard about? It disappears like smoke from a cigarette. Yes, why this sudden love, which banishes all the anguish I feel?"

An aspect of The Strange Case that I admire is its structure. Oliveira keeps the film's 'purpose' slightly out of center, sometimes poking at it, but never cracking it. He gives us the audience substance to consider, but then gives that substance a spiritual value that places it again out of reach.

In The Strange Case that spiritual value has a pronounced magical value, though in Eccentricities the spiritual was continually evasive, mysterious. The spiritual was hidden somewhere within life. A piece of writing, a poem by Alberto Caeiro, was important in Eccentricities, "Yesterday afternoon a man from the city was talking at the doorway of the inn. He was also talking to me. He spoke of justice and of the struggle for justice. And of workers who suffer, and of constant labor, and of those who go hungry, and of the wealthy who turn a blind eye to this. And, looking at me, he saw tears in my eyes. And he smiled, contentedly, thinking that I was feeling the hate that he was feeling, and the compassion he claimed to be feeling. But I was barely listening. What do I care for me, for what they suffer or think they suffer? Let them be like me ... and they won't suffer. All the woes of the world stem from our caring about each other. To do good as to do evil, all we need is our soul and heaven and earth. Wanting more is to lose all this, it is to be unhappy. And I thought to myself, while the man of the people was speaking (which moved me to tears). It was like a distant whisper of bells in that late afternoon ... Yet perhaps not the bells of a tiny chapel ... where to mass might go flowers and streams and simple souls like mine. Praise God that I am not good and that I have the natural egotism of the flowers and rivers which blithely continue on their way with no cares other than to bloom and to flow. That is the only mission in the World. To exist clearly. And to know how to do so without thinking about it. And the man had stopped talking and was looking at the sunset. But what does someone who hates and loves have to do with the sunset?"

Oliveira, in these two films, leaves me to consider his film, myself, and little things outside the film and myself. So, then, Oliveira gives me the mystery and spiritualism that he gives his films.

22 January 2012

Working Girls (1986)

Pre-viewing thoughts:

1 - Why hasn't Lizzie Borden directed a feature since 1992, is she a bad filmmaker? Working Girls won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 1987, is that a big deal? What were the films at Sundance like that year, what was her competition? I've recently seen Poison, Todd Haynes 1991, (for its 20 year anniversary, damn), a movie that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and while that movie is great in so many ways, in other ways I think it would be a better film if it were made today.

Conversely, is Lizzie Borden a great filmmaker? Will I discover a golden voice that's been lost for reasons outside filmmaking ability? What was the standard quality for production values in early American independent films, and are those standards more than superficial weaknesses, or are there more important, deeper flaws? How will the structure and subsurface of Working Girls compare with the structure subsurface of movies made today?

2 - Will the film be sexy? It was the title and the sexy cover that made me check the movie out on Netflix streaming. Not this original dvd cover:

but this First Run Features dvd cover:

Not sure I would've checked out the movie if I'd only seen the former cover. Seems unlikely. This five star review on Netflix further motivated me to watch the movie:
I actually worked in a Nevada brothel in 2006, and this film is ACCURATE. Girls lay a sheet OVER the bedding, a "trick sheet". The ONLY thing I noticed they did not include is when a man walks out without choosing any lady, you simply say he "walked". As in, "oh, that man walked". I had a male house manager who was obsessed with cleanliness and made us girls clean a lot too! And now they are REALLY strict on no drugs, at least the house I was at. I enjoyed this movie, it brought me back. The life of a 'working girl' isn't ALL bad. Many men tell you they REALLY like you. I would say it covers about 2/3 of brothel life and facts. There isn't too much storyline/plot, its more of a documentary, with erotic entertainment thrown in.
What does it mean that the film is accurate, and how erotic will the erotic entertainment be?

3 - What will I learn about the female perspective from a movie about prostitution made by a female? Will I learn about 'the' female perspective, is that possible? Seems like I'll learn about a female perspective. What will be the nature of my lesson, will it be emotional, moral, or environmental?

Post-viewing thoughts:

1 - The acting is like television acting. It often feels like watching a script. The dialogue is stiff and the readings are stilted. I don't feel like the director pushed the actors to break through their characters. I don't feel they were directed beyond playing roles. But the sequences often have nice rhythms, and these sequences accumulate in a nice way to make a fine, satisfying movie.

There are stylistic camera pans. There could have been more choreography between the camera and actors, i.e. more interesting blocking. The camera pans are mostly 'look here, now looook here' pans, but I liked them, and enjoyed their occasional replacement of shot-reverse-shots. The camera setups are varied enough that I didn't tire of being in a single location.

It was smart to make the time frame short, this helped me become familiar with the location and the routine minutia of the characters; surely primary objectives. The single location also focuses the movie, and doesn't feel 'cheap' like some single location movies do, because the single location has a reason and a purpose.

Lizzie Borden wrote, directed, produced, and edited Working Girls when she was 28. That's a terrific achievement. Judging by this movie she has talent that if nurtured could grow into something really special.

Working Girls moves at a nice, entertaining clip, but also has sincere, substantive interest in its characters and their lives. It's a job movie that happens to be about prostitution: it deals with the pressures and headaches of a controlling (and effective) boss and a demanding job, juggling work with an outside life, and wondering what your purpose is and whether or not you have the right job.

2 - I'm attracted to women and this movie is populated by strong female protagonists who are aware of their sexuality and often undress. But the film's tone is clinical and neutral because it doesn't want to sensationalize its topic, it wants to express a point about the mechanization of the sex act by its repetitive nature in prostitution. The sex acts are not conveyed in a sexy way, and overall the film isn't very sexy, except women in lingerie are sexy, they can't help it.

3 - Sensed the female filmmaker's desire to address exclusively female activities, like inserting diaphragms, exclusively female experiences, like straight sex with men, and exclusively female perspectives, which were different for each woman. Each character in Working Girls, male or female, is distinct from the others and interesting due to diversity and contributions to a larger perspective. Maybe sometimes Borden went too far to give her film perspective; it feels like a bloated day, and there's even a birthday celebration!

There are many insights into the lives of working girls. Funny how so many guys want to meet Molly 'on the outside,' like they each feel that they have a special, meaningful relationship with her. One man asks Molly to come during sex, and she says she never comes in this place, and he says "there's always a fist time." Feel like if a man says that to a woman he has little chance of making her come. I was touched when Molly gave the teacher dating advice, like how to put his arm around a girl and how to give the first kiss.

Found this conversation interesting:

Molly: Hey Gina, how's your boyfriend?
Gina: I'm not seeing him anymore.
Molly: No? Oh, I'm sorry.
Gina: It's okay, it's nothing.
Molly: What happened?
Gina: Well, you know, when our relationship first started I decided I had to be really straight about this job, and I told him look, if you really love me you should be able to deal with my working. And then I thought, if he really loved me, how could he? You know?
Molly: Yeah.
Gina: Does Diane know you work?
Molly: No, no. I decided not to tell her. I just don't want her imagining what I'm doing here.

21 January 2012

Frank Zappa's 200 Motels

I clocked 200 Motels being creative at 400 mph.

My gun only registers speeds up to 400 mph!

200 Motels is maxed out, a densely creative and energetic piece of cinema. I've seen it twice now and still don't know all its moves, its curves, its innards.

Lonesome Cowboy Burt: Fine, you can brief me as long as you want, as long as you can tell me two things.
Rance Muhammitz: I know, when do we get paid --
Burt: No, I wanna know where is that waitress --
Muhammitz: Uh-huh, waitress --
Burt: And if she comes in this place, will she sit on my face, and loan me a couple bucks until the end of the week.
Muhammitz: Couple of bucks --
Burt: Heh heh --
Muhammitz: End of the week ... week ending, the week ending, what, what's that, what's the date?
Burt: Uhh, Tuesday was the 5th, uhhh, Monday was the 3rd. Make that out for Sunday --
Muhammitz: Ah ah ah -- don't say Sunday.
Burt: What's wrong with Sunday? The Lord's day.
Muhammitz: Ah ah ah --
Burt: A day of rest. Just make that sucker out for the 23rd of March, would ya?

(it should be noted that the quoted scene involves a toy machine gun and a man dressed as a general and a man dressed as a cowboy).

The movie, the first filmed on video, seems like it has no rules, no objectives. Maybe it was an excuse for the music, but as far as excuses go, this one is elaborate, fantastic, and magical.

It fulfills the promise of rock music via the medium of movies. It's a movie for people who want to explore their emotions through art, who want to travel to the anarchic limits of their imagination. If the movie sometimes goes too far, good, good for the movie for going too far, because who are the other filmmakers who are out that far, and doesn't someone got to be?

Mark Volman: The penis can be a very useful organ.
Howard Kaylan: Yeah, very exciting too, once you get to know me.
Crowd: Oh yeah, etc. (mumbles of approval).
Crowd in chorus: PENIS.
Groupie #2: It sounds so overwhelmingly medicinal.
Groupie #1: A penis sounds like something a doctor would have hanging off of him.
Groupie #2: None of the men I know and love in the rock and roll business got penises. They all got cocks or dicks at least.

Conventional and widespread criteria for evaluating a movie's success involves plot and character analysis. The goal is to decode the film's message, which audiences expect to be included, because cinema has become a didactic art form, evidenced by the plethora of children's television and movies, and too the arrangement of dramatic material within general mainstream adult films that treats an adult's mind like a child's. In a popular sense, movies have become an art form of hand holding, and by and large there's a shared DNA among the types of movie seen in the multiplex or rerun on television or imitated by television productions. If one is not careful, one could begin to believe there's a certain way a movie should be, a certain behavior that's suitable or characteristic for the art form.

200 Motel's riches are manifest, but not in what's become the traditional and ubiquitous sense of cinematic riches. 200 Motels is free from the shackles of plot and story, message and didacticism; the movie is a feeling - and a positive feeling! It's an experience of the joys of expansive personality and the thrills of adventurous hearts. It's silly, wacky, wild, and weird, yes, and also passionate, creative, and curious.

Note: 200 Motels was full frame in its original release.

20 January 2012

The Sleeping Beauty (Breillat)

Anastasia: Can't you mix a potion to enable me to break the spell?
Vieille mégère: I can't give you stronger powers than those you possess. Can't you see that animals and people succumb to you? You left barefoot, and without mishap wandered throughout the universe. I can't give you more strength than that.

Anastasia wants so badly to have the perfect life of a princess. Her princess wishes warp her sense of self and contort her view of reality. The people around her encourage this view, treating her like a princess at a young age, and filling her with the promise of a princess' life.

Catherine Breillat treats seriously the fairy tale side of Sleeping Beauty, but is wise to the differences between dream and reality, or rather, the differences between our dreams as they exist purely in our dreams, and our dreams as they take shape in our lives.

Like with Bluebeard, Breillat uses the dramatics and structure of a classic tale to explore how clear and solid desires become unreliable and dangerous once human emotions are introduced. She often concentrates on sexual politics; in both Bluebeard and The Sleeping Beauty, Breillat contrasts the motives and goals of a male with the motives and goals of a female in order to depict the spoiling of a female's sexual innocence, and also to depict the female's discovery of inner strength.

The crumbling of her princess fantasies doesn't destroy Anastasia, she's made stronger by having suffered and learned and grown. Her journey to maturity, which is different from the male's, gives her wisdom which he lacks.

Johan: You love me as before?
Anastasia: As before. Except now it's after. You see, I went alone into your world.

19 January 2012

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Pepper LaBeija: Why is it that they can have it and I didn't? I always felt cheated. I always felt cheated out of things like that.

Pepper: You know a lot of those kids that are in the balls, they don't have two of nothing. Some of them don't even eat. They come to balls starvin. And they sleep [somewhere]. Or they sleep on the pier. Or wherever. They don't have a home to go to ... but they'll make, they'll go out and they'll steal something and get dressed up and come to a ball for that one night and live the fantasy.

"You can become anything and do anything, right here, right now. It won't be questioned. I came. I saw. I conquered. That's a ball."

Dorian Corey: If everybody went to balls, and did less drugs, it'd be a fun world, wouldn't it?

Dorian: To be able to blend. That's what realness is. If you can pass the untrained eye, or even the trained eye, and not give away the fact that you're gay, that's when it's real. The idea of realness is to look as much as possible like your straight counterpart.

Venus Xtravaganza: Some of them saying that we're sick, we're crazy. Some of them think that we are the most gorgeous, special things on Earth.

"They give the society they live in what they want to see. So they won't be questioned. Rather than have to go through prejudices about your life and your lifestyle, you can walk around confidently, blending in with everybody else. You've erased all the mistakes, all the flaws, all the giveaways, to make your illusion perfect."

"There's people who sit home all day, they have potential, okay. I mean they go to the balls and they prove that they have potentials on actually selling a garment. Okay, but they like, being that I have this potential the ballroom tells me, okay, the ballroom tells me that I'm somebody. When the ballroom is over, when you come home, you have to convince yourself that you are somebody. And that's where they get lost."