In the Beginning….Part 1

Fiction and Documentary

by Donato Totaro, Daniel Lynds, David Lemieux Volume 11, Issue 7 / July 2007 26 minutes (6278 words)

The origins of Offscreen go back to the summer of 1997, at the 1997 Montreal Festival of New Cinema and New Media (FCMM). The FCMM had asked the Francophone online journal Hors Champ, in existence for less than a year, to act as the official critical organ for the festival. The idea was to have a constant stream of daily postings of film reviews which would give festival goers a critical summary of the films. Hors Champ’s editors at that time, Nicolas Renaud (still at the helm), Joel Pomerleau (now running the online production at the National Film Board of Canada), and Steve Rioux (now living and working in San Francisco as a web designer) asked if I would like to join the venture and oversee the English language texts. I gladly accepted. I remember the time as a fun and exciting experience. The Festival gave us a large loft on the second floor of the Festival headquarters, with a handful of computers, television sets, VHS machines, and loads of screeners. For ten days, from June 5 to June 15, a core of writers which included myself, Daniel Lynds, Sarah Rooney, David Lemieux, and Judes Dickey pretty much lived in the loft, with a routine which consisted of watching films and then scampering up to the loft to churn out a review, which would then be immediately uploaded to the Festival’s website. We slept very little and survived on 99 cents pizza slices and caffeine (OK the odd beer in the evening). A poem written at the time by Daniel Lynds nicely captures the experience.

“QUE VIVA MONTREAL”

There are crowds under the banners
under the banners there
are words. Sounds like words and
rhythm. A yell rises
above the crowd for some more. More of what
we came here for. Give us the image
To pray and demand now, before they leave to eat.
Across from the moving fingers and the moving pins.
Not quite what last year promised, but something else.
NOWHERE with an audience

Sprinkle some of that spirit this way. In dire need.
In speculation of one, nine are lost.
So much so far.
The old new French Vague-ist with another moment from a battle. It rages. There seems
to be no exact way of writing. Reinke and Depardon use pre-recorded events to
manipulate, for viewing pleasure, the erotic subject. LONELY BOY meets NETTIE
meets memory.
Now is not the now we knew. It is through the excess of telephones and maps and
CD-ROM’S.

Open up and take that kick in the pants you’ve been waiting for since
THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Wake up in the middle and walk out and slash that attempt
before you give it a chance.

The videotech is a place to rest your fingers in fear of losing your lips.
Reaching for the air that’s in the hard drive.

As the end draws near I feel like I did as a child on Christmas Eve. That feeling in
my stomach. I couldn’t go to sleep because I’d miss the big moment. But if I didn’t sleep
I’d throw up because of my nerves.

The texts we wrote were meant to be ephemeral, much like the film festival experience, and were only available for a short while until the Festival website was put offline. Luckily I keep good notes and archived most of the texts. In the ten days of the Festival we posted 100 texts, 60 in English and 40 in French. The breakdown was 34 videos, 49 films (features and shorts), 7 columns, 7 new media, and 3 events. A few short weeks after this, Offscreen was officially launched, hence I’ve always thought of the FCMM experience as a starting off point or launching pad for Offscreen. Because of this I would like to “re-post” some of these original texts as part of this tenth year anniversary celebration issue. I have resisted the temptation to edit these texts in any way at all. They appear here exactly as they did back in 1997 (complete with large cap titles), written very quickly under extreme time pressure, and without any inkling of longevity. As such they clearly hold some nostalgic value, so please be kind as you read them!

FICTION

1) BERNIE
Albert Dupontel, France, 1996, 87 min., 35 mm

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

What is it with this Bernie guy, biting the head off a canary! BERNIE is a reverse modern day CANDIDE (1759), Voltaire’s story about a naive believer in the goodness of humanity set upon the world to discover otherwise. BERNIE begins with the title character leaving the orphanage he has lived at for 30 years in search for his parents. The switch is that Bernie is an aggressive-victim, a rat let out of his cage who reacts the only way he knows how: with violence. Bernie is Chancey the Gardener gone crazy. For those who don’t recall, Chancey the Gardener is as the simpleton gardener played by Peter Sellers in Hal Ashby’s BEING THERE (1979). Sellers was also isolated from the real world his entire life and, after the death of his rich caretakers, is thrust onto the world with only a television remote control in hand.

Bernie’s first victim is a black charwoman that he bludgeons to death with the drainpipe that he used to scale a building. Moments later he tears a few strands of dreadlocks off the head of a Rastafarian. What is it with this Bernie guy! The difference from the earlier mentioned texts is that BERNIE, for all its hipness, underscores a strong social statement. The film is peopled with social outcasts: actual homeless people, drug addicts and the “outsider” outsider, Bernie. Though Bernie is drawn to mediated imagery of the world and himself, the film says nothing new (or that wasn’t said infinitely better in NATURAL BORN KILLERS) about the simulacrum world. Rather, Bernie’s violent tendencies are a combination of social and genetic causes. And much more so the latter once we get to meet Bernie’s (gleefully violent) parents. Bernie was the classic abandoned child, dropped off by his parents in (appropriately?) a trashcan. Father becomes a homeless bum, mother’s bum ends up in a bourgeois household. Bernie is reunited with his dad, in the film’s only realist sequence of hand-held (Bernie’s) point-of-view shots through a derelict squat.

Father and son team-up to find and kidnap mommy. This sequence is the film’s highlight (or low light depending on your taste…but then again if you had real good taste, “Kulture,” you probably wouldn’t be watching BERNIE). As they speed along the highway Bernie’s father prepares for their attack by sharpening his shovel (a good working class tool) along the steel street ramp (a very funny image that foreshadows the violence to come). The film is being promoted as a “Trash Comedy” along the lines of CLOCKWORK ORANGE, DELICATESSEN and MAN BITES DOG (films that are very different to begin with). It is this sequence that best exemplifies this “trash comedy” aesthetic. (Though the sequence’s hyper-kinetic energy and use of comic violence remind me more of Peter Jackson’s BRAIN DEAD (1992) than the above noted films.) All hell breaks loose once Bernie and his father break into the overly caricatured haughty bourgeois household. Shovels fly face forward; bodies are sent through the air; loud metallic sounds hold court to underscore the always off-screen shovel-to-head contacts. One of the classic golden rules of comedy is overstatement. One hit to the head is horrific; five successive hits, coupled with a cartoon sound, is comedy. Bernie’s father has his way with a pre-teen girl over the piano keyboard. While Bernie runs rampant through the house, dissonant piano notes remind us of papa’s pedophilia (a neat aural equivalent to the off-screen violence).

Bernie and his father hold the mother as hostage. Whenever Bernie leaves the apartment his parents masochistically take to each other like rapid dogs. Mom takes a cleaver to dad and dad tries to turn momma into a microwave dinner. Exhausted, they methodically and slowly bludgeon each other to death. The point here is to show us just where Bernie’s violent nature comes from. But the over-the-top comic style, which worked in the previous attack scene, doesn’t work here. Simply because the sequences play themselves out long after the point has been made.

The film’s credit sequence has the camera moving inward (with cuts) through foliage. In the next shot we are introduced to Bernie, seen through a triangular hole in the orphanage’s garden bushes. In a following shot the camera tracks into a close-up of Bernie. In Alain Dubeau’s text on BERNIE, he gives this opening an interesting Freudian (more precisely, Robin Woodian) interpretation: the foliage becomes the womb; the opening a vulva; the return/rebirth of the monstrously repressed (Bernie). In a parallel reading, Bernie can be seen as a modern Frankenstein’s monster, the unwanted child who sets out to meet (and ultimately destroy) his parents. The parallel fits in with the film’s social subtext of alienated, social outcasts (the Frankenstein monster being the archetypical outsider).

One of the film’s strengths is its deft hand at employing pure cinematic touches. For example, the several clever transitional sleight-of-hands that deceptively transport the spectator from one time-space to another: a point-of-view of Bernie looking up a dark garbage chute transforms into an extreme close-up of an eye. Not many arts can achieve similar mental and physical time-space transportation with such a simple gest (frame to frame cut). However, after leaving the theatre I felt generally disappointed with the film, convinced that it succeeded only partially. But the film has strangely stuck in my memory and not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought of Bernie. What is it with that Bernie guy!


2) MY SECRET CACHE
Shinobu Yaguchi, Japan, 1996, 83 mins., 35mm

Reviewed by Daniel Lynds

MY SECRET CACHE is a spoof/comedy about a girl, Sakiko, whose overwhelming obsession with money dominates her life. Her favourite pass time is counting money and, not surprisingly, she lands a job as a bank teller. On the job she dreams of being taken hostage by bank robbers. Next thing we know she’s in the trunk of a car. The story then moves from one unlikely sequence to the next as Sakiko always manages to beat the odds. She survives being thrown out of the trunk of an exploding car, speeding down rapids on a briefcase, and going over steep waterfalls. All of this before the credits. The pre-credit sequence is hilarious; the Celtic soundtrack adds a nice touch and echoes Sakiko`s weirdness. It’s all done in earnest which makes for good light entertainment… If your taste covers both offbeat, slapstick humor (the pre-credit sequence) and more conventional fare (the rest of the film), then the film is well worth your time.

Unfortunately, as MY SECRET CACHE progresses it begins to lose steam. There are still a few laughable moments left, and the cinematography works with the light content. Undoubtedly, Sakiko`s obsessive drive to succeed at all reasonable cost strikes a deeper chord in Japanese society, something which could possibly make the second-half`s comic letdown more acceptable.


3) DON GIOVANNI
Carmelo Bene, Italy, 1970, 70 min., 35mm

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

As a Canadian of Italian heritage, I felt culturally ashamed never having heard of Italian theatre impresario and film director Carmelo Bene. If this introduction to Bene is any indication, the festival’s complete retro of his 5 feature films is going to be a treat for lovers of arcane cinema. If you think Fellini is weird…Bene is Fellini on acid. Drawing on my own admittedly broad knowledge of esoteric cinema, I searched for a comparative context and thought of the heightened theatricality of Britain’s answer to Boris Karloff, Tod Slaughter, or Brazil’s master of pop-philosophical horror Jose Mojica Marins (known in North America as “Coffin Joe”). But somehow, Bene slips such easy comparisons.

There is no narrative to worry about or rich characterisations. The film takes place exclusively in a single location set somewhere during the Renaissance (no doubt partly to camouflage the film’s low budget). There are three characters, a young girl, her mother, and a man (Carmelo Bene?). The action centers around the man’s attempt to sexually seduce the young girl, a picture of purity in her white gowns and varied religious necklaces, what one critic referred to as Bene’s own dreams of sexuality. The film oozes perversion. In a scintillating variation on shot-reverse shot, the girl sits at a piano, her back to the camera. The mother walks toward her. Whenever the camera cuts behind the mother she is nude. When it cuts back to a frontal position she is dressed. This perversion of shot-counter shot proceeds for several shots until the mother arrives and begins to kiss the crying girl. At the end of the sequence we get a quick shot of the man off in the darkness, the voyeur as orchestrator. In another wild extended sequence, Bene crosscuts between a grotesque display of Italian puppetry and the girl exorcising herself from the surrounding perversions by steadfastly kissing her cross (the Catholic church must have loved this one!).

My description thus far renders no indication of the film’s wild style, a ludicrous mix of theatrical mise-en-scene and a cinematic camera style. While the sets, acting and costumes are operatic, Bene keeps things moving at a harried clip with hand-held shots, extreme (at times out-of-focus) close-up’s, zoom shots, superimpositions, and a manic cutting pace that surely goes beyond any Italian film of the period. Bene even accentuates the Italian tradition of post-dubbed sound by giving the sound a distant, canned effect. I look forward my next excursion into Bene’s hysterical delirium.


4) HAMLET
Sir John Gielgud, Great Britain, 1964, 190 min.

Reviewed by David Lemieux

For those fortunate to have seen Kenneth Branagh’s four hour, 70mm film version of Hamlet (1996), the version being shown at the Festival is an entirely different experience. In collaboration with the Festival de Theatre des Ameriques, the FCMM will present Sir John Gielgud’s 1964 Broadway interpretation of HAMLET for one screening, on Sunday June 8, 15:00 at the Cinematheque Quebecoise (335 de Maisonneuve blvd. West).

In stark contrast to filmed versions of Shakespeare, this HAMLET is done onstage, in real time, with the characters dressed in mostly-modern outfits. Gone are the lavish sets, impractical for a theatrical production, replaced by minimalist backdrops and sparse props. The early apparition of Hamlet’s deceased father is only evoked by the simple use of back-lit shadows instead of the cinematically manipulated super-impositions common in more recent filmed interpretations of the play.

Richard Burton, who had to be convinced to allow a filming of his stage performance, gives one of the most intense, and virtually flawless, screen performances of Hamlet ever seen. Those scenes in which Burton is absent lack his stage-presence, which translates into at times dull cinematic fare, but to see him at his most passionate during the performance is often a moving experience, for Burton at times seems genuinely made to play Hamlet. Rarely do stage performances result in such successful film adaptations, but Burton’s strength provides the required energy to result in such a success.

The film’s original 35mm negatives was restored in 1995 and was put onto video, but the FCMM will be showing a rare screening of a newly restored 35mm print. Showing at the Cinematheque Quebecoise, Sunday June 8, 15:00.


5) TAXI DE NUIT
Marco Castilla, France, 1997, 10 min., Animation, 35 mm.

Reviewed by Daniel Lynds

SPEED PENETRATING THE PSYCHE: A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF TAXI DE NUIT

This animated short reaches beyond it’s film noir/action genre roots to reveal a multi-faceted commentary on filmmaking, art, and ultimately, the human psyche. The story revolves around an unnamed cab driver and a jazz singer named Slacks. The plot begins after the story ends as the cabbie sits in jail awaiting his death. He delivers a voice over reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT in it’s sense of unavoidable fate. What follows is ten minutes of visual experimentation with figurative tendencies as the couple…

Basic elements of animation are utilized to create an emphatic world consisting of movements through light and color. These arresting movements present reflexive tools used to impinge upon the viewer’s consciousness. The film’s stop motion photography forces the viewer into an awareness of it’s plasticity, yet the moving rhythms keep us engaged in the action. The ambiguous time lapses carry the viewer from event to event creating a cause and effect relationship whose pathos occurs before the film starts…

The set and lighting design show traces of several movements in art history. The Gothic portraits of the city allow for a dark background containing small bursts of light from windows and street lamps. This backdrop is contrasted with the pure light sensation of the tunnel sequence where Modern Art influences are apparent. Moving through these frameworks, the figures simultaneously recall characters from the golden age of detective comics and cartoon strips of the seventies. This accumulation of references reveals a world which exists onto itself…

The structure of the film also offers a possible relation to Jungian based study of the human psyche. The EGO (Cabbie) attempts a bonding with the primal ID (Slacks). This unity is doomed for the EGO is passive (i.e. cabbie’s role in life is a servant) whereas the ID is relentlessly aggressive (ie. role of performer and sexual aggressor). The EGO in turn submits to the ID as a superior force (cabbie becomes a willing participant in Slacks’ killing spree). Momentum builds as the ID totally overrides the EGO in it’s quest for ultimate satisfaction (Slacks’ orgasmic excitement in killing innocents). Merging into one being (The Taxi), the unification is broken as the ID chooses the greatest risk in hope of attaining pure bliss (chicken fight with police car and diesel truck). This attempt fails and the tragic fall occurs (over the rails and down, into a pole). The unification is broken (Slacks falls out of cab) and the EGO is left in the dark (Cabbie in prison awaiting death)…

In summation prepare yourself for sex, death and psyche projected at twenty four frames per second.


DOCUMENTARY

6) BALIFILM
Peter Mettler, Canada, 1997, 28 min., 35mm

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

BALIFILM is a poetic exploration of the natural and human rhythms of Balinese culture by one of Canada’s most introspective and visionary artists, Peter Mettler. With his earlier feature length films THE TOP OF HIS HEAD (1989), TECTONIC PLATES (1992), and PICTURE OF LIGHT (1996), Peter Mettler, part of the Ontario New Wave (Atom Egoyan, Bruce McDonald, Patricia Rozema, Ron Mann, Janis Cole), demonstrated an insatiable thirst for philosophical and spiritual exploration through cinema. For BALIFILM Mettler, who moves easily but refractively between fiction and documentary, has dropped his usual reflexive and meta-discursive interests (cinematic limitations for acquiring truth, nature/technology) for a documentary that, in part, recalls the “city symphony” films of 1920’s (RIEN QUE LES HEURES, BERLIN SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY, RAIN, A PROPOS DE NICE). Like the “city film,” BALIFILM refrains from voice-over narration or dialogue to make its aesthetic point. The film’s meaning is wholly related through editing and music-image interrelation. Mettler isn’t interested in questions of knowledge or truth, but in impressionistically collapsing natural rhythms (human dance, puppet shadow dancing, mist, water) with cinematic rhythms (camera movement, editing, music).

BALIFILM is based upon footage that Mettler shot on the island of Bali, Indonesia in 1990 and 1992. The film, which could appropriately be subtitled “the rhythms of Bali,” is methodically structured to progress from nature, to art (shadow puppetry), to human dance. Mettler mixes realistically shot footage of a village with expressionistic, grainy footage of the shadow play and (earlier) slow motion, black & white footage of Balinese architecture. The film’s over-all effect recalls Sergei Eisentein’s theory of vertical montage, in which music and image relate as montage elements. For example, in one dance ritual there is a rhythmic counterpoint between chiming music and the internal rhythm of the dance itself. In other dance sequences, Mettler demonstrates why he is one Canada’s most accomplished cinematographers by choreographing snake-like camera movements (sometimes in slow motion) that emulate the hand gestures of the dancers.

One of the film’s most enchanting qualities is its music, both in itself and how it relates to the images (for interesting music-image relationship see also the festival’s retrospective of Georgian filmmaker Mikhail Kobakhidze). The soundtrack is a live recording performed by 8 Gamelan musicians playing traditional Indonesian instruments. The effect is an incredibly vibrant symbiosis between the image and the music. The music is part of a total rhythmic harmony between music, dance, editing and camera movement that engages the viewer in an hypnotic, trance-like state.


7) FREAK OUT
David Hevey, Great Britain, 1995, 30 min., video

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

Look no further for the worst film/video in the festival (of course I haven’t seen them all, and there are competitors). It’s not so much that FREAK OUT is bad, which it is, but that it is sorely out of place in an “art” film/video festival. FREAK OUT feels more like an ad to solicit government funding for the disabled or a public service message than something meant to really change public perception about the physically disabled (And I’m sure I’ve seen one of the subjects on just such a television ad!). The well-intended video is a series of talking heads with people of varying physical deformities and handicaps. There is a great range in the severity of deformity. In some cases the deformity is visibly obvious and extreme, while in others it is difficult to gauge just what the disability is. In itself, I would think lumping together people with such varied physical handicaps is a problem, but that’s another point. The video’s goal is to show that a) “normal” people do not accept the physically disabled b) this stigmatization is often internalized by the physically disabled, to the point where they do not even see themselves as sexual beings and c) the physically disabled must strive to regain their self-esteem and confidence. Now nobody in their right mind would be against what the film is saying. It’s the way the film is saying it (the form) that is the problem. (Not to mention moments where it falls victim to its own condemnation…. which I’ll get to soon)

Does a film on the physically disabled have to be stylistically disabled? Or so boring? Whenever FREAK OUT tries for humor, such as the painful moments with the body-building dwarf, it falls flat on its face. When the video was finally over, it felt like being force-fed medicine for 30 minutes. We don’t have to be told over and over that these are real people with real emotions and real sexual desires. In the beginning, FREAK OUT condemns society for establishing idealized, homogenous notions of the beautiful. Since we are shown shots of muscular, Adonis-like statues, we assume that the trim, well-chiselled body is part of this ideal. So why does FREAK OUT then spend so much time showing us two disabled people pumping their bodies up to match this very same ideal? Footage of the black woman doing weights is defensible, given the physical disabilities she had to surmount, and her sense of humility. The footage had a positive sense of empowerment. But the blond, blue-eyed poster boy dwarf was just too much! The camera caressing his pumped-up body; smiling at the camera, cupping his genitals and saying “I bet you’ve never seen anything so big!” People around me could barely contain their laughter.

The only effective moments in the video are the opening images of a facially disfigured woman in a cage, violently shaking the mesh, a captive woman-monster. Moments later we see her interviewed, articulate, intelligent and self-perceptive. It’s the only moment when our perception’s are challenged, where there is an attempt to shock us out of our complacency. The video would have been effective if it had engaged more of this type of discourse, perhaps including images of physically disabled “freaks” from films to show what the disabled are really up against. Perceptions that are formed slowly over long periods of time will not crumble under the weight of innocuous, obvious video sermonizing. If indeed these are special people with unique problems, they would have been better served by a more engaging, challenging, “special” form. It is unfortunate that Donigan Cumming’s original, very human CUT THE PARROT, which deals with other “special” people, had to be saddled on the program with such a dud.


8) THE MARQUESA…PORTRAIT OF A DOMINATRIX
Karen Young, Canada, 1997, 60 min., video

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

THE MARQUESA…PORTRAIT OF A DOMINATRIX is a formally uninteresting yet engaging and educational documentary on the subtleties and argot of sadomasochism (S & M)…especially for someone with only the minimum number of body holes. If your in the latter, then you too may glean some heuristic value from the following scattered notes, thoughts, and interjections; if you own more than a few leather outfits then click elsewhere:

THE ARGOT:

TOP/BOTTOM: A recuperation of the terms as applied in sex. The TOP being the dominator (the one with the whip), the BOTTOM the willing, submissive partner (the one baring all).

THE SCENE: Not to be confused with the film term (a scene). THE SCENE is the S & M act in question between the TOP and the BOTTOM.

NEGOTIATION: The terms under which the SCENE takes place. The ground rules if you will. If, for example, during a SCENE the BOTTOM says “Please, take your fist out of my ass, it hurts,” the TOP will not listen because it may be part of the SCENE. Hence the MARQUESA came up with a complex system of verbal signs to circumvent any mis-communication: GREEN (keep going, everything OK); YELLOW (Slow down/stop, it’s starting to hurt); and RED (definitely stop what you’re doing).

INFANTILIST: (not to be confused with evangelist, though some may argue a striking similarity) A BOTTOM who acts and wants to be treated as a child. Hates to be thought of in the company of the words domination/submission; paedophilia.

PLEASURE/PAIN: A state of mind where the senses becomes confused and the line between pain and pleasure erased (not something you want happening at the dentist’s).

THE PLAYERS:

THE STARS (TOP)

THE MARQUESA: Our (all-too serious) dominatrix and spiritual guide through the world of domination/scarification. Thirty going on 50, she claims that her Jewishness bestowed her the sense of ritual (Bar Mitzvah’s, circumcision) necessary to her job.

JUSTICE CROSS (Jesus Christ, he-he) & LILITH M: Friends and confidant’s of the “master” Marquesa. When the Marquesa needs spiritual help to test her new bed of nails (don’t look for this one at Ikea), Justice and Lilith are there.

MAITRESSE NOIRE: Leather clad dominatrix, owner of THE SLAVE (see below, looking up from the SLAVE’S point of view).

SUPPORTING CAST (BOTTOM)

SLAVE: Submissive, collared, obediently kneeling man-dog. Property of MAITRESSE NOIRE (see above, from the MAITRESSE’S point of view).
DYKE DAVID: Submissive star of the video’s best scene: an extended (and cinematically effective) flogging where we eerily feel we’ve been time-warped back into the Dark Ages.

HOT BUNS: Recipient of a good old fashioned fist-fucking.

BABY MIKEY: Just what you’re thinking. (See Infantilist above)

Kids, there’s much more to learn about the enticing, seductive world of S & M, but class is over…if you want to learn first hand (after all, ‘Trix is for kids) get you’re soon to be red ass over to the Marquesa for some down home flogging.


9) RED HOLLYWOOD
Thom Andersen and Noel Burch, USA, 1995, 118 min., video

Reviewed by David Lemieux

Divided into seven distinct sections that examine the left-leaning tendencies of certain American films from the 1930s to 1951, RED HOLLYWOOD takes a deep look into the causes of what would lead to the McCarthy hearings on Un-American Activities in Hollywood (HUAC). Rather than look at the politics of individual filmmakers, producers, and, most importantly, screenwriters, RED HOLLYWOOD instead looks at the films themselves to demonstrate that embedded within one of America’s greatest cultural institutions was in fact a significant amount of subversive content.

From the beginning of the film, Noel Burch (a prominent film theorist who also directed the BBC documentary series WHAT DO THOSE OLD FILMS REALLY MEAN?) and Thom Andersen make clear that they do not want to spend time on the political outlooks of those in Hollywood who were blacklisted following the McCarthy Hearings, but rather set out to show how these leftist individuals inflected their films with their personal ideologies. The film’s seven sections, Myths, War, Class, Sexes, Hate, Crime, and Death, are each made up of great Hollywood themes and issues. Under each section are included film clips from before the hearings that demonstrate how the left-leaning filmmakers had used these themes and issues to demonstrate what was wrong with America while governed under a right-wing political regime. Under the Crime section, for instance, clips from many classic film noirs are used to show that crime was caused by the suffocating bourgeois institutions that most often prevented a hard-working individual to honestly rise the social ladder. Abraham Polonsky, one of the RED HOLLYWOOD‘s principal interview subjects and leftist director and screenwriter during the era, says at one point, “All films about crime are about capitalism,” insinuating that crime was not the fault of the individual but of a constraining, elitist capitalist system. Leftists politics are detected in films found under each section, wherein they go against traditional American beliefs, such as championing the rights of African American workers or expounding the necessity of the Spanish Civil War.

RED HOLLYWOOD does not condone nor condemn the left in Hollywood. Rather it shows that it was indeed present, and was unfairly treated by the hearings that resulted in the blacklisting of a large portion of American filmmaking talent. The downfall of certain American stars, most significantly amongst them John Garfield, underscores the damage that ignorance and intolerance can inflict on a group that was legally doing no wrong. In light of the suffocating right wing politics governing America at the time, the film clips used by Burch and Andersen in RED HOLLYWOOD seem today like a necessary balance to the steady stream of right-leaning films coming out of Hollywood during the period. As the film and the hearings make clear, these subversive films were not seen as being necessary at the time, but were instead denounced and ultimately stopped for the potential ills they would inflict on America in the eyes of a governing right-wing political system.


10) 37 WAYS OF LEAVING HOME
Shelly Silver, U.S./Japan, 1996, 52 min., Video

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

37 WAYS OF LEAVING HOME is a fairly straightforward first-person documentary account about varying generations of Japanese women and how they cope with cultural pressures of a strongly patriarchal Japanese society. Director Shelly Silver livens up the talking head interviews with an eclectic mix of animation, home-movie style footage, optically printed hand-held shots, and impressionistic black & white images of deity statues. Silver must have a silvery way with her interviewees because she gets some startlingly frank on-camera revelations and confessions. A young woman refers to her baby experience of breast feeding alongside with her brother as a “repulsive memory.” A middle-aged woman, pressured to maintain a rigorous work ethic that kept her away from her family much of the time, cries on camera, saying how she wishes she could have given her family more love. The same woman’s daughter earlier in the film bitterly states, “I don’t care if I never see my mother again.”

The film lays to rest any preconceived notions we may have about the ideality of Japanese family life, especially were women are concerned. One young woman admits to having had an abortion. An elderly lady notes how “once you leave your family for a husband, you leave your family behind…your bones will be buried with your new family.” (A similar custom occurs in Korean society.) One woman glibly comments, “It’s been 50 years since I married…and I still don’t know what love is.” To emphasize generational continuity Silver cuts at this point to a home-movie style slow-motion shot of a little girl walking toward the camera. But Silver also demonstrates that generational patterns can and do change. Many of the young Japanese women interviewed harbor rebellious notions toward their foremothers and their surrounding culture. Many seek this liberation in the form of art, mainly cinema. We briefly see snippets of footage filmed by two of the young interviewees (Yukie Saitok and Emi Aoki). One bluntly states, “I want to make films that shock people.” A middle-aged woman admits her strong identification with movie anti-heroes and losers, reminiscing with a special twinkle in her eyes, the violent finale to Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH (during this interview Silver includes footage from Fritz Lang’s SIEGFREID TOD as well as THE WILD BUNCH).

Though not an earth shattering documentary, the interviews hold our interest. We are exposed to a considerable amount of emotional dissatisfaction the women feel toward Japanese society. For anyone programming a Kenji Mizoguchi film series, or who simply wants cultural insight into his films, they may want to consider this documentary as an excellent heuristic companion piece to Mizoguchi’s many women-centered films.


11) RITRATTI D’AUTORE: FRANCESCO ROSI
Stefano Incerti, Italy, 1996, 15 min., video
RITRATTI D’AUTORE: DINO RISI
Sandro Baldoni, Italy, 1996, 15 min., video
THE TYPEWRITER, THE RIFLE AND THE MOVIE CAMERA
Adam Simon, U.S./Great Britain, 1996, 55 min., video

Reviewed by Donato Totaro

As part of the (any) festival’s inward gaze it is running a whole slew of films and videos in its “Words on Cinema” series that document cinema history as seen through the eyes of (mainly) grand auteurs (what historiographers would call the “Great Man” theory of history). Some take a broader national or thematic approach (RED HOLLYWOOD, SHOOTING ON THE NILE, WHEN EAST MEETS EAST), but the majority concentrate on singular visions (Ken Loach, J.L. Godard, Chantal Akerman, Shirley Clarke, Nanni Moretti, etc.).

Italy has an interesting program entitled RITRATTI D’AUTORE that is comprised of 7 bio-snapshots on elderly Italian directors (“masters”) as seen through the eyes of 7 young Italian directors. Other’s in the series include the Taviani brothers, Ettore Scola, Ermano Olmi, Francesco Maselli and Sergio Citti.

The two above are representative of the varied approach taken by the young Italian cineaste/documentarians in this series. The former on Francesco Rosi is a conventional documentary where the young displays the expected reverence toward the master. Stefano Incerti asks the questions, Francesco Rosi answers. Whenever Stefano tries to interject an appreciative analytical comment on a film Francesco curtly interrupts with a “Si, si.” The structure is more or less chronological, beginning with Rosi reminiscing on his apprentice days with his “master” Luchino Visconti on LA TERRA TREMA and then evolving through his mature period with film clips and stills.

The second, by Sandro Baldoni on Italian bad-boy Dino Risi, assumes an unconventional, tongue-in-cheek approach to its subject. It begins with a clanging sound and a judicial looking imprint “10 Accusations Against Dino Rosi.” Throughout the interview, Rosi is framed in mid-shot, concealed in silhouette as if a condemned man. Baldoni fires questions that coax refreshing, frank responses to Italian film history and culture.

Part 2


AUTHOR BIOS

David Lemieux was the Grateful Dead’s audiovisual archivist from 1999 to 2006. As custodian of the band’s large collection of film, audio and videotapes, Lemieux also produced scores of archival CD and DVD releases. For aninterview of his work as the Grateful Dead archivist, click here. Prior to working with the Grateful Dead, David held a position as the audiovisual technician at the BC Archives in Victoria, and has done contract work for the National Archives of Canada relating to nitrate film storage requirements. His educational background includes an MA in film archiving from the University of East Anglia, and undergraduate degrees in film studies (BFA, Concordia University, 1997) and history (BA, Carleton University, 1995). He currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia, where he continues to work on archival projects with the Grateful Dead and various record companies. (Bio taken from the AV Trust.)

Daniel Lynds wrote for Hors Champ and Offscreen for a while and loved the people he met and the things he saw. Inspired by this, he is now living in Prague where he gets to see a lot of interesting cinema. He is enjoying living in different countries and, inspired by cinema, he now plays in a rock band, Glass Pocket, makes collages, tries to make films and videos, watches Svankmajer in a downpour on a sinking island, and tries to make a living educating and learning from others in various ways.

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK) and is a part-time lecturer in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). He has published on recent Asian cinema, the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky, the horror genre and is currently preparing a manuscript entitled Time and the Long Take in Narrative Cinema.

In the Beginning….Part 1

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 11, Issue 7 / July 2007 Film Reviews canadian cinemadocumentaryitalian cinemapeter mett

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