Friday, September 30, 2005

Flirting with Disaster

I’m back home in Houston again, safe and sound. I was one of those unfortunate souls that got caught in the massive gridlock when fleeing Hurricane Rita. Very long story short, it took 31 hours (!) for me to drive to my destination---normally a 5-hour trip. Despite the personal misery, I realize that I’m very fortunate in that I am safe and no damage occurred to my home. Others, either victims of Rita or Katrina, are still suffering. Again, I urge you to DONATE either money, needed items, or your time to help rebuild the lives of those living in the Gulf Coast.

My first brush with a hurricane got me to thinking about the Disaster Film genre. Disaster films have been around since the birth of cinema, but reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s with such flicks as TOWERING INFERNO (1974), AIRPORT (1970), or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972). This site gives a brief history of the genre and has a comprehensive list of films should you want to throw your own disaster film festival!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane Rita

First Katrina, now Rita. I will have to stop blogging for awhile, as I'm getting ready to flee Houston in anticipation of the massive storm. Hopefully, I won't be away too long.....

Everyone stay safe.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Films Set in New Orleans, Part II

As an addendum to yesterday's post, this article from the NY Times questions whether Louisiana's once-thriving film industry can survive Katrina's destruction. The piece takes a look at films shooting in the area when the hurricane hit, highlights efforts to keep marketing the area to Hollywood executives, and touches on the sometimes thorny issue of tax incentives offered to out-of-state film companies.

You can read the entire article here.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Films Set in New Orleans

For the past two weeks, horrific scenes of devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina have seared our collective consciousness. Here in Houston, the epic proportions of the tragedy are all too real as our city tends to thousands fleeing the wreckage. As for myself, the past week was spent gathering clothing for the survivors and much-needed supplies for our local SPCA. I hope to start volunteering at the Houston FOOD BANK soon. As a nation, we’re in this for the long haul. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to DONATE either money, needed items, or your time to help rebuild the lives of those living in the Gulf Coast.

On a lighter note, here is a nice list of classic films set in and around New Orleans from the folks at the Classic Movies website. For a more tongue-in-cheek list, the Metrobloggers of New Orleans has a list of cheesy and bad films set in their fair city. I take minor exception with them for listing THE BIG EASY (1987) as a bad film. I like The Big Easy, or should I say, I like Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

On Invisibility

By sheer coincidence, I recently rented two wildly different films that both explore the theme of invisibility. By “invisibility”, I’m not meaning the stock-in-trade of science fiction or comedy, but rather people who are under-appreciated or overlooked by the dominant society, whether through isolation or marginalization.

The first film I rented was A DAY WITHOUT A MEXICAN (2004), a barbed satire by filmmakers Sergio Arau and Yareli Arizmendi. A strange fog descends over California, and in an instant, all the Latinos disappear. Chaos ensues. In several interconnected stories we see the Golden State fall apart due to their absence: black market fruit and vegetables (no migrants to pick the crops); dilapidated homes (no one to cook, clean or do maintenance); closed schools (no teachers); lost jobs and so on. The lone Mexican who did not vanish—a TV news anchor (Arizmendi)—becomes a specimen displayed on 24-hour reality TV in hopes of finding an answer to this mystery. While I think the film lacks somewhat in execution—needing stronger acting and tighter storytelling—it is a film of ideas, and it gets its message across strongly.

Later, I watched IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL (2004), a documentary on the reclusive “outsider” artist Henry Darger. Darger (1892-1973) was a lowly janitor at a Catholic school in the Chicago area. With no family or friends, Darger spent his days at work, returning home each evening to a sparse apartment lacking such amenities as a telephone or TV to connect him to the outside world. No one really knew who Henry Darger was, even the employers, landlords, and the handful of neighbors he encountered throughout the course of his existence. He was, as director Jessica Yu states, “truly invisible in life.”

[Can you imagine coming home to no loved ones, no television, no telephone, no computer? What would you do in that silence? How would you entertain yourself? What would you think? What would you create?]

Just prior to his death, Darger became ill and was placed in an institution. Knowing he would never come back, the landlords began cleaning out the apartment of their hermit-like tenant. To their amazement, they found a 15,000-page novel detailing the fantastical adventures of The Vivian Girls, seven angelic sisters who lead a rebellion against child-enslaving men. Along with the novel were thousands of illustrations and other ephemera—such as battle songs—that support the Vivian Girls story, as well as an autobiography and a daily journal that documented the weather. Since then, Darger’s work has been exhibited and collected worldwide, and has served as the inspiration for numerous artistic works in mediums ranging from music, dance, opera and poetry. Some viewers have said that they’ve wished for more information, and the filmmaker’s decision to use computer animation on Darger’s art is a bone of contention among art purists. I think this doc is very engaging and a good introduction for those who are unaware of the Darger story. To get a better sense of Darger and his work, check out his wikipedia page here.

Near the end of A Day Without a Mexican, a news anchor asks, “How do you make the invisible visible? You make them disappear.” Both of these films, through satire and documentary, explore a world left behind by certain individuals—either an entire group of people or one reclusive janitor. What a difference these people make in life, left unacknowledged until disappearance or death. Or perhaps more to the point: what a difference we all make during our brief time on earth.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

R.I.P. Brock Peters

Award-winning stage and screen actor Brock Peters passed away yesterday at the age of 78 from pancreatic cancer. Peters had a long and distinguished career, with such film credits as CARMEN JONES (1954) and PORGY & BESS (1959), as well as theatrical roles in Shakespeare's OTHELLO (1963) and CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY (1969-1971). He is best known, however, for his heartbreaking perfomance as Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of rape in a deeply segregated South, in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962).

You can read Peters' obituary here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Creating Better Theaters

Numerous articles focusing on the decline of movie theater attendance have appeared throughout the summer. An article in today’s NEW YORK TIMES looks at one solution being carried out in venues around the U.S.: creating a better theatergoing experience. With high-end concessions, bars, concierge service, and other amenities, theater owners are fashioning an upscale environment that, as one owner explains, “gives people a reason to leave the house.” All of this costs money—well above the standard $10 movie ticket price—but it seems that some are willing to pay for the extra luxuries.

The ultimate luxury, it seems, is an environment without kids or teenagers. These special amenities are adult amenities, with some places barring those under 21 from certain screenings. At a time when more and more Hollywood films are geared mainly to teenaged audiences (Dukes of Hazard, anyone?), these theater owners are certainly going against the tide. Now if only studios will follow suit and make more films for adult sensibilities……

You can read the New York Times article here.