Monday, January 31, 2005

Sundance Wrap Up

I've been woefully behind on any kind of Sundance information, but really what have we missed? Seems like all the news coming from the fest is gossip, Paris Hilton sightings, and celebrities going wild over the free stuff offered by various merchandisers. And here, may I pause to give props to Keanu Reeves, who, by most accounts, refuses to indulge in the freebie free-for-all.

Sundance is, ostensibly, about idependent filmmaking, and the festival wrapped up this weekend with its traditional awards ceremony. For a run down of the award winners and trends coming out of Sundance 2005, read here.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Journal Entry: What is a Documentary?

The other day I was digging through an old box and found a small journal that I had kept for a college film theory class. We were required to jot down our thoughts on films or topics covered in class. This entry was my musings on the nature of documentaries. At the time, I was relatively new to watching and thinking about films critically. I also did not have a lot of experience with documentaries. Reading the entry now, it seems really quaint--naive, even--to question the "truthfulness" of documentaries. Perhaps this is a reflection of me at the time, exposed to new concepts. But I also beleive that we, as a society, have grown much more media savy, and perhaps this musing was also a product of its time. Here is what I wrote in 1994:

What is a documentary? Like most, I used to think that it was a truthful, fairly objective look at a certai event or personality. However, after "deconstructing" documentary photos and films in various courses, I'm wondering if anything put on film or tape could ever be purely objective. I dont think so--there will always be some sort of slant.

I looked up "documentary" in my Webster's dictionary. It states: recording news events or showing social conditions dramatically but without fictionalization. I liked the use of the word "drama" because it acknowledges the injection of emotion, from the artist, in the work. The word "fiction" proved interesting as well. Definition number four of fiction states: in law, something accepted as fact for convenience, although no necessarily true. Perhaps this would be a better definition of documentary.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Found Photos: Celebrity Parade

Celebrity Parade, circa 1940s. Click on image to enlarge Posted by Hello

Recently, I came across these two snapshot photos of an unknown parade taken in the late 1940s. The top image appears to be actress Susan Hayward (the sign on her convertible is partially obscured). Hayward, a five-time Oscar nominee, had a long Hollywood career dating from the late 1930s. Her resume contains such gems as BEAU GESTE (1939), the death row drama I WANT TO LIVE! (1958), and the camp classic VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967).

The bottom pic is of the character actor Chill Wills, who had a lengthy career as a supporting player in B-westerns as well as in high profile films MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) with Judy Garland; GIANT (1956) with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean; and THE ALAMO (1960) with John Wayne. Wills also provided the voice of the popular 1950s film series featuring FRANCES THE TALKING MULE.

If you have an interest in found photos/vernacular photography, check out my friend’s photo blog SNAPATORIUM.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Movie Rentals, Week of 1/17/2005

After a long break, I’m starting up the weekly mini-reviews once again. Here is what I watched this week:

THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY (1969): This late 1960s film—or, for that matter, Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel on which it is based—is still as fresh and relevant as ever. The film follows desperate individuals competing for money in a dance marathon—a gruesome contest and spectator sport popular in Depression-era America. Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, and Gig Young (who won an Oscar for his supporting role) star. The advertising tagline for the film was “People are the ultimate spectacle”. How true today in the age of reality TV.

This film was part of my Depression-era viewing theme in anticipation of the new season of HBO’s CARNIVALE. To that, I added an interesting little documentary RIDING THE RAILS (1997), made for PBS’s American Experience series. In the grip of poverty, thousands of teens stowed away on freight trains and crisscrossed America looking for work and adventure. Using the reminiscences of the youth (now in their twilight years) along with archival footage and folk song soundtrack, the doc explores this Depression-era phenomenon.

THE TAO OF STEVE (2000): This small indie film centers on Dex, a lovable schlub of a guy who manages to bed and break the hears of a succession of woman by using self-styled rules he calls “The Tao of Steve”—“Steve” being the epitome of masculine cool, Steve McQueen. When a woman named Syd enters his life, however, love threatens his cherished rules and shakes the foundation of his identity. This is a great first film by director Jenniphr Goodman, and Donal Logue completely owns the role of Dex.

ROCKETS REDGLARE! (2003): Filmmaker and friend Jim Jarmusch calls Rockets Redglare (born Michael Morra), “a con man with a soul.” This low budget documentary turns the camera on Rockets and his pals, including Steve Buscemi, Matt Dillon, and Julian Schnabel, as they tell the story of this relatively unknown fixture of the early 1980s New York scene. Born a heroin-addicted baby, Rockets turned a horrifying childhood into edgy stand-up comedy, a succession of supporting actor roles, and stints as bodyguards for Jean-Michel Basquiat and The Sex Pistols. Indeed, it was Rockets who found Nancy Spungen dead of the bathroom floor of the Chelsea Hotel. Plagued by addiction, ballooning weight, and a host of health problems, Rockets tells his remarkable life story with unflinching honestly, humor and grace.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Dog Day Afternoon

I received a lot of great DVDs for birthday and Christmas presents over the holidays, one being DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975). It was one of those films that I had woefully neglected seeing—it’s a shame that I had waited so long.

Dog Day Afternoon focuses on two robbers (Al Pacino and the incomparable John Cazale) as they attempt to hold up a Brooklyn bank. What should have been a quick and easy job spirals out of control into a standoff and an all-out media circus. The film is funny, dark, satirical, and, I think, one of the best examples of gritty 1970s filmmaking.

The film is based on a true incident involving bank robber John Wojtowicz. Wojtowicz received 20 years for his crime, and was in prison when the movie came out. Unhappy with the way he was portrayed, Wojtowicz wrote his own review of the film and submitted it to the NEW YORK TIMES, which rejected the article. JUMP CUT, an online review of contemporary media, has reprinted both Wojtowicz’s review and the Times rejection letter. Both can be read here.

Jump Cut is a great resource for those wanting more substantial critiques of film and other media. Around since 1974, Jump Cut analyzes media in relation to class, race, and gender. The site has the latest issues as well as extensive archives dating back to the magazine’s origins in the 1970s.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A New Year at Flicker

After a long holiday break, I’m back and read to start blogging again. In the coming year, I hope to post more in-depth entries, broaden coverage into recent independent/art/foreign film fare, as well as highlight current issues and technology within the film community. To that end, I’m excitedly planning a trip to Austin’s South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in March. I attended the conference a couple of years ago and saw some amazing work by both up-and-coming and veteran filmmakers; I’m sure the 2005 conference will be just as compelling. As for other blogging goals, I want to make this site more available and user-friendly, placing it on various search engines, updating my profile, and making it easier for those who would like to ask questions or leave comments.

I’m starting the year, however, with an old stand-by—the R.I.P. The link below leads to the L.A. TIMES obituary for Thelma White, who achieved notoriety as a lead in the anti-marijuana cult classic REEFER MADNESS (1936). As you will read, she led quite a colorful life, starting as a child carny crisscrossing the Midwest, not unlike the outfit depicted in HBO’s surreal and fascinating series, CARNIVALE.

Thelma White, 94; Actress Known for 'Reefer Madness'