Articles

By Steve Dollar

Time has not worn dull the oddball charms, nor solved the existential riddles of Mickey One. Arthur Penn's much-neglected 1965 film is long overdue for wide reappreciation, which will be a lot easier now that it's out on DVD, presented in a digitized version of a fabulous restored print, one that lends seductive depth and richness to its black-and-white palette. The visual scheme is slyly well-suited to the surreal tilts and spontaneous freak-outs that punctuate the story, paced by saxophonist Stan Getz's improvisations on an imaginative jazz score.

Mickey One The film remains as curious as ever. Its opening scene establishes a phantasmagorical tone that it rarely departs for long, as a nightclub comic (played by budding heartthrob Warren Beatty, fresh from Lilith and acting his 28-year-old ass off) lights up a cigar in a sauna, sitting fully clothed in foppish finery as a laughing chorus of fat, old guys cackles at him.

Must be the 1960s.

Blog entry 11/11/2010 - 1:10pm

 (Article originally appeared on GreenCine Daily)
by Vadim Rizov

The arthouse isn't immune from peddling glorified YouTube cutesiness: earlier this year, Babies offered up viral‐adorable burbles on 35mm. (Cuteness on demand is nicely spoofed in Godard's new Film Socialisme, going from full-screen kitteh close‐up to the woman watching it; she meows, which is considerably less cute.) Similarly, the masses apparently love to watch sassy old folks being stylish and adorable, without any troublesome bodily failures getting in the way. Mid‐August Lunch, full of snippy old ladies and food porn, seemingly offers up more undemanding fare, and let's be clear: there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But Gianni di Gregorio's directorial debut is remarkably tough‐minded.

Blog entry 10/13/2010 - 11:22am

by Jeffrey M. Anderson 

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT director Lisa Cholodenko<br />
(photo credit: Danielle Taormina-Keenan)

Lisa Cholodenko's well-received 1998 debut High Art was a major landmark for lesbian filmmaking in the '90s, even if the writer-director makes films more to please herself than to fill any LGBT niches. After moving from New York to Los Angeles (where she shot 2002's titularly set ensemble drama Laurel Canyon—which, coincidentally, was centered around straight people), dealing with distribution troubles and working in television (directing episodes of The L Word and the short-lived Push, Nevada), the 46 year-old auteur returns to the big screen with her finest and most widely released effort yet, The Kids Are All Right.

Blog entry 07/07/2010 - 10:22am

By Simon Augustine

Some films are legendary for bearing the imprimatur of nearly unanimous praise. Others are notorious for a less fortuitous reason - iconic because they represent almost supernatural amateurishness, ineptitude, and a lack of artistic instinct that becomes an distinct art form in itself. For every Citizen Kane there is a Plan 9 From Outer Space. The question that defines absurdum, i.e. the improbably bad, is: "how did this thing ever get made?" As Tim Burton showed us in his bio-pic Ed Wood, however, there is an effable charm to a visionary intent on bringing her dreams to life, even if they are nightmarish in quality and merit. The worst, most self-deluded auteur is still, in some ways, more palatable than the most distinguished critic-snob. To paraphrase Woody Allen: there are those who make bad films, there are those who write about bad films, and there are those who teach gym.

Contenders for the Throne of Awful:

Blog entry 05/03/2010 - 3:37pm

by Roderick Heath

Continued from Part Two (1969-1989)

Lantana

Part Three: 1990-Present

1. Independent's Day: The Reign of Quirk

Australian cinema in the past twenty years has often looked like a manifestation of a culture constantly trying to second-guess itself. Faced with a narrowed era of multiplexes and blockbusters, moviemaking in Oz has failed, in spite of the occasional spotlights falling upon it, to gain even the kind of effective niche that British or French films had managed to carve in the modern cineaste panorama, and the fact domestic audience could rarely be counted upon to give necessary support stirred the question as to whether that support ought to be given automatically or first earned.

On top of this, the always problematic issue of how and what films to sell to the public has become all the more confusing, leading to fractious partisan battles of rhetoric. In the early 2000s, Ray Lawrence's Lantana was seen as a nuanced, grown-up alternative to a small avalanche of modest TV-derived comedies and in-your-face provocation; by the decade's end, further attempts to make grown-up, sober-minded dramas were being blamed in media critiques for dampening the industry's ever-ailing chances in being "depressing."

Blog entry 03/25/2010 - 8:46am

by Roderick Heath

The Cars That Ate Paris

Part Two: 1969-1989

1. Engines of Change

Continued from Part One

Few explanations for the almost unprecedented resuscitation of Australian cinema between 1969 and 1975 are immediately satisfying. Perhaps the most important changes were the most difficult to quantify, but it is easy to see that 1968 was one of the most important years in contemporary Australian history. A popular referendum gave equal citizenship to indigenous Australians after decades of excision from the communal dialogue. Demonstrations over a visit by Lyndon Johnson, and against Australia's follow-the-leader involvement in Vietnam, illustrated the rise of a new, protest-based counterculture, and a popular objection to the idea of the United States take Britain's place in dictating Australian international policy soon expanded into a new thirst for self-definition. The same year also saw the foundation of the Australian Council for the Arts, a federal panel for sponsoring cultural projects, after a sustained demand for aid in combating the apathy generally dubbed the "cultural cringe" that disdained home-grown art and entertainment.

Such events indicated a new attitude to issues long caught in stagnancy during the highly conservative government of Sir Robert Menzies, which had lasted from 1949 to 1965. The wave of political and cultural agitation rolling worldwide in this era coincided neatly with this reinvigoration, and a powerful nexus arose that fused renewed intellectual and artistic energy, and embraced both old and new versions of the national character. In any event, the close government interest in cinema Raymond Longford had pushed for in the 1920s to so little effect now became institution.

Blog entry 02/22/2010 - 3:09pm

[Roderick Heath's expansive survey of the history of Australian cinema begins in that country's own silent era, and works forward into the 1960s. Parts II and III will bring us into the modern era.  Some of the silent films mentioned here are actually available to watch online; links provided.  So come meet the unsung heroes and pioneers of one of the world's most prolific and important film industries. Enjoy. - ed.] Diggers

By Roderick Heath

Part One: 1896-1968

1. Pioneer Spirit

Filmmaking technology first came to Australia in the hands of Maurice Sestier, one of the Lumiere Brothers' [Wikipedia] many globetrotting cameramen, who arrived in Sydney in 1896, not a month after the first exhibition of films by Carl Hertz in Melbourne. Sestier shot several short travelogues of such edifying spectacles as Sydney Harbor and the crowds filing onto ferries and trams, and opened the Salon Lumiere on Pitt Street specifically to screen them, making him both Australia's first filmmaker and professional exhibitor. Sestier's film was too slow to capture the racing horses at the Melbourne Cup later in the year, so he settled for shooting the crowds instead. Sestier decided there was no future for cinema in Australia and auctioned off his camera two years after arriving, leaving for France with all his films. Nonetheless his work had made an impact, inspiring a small number of followers who made documentary shorts and news reels which proceeded to tantalize crowds.

Of course, random shots of commuters and bushland were never going to fascinate paying patrons for very long. The idea of creating a fiction feature film may have been in many minds, but the man regarded as the first to accomplish it was an unlikely figure: Major Joseph Perry of the Salvation Army's Magic Lantern and Photographic Department. Perry, an Englishman residing in Melbourne, had shot a few short documentaries, and his first stab at a new kind of cinema was part of an early multimedia experience, with portions of his film shown in alternation with slides, sermons, and hymn singing, as part of a religious lecture. This movie, entitled Soldiers of the Cross, was essentially a series of illustrative sequences portraying the grisly fates of early Christian martyrs.

Blog entry 02/17/2010 - 10:04am

[Note: Simon accidentally omitted this from his original Disturbing Movies List but we think it was worth waiting for.--ed]

18. Sweet Movie artistic: 7 / gross out; 6

Once you begin to watch this 70's oddity--an obscure and shocking ode to the joys of communal living and nonconformist thinking--you soon think to yourself: "When is something going to happen?' And then realize nothing is going to happen...at least not in the way you think or could reasonably expect. Director Dusan Makavejev's bizarre trip down a river in Amsterdam in a ship of revelry and rebellion--a journey both literal and figural into heart of counterculture idealism--consists of a surreal series of episodes, loosely involving the strange adventures of a beauty contestant.

"Miss Monde 1984" symbolizes just about everything wrong with American capitalism (greed, possession, conversion of people into commodities) and, like the protagonist of Terry Southern's Candy, another well-known freak-out, she encounters a series of lovers and loonies who defile or enlighten her in one way or another (in the process, escaping the clutches of John Vernon, before he was the sleazy college dean in Animal House, here a sleazy businessman to whom she is betrothed as a game-show trophy wife.)

Blog entry 12/18/2009 - 2:24pm

Before we get to Simon Augustine's addendum, his lengthy list of (dis)honorable mentions, other Disturbing Films, he first has this suggestion to get through your viewing party.

Items you may want to have handy in addition to DVDs:

  1. Ouija Board: you may want to leave this lying on the coffee table. You'd be amazed how many otherwise rational and reasonable adults, who adamantly believe in science, evolution, and Einstein, and who shrug condcscendingly at the mention of Sasquatch, The Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, crop circles, ghosts, aliens, and A Divine Creator will refuse to use or even touch the magical Ouija. A lot of people don't believe in God these days, but they believe in power of the Spirit Board. Moving the pointer around and inviting Satan and his hellish minions to join you at DNATM can add to the fun and anxiety.
  2. Draw a pentagram on the floor. It can't hurt.
  3. Candles, candles, candles.
  4. The Necronomicon, Disturbing Founding Father H.P Lovecraft's fictional, Henrymythic bible of demonology and the occult, with important or relevant passages ear-marked; (note: a copy may be hard to find, considering the book doesn't really exist; and
  5. A disconcerting framed picture of Charles Manson or Sean S. Cunningham.

Caveat Emptor: The most important criterion for this list is visceral barf-bag impact. Because of censorship in the first half of cinema history, and thankfully increasingly lower societal standards in the second half, the extremely graphic nature necessary to be truly sickening did not fully appear in the movies until the late 60's/early 70's when Last House On The Left, et. al. paved the way for a quick descent into more explicit sex and violence. Thus all of the films on the main list were released from 1968 to the present.

Blog entry 11/11/2009 - 12:06pm

Finishing Simon Augustine's countdown of the Most Disturbing Movies (Read Part 1 for the first 13). [<< #2]

1. Irreversible (2002) 10/10

The undisputed king - no doubt about it. Bar none. No holds barred. Hold everything. Hide the kids, lock the door, be prepared to white knuckle it and hold on tight. L'enfant terrible and talented sonafabitch Gaspar Noé used some of the most prodigious command of sight, sound, and atmosphere since Kubrick to completely envelop you, rendering you helpless and utterly aghast.

Irreversible, still banned in several countries, is an all-out assault on the senses: the camera swirling and dipping like a drunk sailor getting sea-sick; the grinding, insisting, dread-soaked musical score; the flashing effect that can cause seizures; the backward titles; the backward chronology; the backwardness of the characters who get caught up in a maelstrom of violence; the foreboding bell of horror tolling, that signals the beginning of the film.

Blog entry 11/11/2009 - 11:08am

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