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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #31
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    Jul 2002
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    SWAN SONG (Todd Stephens 2021)



    Udo Kier takes center stage in a quietly flamboyant and touching gay role

    Udo Kier, born in 1944, is a film and voice actor from Cologne, Germany who moved to Palm Springs in the early nineties. A perennial player in pungent small roles, he has appeared in over 200 movies. After playing in Andy Warhol's Frankenstein; he had roles in a raft of horror films or all stripes. He has worked for art house and cult directors like Lars von Trier (extensively), as well as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Walerian Borowczyk, Gus Van Sant, Christoph Schlingensief, and Dario Argento (whose 1977 classic Suspiria he was featured in). Recently he had a key role in the critically acclaimed Bacarau as the head of a gang of evil American playboys who hunt and kill humans for sport, and also appeared in the phantasmagoric Holocaust saga The Painted Bird, where he plays a raging cuckold who gouges out the eyes of his wife’s lover. This time he's a character referred to as "the Liberace of Sandusky, Ohio." It fits him to a T. And it's a first for him: a lead role.

    In the Sandusky-set Swan Song Udo is Patrick Pitsenbarger (the fiction based on a real person), who was a high class beautician in his heyday who styled all the rich and glamorous ladies of the quiet midwestern town. Now he has had a stroke and has apparently long been languishing in a nursing home when prestigious lawyer Walter Shamrock (Tom Bloom) arrives to convey the posthumous request of wealthy former friend and client Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans of "Dynasty") to do the dead lady's hair in grand former style for her final appearance at the funeral home. He is to receive a munificent fee for this job of $25,000. At first he flatly rejects the idea. They had a falling out over her failure to attend his lover's funeral. "I'm retired," he says, Kier flashing that basilisk stare of his. He is living a dreary, curmudgeonly life, his hobbies immaculately folding paper cocktail napkins from the cafeteria and stealing clandestine smokes of Mores with a mute old lady in a wheelchair with pretty hair (Annie Kitral), and not much else. He has come to embrace denial and exclusion.

    But then "Mr. Pat" has a change of heart. Stealthily he slips out of the nursing home dressed in his usual sweat suit and gray fanny pack and sets off on foot for the town of Sandusky and the funeral home. Swan Song becomes an offbeat road movie in the manner of Lynch's Straight Story, a colorful walkabout of reconnecting with the past and making amends. In the course of it, Pat drinks, steals, charms, and learns. This is among other things an unapologetically instructional survey of ways gay life has changed since Stephens was young, with gay married couples raising children, gay bars made obsolete by hook-up apps, disappearing high camp drag shows signaling the gradual loss of a whole colorful ghettoized subculture that no longer seems necessary as gayness comes to be more widely accepted in America.

    Patrick is, of course, himself a gay man. His lover, David, died of AIDS back in 1995, a loss he can never recover from that's movingly celebrated by a visit to their joint grave. In this story, Kier gets to play a down-to-earth and personal role and shines in this unique opportunity to be the featured actor throughout a film this time playing an eccentric minority person who has faults but has never been a monster.

    In addition to learning how gay life has changed, Pat encounters other changes, like the disappearance of the joint home he lost because David left no will. He learns his protege Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge) who became a competitor didn't wrong him as much as he thought. He gets several surprises about the dead lady and her grandson (Michael Urie). His exploit at the final drag show is a spectacular surprise for the younger generation.

    As for Todd Stephens, his gay credentials couldn't be better: he wrote the screenplay for the all-time best American gay teen coming-of-age movie, the 1998 Edge of Seventeen (directed by David Moreton). (Stephanie McVay, the mom in Edge, is back here; also featured are Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Urie, and Ira Hawkins.) This time, Stevens wrote as well as directed. Stevens has set both films in his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, a place he left long ago but still refers back to as his own. In Swan Song Stephens celebrates the town he grew up in as well as an accomplished and fabulously campy gay man he looked up to when he was a gay youth coming of age in Sandusky. Stephens knows the territory - and the songs of Pat's heyday, like Dusty Springfield's "Yesterday When I Was Young," Shirley Bassey's "This is My Life," and Melissa Manchester’s "Don’t Cry Out Loud." He frequented the real-life Universal Fruit and Nut Company gay bar where here we see the lip-synch drag shows Pat participated in every week are having their final evening.

    Swan Song is a tour de force for Udo Kier, a warm-hearted, nostalgic performance for both him and writer-director Todd Stephens. Resorting to some surreal moments and tricky flashbacks, Swan Song is not as smoothly directed and edited a film from minute to minute as Edge of Seventeen, which had the directorial hand of David Moreton.The new script as the Variety review puts it is on the "earnest but anemic" side and Udo's teutonic accent takes the speed out of Pat's zingers. The movie's rhythm as a whole falters after the midpoint. The narrative teases expectations so often we start to wonder if Pat is really ever going to do the dead lady's hair, after all. Both the physical challenges the elderly protagonist is put through and the quantities of alcohol he is made to consume strain credulity. But with his patience and quiet inner confidence Kier nonetheless succeeds, seeming indomitable and more sincere than campy playing this real-life person.

    Swan Song 105 mins., debuted Mar. 18, 2021 at Austin (SXSW); also scheduled to feature at Cleveland, Provincetown, Nantucket, and other festivals including Frameline (San Francisco). It has been favorably reviewed already at its debt in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and IndieWire. It is scheduled for limited US release by Magnolia in theaters Aug. 6, 2021 and on demand Aug. 13.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-15-2021 at 05:22 PM.

  2. #32
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    Tati’s pipe-smoking, tan trench coat-clad alter-ego heads out to a seaside resort for a little rest and relaxation—but there’s never much of either on offer when the accident-prone Hulot is around. The spectacle of vacationers working overtime to relax provides a canvas on which Tati paints intricate and ingenious sight gags in this, Hulot’s first big screen outing, a sun-kissed delight that wrings belly laughs from fireworks, a befuddling train station, and uncooperative tennis balls, horses, and cars, all amounting to the “peculiar comic triumph [of catching] the ghastliness of a summer vacation at the beach.”—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker.- Metrograph

  3. #33
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    Jul 2002
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    The man who had everything - and it wasn't enough

    Three years ago, shortly before his sixty-second birthday, the popular American chef, food writer, and television host Anthony Bourdain hanged himself at Le Chambard Hotel Restaurant in Alsace, Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France, to be found by his longtime friend and then collaborator, French chef Éric Ripert. He left no note. As we look back over Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, the suicide hangs over it. Clips show Bourdain thought of death, including his own by suicide, rather regularly. Some think it is a little soon for the Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville to have made a film about the life of this vibrant, articulate, highly-strung man, this artist of food, words, and images, who for his shows traveled the world, exploring the far-flung places, tasting everything, above all including "the nasty bits," teaching himself and reporting to his audience about all he found out as he reportedly mellowed and wised up. The pain is still very vivid for those hurt, saddened and angered by this sudden, tragic event. You might say, surveying the man as this film does, that he was headed toward such an end; but the end came with him still full of joy and energy for life and that end surely might have been averted, and he gave no clear warning that it was coming. Indeed if he could look back today he might be surprised himself that this thing ever happened. Anthony Bourdain had extraordinary luck and success. You could say he was a man who had everything but still found it not enough. "Everything" is a subjective concept, however; and so is "not enough."

    In a way this film too is itself also everything, and not enough. Its apparent capaciousness and inclusiveness don't keep it from seeming to lack penetration into the ultimate, intimate truths of the man. Morgan Neville had access to thousands of hours of film footage and doubtless much other data besides, including, of course, the many interviews he was able to conduct with people who could describe their friend and collaborator, their "Tony." The director could have constructed many different portraits with so many images and voices of Bourdain - a man who, by the way, he never himself met. (Had they met, might Neville have refrained from having Bourdain's voice artificially mimicked to "speak" some lines he wrote but never "said"? But the matter, though good for publicity, seems trivial, another even more irrelevant detail.)

    Bourdain's distinctive good looks were part of his success as a celebrity. These of course are quickly captured in film clip and still photo images. Tall, thin, erect, long-faced, luminous, curly-haired, emphatic of speech; perpetually lighting and puffing cigarettes; still able somehow to make that unfashionable gesture seem elegant. Cool yet emphatic, free with f-words and yet never at a loss for the mot juste;, plain-spoken, vivid, metaphorical, colorful, shy at first, according to his longtime TV collaborators, yet eloquent, the kind of guy who always had something memorable to say. With these characteristics, one quickly understands that he almost had to become a TV food personality, a lone-traveling, free-speaking, hyper-articulate one, exploring the great, exotic world of cuisine and society in his own way. (Interestingly, when the shows began, his collaborators learned he had never up to then actually traveled at all. His TV work bespeaks a great released hunger.)

    It emerges that what's lacking from Neville's portrait is much that is, on reflection, quite essential. The lingua franca this film speaks is footage of Bourdain's celebrity years, about the last eighteen or so of his life. Missing is most of the man's early life. Missing also is much of what he would have to tell us about food. Missing also, much about the cuisines he explored in his travels. All that, you might say, is found in footage of the shows he wrote and performed, available on Netflix, "Cooks Tour," "No Reservations," "Parts Unknown." But there is a sense of how elusive all this is. (There is the story of the 2006 Lebanon war - the Israeli bombing of Beirut - he stepped into, and out of, but nothing of the Lebanese cuisine he eventually celebrated. There is mention of his risky Congo episode and his memory of Sheen and Brando in a favorite film, Coppolal's Apocalypse Now. But what did Congolese food taste like? Food and the taste of it are the essence of Bourdain's life, but fall into the background here.)

    The film and its clips take up with Bourdain toward the end of his mediocre career as a line cook, then chef, then chef-manager of Les Halles bistro in New York, just when his book Kitchen Confidental had been published (May 22, 2000) and immediately became a Timesbestseller and made him famous overnight - when he went from the private person who gathered the stories, gossip, and home truths about the rough and ready world of high pressure restaurant kitchens that you can read in Kitchen Confidential, to the public person nobody really knew. Before that, the preceding forty-four years, aren't specifically covered.

    The early years are so lightly sketched in that some reviewers have reported walking out thinking Bourdain grew up in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In fact he was from New Jersey. Provincetown he refers to as associated with his primary drug years, when he used cocaine and became addicted to heroin while apparently working at a menial job at a restaurant. We do hear from his brother, but the impression is more like the voice of yet another charmed and disappointed friend. It's said he quit heroin "cold turkey," meaning presumably without rehab, repeated tries, or 12-step meetings. When asked how he could do this, he says, "I looked in the mirror and saw someone who still seemed worth saving." This anodyne remark shows Bourdain at his most bland and uninformative, though it might have been the only truth he knew. Often the talking heads say Bourdain was "an addict," and he himself admitted to this. One friend says he got that Bourdain quit heroin by shifting his addiction elsewhere.

    Elsewhere to what? To life, maybe, to writing, to pursuing the next adventure and taking on every challenge so hard and fast they distracted him, as he confesses - traveling 250 days a year - from seeing enough of his first wife, Nancy Putkoski (1985-2005), not heard from, a long relationship that ended with the first years of celebrity; or of his second wife, the Italian mixed martial-arts fighter Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, or of his only child, Ariane, born to Ottavia in 2007. (We hear nothing from Nancy. We hear regularly from Ottavia - in accented English that's a bit hard to follow; we hear nothing from his final flame, Asia Argento. The film's hints that the suicide's "cause" might have been problems with the volatile and powerful Asia have been strongly criticized. Yet clips of her effect on a shoot of a Bourdain TV episode do show her to have been the Yoko Ono of this culinary Beatle.)

    The addiction may contain clues to the suicide, certainly to the man. But all this is beginning to sound like tabloid gossip speculation. One feels Neville indeed did not wait long enough to compose his portrait. What he has left us here are tear sheets from Anthony Bourdain's celebrity: his TV shows, memories and expostulations from his bereaved, angry, hurt friends; film clips we almost might have gathered from Netflix by ourselves; the kind of information-overkill celebrity life provides, leaving us knowing, if not precisely nothing, too little more than we already did starting out.

    Tony Bourdain is still very much alive. He is also very much dead. This is an energetic sifting-through of information. It is not a penetrating deep-research documentary biography. Perhaps none is possible. Documentary can take many forms. It can be made at home - or take one to the far corners of the earth. It can be a sifting-through of data, if the right data in the right way. A recent stunning example is Michal Weits's Blue Box, where the filmmaker read through her great grandfather's 5,000-page diary to illuminate Jewish acquisition of land from Palestinians and its continuing expropriation after the founding of the State of Israel. But a great documentary usually needs to be more than a sifting-through and re-editing of film. One feels however great Morgan Neville's effort here, he did not quite travel the extra mile as his subject did.

    Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, 119 mins., debuted at Tribeca Jun. 11, 2021, also showing at Silver Spring (AFI Docs) Jun. 25, Nantucket Jun. 26; and will be shown at Melbourne Aug. 10. Screened for this review at Landmark Shattuck, Berkeley, CA Jul. 27, 2021. Metacritic rating 79%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-28-2021 at 08:52 PM.

  4. #34
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    Jul 2002
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    BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE (Lucy Walker 2021)



    Causes and prevention of destructive California wildfires from a Londoner's perspective

    Lucy Walker is a filmmaker from London living in California and identifies as such in frequent voiceovers to this new film. The film is about fire. It is more comprehensive but less elegant than Ron Howard's National Geographic film Rebuilding Paradise (2020) from last year. (There's also a new one about young prisoners used by Cal Fire, Fireboys.) Ron concentrated his terrifying, grim footage of the destruction of Paradise in the Camp Fire to a few minutes at the outset. The rest of his documentary focuses on who stays, and who rebuilds. Lucy Walker devotes more footage to the Paradise horror and its harrowing and ugly aftermath. She makes you stop and think: what if my whole house and everything in it were destroyed in minutes?

    But this is still only the beginning. Walker has multiple subjects; even so, her film seems too long. But while she seems unable to decide how to relate her coverage of Malibu and the Woolsey Fire and Paradise and the Camp Fire (both started November 8, 2018) - leaning more and more toward Paradise - Bring Your Own Brigade has illuminating (if prolix and repetitious) discussion we all need about the real causes of these fires and our future prospects of preventing them - and what fire means in the world and in nature.

    I wound up a bit confused by Bring Your Own Brigade. Indeed even the title is confusing. It seems to refer to the wealth of some Malibu residents, which is so great they can afford to finance private firefighting teams (their "own brigade") to save their own properties from destruction. But this is not the main drift of the film and leaves one wondering why it was chosen as the name of it. Nonetheless, however messy this film is compared to Ron Howard's neatly organized one, this is a stimulating, searching exploration of a huge subject.

    Now, is global warming the main culprit or isn't it? Walker makes clear enough that there are many factors. Her film is excellent in the experts she provides, with very different orientations, who talk about this. One thing explained in detail is that the location of both Paradise and Malibu sets them up to be exposed to fires every few years, or at least every decade or so - perhaps now increasingly often. One factor a scoffing Malibu architect resident points out is "dumb" construction. His house with its sound use of materials and design did not ignite, while it's surrounded by dozens of houses, ranch style or Tuscan villas or whatever, that burned to the ground because their architecture was chosen for purely emotional reasons and they were very badly made for a fire zone.

    Similarly, surroundings and detailing of houses are willfully ill chosen in places that have seen repeated destruction by fire. We see the town of Paradise have a meeting in which citizens and the city counsel members all vote to reject every single one of the fire department's recommendations to protect their houses, the most important one being a five-foot clear zone around their buildings. Flowers and bushes were too dear for them to protect themselves from their house burning down. Doing away with gutters and overhanging roofs, both accoutrements that cause houses to ignite - was also summarily rejected.

    It is incidentally a clear contrast politically between Malibu, with its properties averaging $3 million in value, and which is liberal democratic, and the relatively low-income Paradise, average house value $200,000, and which is predominantly Trump-supporting republican - some of whom definitely don't believe that climate change is a real thing. This relates to the town meeting: Paradise residents have a self-destructive obsession with "individualism" against the recommendations of authorities and experts which Lucy Walker states herself unsympathetic to and uncomprehending of as a European. When you have a population who think individual liberty enables them to reject scientific fact, what can you do?

    Another major factor in the case of Paradise is what Walker's film shows to be a whole complicated system of disastrous and dangerous land and woodland management by government and timber companies, notably clearcutting by the huge Sierra Pacific Industries, that led to increasingly dense forestation of smaller trees and depletion of fire resistant large trees and shrubbery that made all the land around a tinderbox. After each fire the tendency has been to go in and replant more young trees and create denser forestation.

    The film contrasts the wrongheaded forest management with traditional Native American use of fire to remove periodically dangerous fire-starting underbrush. Historical background is provided to show the white man rejected fire-protection fires by Native Americans from when they first encountered them. The Gold Rush beginnings of the California land boom, it's explained, brought policies of careless, impatient, destructive land development that fostered fire danger. On the other hand, there are scientific voices here to state sophisticated understanding of the eternally important positive role played in the ecosystem of fire.

    An important footnote is included to show the destructive effect on firefighters like Montecito Fire Department supervisor Maeve Juarez, of doing their jobs in the high-fire environment, which destroyed marriages, led to major burnout and PTSD even after a period of heroic leadership (Ron Howard's film, which focuses more on the individual Paradise leaders who kept things going after the fire, also shows this.) PG&E, the utility company, is a favorite culprit (it has pledged to bury a vast quantity of wiring underground, since it was the overhead wiring that fed sparks). But a Paradise resident points out PG&E also made the place possible, by bringing in electricity to a hard-to-reach location; without PG&E, he says, they'd not have been there at all.

    Zeke Lunder, a geographer who specializes in wildfire and forestry, importantly declares early in the consideration of causes that Paradise would have burned down with or without global warming. But isn't global warming a primary reason for the bigger and bigger fires - and their occurrence worldwide today? This isn't made clear in Walker's film; more information on the worldwide situation would have been welcome. Despite its thoroughness, this documentary doesn't quite get to the bottom of some of the biggest issues.

    One reason for its straying from such nagging questions as the role of global warming, apart from its being so complex as to require a whole film unto itself, is perhaps that, much like Ron Howard but with a focus on different people, Lucy Walker in quite enamored of individual personalities. Foremost among these is a tall, jovial man called Brad Weldon, whose wife has recently died and who cares for his apparently bedridden ninety-year-old blind mother, feeding her multiple marijuana cookies to keep her successfully blissed out. Brad's outdoor, community style marriage to a neighbor ends the film. This is, indeed, an irresistible portrait of life going on and life being affirmed - he even says "I love life." Brad's house survived the destruction of all around, and he established what he calls a "mini-commune" of homeless Paradise residents after the fire in a gathering of campers whose social life centers at Brad's house. Malibu has good people after its fire too, but doesn't quite provide such examples of community and folksiness. The rich survive; but will they prevail?

    Bring Your Own Brigade, Debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021; apparently no other festival showings. (See the Hollywood Reporter review by Leslie Felperin; also reviewed at Sundance in Variety and more critically in IndieWire.) US release Aug. 6, 2021 prior to digital streaming on Paramount+ on Aug. 20 by CBSN Films.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Today at 09:26 AM.

  5. #35
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    Jul 2002
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    THE MEANING OF HITLER ( Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker 2020)



    A film about der Führer seeks a new glimpse of relevance and danger

    British anti-Semmite and Holocaust denier David Irving is featured taking a group of supporters on an impromptu tour of the Treblinka concentration camp site in the documentary, The Meaning of Hitler. It's likely Irving, now 82, hasn't been followed around even this briefly in any recent documentary, but this is a sign of how explorative this film is in its synthesis of history and psychology as it reviews the lasting legacy of the Third Reich's Fuhrer. It finds troubling new echoes in the alt-right and Donald Trump. Touring around behind the windscreen of a telling Mercedes Bentz symbol, the filmmakers visit many sites, following an exploratory road-movie format. They look at an example of Hitler's watercolor painting preserved in Virginia. They take a look at the building in Braunau in present-day Austria where Hitler was born and the visit the Vienna e Academy of Fine Arts that rejected him. They take a tour of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide, intermixed with film clips of dramas about that event. They hear Martin Amis say a knowledge of Hitler is necessary to be a modern thinking person.

    They take their title from a 1978 book by German journalist Sebastian Haffner (Raimund Pretzel). They talk to historians and to anti-Semitism Deborah Lipstadt, who once suied David Irving for libel. (They also film relevant comments from Yehuda Bauer, Saul Friedlander, Winfried Nerdinger, Francine Prose, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, Klaus Theweleit, and Jan T. Gross.) They find some who remember the rise of Naziism. They consult with a psychiatrist, a sociologist, a forensic biologist, an archaeologist, a pair of Nazi hunters and a "microphone guru." The latter shows us the early crystal microphone, known as the the 'Hitlerflasche' or 'Hitler Bottle' the Neumann CMV3, whose ability to convey not just the sound but the emotion of HItler's oratory is deemed a part of his power. This was a new kind of mike unlike the carbon chip ones. Those required the speaker to be within an inch and not to budge to be heard. This one let Hitler to be much less constrained, to move around and gesticulate. The film clips in this segment linking Hitler's rallies with the Beatles' appearance at Shay stadium is troubling, to say the least. HItler's oratorical sill is paralleled with Trump's claimed eloquence on Twitter.

    It could all come back. The film shows us how Germany's recent admission of massive numbers of immigrants has turned sour and fueled nativism and racist patriotism. Such people can always reach back to the thirties and forties for inspiration, from a time when a man who, as Haffner says in the titular book, had no occupation and do friends and couldn't even get into a trade school, would become a terror to all the world.

    The film is self-reflective, and calls attention to its simple craftsmanship by having an old-fashioned clap-board into to every new sequence. The effort is to wake us up to this familiar theme and be open to new perceptions. If you respond to its inquests, are inspired by its perceptions and odd facts, that could happen. But the prevalence of elderly talking heads may put you off: it undercuts the filmmakers' intention of being formally inventive. And some of its points are glib. Such is novelist Francine Prose's dismissal of Leni Riefenstahl's striking propaganda films for the Third Reich as mere kitsch. The trouble is, they're very good.

    The film's last word goes to talking head Yehuda Bauer, who is 95 ("I'm still working") who sums it up: "The Nazi ideas were ideas that were acted out by people that were absolutely normal."

    The Meaning of Hitler, 92 mins., debuted at DOC NYC Nov. 2020; also shown at Amsterdam, at Sofia Mar. 2021. Release (IFC Films) Aug. 13, 2021.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-24-2021 at 07:27 PM.

  6. #36
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    Jul 2002
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    AWAKEN (Tom Lowe 2018)

    TOM LOWE: AWAKEN (2018)


    The latest offshoot of Reggio's 'Koyaanisqatsi' to be reissued in a form ideal for home large-screen 4K viewing

    Awaken, which debuted on demand April 9, 2021, is a meditative, decorative, abstract film after the pattern of Godfrey Reggio's 1982 Koyaanisqatsi (YouTube). This is the latest in a long line of offshoots whose original Reggio ancestor was presented by Francis Ford Coppola and released in the US in 1983 with a score by Philip Glass.

    The word "koyaanisqatsi" is given in the Hopi Indian dictionary as meaning "life out of balance" or "life of moral corruption and turmoil." The film was a seemingly endless flowing montage of cityscapes and images of nature or people, the film run at different speeds, speeded up or in slo-mo. The repetitive, hypnotic (or annoying) music of Philip Glass was accompanied by no narration or storyline.

    Koyaanisqatsi, which we learned how to say, became a temporary cult phenomenon. It filled the big old Castro movie palace in San Francisco for a week, for example - as I learn from Jeffrey M. Anderson's April 8 "Cinema Toast" column in the San Francisco Examiner . Anderson provides a gentle argument in favor of this genre's latest iteration, by Tom Lowe.

    Koyaanisqatsi led to 1988 and 2002 sequels by Reggio, and his dp Ron Fricke also turned director with two similarly formatted films, Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011). Reggio himself was back with Visitors (2013), a semi-abstract black-and-white exploration of human faces with another Glass score. The passing-along continues, as it is Visitors' cinematographer Lowe who has made Awaken. Lowe has worked with Terrence Malick as well as Reggio on projects, and both men executive produced on Lowe's new film.

    Recent technology enables films to appear clearer and brighter and hence perhaps more beautiful. Thus Awaken, using drones and a variety of fancy lenses, was shot in 4K resolution which some home TV viewers now have and can be an improvement in clarity over HD resolution. "4K" stands for the approximately four thousand pixels horizontally of the images in this format. (More information can be found about Lowe's process ad the film's content from an article/review in The Film Stage by Gordon Raup.)

    There has always been doubt about the profundity of these films, and Awaken has not been met with universal acclaim. Jordan Hoffman, a New York-based writer who often reviews films for the Guardian, has sharply critiqued Awaken on Decider, describing it as chiefly of value if you want to "test drive that new 40-inch flatscreen." Despite its 4K and fancy lenses and drone and time-lapse shots and its attempt to be "about everything, man," its "tidal wave of imagery and music," Hoffman says, Lowe's film provides only "a glimmer of meaning" - not aided by the director's"scribbling out" a few lines "of bad poetry for Liv Tyler to read in voice over." (Liv Tyler's whispered tone would seem to be a mannerism borrowed from executive coproducer Malick.)

    Hoffman rates the film below even what he calls "also-rans" like Baraka and Samsara and far short of the Reggio original - which indeed even Reggio couldn't match in his sequels. Hoffman singles out a couple of moments he likes - the Lunar New Year dragon in slow motion; "some dude dressed as the Grim Reaper somewhere in a Spanish-speaking land" - but his concluding advice on the film is "Skip it."

    Hoffman grants that Awaken uses well new technologies like drone-cameras and high speed image capture with automated lenses. These are things Reggio didn't have access to. But Reggio didn't need them. Great cinema is rarely dependent on the specific details of visual or sound technology - though it relies, obviously, on basic tools and choices like black and white vs. color, film vs. digital, various aspect ratios, sound design and score. Reggio produced something, relatively speaking, extraordinary, if by simpler means (and not that simple; it was 1982, not 1932).

    Lowe sometimes seems to have misconstrued Reggio, using slo-mo so excessively it's like being on Xanax. He exhibits retro, escapist tastes - Nordic dairy maids, semi-nude Pacific fishermen, cute, healthy, or healthily aged peasants and native types (flipping back and forth among hemispheres to find them) - all making one remember how much of our world is poor, crowded, and violent. He likes exotic items like trees mushroom-shaped trees, cactus trees, or trees growing out of water, a swimming elephant filmed from below, small smiling kids emerging from happy tepees, fisherman atop poles along the shore, a camel being watered at the edge of the sea. Juxtapositions can seem comical: a young ballet dancer repeatedly posed leaping in the woods against the light is preceded and followed by an old gent looking up, carrying a milk pail. In about the last twenty minutes Lowe gets to cityscapes and urban people, and then the film speeds up a bit. Too late.

    Reggio, with his "life out of joint" theme, focuses on urban life from the start, and on speed. His choices of imagery are original. He creates remarkable effects of strangeness just from running film of a crowd entering a subway, and many other things, in reverse. Without drones, he shows dramatic, angular images of cities from high above. And he has Philip Glass, who, however annoyingly repetitive sometimes, weaves hypnotic effects. Lowe's score by Joseph Trapanese does not. Koyaanisqatsi is an apocalyptic look at urban life, David Lynch on acid. Forty years on, it's more mind-blowing than ever. They should have broken the mold. And in a way, maybe they did.

    If we may judge by his brief IMDb autobiography, Godfrey Reggio has had a rather amazing life. It seems like it would be nice now for him, or someone, to stop post-crafting the striking images trickily shot round the world and make a documentary about that.

    Awaken, 74 mins., debuted Nov. 22, 2018 at the Tallinn Black Nights Festival (Estonia). Released in the US Apr. 9m 2021, it comes out in a new collector's edition 4K UHD Blu-Ray format at the end of July 2021 along with a theatrical event-tour by Circle Collective starting Aug. 3, 2021 in Los Angeles and unrolling nationwide in fall and winter.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-09-2021 at 05:05 PM.

  7. #37
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    Jul 2002
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    FIREBOYS (Jake Hochendoner and Drew Dickler 2021)



    A California youth inmate firefighter system that is a mixed blessing

    Fighting summer wildfires in California, everyone knows, is a huge and growing problem. Massive crews are required and those who go along the ground creating fire lines with shovel and chainsaw are essential. As much as a third of them may be inmates. This little documentary about California incarcerated youths (18 to 24) concerns the "fireboys" who volunteer and make the cut to work for Cal Fire fighting big fires in a freer environment. They can do this to work their way back to release. This offers them the experience of the toughest job they'll ever love. It's a discipline and a togetherness the film shows us are special. This can be rehabilitation. But it's complicated. The system is not fair. It is exploitive. This film introduces us to the young crews. It gives us a rough idea of the complications. It doesn't provide a complete context. But the experience it shows us is memorable.

    The training is a very specialized kind of boot camp. In many ways it seems less regimented, or simpler in its rituals, than basic training in the Army. But of course the youths at the firefighter camp haven't their rights.

    .They are 18-24. They are carefully screened to be capable of the level of very hard wo involved in fighting major California fires and having the discipline to live in a minimum security environment. A supervisor says the youths differ from the older men in that they will work as long as there is work to do or until they can't work any longer. They're impressive. There is esprit de corps.

    Guys earn only $2 to $4 an hour for fighting fires. We see an early physical workout at a pre-selection stage. Then focus is on Alex, who owes $20,000 for car jacking, etc. He is selected to to go the coveted Pine Grove youth firefighter camp. Its entrance sign says it dates back to 1945. This is not explained in the film, but apparently the system was bilt up during the war when firefighters went to fight Germans instead of flames. Alex is motivated and bright: he almost instantly memorizes a set of regulations. The camp is like an army barracks building. Drugs are forbidden, also cell phones.

    This is a kind of work-release program. But an article shows that few make it successfully, and most come from a dangerous world of gangs, violence and poverty in L.A. that is a railroad to prison and dangerous to go back to. The camp is much nicer than prison.The food is reportedly better. There are no fences or barbed wire, no guard trucks. But it is incarceration and arries the feeling of being institutionalized. There is a roll call every hour. Calls home must be made on a pay phone at permitted times. The inarcerated firefighters are rated the same as the pros, but they get $5 an hour and the pros get $20.

    Chuly is a young inmate who has been the leader of his group for three years, and then he is sent to head his team in firefighting when he has days to his release. He has been incarcerated for four and a half years. His release and life on the outside are a main focus of this film. Chuy's ase shows that it's not so easy to get hired as a firefighter after this experience. His felony conviction means he has to wait seven years to do so. He can worlk for the forest service as a young man who spoke to the fireboys did, but that requires going three hours away. He wants to stay at home. His job in security for $12.50 an hour he'd gladly trade for being back working a chainsaw fighting fires for a dollar an hour, he says. Onscreen notes tell us arrangements have been made recently in California for incarcerated firefighters to have their records expunged so they may go to work for Cal Fire after release.

    Chuy seems torn. He wanted very much to go back to his granddad, his family in Stockton. But he was going back to the unknown from a world where he had come to feel very secure and gained satisfaction. The film picks him up six months later working at the security job. But, a couple years later, he is able to go to welding school and become a full time welder, a skill we're told he began at Pine Grove.

    The film also follows a younger guy, Alex, who makes the cut and goes into final training. He's a little heavy (a lot of them are). His feet hurt and the hikes are hard for him. But he is bright and motivated.

    Another guy is pulled off the team by the female training officer for having a bad attitude. The filmmakers are not allowed to follow him on the outside as he is returned to a correctional facility. We do not see that he has done anything dramatically wrong. Do the training officers maybe have too much power? Was he a danger to anybody?

    Anyway, Alex does well, and is promoted to a chainsaw position on his crew - after a year. He may be released in six months. Chuy ends by saying how he loves a fire and a chainsaw. "I'm always a firefighter," he says.

    The film concludes by pointing out that as California fires grew year after yeear, "incarcerated firecrews continue to be used without without fair compensation or a clear pathway to employment after prison." We do not live in the most enlightened of societies. In fact America's huge prison population, with all of its wrongs and its woes, is one of its biggest problems, and the prisoner fire crews working to release, as a bright spot, is somewhat illusory.

    Fireboys is best at capturing the youthful energy and enthusiasm of the firefighter inmates and the stoicism of the crews who manage them with tough love. The film has the limitations of the system. Clearly they were working under restraints. The editing is a bit haphazard. Its good that there is no intrusive narration or noisy music. A USA Today article suggests that the film is very sketchy in its provision of background and rather vague about the pros and cons of the system. It says the training the inmates receive is very inadequate. Supposedly this system saves the state or taxpayers $100 a year. But if well paid professional firefighters replaced the inmate volunteers and paid taxes, maybe it would be more cost effective.

    As a recent New York Times article reports, COVID has limited the number of inmates available to fight wildfires.

    The filmmakers are passionate about social issues. A web page about this film provides fuller information and context. In fact that document seems like a description of the film they wanted to make, and is a necessary supplement to the film.

    Fireboys, 82 minutes, will be available to purchase or rent AUg. 3, 2021 It is not listed on IMDb.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2021 at 12:31 AM.

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