Tuesday, After Christmas, at the Dryden

I cannot stop being mildly amused that I headed out on the Tuesday after Christmas to see Marti, dupa craciun (Tuesday, After Christmas) at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) — clearly a little film programming joke from Lori Donnelly.

In the film, Paul is married to Adriana and together they have a child, but Paul is also involved in a long-term relationship with the girl's dentist, Raluca. There is no doubt how the story will play out: the relationship with Raluca will replace Paul's relationship with Adriana, and the film takes careful, deliberate steps to let us watch this unfold. As the Eastman House calendar so eloquently put it, the film captures "its trio of lived-in performances with graceful, uninterrupted long takes and a knowing sense of the human comedy."

As I watched with from my odd personal vantage point, I couldn't help but think, "it's such a shame they want it to go so badly — they really believe that anything but unwavering, complete monogamy is a fatal, destructive flaw."

Instead, what if the central couple understood that all of one's needs — intellectual, emotional, sexual, support, etc. — simply cannot be met adequately by one other person forever. Keep the core of devotion, but allow for needs and desires to be negotiated. If Adriana knew that Paul was sexually and emotionally in need, and she did not want to (or could not) fulfill those needs herself, why not let Paul fulfill them elsewhere? I'm sure likewise that Paul did not meet every one of Adriana's needs, so she too could be free to find fulfillment some other way. Why let it build from a mild hunger to desperate starvation when a tiny morsel at the outset would do just as well?

What we call a "normal healthy relationship" sure is weird to me.

Arrests at Occupy Rochester

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Made in Dagenham at 8. Before the film, it was announced that people in Washington Square Park (Woodbury Blvd at South Clinton Ave, across from Geva Theatre) protesting as Occupy Rochester would be arrested: Mayor Thomas S. Richards had ordered them out at 10 p.m. Although that news distracted me through the first part of the film, it was nonetheless enjoyable. It reenacts the events surrounding a strike of female auto workers at a British Ford factory in 1968 — their pay was cut when they were reclassified from "semi-skilled" to "unskilled". I gathered the historical accuracy was not perfect but reasonably good, and although the film concludes stating better labor relations, the Dagenham plant closed after the film was made and moved its operations elsewhere.

Although I'd rather have gone to celebrate for Halloween, I headed to Washington Square Park just about 10 p.m. At that point, no police were around — hauntingly, I saw no police on my way there either, and it was the Friday before Halloween Weekend on the busy East End area (in which one would ordinarily observe 2 or 3 parked cruisers). The members of Occupy Rochester were discussing their plan for the evening. They did this with a technique I saw at an anarchy class: whenever anyone wanted to speak, they were added to a "stack" by a moderator, and then allowed in turn to speak to the group. They used a "living microphone" of sorts where when one person spoke, they'd do it in 4-7 word pieces which were then loudly repeated by the group so everyone could hear.

A posting on the statue announced that the park was to be vacated by 10 p.m. The police had notified the group earlier that they would arrive at 11 p.m. The group appointed two laissons to approach the police when they arrived. The laissons were to explain the purpose of the protest, state that it was indeed a protest and a peaceful assembly protected by the Bill of Rights, and to ask that the arresting officers contact their superiors and request that the arrests be cancelled. The crowd was to remain respectfully quiet for the laissons to speak with police. Discussion in the group then revolved around getting arrested, having bail money, pairing up, and finding a small group of people who would remain at the jail until everyone goes home.

Camera crews from TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN and Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) were on hand. The police arrived at 11:15 p.m. and set up a pick-up truck with what appeared to be a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) along with about 15 cruisers and a few vans. They announced to the crowd that the park was closed from 11 p.m. (maybe it was 10 p.m. … I don't remember off hand) to 5 a.m. (per city ordinance which they identified), anyone remaining in the park would be arrested if they did not leave in 15 minutes, and all remaining personal belongings in the park would be confiscated. (It reminded me of reenactments of witchcraft trials where the accusers attempted to claim the side of right and good with formal language that failed to address the whole situation.) Some people moved to the sidewalk around the park, leaving a crowd of 40 or so in the park proper and another 50 more on the sidewalk. I opted to observe from the other side of South Clinton. There were about 40 uniformed officers including Police Chief James M. Sheppard and a few other high-ranking officers. Police cruisers had blocked South Clinton at 490 and Byron St. as well as Woodbury from South Clinton to South Avenue.

My friend and City Council candidate Alex White was there. I talked with him a bit and he was checking in with the police and observing to ensure things went smoothly and peacefully. He noted that the police were concerned as they were outnumbered and did not want things to turn violent.

At around 10:35 the police announced they would begin making arrests. Police Chief James M. Sheppard personally attended to the first half-dozen arrests. I don't know if the laissons from Occupy Rochester stated their case, but the crowd was quiet, and they were the first two to be arrested. During subsequent arrests, the crowd shouted at the police things like, "you are working class too", and chanted "shame".

The police had two vans they were using to transport one person at a time to jail until the Monroe County Sheriff showed up with a van capable of transporting more people, at which they filled it with 8 or 9 women from the group.

TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN left before the arrests began as the 11 o'clock news had ended. Crews stayed from Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) although their large production van left before midnight.

Around 12:30 a.m. a woman drove the wrong way down South Clinton. When she approached the police barricade, one of the officers approached her and told her she was driving the wrong way and to turn around.

I left around 1 a.m. before all the arrests were completed, although it appeared that only about 10 people remained in the park at that time. As I heard later, 32 people were arrested.

Mayor Thomas S. Richards did not speak with the protesters beforehand and did not arrive to witness the arrests.

Dogtooth at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Kynodontas (Dogtooth). I suspected so, and sort-of confirmed when I checked Google's Language Tools: Kynodontas is the phonetic spelling of Κυνόδοντας which means "bicuspid" or what we'd usually call the "canine tooth". Breaking things down a bit, σκύλος is "dog", but κυνικός is "canine" and δόντι is "tooth" so it appears to me that the Greek is, as in English, literally "canine tooth". But in a way, calling the film "Dogtooth" makes more sense — the whole premise of the film is as if social customs were "translated" to another language then back again, repeating until no further changes happen.

The Dryden calendar describes the film as a "jet-black comedy about sexual repression". Their write-up implies that the universe where the film takes place is essentially the same as our own, and that the depicted family is highly unusual. I took away that the universe of the film is represented by the family — that the family is more a typical family than anything else. Since almost the entirety of the film is within the family's securely secluded compound of a home, there's little evidence to support either case.

The title comes from the notion that the central couple's two daughters and son must wait for a "dogtooth" to fall out before they are permitted to leave the compound. In the mean time, the family has fabricated games, they lie about language to their children (i.e. a "zombie" is a small yellow flower), and the outside world is said to be inhospitable and dangerous. But the story is told in an extremely dry fashion: as if it's all just a day-in-the-life of any family, with all the mundane details. Except, of course, that the behavior is so strange to us as to be disturbing — the father hires a woman at his workplace to engage in ritualistic, loveless sex with his son, for instance.

I saw the film in two ways. First was that it represented an example of fundamentalist logic. The father was the only one permitted to leave, and he provided for all the family's needs, and supplied all their information as he saw fit. Second, and more strongly, I felt it was just as bizarre as an outside culture may see how we live.

As it is, I spend a lot of time frustrated with the status quo and how it goes against logic, reason, and goodness. How can it be, for instance, that a person can be killed by a car and it's likely they will be blamed for it? Is it not the driver's responsibility to be in total control of their machine? It seems that an outside culture would be horrified to learn that we think this is okay.

The film just flooded me with more of the same. Has anyone ever killed a spider, bee, or snake for no logical reason other than we learned at an early age that these things are evil or dangerous? Can you think of a time when your parent (or you as a parent) ever told a child a lie about what a word means because they weren't "ready" to understand it yet? And what of all the myths that are passed off as fact in this supposed time of reason? — cell phones never caused a gas station fire (it's the static charge from getting into and out of the car), and insisting that patrons wear shoes does not make a restaurant more sanitary, to name a couple.

I will add that the film stirred quite a bit of controversy (and discussion).  Several people walked out during the screening, and almost as many people hated it as loved it.  One factor was some of the more shocking and visceral scenes which (curiously enough) depicted sex or violence. Another was the patriarchal, totalitarian state of affairs within the household. And the lack of comedy to many people's sensibilities. So it's definitely not for everyone, and not a whimsical film to enjoy on a rainy afternoon. At least not for everyone.

Watching Best Worst Movie at the Dryden Followed by the Best Worst Movie, Troll 2

I figured it would be fun, so I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Best Worst Movie. It's a documentary about the "best worst movie" Troll 2 which they screened after the documentary. With anchors of cultural infamy in general, I've gone from being oblivious to being vaguely amused of to being vaguely annoyed to being downright cynical. So when I heard Troll 2 had a sort of "cult following" I was somewhat open, but deep inside, my eyes were rolling — "great, just like [surviving zombie attacks, being snarky about MySpace, Snakes on a Plane, pirates, getting on MySpace, etc.] this will be amusing but ultimately transparent."

The documentary is pretty well structured. Michael Stephenson played the role of "Joshua" in Troll 2, and as an adult, decided to revisit the making of the film and what the actors are up to. As such, it follows Dr. George Hardy, DDS — an Alabama dentist who was the one-time star of Troll 2. It lays out the case that a group of amateur and fledgling actors worked on a film by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, each having trouble figuring out the totality of the movie from the script, and further challenged by Fragasso's attention-to-detail and their inability to speak Italian (thankfully Fragasso could speak a little English). And when every single one of them finally saw the resulting product (through exactly two venues: HBO or on VHS tape video), they were aghast at just how bad it was. But — there are a small group of people who adore the sheer terribleness of the film. And as such, Dr. Hardy is a minor celebrity. Emphasis on "minor", as he's a celebrity to fans of the film and some weirdly gregarious Alabama dentist to everyone else.

Fragasso's wife Rossella Drudi co-wrote the screenplay with him. In the documentary, she says she was annoyed with her friends becoming irritating vegetarians, so she decided to have the central point be that the goblins in the film are vegetarian, resorting to transforming people into plants before eating them. (I should mention that there is a connection solely in name to Troll, and nobody in the movie utters the word "troll", always referring to the monster creatures as "goblins" instead.) Fragasso insists the film paints a portrait of American families — more so than Americans can even see.

And what is this portrait? Well basically a family from Utah decides to go on vacation by swapping houses for a month with a family in the rural town of Nilbog whom they have never met. As best I recall, they bring no provisions or luggage, save for an overnight bag or two. When they arrive, they swap keys with their aloof hosts and head in to the house. They find a feast of bizarre pastries but before they can eat them, Joshua's dead grandfather appears to him and insists they must not eat or they will die, freezing time, and giving Joshua time to formulate a distraction. Annoyed with his solution, Joshua's dad Michael (Hardy) sends him to bed early, noting (among other things) that he's "tightening [his] belt one loop so that [he doesn't] feel hunger pains", establishing the surreal scripted line that acts as the make-or-break moment when you, the viewer, decide if you're curious enough to proceed.

I cannot fathom what Fragasso was driving at with the vacation, interactions, and actions of this so-called American family. I wish I knew what I, as an American, am so blind to that my fathoming is in vain.

The movie definitely piqued my interest.  It was made with the full commitment of Fragasso who insisted on his form of perfection. The actors did their best to deliver, but between lack of skill and not being able to access the material, they tended more toward failure — although in their obliviousness, they managed to transmit Fragasso's vision. In the end, I think it is the portrait Fragasso envisioned. And that is why it has a cult following: that is is the tenacious work of one man and his wife to successfully and purely make an artistic statement.

Although I think it's predicated on one more thing. That artistic statement?: it's batshit insane. The metaphors are both ham-fisted and inaccessibly subtle (goblins turn people into vegetables to eat them — American mass-consumerism? turning humans into commodities? hatred of vegetarians? all of the above? one of the above?) Whatever Fragasso and Drudi set out to do, they may have succeeded, but the product of their work will remain an enigma forever.

The 360|365 Film Festival

I thought I'd take a minute and review The 360|365 Film Festival (formerly the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival). I already wrote about some of the films I'd enjoyed; I also had a chance to meet some filmmakers — albeit at a non-sanctioned event, which made it more personal and greatly enjoyable. I wanted to address the festival itself.

My short summary: no element of this year's festival is any better than it was in past years.

In 2001, a film festival started called the High Falls Film Festival. Its charter was to highlight women in filmmaking, and host it in Rochester as (nitpicking aside) the home of both motion picture film and of the women's rights movement. I don't recall which year, but the "women in filmmaking" was thrown by the wayside. [I almost forgot to add this:] Adding insult-to-injury, the festival further slaps women in the face by overlapping Mother's Day, forcing to people to choose whether to spend time with Mom or go watch movies. And (although the official full name is the 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival) the attachment to Rochester has been removed (although thankfully the arguably worse "Rochester High Falls International Film Festival" moniker was dropped). Not to belabor the point, but "360|365" is merely a bad pun on "all year round", it's not memorable, and it doesn't lend itself to Internet connectivity (partly because it starts with a digit, and partly because it contains the vertical bar / "pipe" character). I would guess that with its accompanying logo, it would be an acceptable "B"-graded student project in graphic design.

Once again this year, the schedule was set up so films would overlap by minutes — a simple fix would have allowed patrons to view a film at one theater and have time to travel to another for the next picture. I realize that some prints are not available on certain days, but I'm talking about adjustments of 15 or 20 minutes. Many people rejoiced that there were multiple screenings (and I did take advantage of a second screening at one point). But this means there are fewer films in the festival. And by my gut instinct, I feel that there are more films this year that will either screen at the Dryden, the Little, or attain mainstream theatrical release than in any other year. As such, this film festival has become like thousands of others: acting as previews of coming attractions more than as a venue for that which would otherwise go unseen.

[Added]And then, of course there's Fifth Year Productions (130 E. Main St.) — as major sponsors, they produced the introductory video for each screening. Rather than (as in years past) an inspiring highlight reel of the festival's crop of movies, it was a commercial for Fifth Year Productions. I can only hope that the Fuscillo's become sponsors for an improvement in quality — this one was unentertaining, uninteresting, and just terrible all-around. Following the commercial was one of a series of short films with eggs portraying famous movie scenes. The humor came from the fact that it was eggs portraying famous movie scenes. They were groan-inducing (well, except for a few audience members who, apparently, live humorless lives.) The tie-in was that the egg was supposed to recall Rochester as the "birthplace of film". Perhaps the "birthplace of mixed metaphors", or more properly, "Rochester is where film lays an egg".

I had a discussion with another film-goer and regular attendee who complained that there are fewer "big stars" to draw crowds. While I think it's fun to contemplate hob-knobing with celebrities, it's an empty exercise. I think because of that past, hold-out events from past years have become intolerable: I used to enjoy the "Coffee With …" discussions, but they have become so over-attended that it's nearly impossible to make a connection with anyone there — I didn't even bother going this year. I liked the idea of celebrating Rochester as a big city / small city; when filmmakers come here, they might meet someone in industry to promote their career, but they should be prepared to make real human contact as well. I think this important facet is being drained from the festival.

The only thing solid is the films themselves and the people who make them — an element that has nothing to do with the festival itself. As much as I liked the films I saw, I think I liked even more meeting the new faces that came with them.

Bill Forsyth After an End to Housekeeping

I couldn't attend the screening of Local Hero yesterday, but I did make it to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Housekeeping. Writer/director Bill Forsyth — lucky for me — stayed an extra day for this screening and for a question-and-answer session afterward.

Anyway, the film is excellent and human like Forsyth's other films, but also just a bit disconcerting. It's the story of Ruth and Lucy, orphans who get bounced through the family lineage until they are cared for by their Aunt Sylvie, but what makes it disconcerting is how I was forced to judge Sylvie: are her actions eccentric, insane, misplaced, enlightening, or harmful?

She goes just a little "too far" with what would otherwise be just personality traits — for instance, finding old newspapers useful, but collecting them to an obsessive degree (and yet, she also seems perfectly able to part with them). On the one hand, that kind of thriftiness could prove useful in a time of scarcity, especially when compared with one who is wasteful. On the other hand, she doesn't seem to be making conscious effort to drive her life, allowing whatever whim suits her to guide her.

I found the question-and-answer session afterward to be enlightening, revealing Forsyth as a modest fellow who wasn't particularly driven to make films, yet ended up producing work that is warm, unique, and expertly-made.

I had been tipped off before the film that he might go on to socialize with some of the Eastman House staff afterward, but I forgot.  I intended to join a couple friends on the staff to walk with them until they got to their house, but when they went instead to The Strathallan (550 East Ave.) I considered excusing myself out of courtesy as I hadn't been invited, but I decided instead to leave it up to those who were there to ask me to leave if they so wished.

The conversation was fun and interesting as one might expect. We had some laughs and talked about movies, people, and the state of the world. Ordinarily I wouldn't think of myself as excessively brash, but next to the quiet gentle wisdom of Forsyth and the woman he traveled here with (who I assumed is his wife), I felt like some loud-mouthed, opinionated, know-it-all, American stereotype.

On the actual walk home with my friends, we talked about some of the quirky people and their unusual mannerisms. One example is a guy who supposedly couldn't get Forsyth's traveling companion's name right — yet we also know that he's said he has Asperger syndrome, so his unusual behavior is somehow acceptable. Another case was a friend whose palpable social discomfort was given attention in friendly mockery — yet since we know of no diagnosed disorder, it was somehow acceptable to do so.

In the film, Sylvie's behavior was likewise dead-center in the gray/grey area between unusual and insane. Why is there a difference in how we react to someone we know has a psychological problem versus another who acts the same but is not diagnosed? One's individual reaction to any other person is certainly unique, and perhaps it's the "political correctness" drummed into our psyches that causes a reactionary rift between those afflicted by a proper disorder and others who are not. If that's the case, then perhaps the best course of action is to assume everyone you meet is somehow disabled and should be treated cordially nonetheless.

Playtime at the Dryden

In Jim Healy's introduction to Playtime at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.), he could not have impressed any stronger that he truly loved it. And he was right. It's a masterpiece. (At least from what I've seen of Jacques Tati's films so far.)

The film follows Tati's charmingly bumbling Monsieur Hulot — sort-of. Hulot is only one of the characters in this film shot from the perspective of an omniscient and loving city — if a cold and dehumanizing one as well. The camera watches the trials of humans as they attempt to navigate the brutally unnatural surroundings of the city and its buildings. But as it goes (and as in Tati's other films) humanity prevails.

What was so remarkable was that every single moment of Playtime is richly and deliberately created. Even the most innocuous scene is a fractal part of the central theme.

But what I found most unusual was that when I was leaving the screening, I was struck with an uncanny sense that I had witnessed the completion of all cinema. It was as if I had walked out of every movie ever made — and felt no particular need to see another film. (And although tenacious, the feeling faded over several days, so I just might watch more movies.)

Grumbling About the Eastman House

As regular readers know, I am often compelled to rant vociferously on one inane topic or another — particularly if there are other, more productive ways to address my grievances. This time it's the Café at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) — and in two parts.

First, why the absence of regional treats? The inventory of the refrigerated case was recently changed to exclude Saranac or Stewart's soft drinks, end even the milk is inexplicably not from Byrne dairy, Pittsford Dairy, nor even Upstate Farms. Heck, The Little (240 East Ave.) offers treats from both Stever's Candies, Inc. (623 Park Ave.) and The Nut House (1520 Monroe Ave.) — a welcome respite from the chemical sludge inside colorful corporate wrappers. At least the gelato comes from The Royal Café (15 North Main St., Fairport) and the cookies are baked in-house (and, if I recall correctly, locally made as well).

Second, what's up with these Best of Rochester bars they sell? They are chocolate bars — and I am emphatically surrounding chocolate with sarcastic air-quotes … er, I guess then I mean they are "chocolate" bars whose label features a suitably bland image of the city skyline. It takes some audacity indeed to claim these as the best Rochester has to offer — I mean, what of Stever's Candies, Inc. (623 Park Ave.), Hedonist Artisan Chocolates (674 South Ave.), or even the sweet old Peter's Sweet Shop (880 S. Clinton Ave.); each of those are not only better, they offer some real excellence. Attempting to affect bizarre upstate city rivalry, I'll say it must be made by someone in Buffalo or Syracuse (where, perhaps, this might be considered "best"). More likely [and a more bizarre attempt to affect Monroe county township rivalry] is that they were made by some ignorant suburbanite who sees Rochester not as a vibrant, muti-cultured mini-metropolis, but the root of problems their leeching ways have caused.

They are sold by a company doing business as Made in Rochester in this area: a storefront for distributing locally sold products. Why the presumably identical candy bar (which is definitively not made in every city on their site, and "best" of none of them) is also sold is a mystery. Then again, I possess equal measures of congratulations and disgust: for this site caters to people with more money than, at best, desire to stay — five 6-packs of Zweigles hots sells for $65 for instance. There must be a word for the financial abuse of a population all too glad to pay: usury? good business? — it's hard to say anything but both.

Black Dynamite at the Dryden

Christina and I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Black Dynamite. Although I feel like I've seen some "blaxploitation" films in the past, in retrospect, I guess I've only really seen Shaft. Well, maybe a few others.

Anyway, Black Dynamite does a virtually perfect job of honoring that genre (as best as I can tell, anyway). The movie is hilarious (I'm much more certain about that). Every time I recognized when they were setting up a stereotypical blaxploitation moment, I was braced for a mediocre punch-line. But every time, I was impressed that the filmmakers went in a direction I didn't expect — and every time, one that was funnier than I could have expected. I'll definitely keep an eye out for it to see it one more time.

House and Living Organics at the Dryden

I headed over to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to catch the films screened there. Starting out was a short film called Living Organics which was a series of animated, abstract vignettes depicting how modern culture works to remove humanity from the living world it is part of. It was fitting introductory piece to Hausu (House).

There really is no way to explain what happens in the movie. It's rooted in a nightmare horror scenario where members of a party disappear one at a time. Its execution … well, that's another story. My friend Albert commented afterward that it was very dreamlike — so perfectly so, in some ways, that we were having a hard time remembering the events that transpired. It's supremely bizarre narrative. I guess it makes a little more sense from a Japanese perspective, as there are some cultural references — but even then, it's dominated so much by this dreamy nightmare motif that it's really hard to explain.