The Dog at the Little, October 11: This was the first of two movies I was able to see at this year's ImageOut Film Festival. It's a documentary about John Wojtowicz who became famous for robbing a bank to pay for his lover's sex-change operation in 1975—the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon. Wojtowicz was an affable and funny guy, although with a fierce and gender-ambivalent sex drive. I tend to believe what he says as true (embellishments aside), and through that I learned he was quite the ally of the gay movement in the 1970's. It's a documentary deserving of a look.
A Trip to Italy at the Cinema, October 16: Jenn and I caught this just before it closed at the Cinema. I didn't have high expectations as I had heard it described as "Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have fancy meals in Italy together." Their chemistry and apparent improvisation that begins the film lulled me in to believing it as an ostensibly true document (although, to be completely honest, I was a bit surprised by some fancy camera work while they were driving.) But as the plot thickens, so-to-speak, a heartfelt pathos is revealed and it becomes a bit of a document of "playboys past their prime". I found it especially poignant as they observed some pretty young women and one quips that "now they just look through us […] we are no longer a threat"—I had observed how I can become a ghost at bars these days, floating through without being so much as looked at.
The Drop at the Cinema, October 11: We both stayed for the second feature about a bartender lured in to the illegal side of the bar where he works. Given the fluidity and chemistry displayed in A Trip to Italy, the wordsmithy script was readily apparent. The barely likeable Bob was matched to even less likeable characters. I found myself way too ahead of the film, or at least clued-in to the key points long before they were revealed as a surprise. Contrived situations aside, the wordsmithiness makes for a perfectly acceptable story and an interesting movie to watch. It just has its weaknesses. Jenn had further noticed that Tom Hardy played Bob and Coogan and Brydon relentlessly and hilariously mocked Hardy's mumbling speaking style.
Appropriate Behavior at the Little, October 17: Jenn and I went to the other ImageOut Film Festival film festival tonight. It's the tale of falling in and out of love too fast and maintains a cunning and funny wit all throughout. Our only complaint is that the lead character Shirin's love interest Maxine seemed kind of cruel and unlikeable, so it was hard to believe in any severity to the breakup, and although real love is strange, movie love needs to be believable.
Little Accidents at the Little, October 25: Jenn and I went to see this as part of the High Falls Film Festival. It's about the people in a mining town where one man survives a major mining accident. Jenn thought it was quite good but I found it contrived. It was as if I could feel the writer's backspace key: "… his younger brother saw [backspace][backspace][backspace] who had Down's syndrome saw …" (at least the actor really did have Down's, so kudos to that.) Unlikely people pair up solely because it's convenient to the plot. The pedant in me had some fits as well, like when talking to the police about a child gone missing, the mother doesn't bother mentioning a substantial event until she's about to leave, again solely for the sake of the writing but wholly incongruous with reality.
The Shining in Hoyt Auditorium on the UofR Campus, October 31: Despite an astonishingly bad digital projection (did Kubrick really intend for a lot of saturated fuchsia, muddy contrast, and a clunky judder on every panning shot?), this film sure stands the test of time. It's about a couple with a young boy who act as caretakers of a huge, desolate resort through the winter. Most people already know the basic plot, but I'm giving the benefit of the doubt since this is the first time I ever saw it—despite being quite a film buff. I was stunned at how gripping the tension was, and how amazing all the performances were. And despite the lousy projection and sound (making it seem like the videotape of a community theater production), the story was thoroughly disturbing. I also appreciated the brilliant methodical pacing which was spot-on perfect—a lesser film would have seemed draining and insufferably long by comparison.
Tim's Vermeer at the Little, March 16: This is a documentary about a man named Tim Jenison who was interested in the photo-realistic paintings by Johannes Vermeer, and tried to devise a technique to replicate his technique. As a documentary, it's adequate and entertaining, but it's the subject that is most intriguing. I knew virtually nothing of the works of Vermeer coming in to this film, so I took it as fact what they said. Afterward I did a bit of research and found that Vermeer was neither as mysterious as the film implies, nor was his work — save for a couple specific examples — anomalously photo-realistic for the time period. In any case, The Music Lesson had certain qualities that Jenison found intriguing: how had Vermeer created such photo-realism 200 years before the invention of photography? He suspected a device, and set to building one. What he made (although I don't recall the film mentioning it) is a unique form of camera lucida(thanks to Jenn for knowing that!) which uses lenses and mirrors rather than a prism. With that, he succeeded in recreating The Music Lesson, and in doing so, reproduced a tiny flaw (the pattern on the virginal curves ever so slightly while its edges are drawn by straight-edge) that strongly implied the use of optics beyond the traditional camera lucida. I think this discovery is something that would be of interest to art historians and inventors alike.
Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) at the Dryden, March 18: A young woman is in love with a man who gets enlisted in the Algerian war … loves are lost … loves are found. In all it's a well-worn story told in brilliant color.
Here One Day in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester Campus, March 27: It's a documentary where Kathy Leichter revisits her mother Nina's suicide 16 years prior. The catalyst was the rediscovery of audio cassettes Nina recorded for many years; Kathy found them shortly after the suicide, but couldn't bear to listen to them at the time. As such, the use of the cassettes makes the event seem extraordinarily current in the lives of Kathy, her brother, and her father. It's a beautiful, moving, and insightful film that begins to bridge the gap between the thought process of a mentally-healthy person and one suffering from depression (or in this case, manic-depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.) After the film, there was a panel discussion and one woman spoke about her daughter's depression. What resonated with me was how she saw suicide as a loss, but her daughter saw it as freedom — a concept that made me realize how much my culture mistakenly assumes everyone thinks alike in some way, and how that may be a central reason for the challenges of addressing mental illness.
The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Little, March 28: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this together — Jenn and Chris being very excited about the new film by Wes Anderson; I didn't have strong expectations. The short is I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of the ensemble screwball comedies of the past (e.g. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) in which expected stars appear in a silly comedy. And this one is definitely silly and absurd.
Pink Flamingos at the Dryden, April 2: I finally got around to seeing this after having been recommended many times over the years by different people. It's definitely a rough-around-the-edges kind of independent film, and also definitely delivers on being "an exercise in poor taste". I'm glad I finally saw it, in part to get the many references to it in a variety of media, but also because it's genuinely an entertaining movie. This version (from a re-release in 1997) included some (rather hilarious) outtakes and some commentary by filmmaker John Waters.
Tectonics in Hubbell Auditorium at UofR, April 10: I saw this as part of OnFilm's "Earths" program (and stayed after for only four of 13 Lakes, mostly due to simple exhaustion/tiredness.) Tectonics was quite brilliant. In it, Peter Bo Rappmund filmed various locations along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border in-order from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. I went into it with a bit of trepidation as my prejudices of borders — and this one in particular — are that they are useless, harmful relics of xenophobic nationalism. As such, I began the film with negative feelings of frustration and anger. Rappmund's anti-temporal filmmaking techniques (where he looped sequences-of-images and time-lapse photography which created a timelessness, and used overlapped field-recordings to carry the chronological narrative) led me to experience the border as something intensely futile, intensely irrational, and intensely beautiful. It was disconcerting to me to see all this technology and effort dedicated to creating suffering. But by the end, I found myself at peace with all of it. One thing that helped was the timeless quality of the film which implied a longer-term view — that this silliness is all temporary. Rappmund was present at the screening to answer questions, but I was just glad to thank him personally for making the film.
The Kentucky Fried Movie at the Dryden, April 16: I remember seeing this as a kid and finding its irreverent and ribald humor to be unequivocally hilarious. It's a movie consisting of short sketches which is still funny, although it's almost more interesting to watch it as a historical relic owing to the extremely dated scenarios. And I imagine anyone raised with access to YouTube will find the humor at best, ho-hum. Well, the Kung-Fu parody, "A Fistful of Yen" is still very funny and extremely clever.
The Kodak Employee Variety Show (U.S. 1960, 90 min., 16mm) at the Dryden, April 22: Jenn and I went to the "Made in Rochester" series "Kodak" show at the Dryden to check out some of the rarities. We felt a bit slighted that it was a 90-minute film followed by 3 shorts: a far cry from "a number of test films and company home movies" as we were promised. Nonetheless, the first film was a recording of the 1960 Kodak Employee Variety Show — a presentation that appeared to be largely for the sales staff of the company. As a film, it was the worst musical I ever saw (har har); in large part, it was an insufferable company party like I remember from my corporate days. The productions were high-quality and weirdly yet unsurprisingly Kodak-centric. There seemed to be a lot of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the Russians and Communism, not long after the worst of Senator Joseph McCarthy's state-sponsored murders. But perhaps the best moment was a look in to the "distant future" of 1970 when, rather than a log book, salesmen (and yes, they were all men) would carry a device as small as a pack of matches to dictate expenses and take photos of where they were — an ironic premonition of digital photography. In all, I'm glad to have had a chance to have seen it, but didn't enjoy the process. (Although I did offer Jenn $50 if she could spot a black person, and we jokingly pointed out white people on-stage in shadow.) We snuck out during intermission and skipped the shorts.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert at the Dryden, April 23: I was glad to be able to finally see this — a ribald performance made legendary by tales told by high-school friends in the 1980's, right at the dawn of home-video. In general the comedy holds up today, particularly his insightful jabs at white culture. Pryor's artistry lets him talk about embarrassing personal situations without the shadow of making it into a therapy session that so often plagues other performers' anecdotes. It's wonderful to be able to remember Pryor at the top of his game like this.
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe at the Dryden, May 6: The first of two short films by Les Blank, this one deals with, well, Werner Herzog eating his shoe. He made a bet with Erol Morris to complete his film, Gates of Heaven, which, obviously he did. The film gives Herzog the chance to talk about following through with commitments and about following your own passion. I've always enjoyed listening to him as he's got a unique articulate way of explaining his view of the world.
(and ½) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers also at the Dryden, May 6: The second half of the double-shorts program is Blank's film on the wonders of garlic. It's a fascinating sampler of off-center views in the late 1970's, and Blank's style (like the previous film) paces the documentaries exceedingly well, making them both a joy to watch.