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.)

The King of Comedy at the Dryden

Christina and I headed to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy. Jim Healy gave the introduction and said he had seen this film probably the most number of times of any film he's seen (and I fully believe he has seen a great number of films). The gist is that Rupert Pupkin played by Robert De Niro plays a stand-up comic who attempts to get the fame he thinks he deserves by kidnapping a TV host Jerry Langford played by Jerry Lewis.

The beauty of the film is in its portrayal of Pupkin as the fanboy inside me (and presumably most people) that just goes too far. For the sake of filmmaking and the story, Pupkin's fantasies intermingle with reality — disastrously. For instance, he has a fantasy of having dinner with Langford where the star begs him to take over the talk show — despite that Langford actually does not see any refined talent in Pupkin, and far from the degree that Pupkin's fantasy lays out.

When I set my mind adrift and daydream of an encounter with some famous person — be it a consistent legend like Randy Newman or a cute-girl-du-jour like Kate Micucci — some event happens where I get to meet them by chance, and for some reason they are interested in me or thankful for something … basically, what Pupkin does. Only in his world, this is the way things actually happen: these absurd, unlikely, coincidences are believed to play out because the fantasy person does not have a real existence. In other words, I realize that famous-person-in-fantasy has, in real life, their own existence that simply does not include me whereas Pupkin does not have such a realization. He fully believes that fame makes the real person disappear — that the celebrity is no longer real, or that celebrity can completely obscure that reality.

The movie asks, in part, how do you handle a person like Pupkin? How do you handle someone who has disposed of your value as a human being? I believe it is the same haunting psychology that leads to stalking, rape, genocide, and any human-on-human atrocity: if you can convince yourself that another person is not a human being (or that they are simply a thing) then your mind is freed to do anything to them without remorse. And if you are on the receiving end of such behavior, all you can do is either change your mind so they are no longer human and you can do what you want with them, or save your own humanity, do what you can to educate them, and wait for them to realize that you are a valuable person too.

Watching Liverpool at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Liverpool and I was very impressed. Jim Healy introduced the film, emphasizing the lack of a complicated story but the beauty of light and humanity. I found the film to be at "human speed" rather than in "movie time". Most movies do away with unnecessary action: for instance, consider all the actions one takes when going from stopping a car in a driveway to sitting in the couch inside — in "movie time", it's done by showing the car stop, an shot of the exterior of the house with the car in the driveway, then the occupant is shown entering from the interior of the house. The ordinary actions of undoing a seatbelt, unlocking a door, or even buttoning up one's coat usually contribute only to making a film unnecessarily long. But at "human speed", we do these things whether we're conscious of it or not.

Liverpool celebrates human speed. At least far more-so than is typical — we are spared the 5 hour journey into port on a freighter, although the existence of that time is not ignored. The story, as Jim said, is remarkably simple: a man on a freighter visits his home, is not well liked, has been forgotten by his mother, and is really only acknowledged by his daughter. Then he leaves. That's the whole movie. But it's in the little moments that make it work. There's little dialog, but so much is offered in its place for the viewer to make their own story.

I had walked to the theater from Ali's house — about 30 minutes or so. I didn't contemplate the trip there, but on the way back, I was aware. I forgot how to understand lateness and hurry: I knew that I was at the right speed.

Trouble the Wat … er … I Mean The Pool

So Ali and I went with Christina in her recently-formed couplehood with Dominic to see Trouble the Water at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) As it happened, my Palm Pilot [Palm Pilot Vx from 2001, thanks for asking] decided to wipe its memory earlier that weekend, presumably from my pocket trying to hack into its password protection. While it was in memory therapy on its cradle at my house, I didn't have access to it or its wealth of information that includes the events from JayceLand. So we went at 7 p.m. which is when I though the movie was to be shown.

Well, as Jim Healy began introducing the film, it became slowly clear that this was not that movie. "What does he mean, 'characters'?" "I had no idea this was filmed in India." "I wonder if he means 'pool' as some kind of metaphor." Indeed, we had arrived in time to see The Pool instead.

As it turned out, the movie is very very good. It's about a couple kids from Goa, India who eek out a living in odd jobs on the street. The elder Venkatesh is fascinated by an unused swimming pool at what appears to be the home of someone unimaginably wealthy. He weasels his way in to helping the owner with his garden. Then he befriends the man's daughter and the three youngsters spend the pre-monsoon afternoons together. Ever so gradually — with the editorial precision of a surgeon — the film reveals why the pool stays unused.

In retrospect I found it to be a brilliantly paced film. Ali was enchanted by it — much to our surprise, as it could very well have been the kind of Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) experience culminating in a "when are they going to get on the fucking boat?" somewhere around the 3-hour mark. But it was very warmly received … I guess I'll have to get Ali to write up a summary one way or another.

Make Way for Tomorrow at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Make Way for Tomorrow. Tamara Jenkins gave a brief introduction after Jim Healy — the film was influential when she was writing her own film, The Savages. I liked her breezy, run-on way of talking and identified with "guilty writer syndrome" where rather than writing the script for The Savages, she took a break to see Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story) at a local film house, as it's on many "must-see" lists, particularly for filmmakers.

So upon watching it, she discovered it was based on a film from the 1930's: Make Way for Tomorrow (which, in turn, is based on a play and book). She and her husband sought to find a copy, and after exhausting film and video sources, they turned to eBay where they bought a VHS copy that was recorded on late-night TV, commercials-and-all. Presumably she got to see a private screening during her visit: she quipped that she has greatly enjoyed Rochester even though she's only seen it from the interior of the Dryden Theatre: she spent her time watching movies from the Eastman House archive.

Anyway, Make Way for Tomorrow was the saddest movie I ever saw. It starts out with a family of adult siblings being called to their parents' home. Their father explains that he failed to pay the mortgage and the house is being lost to foreclosure. His kids are relieved to find they have 6 months to vacate, but when they ask, he admits that the 6 months runs out in just a few days. The siblings try to accommodate their parents but all of them also try to maintain their own lives as if there were no disruption.

It's clear that all the parents (Bart and Lucy) want is to be together, but they have no means to do so on their own. Initially they're housed just a few hundred miles away on the East coast so they write letters to one another and rarely call (I guess they didn't have unlimited long distance). The siblings make a ditch effort to house their parents in the much more temperate climate of California with their sister. But when they find she is only willing to take care of Bart, they elect to put Lucy into a nursing home and send Bart alone.

The siblings are welcome their parents' meager request to spend one last day together. They spend it around New York — Bart still trying to find work to make ends meet. In lieu of dining with their children, they visit the hotel where they had their honeymoon and are welcomed by the staff. But alas, Bart's train is to leave and they get to the train station to say goodbye.

Just before Bart boards, he turns back to Lucy and says [pardon my paraphrasing], "and just in case there's a wreck or anything happens and I don't see you again, I just wanted to say that the last 50 years with you have been the best I could ever hope for." Lucy reciprocates — and it's abundantly clear that they will not ever see one another again.

I tried to explain the film to Ali when I got home but I broke down telling her about the last scenes. It's really unbelievable and deserves to be seen by many more people.

Searchers 2.0 will be a cult movie

I went to see Searchers 2.0 at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) I really didn't know what exactly to expect — it was billed as a tale of two actors who are determined to confront a screenwriter who mistreated them many decades prior. In essence, that's what it is: two guys get together and discover that both of them are movie trivia buffs, both were in the same movie as child extras, and that both were abused by the director for no apparent reason. They do what any one of us would: they get on the road to seek out the aging director and beat the crap out of him.

The movie itself was made on the cheap and it shows, giving it a Clerks-like feel. Writer/director Alex Cox was obviously a film-buff himself and paid homage to more films that I could identify — his characters believe themselves to be experts in cinema yet are often wrong in their details.

But it's the aura of the experience that makes it so memorable. I got the feeling that it wasn't edited (neither script nor film) all that much which is why it channels a very pure idea — one that isn't necessarily accessible to the audience. There's the idea of a long-dead need for vengeance — and the whole unnecessary-ness of it all. There's also a romantic view of the solitude of the road trip shared among its participants. And, of course, a love of movies and movie-making.

Anyway, producer Jon Davison was there in person — a jovial character who was ecstatic to see his film with an audience, and who temporarily suspended his retirement to make this film. After the screening, he was joined by Jim Healy and Alex Cox (by telephone [which actually worked pretty much fine, much to my surprise]) for question-and-answer. There really wasn't much in the line of questions — Searchers 2.0 doesn't leave one with questions.

It's just more of an uneasy feeling that maybe you should go back and watch what you saw one more time … not for any specific reason, though. And for that reason, I think Searchers 2.0 is going garner a cult following.

The films of Len Lye at the Dryden

Ali and I headed to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) but we arrived early, and we got to join the tail-end of Jim Healy's coffee chat in the cafe. I'd like to have attended, as I only got to really listen in on other people's comments.  I'm still stuck on trying to think of a romantic comedy in the past 10 years or so that Jim would like, as he was at a loss to think of one off hand.

Anyway, the films that night were those of Len Lye, an experimental filmmaker in the 1930's through 1960's. His technique was to "compose motion" by drawing directly onto film stock. A Colour Box was one of his earliest and I immediately recognized the tiny nuances of hand-painted and stamped images magnified hundreds of times. He also incorporated innovative music — typically Cuban music in his early films and jazz in his later ones.

It was amusing that some films were created as advertisements — such as The Birth of the Robot and Colour Flight, but they were so abstract that it was difficult to tell what the point was. Well, The Birth of the Robot was rather direct. In it, a guy dies in the desert and is resurrected by Shell oil into a robot that operates the mechanisms of the cosmos. Rhythm had interesting story: it was a commercial for Chrysler that got rejected by the company because it used African drumming and included a "knowing wink" from a black worker (although IMDb's trivia says it was because the film was "too abstract" rather than that Chrysler opposed racial equality in 1957). This also meant that an advertising reward for it was revoked because it was never actually shown.

Two of his last films: Free Radicals and Particles in Space were both excellent. Completely abstract in their artistry — and created from scratching white lines in black film — they conveyed the magic of motion and dimensions. I thought the hand-scratched titling that was animated to move in some warped spacial way was really innovative. The films also incorporated that technique, as if it were the film of objects dancing in a way unnatural to our orthogonal 3-D world.

Great World of Sound at the Dryden

I got a chance to see Great World of Sound at the Dryden on Thursday. Writer/director Craig Zobel introduced the film and was on hand afterward with starring actor Pat Healy (who is also Jim Healy's brother). I rather enjoyed the movie. The trailers I had seen made it out to be somewhat whimsical but it really got pretty serious at times. Basically a couple guys who are looking for odd jobs stumble upon an opportunity to become record producers. They are excited to sign people up and welcome all kinds of talent — solely based on how much money they can come up with as a good-faith deposit. Slowly they come to realize the whole thing is a scam — nobody actually gets a viable record out of it.

The discussion afterward was rather interesting. I think a lot of people — and one woman in particular — were a bit disturbed that to film the audition scenes, they used an advertisement for producing records in a local paper to lure real musicians to a hotel room. They auditioned and secretly filmed then brought behind the scenes and shown how things were run, and asked if they wanted to participate in the movie. Craig Zobel said he had developed a relationship with all the people who arrived so he didn't have any qualms about how he approached it. He admitted that some of the worst and most embarrassing acts were actually actors hired to play musicians. Pat Healy said he and co-star Kene Holliday had to handle improvising for an hour at a time — staying in character — to create those scenes. It also created rapport and a thorough understanding of what it took to do that kind of job.

Craig Zobel said that he got into it because his father got involved in a real "song sharking scam at one point in the 1970's. However, once he realized it was a scam and got out far earlier than the Pat's character Martin did. Zobel had researched other scams and was well versed on how they work. At one point in the film, Kene Holliday's character Clarence gives a climactic diatribe that sometimes you get desperate enough for money that you'll do this kind of thing — that the world isn't fair and that when it's not fair to you, you can't realistically be fair to it.

It's sad that there are people who get to the point that they feel the need to turn on their fellow humans.