Movies in July, 2015 including The Wicker Man, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, and Amy

  1. Me & Earl & the Dying Girl at the Little, July 1: Jenn, Ali, and I thought this would be an okay film to check out. It's a smart teen movie (that is, quite enjoyable by adults too) about Greg, whose mother forces him to visit a dying classmate, Rachel, but all he really wants to do is to make short films with his friend Earl. The thing I think was most pleasing is that Greg is a clumsy teen who makes painful-to-watch mistakes. The relationships between the three seem pretty organic and natural and the story is interesting enough. Oh yeah, the beginning … with its Greg-centered exposition, is not so hot … but it gets much better after that.
  2. Shorts Made for the Theaters at the Dryden, July 15: Jenn and I both enjoy short films. This program was treasures from the Eastman House archives which were designed for a cinema audience. Kicking off, Popeye Makes a Movie was quite hilarious. Then Paramount News Review 1938: A Year of Contrast was a laden with U.S. nationalism as WWII began. This Theatre and You, the later Let's Go to the Movies, and History Brought to Life were each slightly boring essays on how movies work and are made—the latter being borderline offensive in its claim to historical realism in fictional films.  The History and Development of the 35mm Projector was an interesting history lesson on early 35mm projector development.  The Film That Was Lost was an interesting early film promoting motion picture preservation—I'm still not clear on the 20-year lifespan of cellulose-based film and how we have originals from way more than 20 years ago. Finally, Dancing in the Street was a production made by Kodak that was a cringe-worthy 1980s music video for the version of that song done by Mick Jagger and David Bowie for the Live Aid benefit concert.
  3. Trudno byt bogom (Hard to Be a God) at the Dryden, July 14: Jenn and I were both interested in this film touted as being made by "legendary Russian auteur Aleksej German". It's ostensibly about an Earthling scientist who lives on the planet Arkanar, stuck in a parallel to Earth's middle ages except without the benefit of a Renaissance on the horizon. As Jurij Meden noted in his introduction, the film is a parable for life under communism in the Soviet Union, and, lacking a linear story, it is more of an experience. Once Jenn and I had enough of the experience—a mere hour into its 170 minute runtime—we left. It was indeed an impressive work but we didn't feel the need to stay for the whole thing.
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road at the Cinema, July 20: I kept hearing good things about this so I figured I'd hit up the double feature. It's an entertaining action movie with lots and lots of driving going on. What I found most impressive was its ability to handily pass the Bechdel/Wallace Test as even the somewhat minor "damsels in distress" characters are well thought-out and not simply interchangeable trophies as is too often the case.
  5. Lambert and Stamp at the Cinema, July 20: Following that, I stayed for the documentary about the managers for The Who, Kit Lambert and Christopher Stamp. As I'm not a huge Who fan, the documentary seemed to ramble a lot, especially toward the end. And it probably could have been better called "Kit Lambert and the Who" as it was largely about Lambert (who died in 1981). Unfortunately, the archival footage seemed to be rather sparse, so lots of reminiscing filled the bloated 117 minute running time.
  6. The Wicker Man—Final Cut at the Dryden, July 25: Jenn went to revisit, and I to see for the first time this genre-improving horror film. It's about a devoutly Christian police officer investigating the reported disappearance of a 12-year-old girl on a remote island inhabited exclusively by Pagans. The officer tries to retain his composure but is horrified by the nudity and sexuality of the islanders, and especially their willingness to allow children to witness their natural lives. The film's conclusion is a potent capstone to an amazingly interesting story. I got the impression that we were to strongly empathize (er … empathise as this is a British film) with the Christian morals of the cop. The 1973 original date could be rooted in conservatism or in hippie liberation, and a bit of searching the Internet didn't reveal any original critics' reactions so I'm not sure.
  7. Amy at the Little, July 28: Jenn and I went to see this because it looked kind of interesting. I knew very little of Amy Winehouse save for the mocking she received from comedians in the early 2000s for her drug and alcohol abuse. The film offers a heaping of empathy through the spectral glimpse we can see in archival and personal footage. Her singing style was unique, and her commitment to music was unparalleled, making her seem like one of those people who are just ablaze with talent. I got the impression she tried to show a composed, controlled demeanor, but the veneer was particularly thin and her opinions easily punched through it. She was also not quite ready to be in the spotlight; the hounding by paparazzi was disheartening, especially the glimpses of the worst of a thousand photoflashes rendering the night a stroboscopic minefield. In the end, I guess the film reminded me to never make fun of people you know nothing about.
  8. Grey Gardens at the Dryden, July 29. Jenn had already seen this so I went by myself … it's about aging Edie Bouvier Beale, and her elderly mother Edith Bouvier Beale who live in a mansion in East Hampton. Albert Maysles, and David Maysles were to make a documentary about their wealthy relatives, but when they found the two during research, they changed plans. The most common and roughly-fitting adjective is "eccentric" as the mansion is in a decades-long state of disrepair and the two appear to solely live on the property along with numerous cats. Despite outward appearances, they seem to be content with their lifestyle. As documentary subjects, they didn't have much to say—but that didn't stop their domestic banter, making for a virtually surreal viewing experience.

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OnFilm Shorts by Karpo Godina and Davorin Marc

The University of Rochester OnFilm group organized a screening of short films by Karpo Godina and Davorin Marc. I was very pleased to notice that the group was still vibrant despite having a complete (or nearly complete) change of guard.

Anyway, the Dryden's new film programmer, Jurij Meden, did an excellent job giving context to each of the five six films. Meden originates from Yugoslavia along with Godina, and he spent quite a while studying film in Marc's home country of Slovenia.

First up were two films from Karpo Godina. In the early 1970s he was interested in filming motion from a fixed camera position. His films of this era are fast-paced 8mm films. They screened Gratinirani Mozak Pupilije Ferkeverk (The gratinated brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk, Karpo Godina, Yugoslavia, 1970, 15 mins, Color, 35mm) first—a very odd film in which five people dance around abandoned natural salt evaporation ponds (I guess). (As a side note, I was scribbling notes into my Palm Pilot [Samsung Galaxy Player] but I couldn't transcribe fast enough so all I got was "Graduated brains of… P… Browned brains?" Thankfully, an obscure blog post led me to the complete title posted at The Northwest Film Forum; and that obscure blog has the translated title cards and scenes from this film.) Anyway, Meden said—I'm fairly certain this is the gist of his wild anecdote—the filmmaker and theater troupe Pupilije Ferkeverk went there and ingested a lot of drugs, filmed for a week, and had no recollection of the events save for the exposed film. It was produced by then-generous funding from the communist state, but was an indictment of the obedience-centric government, ultimately concluding that the only thing to do is to take LSD.

A year later, Godina produced 14441 kvadrat (About the Art of Love or a Film with 14441 Frames, Karpo Godina, Yugoslavia 1972, 11 min., 16mm). This time funded through the military, it was destined to be a propaganda film to glorify the army and military service. Godina was assigned an artificial rank to command a division of troops, alone, in a remote area. He made a rather humorous film centered on a folk song about having the men and women so close but never actually together. The centerpiece is the beautiful rolling hills with scattered soldiers running about in formations (and notably never using a weapon). Godina's recollection was that it was nothing like what they expected, so they destroyed all but one print which he personally smuggled out. However, Meden met with the army a few years back, and an aging officer told him revealed they kept the negatives—"we knew he was a national treasure!"

Davorin Marc was considerably different. He lives in a small fishing village and created over 200 films in his spare time. According to Meden, every single one is a completely different experimental style. Having little contact with the outside world, he thought what he was doing was entirely new and unique although worldwide, others had used similar techniques much earlier. First up was Ugrizni me. Ze enkrat (Bite Me. Once Already, Davorin Marc, Yugoslavia, 1978/80, 1:35 mins, Silent, Color, Super 8mm). It is a cameraless film where Marc bit the 8mm film stock. His unique biological imprint flutters by on the screen and it's actually quite fascinating.

Next was Ej klanje (Slaughter Ahoy, Davorin Marc, Yugoslavia, 1981, 16 mins @ 18 fps, Silent with separate sound on CD, Color, Super 8mm). In this, he uses several fixed-camera shots to show the slaughter (perhaps) and butchering of an animal (a pig, I surmised) as well as his own soundtrack. We watched the sole original copy which starts showing only the boots of a few people at the legs of a small table—the blood-slicked ground reveals ghostly reflections of people working at the table. A second shot reveals the splitting of the animal's head with a hatchet to retrieve its tongue and brain.

The official final film was Paura in città (1181 dni pozneje ali vonj po podganah) (Fear In The City (1181 Days Later or Smell of Rats), Davorin Marc, Yugoslavia, 1984, 21 mins, Color, Super 8mm transferred to 35mm). (I had managed to transcribe Parada on città? Fear of rats? which was enough to stumble on another Northwest Film Forum post.) It's split into two parts: the first being a sort-of "video diary" and the second a sort of "found footage." Both are filmed with a quick succession between starts and stops (presumably by the remote control you can see Marc holding in some shots) which gives the whole thing a fantastic frenetic pace with its quasi-timelapse technique, enhanced by Marc's staccato soundtrack. And since there was no footage to be found, Marc resorted to filming the television, sometimes adding motion to the quasi-timelapse technique. This was a 35mm restoration from the 8mm originals and it looked fantastic.

The unofficial final film was one Marc gave Meden recently. If I remember correctly, while "Fear In The City" was being restored, they sent samples of the 35mm stock to Marc to review. Marc sliced the film into strips the same width as 8mm film, creating Perf form me for Meden. As he noted, the projector will likely add sprocket holes and the film will be destroyed while playing, perhaps destroying the projector as well. As such, it was screened on a "less valuable" projector and the film just moved slowly through the projector, melting as it went through, and we never did arrive at a scene containing any images.

Interestingly, the American promise was always that filmmakers should leave their communist countries so they could make films without censorship. But as often happened, those who took the offer found there were no public funds like there were under communism so—just as both filmmakers more or less stopped in about 1991 when communism fell—immigrants also could not afford to make such artistic works. The heyday of the 1960s Black Wave political films followed by the Pink Wave of the early 1970s when the government changed were both generously state-funded.

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