Monday, November 26, 2012

The Tarkovsky Influence on "Krivina"

Some of the original responses to Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, according to his book Sculpting in Time, include: an equipment engineer from Kalinin, “Half an hour ago I came out of Mirror. Well!! … Comrade director! Have you seen it? I think there’s something unhealthy about it … I wish you every success in your work, but we don’t need films like that.” From an engineer from Sverlovsk, “One can only be astonished that those responsible for the distribution of films here in the USSR should allow such blunders.”

When a film is challenging there is a knee-jerk reaction for some viewers to immediately criticize it for its disregard to certain formulas, instead of evaluating it on its own terms. For Takovsky, who describes his vocation as a “duty and responsibility towards people,” the goal for all art “is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of his existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question.”

One can describe Tarkosvky’s filmic approach as long, slow and meditative. There is a poetry to his approach: that of a musing camera lingering on earthly beauty. Tarkovsky writes about this, “I find poetic links, the logic of poetry in cinema, extraordinarily pleasing. They seem to me perfectly appropriate to the potential of cinema as the most truthful and poetic of art forms.” He would further add,
“Complexities of thought and poetic visions of the world do not have to be thrust into the framework of the patently obvious. The usual logic, that of linear sequentiality, is uncomfortably like the proof of a geometry theorem. As a method it is incomparably less fruitful artistically than the possibilities opened up by associative linking, which allows for an affective as well as a rational appraisal. And how wrong it is that the cinema makes so little use of the latter mode, which has so much to offer. It possesses an inner power which is concentrated within the image and comes across to the audience in the form of feelings, inducing tension in direct response to the author’s narrative logic.” 
This form of poetic, non-associative filming plays a large role in Igor Drljaca’s debut feature-film, Krivina: the story of Miro Kalinic (the hulky Goran Slavkovic), a former Yugoslavian now living in Toronto, who returns to Bosnia to find an old friend Dado, who is rumored to have resurfaced.

We first discover Miro with his back turned towards us, with a backpack hanging over one-shoulder, as he’s walking the streets trying to find his friend's old apartment. A golden-hued sun rises, illuminating the horizon and flowing onto the streets of Sarajevo as a soothing whistling is overheard. Miro’s search for his lost friend is filmed in a style that includes point-of-view shots towards the sky, still and moving exposition wide-shots of small figures in pastoral landscapes, and hand-held shots following Miro as he’s walking. All the while the sound-track goes from naturalism to folkloric ambient music which gives the film a dream-like quality.

Krivina is more about the journey – similar to Tarkovsky when he’s at his best (Ivan’s Childhood, Stalker) – than about the final destination. As Miro’s travels through the countryside of his old home country there are more new questions that are being asked than there are old questions that are being answered. The first thing that Miro is asked is, “Are you looking for someone?” And as Miro searches for Dado it is slowly becoming ambiguous if they aren't really the same person and if his search is more a personal journey for Miro to find himself. One gets a sense that Miro’s identity has become fragmented after the war, as the two of their described experiences seem very similar to one another - a failed marriage, the lost of his parents – and through the search for Dado certain repressed war-time experiences re-emerge like his participation in the Republika Srpska Special Forces along with war profiteering.

It is this search for oneself after the trauma of war, which makes Krivina’s non-linear narrative a suitable structure. It is the trauma of war which disrupts the narrative. In a stunning shot Miro is in the forest and sunlight is beaming onto him. A butterfly lands on his hand as he sits still and watches it. In this moment of solace, Miro is able to find some form of peace. After the horrors of war it is only by looking at nature that Miro is able to find himself.

Even though Krivina might be Tarkovskyesque, it speaks to a different population describing acutely their experiences and feelings about the lasting effects of the Bosnian war. This makes its message of dislocation and alienation so affective.
(Krivina will be playing at The Royal cinema sometime in the month of December or January.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

First Generation Filmmaker: the Films of Nicolás Pereda

It’s great news to hear that Nicolás Pereda is finally getting a full retrospective here in Toronto. It will be from Thursday November 22nd to the 25th at the TIFF Cinematheque.

The label First Generation filmmaker, which was initially coined as part of a film program organized by Kaz and Dan (MDFF) at the Lichter Filmtage in Frankfurt, seems to be growing and becoming more relevant. The five films in the initial program were Chris Chong Chan Fui’s Pool and Block B, Igor Drljaca’s Woman in Purple and On a Lonely Drive, and Nicolás Pereda’s Interview with the Earth. According to Kaz these films, “have been created by directors that spent time in Toronto, but did not necessarily film there. These temporary-residents play a role in Canadian cinema: their films maintain a connection to Toronto, while defining their own territories and landscapes.” Since the initial program in March 2011 these directors have gone on to do new projects, and more directors emerged that fit this criteria. The director Igor Drljaca has gone on to make a feature film Krivina, a small masterpiece in and of itself (more about it later), and he recently received the Hubert Bals Fund for script and project development for a new film Tabija. And I would include two other filmmakers to the list: Simone Rapisarda Casanova (The Strawberry Tree) and Luo Li (Rivers and my father).

In a recent Cinema Scope article Unexpected Textures: A Conversation Between Nicolás Pereda and Kazik Radwanski (moderated by Christopher Heron), Perada writes about his newest film,
“In Greatest Hits, the first 40 minutes follow a very concrete aesthetic and then suddenly something totally new happens that changes the whole idea of what the film is about. We’re shooting with a different camera, but the acting style also changes radically. Those are formal games that now I’m more interested in – not setting up concrete rules, but making radical games that are obvious to the viewer.”
The retrospective, Where Are the Films of Nicolás Pereda?, includes the Toronto premiere of Pereda’s newest film Greatest Hits, which had its world premiere this summer at the Locarno Film Festival, and includes all of his other films: Where Are Their Stories?, Juntos, Perpetuum Mobile, All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence, Summer of Goliath, and Interview with the Earth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Poopsie Dries Out: A Comedy Web Series

I'm excited to finally be able to share all five episodes of Cabot McNenly's new web-series, Poopsie Dries Out. After the funny Sheddies, which premiered at the Worldwide Short Film Festival, Cabot and writing partner Steve McKay return to filmmaking with Poopsie Dries Out. It's a comedy starring Robert Kennedy as Poopsie, a recovering alcoholic, and the episodes are full of funny gags as Poopsie tries to re-integrate himself into regular society. - D.D.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Warren Sonbert Retrospective at Jackman Hall (November 15th – 17th)

Early Monthly Segments, the monthly experimental film series, will be celebrating it’s forty-fifth edition by programming a complete Warren Sonbert retrospective from Thursday, November 15th to Saturday the 17th at the Jackman Hall in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sonbert’s films are described as “wonderful records of his vibrant surroundings in New York and San Francisco and his travels abroad. Gorgeously shot and meticulously edited, his films serve as an important touchstone for the possibilities of personal filmmaking.” Jon Gartenberg, who organized this retrospective initially at Light Cone in Paris, calls Sonbert "one of the seminal figures working in American experimental film," and other Sonbert supporters include P. Adams Sitney. The subject matter and style of Sonbert films correspond well with the work of Werner Schroeter, whose films are also currently being shown in a retrospective in the city.

The programs are:
-       On Thursday, November 15th (6:30pm) there is Queer Identity, which includes the Amphetamine (1966), Noblesse Oblige (1981), and Whiplash (1997).
"Of the many creative and cultural universes inhabited by Sonbert, none was perhaps more acutely experienced yet least publicly acknowledged than his homosexual identity and affliction with AIDS. This program examines Sonbert’s relationship to the gay universe, beginning with his provocative and playful first film, Amphetamine, which depicts young men shooting amphetamines and making love in the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The program continues with Noblesse Oblige, a masterfully edited work that features imagery Sonbert photographed of protests in San Francisco following the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Councilman Harvey Milk at the hands of Dan White. (Sonbert modeled the structure of this film on Douglas Sirk’s Tarnished Angels). The program culminates with Whiplash, his elegiac meditation on his own mortality, a film that was completed posthumously according to Sonbert’s instructions."
-       On Thursday, November 15 (8pm) there is From Mise-en-Scene to Montage, which includes The Bad and the Beautiful (1967) and Tuxedo Theatre (1968).
"One of the most profound themes coursing throughout Sonbert’s work is that of love between couples in all its pitfalls and perfect moments. Sonbert expressed this theme not only between his protagonists onscreen, but also in the relationship between his ever-roving hand-held camera and the human subjects within his field of vision. The Bad and the Beautiful is noteworthy for Sonbert’s use of in-camera editing, in which he assembled together individual 100’ camera rolls (that he shot) into a series of mini-narratives. Each camera roll sequence captures an individual couple in unusually intimate, quotidian moments: eating, making love, dancing, and whiling away the time. Beginning in 1968, Sonbert abandoned his earlier filmmaking style, which had brought him such notoriety in the public press while he was still a teenager. He began using his hand-held Bolex camera to enlarge his field of vision beyond New York, recording footage as he traveled around the world. The Tuxedo Theatre offers evidence of Sonbert’s first steps in developing his unique style of montage, which subsequently resulted in his magnum opus, Carriage Trade."
-       On Friday, November 16 (6:30pm) there is Overarching Themes: Art & Industry, Militarism & Feminism (The Female Gaze), which includes Divided Loyalties (1978), Honor and Obey (1988), and A Woman’s Touch (1983).
"Sonbert’s montage works were meticulously constructed in the selection and sequencing of individual shots. Film theorist Noel Carroll gave the term “polyvalent montage” to Sonbert’s working style, in which each shot “can be combined with surrounding shots along potentially many dimensions.” Sonbert himself once wrote, that “the ambition might be seen as an attempt to hold finely balanced series of tensions in which one can read images a variety of ways, sometimes in contradictory stances so that there are many possibilities of interaction. “Each of Sonbert’s films after Carriage Trade was structured with an overarching theme in mind. Divided Loyalties, according to Sonbert, is about “art vs. industry and their various crossovers.” Honor and Obey questions all forms of male-dominated authority, particularly familial, religious, political, and military. Sonbert modeled A Woman’s Touch after Hitchcock’s Marnie, both in the stylistic interplay between “images of [en]closure and escape,” and in the thematic tension between male domination and female independence."
-       On Friday, November 16 (8pm) there is The Travel Diary, which includes Carriage Trade (1972).
"In Carriage Trade, Sonbert interweaves footage taken from his journeys throughout Europe, Africa, Asian and the United States, together with shots he removed from the camera originals of a number of his earlier films. Carriage Trade was an evolving work-in-progress, and this 61-minute version is the definitive form in which Sonbert realized it, preserved intact from the camera original. With Carriage Trade, Sonbert began to challenge the theories espoused by the great Soviet filmmakers of the 1920’s; he particularly disliked the “knee-jerk’ reaction produced by Eisenstein’s montage. In both lectures and writings about his own style of editing, Sonbert described Carriage Trade as “a jig-saw puzzle of postcards to produce varied displaced effects.” This approach, according to Sonbert, ultimately affords the viewer multi-faceted readings of the connections between individual shots. This occurs through the spectator’s assimilation of “the changing relations of the movement of objects, the gestures of figures, familiar worldwide icons, rituals and reactions, rhythm, spacing and density of images.”
-       On Saturday, November 17 (3pm) there is 60′s New York, which includes Where Did Our Love Go? (1966), Hall of Mirrors (1966), and The Tenth Legion (1968).
"Sonbert began making films in 1966, as a student at New York University’s film school. His earliest films, in which he captured the spirit of his generation, were inspired first by the university milieu and then by the denizens of the Warhol art world. Sonbert described the scenes from Where Did Our Love Go?, as follows: “Warhol Factory days…serendipity visits, Janis and Castelli and Bellevue glances…Malanga at work…glances at Le Mépris and North by Northwest…Girl rock groups and a disco opening…a romp through the Modern.” Hall of Mirrors is an outgrowth of one of Sonbert’s film classes at NYU, in which he was given the outtakes from a Hollywood film (starring Fredric March and Florence Eldridge) to re-edit into a narrative sequence. Adding to this found footage, Sonbert filmed Warhol’s superstar René Ricard in more private and reflective moments, and Gerard Malanga in public view at an art gallery. The film has a sophisticated circular structure, beginning and ending with the protagonists’ movements enmeshed within multiple reflecting mirrors. The Tenth Legion stylistically exemplifies Sonbert’s masterful use of a constantly moving hand-held camera as it trails the college-age protagonists in choreographed fashion, and of chiaroscuro lighting effects in interior scenes. Critic Greg Barrios wrote about this film: “People [are] engaged in their living, in their purpose, in their contribution, however trivial or important, to the work of the world.” Sonbert’s attention to capturing on film the minutiae of daily existence can be seen as a precursor to his mature montage films made years later, in which he melded diverse human gestures into a unified global vision."
-       On Saturday, November 17 (6:30pm) there is Silent Rhythms/Sound Symphonies 1, which includes Rude Awakening (1976) and Friendly Witness (1989).
"Rude Awakening, according to Sonbert, is “about Western civilization and its work; activity ethic and the viability of performing functions and activities.” Sonbert’s vivid color palette enhances the ritualistic nature of each action observed. Set against this lush panorama, Sonbert subverts the expectation of classic cinematography with a liberal sprinkling of avant-garde techniques. The incorporation of the materiality of film, the treatment of light, and the use of a hand-held camera, all suggest the influence of Stan Brakhage, Sonbert’s “hero”. Sonbert was also a professional music critic. In Friendly Witness, he returned, after 20 years of making films, to incorporating music tracks back into his movies. In doing so, he selected specific recordings from his firsthand knowledge of a vast repertoire of classical, pop, and world music idioms. Critic Fred Camper has noted that the first section of Friendly Witness is “suggestive of loves gained and love lost” – to the tunes of four rock [and roll] songs. Sonbert accompanied the closing imagery with a music underscore from Gluck’s operatic overture to Iphigénie en Aulide. The filmmaker observed: “Spectacle, public domain, objective (god’s eye) point of view is the aesthetic approach with the constant idea that all this activity is perhaps occurring simultaneously.” Here as Sonbert weaves together an extraordinary palette of synchronous activity worldwide, he places himself firmly in the pantheon of the great montage theorists in film history."
-       On Saturday, November 17 (8pm) there is Silent Rhythms/Sound Symphonies 2, which includes The Cup and the Lip (1986) and Short Fuse (1992).
"Sonbert considered The Cup and the Lip as one of his best films – “complete, succinct and time proof.” Film critic David Sterritt wrote that “the film appears to be a regretful and perhaps sardonic essay on human frailty – and on the effort to stave off chaos by means of political and religious institutions, which carry their own dangers of social control and mental manipulation.” Short Fuse is informed by Sonbert’s awareness of his own mortality, once he was diagnosed with HIV. As film critic Steven Holden astutely noted, in Short Fuse, “an undercurrent of rage seeps through the cracks of its ebullient surface.” The opening of the film explodes with a sea of turbulent emotions, underscored by the gripping sound track from Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. Shifting musical passages collide against images of leisure, war, and protest. In 1986, Sonbert wrote a feature-length screenplay adaptation of Strauss’ Capriccio, his favorite opera. A central artistic question raised by Capriccio is whether the music or the libretto takes priority. Short Fuse is replete with a soundtrack that counterpoints the film’s visuals; this prompts the spectator to contemplate, in analogous fashion, whether the images or the sound track predominates. In Sonbert’s creative hands, there are no definitive answers, only more open-ended perspectives."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Documentaries by Philippe Grandrieux and Eric Khoo

There were two really interesting movies that played last week here in Toronto as part of the Reel Asian film festival that I think deserve more attention. They are both documentaries about artist by esteemed world filmmakers. These two artist have paved the way for the kind of films that they themselves are making and explore certain ideas about art that they are interested in. These two films are by a younger generation than their subjects, and the filmmakers are paying their debts to these artists. In both films the director and subject are in collaboration with one another. The two films are different from one another, in terms of both content and form, but they are similar in that they take an unconventional approach to the documentary form.

The two films are Philippe Grandrieux’s Masao Adachi Portrait, the first episode of the collection The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness; and Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi, which is based on the Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s memoir, A Drifting Life.

Philippe Grandrieux is the experimental full-length feature director of such films like Sombre, La vie nouvelle, and Un lac. With The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness, Grandieux brought forth a lot of his techniques from his fiction films to the documentary like out-of-focus imagery, shaky camera-work, and digital video. Along with the conventional trope of documentaries like interviews with the subject and insertion of film-clips, there is an interesting placement of poetic images that resonate with the content of voice-over conversations. Adachi likens this technique, which he also uses, to his discovery of André Breton's Manifesto of Surrealism and their tricks. You can find some of Masao Adachi Japanese experimental/political films on YouTube: Red Army - PFLP: Declaration of World War and CINEMIX /// AKA Serial Killer.
While Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi is about the Japanese manga artist Tatsumi’s who popularized a new genre of manga in the sixties, the gekiga ("dramatic pictures"). Khoo only made fours films previously in a career that spans over fifteen years, and Tatsumi is Khoo's first foray into animation. Tatsumi was highlighted in Cahiers du Cinéma's Most Anticipated Films of the 2011 issue (N.663), and in Jérémy Segay's Khoo de pinceau, Khoo speaks about his desire to make an animation film: "my desire to make an animation film really comes from Yoshihiro Tatsumi." The film is divided into five chapters of Tatsumi's life (where Tatsumi provides his own voice) interspersed with five adaptations of Tatsumi's graphic novels.
It is this homage to artists that are made in interesting ways, which makes Tatsumi and The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness so fascinating.

These two documentaries are less like Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Lincoln, which uses the fiction film to dramatize the American democratic process by way of Abraham Lincoln trying to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representative, but more like James Benning use of the experimental documentary in Two Cabins. Benning meditates on the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ted Kaczynski as in a single, extended shot the viewer is shown the view from their cabin looking outward toward nature. The Thoreau episode includes a cabin with a larger window and the emphasis is on what is going on outside, while the Kaczynski episode has a smaller window and its emphasis is on the sonic component. Just like how Benning experiments with form and uses these tableau's to "reflect on utopian and dystopian versions of social isolation," Grandrieux and Khoo reflect on these artist figures from an older generation to better understand the present.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Film Review : A Werewolf Boy

A new guest contribution by Oded Aronson. – D.D.

A Werewolf Boy (Jo Sung-hee, 2012)
**** (Masterpiece) 

A figure crouches in darkness.  He is scared of his own shadow.  He doesn’t have contact with anyone or anything.  He is alone.
Meanwhile, a new family moves into the property where he lives.  They have moved to the countryside far away from the city’s overwhelming smog in order to attempt improving the health of Suni, their oldest daughter. 
Since the lone figure has stayed to himself for so long, no one knows that he exists.  One night, Suni wanders the property’s grounds on her own, wishing she was anywhere but in that dull place.  The meeting between her and the lone figure is inevitable.
Slowly, the two of them begin to trust each other, but the fact remains that they might as well come from different planets.  He’s a werewolf; wild, feral and knows nothing of human mannerisms.  He lacks the ability to speak, and thinks like an animal.  Eventually, the Suni family discover that the most effective way to deal with him is to train him as though he is a dog.  They also give him a name:  Chul-Soo.
Although progress is very slow, eventually the Suni family comes to understand that Chul-Soo is a  special man whose physical strength, ability to adapt to many situations, and extraordinary kindness is without parallel.  Others cannot see these capabilities in Chul-Soo because in many ways, he is not like them.  He growls at strangers, chomps his food like a maniac, and does not have the ability to contain his emotions.  Chul-Soo does not have the capability to smile through tears; when he is happy, he literally bounds across the room with joy; when he is sad or angry, his growls can be heard miles away. 
One person in particular who cannot abide Chul-Soo is Ji-Tai, the young man who owns the property.  Ji-Tai is an arrogant man who believes he is entitled to special treatment because he collects cash from the people who live in his property.  He openly mocks the dwellers for having less money than he does and every time he opens his mouth to talk about anything, it has the same portentous quality that arises when people learn there will be an upcoming earthquake.
He is also in love with Suni.
For Chul-Soo, Suni is more than just an attractive girl; even though she was afraid of him at first, Suni made the effort to understand and talk to him. Chul-Soo knows deep down that no one else would have been willing to make the effort to understand him on a deep emotional, instinctual, and intellectual level simultaneously. Ji-Tai can see almost immediately that Chul-Soo loves Suni, which makes him a threat to the relationship between Suni and himself that exists only in his mind. 
Consequently, Ji-Tai resorts to gradually more desperate measures to attempt to kill Chul-Soo.  He tries to make the people around him see Chul-Soo as nothing more than a beast whose only intent is to harm others. The fact that some people believe Ji-Tai emphasizes that in some cases, people will willingly side with people they know are bullies if that is what it takes to get rid of societal elements that they hate, fear and misunderstand. 
Fear of the unknown is difficult to deal with, and everybody thinks that their own way of dealing with fear is the most effective because it has allowed them to make peace with the processes which take place inside their own minds. Some people, like Ji-Tai, prefer to lash out and destroy anything which makes life inconvenient for them, while some others (such as Suni) try to talk to others and understand what is going on in both their own minds and the minds of those around them. 
A Werewolf Boy is a deeply intense, emotional plea for all of us to try to understand one another in the midst of chaos.     

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Michael Snow: Objects of Vision

"I've always been interested in the physical aspect of art. There's always a materialist side, even in work that involves depiction. In my work I'm always a sculptor. Sometimes a sculptor of time/light, but I've been, since my beginnings, a pure sculptor, an artist who makes objects, in three dimensions." - Michael Snow

(Objects of Vision by Michael Snow will be going on at the Art Gallery of Ontario until December 9th, 2012)