Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Magnificent Australian Outback Scenery

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994)
** (Worth Seeing)

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 27/07 - 28/07)

Out of Service August

In August, between the 13th and 27th, this blog will be less frequently updated as I am going to Berlin, Germany to visit my friend Shaun. Hopefully I can check out, what looks like a great repertory cinema the Kino Arsenal. Any worthwhile international news pertaining to the art of film may be updated here as well.-D.D.

August Listings

Bytowne Cinema
Easy Virtue (Stephan Elliott, 2008) 7/8 - 8/8 & 12/18 - 13/8.
Chéri (Stephen Frears, 2009)27/08 - 30/08.

The Mayfair Theatre
Martin (George A. Romero, 1977) 15/08.
The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) 21/08 - 23/08 & 25.08.

Cinéma du Parc (Montreal)
John Cassavetes Retrospective 31/07 - 13/08.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Grim World of Alfred Hitchcock

Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)

(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 26/07 & 27/07)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Quintessential American Road Movie

Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)

Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, from a screenplay by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Corry, is a existential-muscle car-road movie about two friends, The Driver (James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson), who pick up The Girl (Laurie Bird), fall in and out of love with her, both physically and spiritually, drive down, the pre-Interstate Highway, U.S. Route 66, where in New Mexico, they meet and challenge G.T.O (Warren Oates) to a cross-country drag race to Washington, D.C.. Most of the film consists of picaresque diversions including racing, sleeping, eating, visiting and waiting.

With a penchant for long takes, dead-pan Zen state performances and a minimalist use of dialogue, the film has a spellbinding effect that immerses the viewer into the trip. With the cameras placed in the passenger, or back, seat of the car, we are allowed to see what the driver is seeing through the windshield, while the exposition shots provide a magnificent look at the 1970’s nonindustrial American countryside landscape.

It is similar to Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) in its stark, cheerless and desolate depiction of rural communities and inhabitants. The Girl channels Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) as she wordlessly joins the guys in their 1955 Chevy 150, and then becomes first a motivating source and then one of frustration. Even the editing becomes ambivalent, similar to Bresson’s, as the Girl walks into a gas station women washroom, occupied by a bumbling male hitchhiker, and then, the film, cuts away from the action without giving any resolution.

The depiction of each city is dark and pitiless. In one city a drag racer after losing a race is screamed at publicly by his girlfriend, before she leaves him, there are wrinkled elderly, a mother with children selling wares by a bus terminal, and the police have a dominating presence throughout each state. As hard as G.T.O. tries to reach out to people, though one suspects his dishonesty as his back-story is consecutively changing on how he got his Orange 1970 Pontiac GTO, people always seem to leave him. Leaving him alone to keep on traversing the Main Street of America. One hitchhiker he picks up, Oklahoma Hitchhiker (the great Harry Dean Stanton), is a lonely homosexual. The Oklahoma Hitchhiker puts his hand on G.T.O.'s right leg who then immediately refuses the non-heterosexual invitation, and when the hitchhiker went, assumedly, too far and is asked to get out of the car on the side of the highway, in the rain, he begs for compassion and G.T.O. gives him the humanist benefit of dropping him off in the next city.

Two recent road movies influenced by Two-Lane Blacktop are Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights (2007) and Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny (2004). My Blueberry Nights is about Elizabeth (Norah Jones), Norah Jones singing profession parallels James Taylor and Dennis Wilson own music careers before Two-Lane Blacktop, going across the United States meeting many hardened individuals until returning home optimistically as ever. My problem with the film, not only as a road movie but as a Wong Kar Wai film, his first English language feature, is its audience-pleasing familiarities and conventionalism. The Brown Bunny originality tides it over. It takes the notion of; perception as a form of redemption, and the road as an escape, a means to forget, in this case, and in most, a girl, to new heights. In Two–Lane Blacktop when The Girl first gets into the drag racers car, while their eating in a diner, you can hear on the radio Hit the Road Jack by the Stampeders, a song about a women and the open road. The use of music in The Brown Bunny is also used to add depth, and accentuate feelings of alienation, regret, and the romance of the open road.

Experience becomes a source of redemption for the counter-culture duo. When The Driver and The Mechanic realize they have no place to go, their endless search for authenticity and “another” race, along with their memories of The Girl who left them for a boy on a motorcycle come to a close, so does the film, as it reaches a point of disinclination, the sound vanishes, and then finaly the film stock itself starts to disintegrates.-David Davidson

(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 22/07 & 23/07)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ottawa Gore

Smash Cut (Lee Demarbre, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

Lee Demarbre’s Smash Cut, from a screenplay by Ian Driscoll, is an entertaining Ottawa gore film which just had its world premiere Saturday July 18th in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival. Both dark and jovial, the plot follows a local filmmaker Able Whitman (David Hess), acting as a surrogate for Lee Demarbre, and its concerns are the inconveniences and compromise that filmmakers creating a collaborative art have to deal with.

The film starts off with Herschell Gordon Lewis, a low-budget gore filmmaker who spawned the genre in the 1960s, warning the viewers “that filmmaking is a blood sport” and that the content of the film is sure to shock. Herschell Gordon Lewis films Blood Feast (1963), Color Me Blood Red (1965), and The Gore Gore Girls (1972) were some direct influences on the film . His films were filled with gruesome murders, evisceration, and half-clad women victims. Blood Feast starred Connie Mason, from the centerfold of playboy magazine, which is now being paralleled with Sasha Grey who comes from the adult entertainment industry. But his style was invisible, with very little camera movement and a texture that resembled b-exploitation-movies of the era, unprofessional acting, implausible shlock stories, always bright lighting which consisted of a bursting comic-book color palette with flashy hues of blue, red, pink and orange, and moods which were more fun than morbid.

Smash Cut's camera work, by the cinematographers Jean-Denis Ménard and Karl Roeder, is intensely modern, it was shot on a high resolution RED digital camera, with steady cam shots bringing you into the action, close-ups on the dismantlement’s, intricate long shots as well as a mixing up of medias including shots from the perspective of the cameras view-finder, and a short interposition of a monochromatic silent film. The original music, and sound mixing, by Micheal Dubue creates a mood of eeriness and suspence. One scene that stays in mind occurs when the camera follows Able Whitman from his car arriving at the Bytowne Cinema on Rideau Street, past the posters, one of The Dead Sleep Easy (Lee Demarbre, 2007), up the marquee, through a window, and into the projection booth.

Smash cut begins with Abel Whitman presenting his lastest picture, the audience pans the film, denounces its artificiality of a detached eye-ball. For his next picture, Abel, will remove the eyes of a victim with a medical knife, in a sequence that is even more nauseating then the eye slicing in Un Chien Andalou. Then he goes to a bar and drinks his problems away, gets a dance from a stripper named Gigi (Jennilee Murray), and then leaves with her. Driving home, she surprises him by returning her regular fee, but an unsuspecting incoming automobile sidetracks him off of the street where he hits a tree. She dies. The accidental murder of the women, a fleeting career, and frustration towards an audience that is not receptive to his work brings him to a nervous breakdown. What unfolds is a murderous escapade; he has now an insatiable desire to murder and to use the corpses in his film. As precocious as the Nietzscheans in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). The body parts make everything, well the gore at least, in his new film of a murdering toy all the more realistic and believable, allowing him to get more grants, a major distribution, which pleased his producer Philip Farmsworth Jr. (Michael Berryman), and awe from his peers.

One unnoted dept Smash Cut might owe would be too Warren Beatty’s Bulworth (1998). Abel Whitman’s nervous breakdown and then ravage lunacy parallels the plight of Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth where after realizing his vanishing presence as a political candidate he decides put a contract out on himself and then starts to blurt out truth’s denouncing the system hypocrisies. With every prod to the current political organization, the more powerful his following becomes. Which is similar to the aggrandizing of Abel as his film is consecutively improving.

The only potential problem the film poses is it lack of a message. What does this film have to say about the world we live in? Able Whitman while in a room preparing to get government funds is asked by an artist what kind of film is he making, her answer was that she will be using the money to decry the passivity that arise from televisions, and then he tells her his film will be a sojourn in the macabre, then knocks her out, slowly tortures her, depletes her blood into a canister and finally lashes it onto the star of his new film April Carson (Sasha Grey). April is Gigi’s sister, the murdered stripper, who is on a editorial pursuit, along with a investigator Isaac Beaumonde (Jesse Buck), to relocate her.

Ian Driscoll script has Shakespearian touches, in particular Hamlet which Abel Whitman comments as being as precursor horror film. The investigator Isaac eventually catches on to what Abel has been doing and puts on a a re-enactment of Abel Whitmans murder of the movie critic Gretchen Gregorski (Guen Douglas) paralleling the same device Hamlet uses on Claudius, though comically done with paper masks and a pretend stabbing with a knife that never makes contact.

Many simple pleasures that arise from the film are the locations and people, starting off with the Car Wash on Catherine Street, the repertoire cinema’s Bytowne and the Mayfair, the National Art Gallery of Canada setting, and alongside the Rideau Canal. This viewer’s only problem arose when Abel Whitman decides to murder one of the film’s producers with a Harpoon, he is asked where he got the Harpoon, and before plummeting him with it, he answers at the Harpoon store. For as this lifetime Ottawa, Ontario, resident knows there are no Harpoon stores here! As well there are a few cameos of a few friends that would have no other opportunity to be immortalities on film including Layla Brown, Lesley Marsland (both from the Bytowne Cinema) and Michael Dubue (In the band the Hilotrons, and Mayfair Theatre) as well as a few Ottawa Famous figures including Guen Douglas (Planet Ink Studios), Jennilee Murray and Phil Caracas (The Harry Knuckles trilogy, and Bytowne Cinema).

The communal midnight screening experience was very lively. Including a waiting line that went around the corner, a practically packed house at the Théâtre Hall at Concordia (1455 de Maisonneuve O.), loud cheers, burst of laughter, comments, and a receptive question and answer period. With popcorn, and soda everyone was in the mood for a good time. The Q & A session afterwards was very enlightening with Lee Demarbre, Ian Driscoll, Sasha Grey and David Hess. Lee Demarbre was his usual enthusiastic self, Sasha Grey, who is 21 years old, (her next film is Steven Soderbergh The Girlfriend Experience) seemed rather reserved when she was not speaking, and finally the Sanford Meisner protégé and acting veteran, David Hess (The Last Hill on the Left) seems to exert both levity and the knowledge of old age. All cohorts played off of each other like a perfect pitch tune.

During the Q & A session, David Hess contextualized the midnight movie phenomenon. He commented on how back then, New York City in the 1960’s, nobody knew who was directing the pictures. When an audience would go to see a midnight movie, their usual routine for the night would involve getting high off marijuana and then watch a lurid seedy picture. The director of the picture remained unanimous, and even though he knew personally Hershell Gordon Levis, he commented on how he still had to be re-introduced to him later through his films.

The conditions were both open and social as Lee Demarbre seemed to be an incarnation of what it means to be a film enthusiast for the people of Ottawa (Full disclosure: I am an avid enjoyer of Lee Demarbre films and with Rachel Leblanc I have made a short documentary on him, you can find it if you youtube; cult fiction lee demarbre). His flamboyant repertoire programming at the Mayfair Theatre (1074 Bank Street) got many local residents to make the pilgrimage to go see the world premiere of Smash Cut in Montreal. When the questions started, some of them were from extras from the movie, others thanking him for the great movies playing at the cinema and wannabe screenwriters asking him for advice. Make sure to go see this one when it gets its local release because this film is well worth checking out.-David Davidson

(Fantasia Film Festival, 1455 de Maisonneuve O., Théâtre Hall Concordia, July 19th, 12:15AM)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Economic International Affair

L'heure d'été (Olivier Assayas, 2008)
** (Worth Seeing)

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 10/07 - 23/07)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Comical Cynicism

Whatever Works (Woody Allen, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

(World Exchange Plaza, Empire 7 Cinema, 111 Albert Street)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Automobile as a Inconvenient or Advantageous Extension

Les Amants (Louis Malle, 1958)
** (Worth Seeing)

Louis Malle's Les Amants played at the Canadian Library and Archives as part of the Canadian Film Institute 50 years of the French New Wave 1: Louis Malle. They have already played his breakthrough hit Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958) and on Saturday July 19th at 9:00PM they will be screening Zazie Dans Le Metro (1960).

In Les Amants, Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau) is a uninspired Continental housewife who habitually leaves her, newspaper owner, husband Henri (Alain Cuny) for Paris on weekend long trips to visit her long time bourgeois friend Maggy (Judith Magre) and polo champion lover Raoul (José Villalonga).

Part road movie, the story only picks up when people are driving, on a venture to invite her debaucherous Parisian friends to meet her husband, her car dies on the way back to Dijon. The failure of her automobile is the catalyst towards getting picked up by a good samaritan Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), prolonging her drive home (Bernard is a slow driver and stops to pay a visit to a ill companion), getting passed on the road by her friends, and finally being introduced to a simpler way of life.

When she finally arives home she becomes disasfied anew with her husband and lover. She becomes moonstruck at nightfall with Bernard, they share their love with each other both spiritually and physically (at the time of the release this sparked a american obscenity case). In the morning Jeanne decides to leave her life, including all material goods, kinship and friends and gets in the car with Bernard. As she is driving away she expresses her doubts of a sustainable future and wonders where there is to go from there.

Through the film the automobile becomes a symbol of inconvenience, it represents a loss instead of a gain. Jeanne is so uncertain about what she wants that with each escapist attempt she gets closer to a unsustainable future and further from acknowledging a personal identity. The car becomes a dehumanizing vehicle which temporary lets her forget who she is and what responsibilities she has to mount up to.

Louis Malle's at times can be a sententious filmmaker. His treatment of Jeanne in Les Amants is a good example of it. This might be an attempt at dealing with a serious subjet like adultery but it is doing so through unjustifiable means. The film is intellectually naïve and emotionally ignorant in its plastic treament of Jeannes motives on having extramarital relations and as a object of pity when she is leaving her dedicated husband and children to pursue a foolish love affair. A better example of a upper class milieu dissatisfaction would be Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960) whose treatment of individuals is more existential then exploitative. Finally what redeems the film is the beautiful cinematography by Henri Decaë, the capturing of the bumpkin and bourgeois in their respective french local and Jeanne Moreau catapulting performance.-David Davidson

Mad Max 2 (George Miller, 1981)

On July 4th at the Mayfair Theatre, under the flamboyant programming of Lee Gordon Demarbre (his new film Smash Cuts is premiering at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal and you can get your tickets here), occured the most important event this city has seen pertaining to alternative filmgoing experiences. The Dusk ‘til Dawn movie marathon!!! started out at 9:20PM and went on until 6:20AM. Following in the 1970’s and 80’s grindhouse filmgoing tradition the night was a celebration of the exploitation genre. Starting off with Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner (1978) from a screenplay by Curtis Hanson, a exquisite Toronto noir which became immanently timely due to our recent economic digressions in its potrayal of a banker as being a conniving-greedy-corupt-murderous individual, followed by John Hough’s Incubus (1981) starring John Cassavetes, a mistery movie which turned out to be George Miller’s masterpiece Mad Max 2 (1981), and finally a women-in-prison double bill including Bruno Mattei Violence in a Women's Prison (1982) and Paul Nichola's Chained Heat (1983).

What makes George Miller’s Mad Max 2 (a.k.a. The Road Warrior) such an interesting post-apocalyptic road movie is how Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), continuing his role of the original Mad Max, vehicles the advantageous relationship man has with his automobile. It is set in Australia which lends its desolate and empty landscapes to be driven upon with such solitude and purpose. Max is such a hardened and embittered individual who is only after receiving gasoline (a dire resource in a unfertile baren landscape) that at first when he unites with a community being devastated by a band of marauders he is even untrusting of them until he slowly is touched by their needfulness, regains his lost humanity and decides to help them out.

Dean Semler's widescreen cinematography of Australia's vast desert landscapes (Silverton, New South Wales) creates an ideal atmosphere for the taking of place of action on the mass scale of a post-apocalypse highway. In such a vast space it is the smaller actions that start to matter the most. Exhilaration arises from the mobile camera placement, varying from bird's-eye view to bumper shots, and technique. While well executed choreographed movements of vehicles and people, smooth-pacing and fast-editing leading up to the climactic chase sequence manages to instill insurmountable feelings of awe and admiration in its creation of pure beauty and greatness.

Max's fast black-painted muscle car, a modified Pursuit Special, or any driving automobile becomes an extension of Max and signifies a means to overcome a chalenge. Max’s brutish masculinity is accentuated by the strength of his set of wheels. Throughout the film it is with his car that he can confront his aggresors, fulfill his first mission of returning a corpse to its respectful community, retrieving a truck to help the stuck desert inhabitants move their gasoline, helping everyone escape, and enabling good to prevail over evil. When he finally decides to leave the caravan at the end of the film is it with the realization that his journey does not end with them, and that his search for authenticity and redemption must go on. Max Rockatansky principally emerges as a prototypical road movie, or pre-road movie, hero with the likes of other greats including Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in The Searchers (1956) or Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) in Paris, Texas (1984).-David Davidson

Thursday, July 2, 2009

American Action Fare on the Current Economic Drought

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Tony Scott, 2009)
** (Worth Seeing)

(World Exchange Plaza, Empire 7 Cinema, 111 Albert Street)