Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Many a Swan" by Blake Williams

It is of interest to compare Blake Williams’ experimental short film Many a Swan to two other impressive stereoscopic films, John Carter and Prometheus. In John Carter the 3D adds depth to the mise en scène by projecting its background further into space and in Prometheus the technology accomplishes something that the old science fiction films wished that they could do - pop out of the screen. Williams, who is inspired by the origami master Akira Yoshizawa, uses technology to extend Deleuze's concept of the fold. The concept comes from Deleuze's discussion of the Baroque and maniérisme, with their focus on altering, twisting and folding visions of reality.

Many a Swan consist of found footage (most likely from YouTube) and contains many folds; the superimposition of images, the contrasting of live-action and CGI rendering, the distortion of video planes. Many a Swan, like Coorow-Lapham Road before it, is also a journey of perception as in each frame and scene there are many-fold areas of movement and stasis that draws one’s attention. Like so much of Williams’ other work that incorporates technology and its limitations, so is Many a Swan about medium-specificity as it reminds us what it consists of with the blank shots of the two primary colors of 3D technology that of blue and red with their many shade gradations.

Many a Swan is Williams’ 9th official directing credit and it is both a continuation of his thematic interest and a radical shift in tone from his other work. But this reinvention of form is a given for Williams whose films are totally different from one another but whose interest remains constant, which is that of physically and digitally creating images and the devices used to capture and distort them. The film that Many a Swan is most like in Williams’ body of work is Depart. Just like how Depart is a transition film from his landscape films (The Storm) and his student experiments (No Signal) in it Williams’ starts to include digital alterations to the footage instead of only physically altering them. In Many a Swan there is a shift away from the linearity of Coorow as its images are broken up by editing and folding.

Who knows what Williams is going to create next (the abandoned 3D remake of Michael Snow’s Wavelengths sounded fascinating) but it is surely towards the limits of representational arts. For this reason, out of all of the Toronto DIY filmmakers, Williams is the heir of the Escarpment School for his preoccupation with reinventing the painterly Canadian landscape tradition.

(Blake Williams’ Many a Swan is playing before Kazik Radwanski’s Tower on Thursday, February 28th at 9:30pm at The Royal.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tower Q&A with Dan and Kaz

I will be moderating the question and answer period for Kazik Radwanski's Tower (MDFF) tonight on Sunday February 24th at the 7PM screening at The Royal. - D.D.

Friday, February 22, 2013

TOWER at The Royal (Feb 22 - 28)

(Kazik Radwanski's Tower will have a week-long theatrical run at The Royal from Friday February 22nd to Thursday the 28th. See the Tower page on the Royal's website for the daily listings)

Recommended Reading:

Vector: Game + Art Convergence (Feb 20 - 24)

Vector: Game + Art Convergence is a not-for-profit initiative dedicated to showcasing contemporary game based artworks.  Over these five days, Vector will feature exhibitions, screenings, workshops, performances and round table discussions, all with the intent of creating a critical dialogue about the medium of games and its expressive potential as a contemporary art practice. - Clint Enns

(Vector: Game + Art Convergence is on February 20 - 24 at Interaccess , Propeller, Bento-Miso and VideoFag. Tickets and the Full Program are available on their website, Vector Game Art Fest.)
+++Exhibitions (open daily during the festival)+++
Other Worlds
Co-curated by Prosthetic Knowledge and mrghosty
An exhibition which addresses digital space as procedural landscapes. Rather than creating games where prescribed routes and narratives directing player movement and action, the works of Other Worlds position the player as a digital flaneur; free to move anywhere within these worlds, while occupying the position of a detached observer. 
Other Worlds features the Canadian exhibition debut of The Night Journey, created by Bill Viola and Tracy Fullerton in additition to works by Luis Hernandez, Alex Myers & Jeff Thompson, Lea Albaugh, Arcane Kids, Ed Key & David Kanaga, Alan Kwan, Cyril Lecomte-Languérand, and Axel Shokk.

Curated by Christine Kim.
An experimental workshop/exhibition project which takes 3 young game designers and asks them to transform their games into new media art installations.
Ludacy festures work by Damian Sommer, Alex Martin (Droqen) and Cale Bradbury (Net Grind).
This exhibition surveys the myriad of practices that fall under the umbrella of game art creative production. Video, photography, art games, textile and more. features works by  Kenton Sheely, notendo, anna anthropy, Christian Streinz, Aaron Oldenbury, Jose Acosta, Jason Nelson, Myfanwy Ashmore, Gavin Bailey, Tom Corby & Jonathan Mackenzie, Hannah Epstein, Alex Myers and coll.eo.
+++Screenings and Performances+++
Wednesday, February 20 at 7PM at VideoFag
Stranger Comes to Town: Identity and the Avatar.
Exploring the politics of the avatar in relationship to identity by examining massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), technologies of biometrics and the border that separates our real identity with our digital selves. Featuring films and videos by Peggy Ahwesh, Zach Blas, Valerie Brewer, Jacqueline Goss and Toronto artist Sandra Danilovic.

Friday, February 22 at 8PM at Propellor
Meditations on the Medium
What do a classic video game cabinet, a tv, and a snack dispenser have in common? How are they different? This program reflects on the nature of the medium. Featuring films and videos by Stephanie Barber, Eddo Stern, Scott Stark, Beflix, Gun Holmström, Meesoo Lee, IP Yuk-Yiu. 

Friday, February 22 at 10PM at Interaccess
Playing Personae: Engendered + Embodied Performances.
Using games as the focal point for discussions of gender and embodiment, these performances address the representations of gender in gaming culture and technologies.
Featuring performances by Angela Washko and Toronto artists Daniele Hopkins + Kyle Duffield.

Saturday, February 23 from 10AM-2PM at Bento-Miso
Bonus Level 1: SUPERCADE!!!
A special screening of animation, commercials and other ephemera from the history of game culture’s intersection with broadcast television. We invite you to bring your children and your inner-child to spend Saturday morning eating sugar cereals and watching classic cartoons inspired by your favourite video games.

Saturday, February 23 at 8PM at Propellor
Awaiting the End of the Beginning
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Exploring the competitive nature of video games and the desire for simulated violence.  Featuring films and videos by Craig Baldwin, s.ara, Paul Atkins & Ian Campbell, Kathleen Daniel, Wei– Ming Ho, Josh Bricker and Jon Rafman.

Saturday, February 23 at 10PM at Interaccess
Engines of Performance

Game engines as tools for live performance. Toronto based artists Toca Loca will be performing their Halo Ballet (a live choreographed ballet performance in Halo, featuring a live musical score).  Foci+Loci creates live electro-acoustic sound pieces using custom game levels built in Sony’s LittleBigPlanet. 

Sunday, February 24 at 7PM at VideoFag
Closing Festival Party and Screening: Bonus Level 2: f@n f_uckery!
Weird and wonderful experimentation and creative interventions made by fans. This night promises to be strange. Featuring films and videos by Bryan Peterson, Mat Lindenberg Tomasz Wlaźlak, David Musgrave, and Toronto artists, Jim Munroe, Mark Pellegrino, Edward Shallow and Sean Grounds.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Coen Brothers in Nayman's Terms (an interview w/ Adam Nayman)

In anticipation for the class The Coen Brothers in Nayman's Terms, an eight-week series at the Miles Nadal JCC on the Mondays at 7PM (see the Facebook page for more info), I chatted with Adam at the Ideal Coffee on Ossington to talk about the class, the Coen brothers, and Toronto-based independent cinema among other things. - D.D.
David: Before we start: are you coming out to the MDFF short-film program tonight? I also wonder what are your thoughts on these emerging young independent filmmakers here in Toronto?
Adam: I don't think that I'll be able to make it, unfortunately. And regarding local filmmaking: yeah, I like them. There seems to be some pretty interesting filmmakers. There is Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis who are still waiting for their new movie The Oxbow Cure to premiere and there is Igor Drljača and his film Krivina, Simon Ennis and Lunarcy!, and Dan and Kaz with Tower (who are accompanying it with local short-films when it opens on Friday at The Royal). So I think that it is a good moment in the city. I also think that with Ingrid Veninger's $1,000 feature film challenge they created some pretty interesting movies like Nadia Litz's Hotel Congress. It’s a happy coincidence of timing. I do feel like something is going on because not only are these films being made and not only are they good but they are also getting released. And the person who I think should get some kind of mention here is Stacey Donen for his programming at The Royal and his work with College Street Pictures that distributed Krivina and Tower. So I think that Stacey is putting his theater where his mouth is in terms of nurturing independent feature filmmaking. And I think by the time you post this Jason Anderson is going to have a piece on the same subject in The Grid.

David: I've been attending the classes since the beginning with the classes on World Cinema and Controversial Directors. I like them for bringing together cinephiles in a social setting to hear someone talk about movies seriously. What are your thoughts on how the classes have grown?
Adam: Well I'm happy about it and so is my boss Esther. It's something that we've been working on. It is great when people in the film community help too. In the Media Mondays series Kevin Courrier also gave a couple of classes. They are easy to prepare because the technology is there to create DVDs with clips from the movies. Let's call it do-it-yourself film studies. If the classes got bigger and more successful it is because, I would like to think, that I’m good at it and that I know what I’m doing. There is a lot of loyalty and generosity among the people who come, too. Because I must say the class does ask something from somebody: you come for two hours and you're paying money and you're not seeing a full film and you might not know too many people who are there. So I realize if that it is not a hard sell, it is still not the easiest sell in the world. And I’ve tried to pick films and filmmakers that would be popular and grow the course. If you pick Stanley Kubrick you're making a pretty good bet that people would be interested in the course. If you pick the Coen brothers, well, we will see.

David: Why the Coen brothers? And why now?
Adam: Good question. I think that after the Kubrick class I was wondering what director to talk about for the next one. I asked myself who is accomplished and famous enough to get a big enough of an audience. Though the JCC never insist that I choose a Jewish filmmakers or Jewish artist it is like the joke about the ad in the Jewish paper for rye bread - it wouldn’t hurt. By coincidence I also had recently seen Raising Arizona and Blood Simple and I realized how much there is to say about their old films. So my first thought was that there used to be so much to say about the Coen brothers and that now, but for the odd exception, there isn’t. Then when I watched the newer films again I realized that the opposite is true and that I was finding much more of interest, of auteurist interest, in the newer films. So I thought that if the older films are being revisited by the people my age and they are still of interest and that maybe the newer films are better than we thought, and if sprinkled over the last 30 years they've made some undeniable classics like Blood Simple, Fargo, Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men, than this is enough material for a pretty good class. When you ask why now that is another good question because it is not like they are retiring or one of them has died, and their new film Inside Llewyn Davis isn't coming out until later on in the year. So to answer the question I want to say that filmmakers like them are just perennially interesting. It is not like Stanley Kubrick wasn’t any more dead last year than the year before or the next. So I guess when you are dealing with the canon or the pantheon of filmmakers then any time is a good time to talk about them. I guess what I’m less confident is if the Coen brothers belong there is in the canon. Sometimes I think they do, other times I’m not so sure.

David: How is the class structured?
Adam: There are eight classes that are spread across ten weeks. The lessons are not strictly chronological as I’m trying to give a sense of the arch of their career. For example in the first class the focus is on Blood Simple and Raising Arizona because I want to give a sense of where they came from. In the following classes they are divided more thematically. For example in the second class the focus is on the film noir genre and how they appropriate it in Milller’s Crossing and how it interacts with it and the same for The Man Who Wasn’t There. Following that there is going to be a class on screwball comedy and in particular The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty. From there onwards I try to pair things in a way that I find to be interesting like The Ladykillers and True Grit as part of the remakes class and so on. The only film that I’m giving a whole class about is A Serious Man, which is a film that I in particularly really like.

David: When people talk about their films some criticism that are brought up include their reliance on pastiche, irony, and formalism. What is your perspective on this aspect of their films?
Adam: Pastiche is right because they are obviously pastiche filmmakers. Whether that is negative or not is a matter of taste. Because they are truly postmodernist in that everything that they do comes out of or is derived from pre-existing text, whether they are filmic or literary. What I think is remarkable about them is that everything that they make is a synthesis of allusions and references but what they end up making is a genre into itself that of the Coen brothers film. So when they make a screwball comedy they aren’t lost within it but instead they make it into a Coen brothers film. Some people find this to be too assertive or presumptuous and others say that is why they are auteurs. You can say that they are formalist or you can say that they are commercial mainstream filmmakers who just pay attention to form and are gifted at finding the right form for their films. I think that the idea that all of their films are all stylistically similar is simplistic. So many of their films have different tones and style. Movies like Raising Arizona and The Man Who Wasn’t There are really different in terms of their look. On the other hand these two films are similar in that they are both about men who just want to find a sense of normalcy. Another major criticism of their films is that they are cold and cruel and mean-spirited. The question is to what extent does that detract from their films? We like to think that artists are entitled to a temperament and theirs seems to be more cynical and bleak. I try not to hold this temperament against them. Ironically it is one of their most acclaimed films but I find No Country For Old Men to be the least persuasive for its nihilism. Because in that film I think there is a big disconnect between how much Cormac McCarthy means it in the book and how much they do in the film.

David: What are your thoughts on the literature about the Coen brothers?
Adam: I find the new Ian Nathan book in the Masters of Cinema series to be skimpy but I don’t hold it against him because it’s a setback of the picture-based format of the series. The R. Barton Palmer book in the Contemporary Film Directors series on the other hand is good but because the book is from 2004 it doesn’t touch upon their more recent work. I think that Palmer is really good at some things like connecting The Hudsucker Proxy to the films of Frank Capra or elaborating on how Fargo is able to change the everyday into the exotic. Unfortunately I think that he underrates some of their other films like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona. But what I think is perhaps one of the best piece on the Coen brothers is a little essay by Kent Jones which he wrote on O Brother, Where Art Thou? where he discusses many of their contradictions: their freshness and their predictability; their singularity and their derivativeness, and so on.

David: Thanks for doing this, Adam. And I look forward to attending some of the classes once they begin on Monday, February 25th. Any last words?
Adam: The hope is that people would come out and that they would learn new things and that they are getting a good analysis. But I also want there to be a discussion. Because the Coen brothers are such polarizing filmmakers I would like to hear more about what other people have to say about them, even if that means being contradicted. I would like more people to contribute this time around. I hope that if anyone is reading this, and if they’ve never been to the class, then if they come then they would ask questions, make comments, and argue for their favorite Coen brother’s films. Because I think that is what is fun. It is exciting when people who care about cinema talk about it and debate about it in a mature way. I hope this class gives people a framework for that.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Andy Warhol’s Kitchen and the Escarpment School

To accompany the Oakville Galleries’ exhibition Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, Jon Davies is programming for Early Monthly Segments Andy Warhol’s Kitchen (1965). The screening will be Monday February 18th at 8pm at the EMS regular screening venue, the Ballroom in the Gladstone Hotel.
Local Listing: The Free Screen begins its Winter 2013 programming with The Road Ended at the Beach and Other Legends: Parsing the "Escarpment School" on Thursday, February 21st at 6:30pm. Regarding the program, its curator Brett Kashmere writes,
"A unique and often overlooked confluence in Canadian film history, the "Escarpment School" denotes a loosely knit band of Ontario-based experimental filmmakers — including Philip Hoffman, Mike Hoolboom, Richard Kerr, Carl Brown, Gary Popovich and Steve Sanguedolce — who studied together at Sheridan College in the 1970s, under the tutelage of Rick Hancox and Jeffrey Paull. Influenced by both the New American Cinema and its conterminous postwar movements (especially Beat literature) as well as the Canadian social documentary tradition (which were often screened side by side in the Sheridan classroom), the Escarpment School cineastes have over the course of thirty years helped to reinvent documentary as a mode for self-expression and formal exploration, extended and deepened the rich landscape tradition in Canadian art, and inspired new generations of filmmakers through their work and their teaching. Although varied in tone and texture, the films in this program share numerous qualities, including an attention to landscape, the filtering of documentary material through individual experience, the looming presence of America, and a formalist, process-based approach to non-fiction."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kazik Radwanski's short-films and Tower

In anticipation for the theatrical run of Kazik Radwanski's Tower that begins at The Royal on February 22nd, there is going to be a MDFF short-film program at The Royal on Wednesday December 13th at 7pm. The program includes the MDF trilogy Assault (‘07), Princess Margaret Blvd. (‘08) and Out In That Deep Blue Sea (’09) along with the under-seen Green Crayons (’10) and the rare Kenya documentary Nakuru Song (’08).

Here is the program’s description:
“These films portray themes of ordinary insanity, feelings stirred in mundane actions and everyday absurdities in order to communicate an individual set against societal conventions. In Assault a terrified young man is barely able to talk to lawyers; and in Princess Margaret Blvd. an elderly female with Alzheimer’s navigates through her reality, diagnosis and institutionalization; while Out in that Deep Blue Sea depicts a depressed real-estate agent that is overwhelmed by the balance between personal and business relationships; and Green Crayons documents a boy struggling to understand his first nascent stirrings of guilt and responsibility.”

Radwanski’s cinema lies at the intersection between where his actors and their fictional characters meet. Casting is very important as the non-union, ordinary actors perform a variation of themselves in heightened situations to illustrate a defining character trait. What makes this approach balanced is its authenticity to the ordinary and never letting the characters be reduced to a caricature. It is perhaps less in the method acting tradition of a Robert De Niro or an Al Pacino but instead more like the documentary subjects in the films of a Frederick Wiseman or an Allan King.

For example, in Tower so much of the film comes from what Derek Bogart brings to his performance. The 34-year-old Derek is just some guy: average height, medium build, regular wardrobe, balding… In Tower’s great opening sequence on a sunny day Derek is all by himself in his backyard slowly digging a hole with a shovel. He gets bored and in a daze he leans and rests on the shovel’s wooden handle. He circles around it while whispering and singing to himself. Then the music increases and Derek is in a club. Through the poetics of the scene, with Derek at the center of it, what comes across is his warmth, mystery and confusion. 

Derek is at his best when he’s engaging with the people around him. When talking to someone about their cell-phone, “How do you know if you aren’t getting ripped off if you don’t know what you pay? Do you have data on there?” He deliver his lines really well and has a great sense of timing. In one scene instead of studying an animation manual he does a crossword, and he asks the girl sitting beside her, “Do you know a three-letter word that expresses grief?” When she answers him with the word sad, “No. I don’t think it’s sad, but what about sob?”

Derek is an interesting character and it is seems pertinent that the film is called Tower. Like the CN Tower that looms over the city of Toronto there is something about Derek that speaks to a universal awkwardness. To conclude, on the character of Derek, in a great interview Dreams on Pause with Radwanski and Bogart for the Ryerson Folio, its author Tamara Jones quotes,
“He’s a bit of a mystery. I don’t even fully understand him,” Radwanski says of Derek. Bogart added, “He’s almost agnostic. Maybe it’s something that can’t be understood.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Simon Ennis' Lunarcy! (+ Toronto DIY Filmmakers)

Simon Ennis might be the most accomplished Toronto do-it-yourself filmmaker. His credits include two feature-films, which is more than any of other filmmakers in this young and up-and-coming group. There is the madcap adventure of Robert Mutt (Joshua Peace) in You Might as Well Live (available to rent at Bay Street video) and the moon documentary Lunarcy! (now playing at the Bloor).

The title of Ennis' debut-feature best captures the impetus and drive shared amongst this group of loosely tied filmmakers: you might as well live. This existential crisis and desire to live life to its fullest is what propels Christ in Lunarcy! to pursue his dreams of going to the moon, Derek in Tower to make animation, Jesse in Amy George to work on his photography project, and Poopsie in Poopsie Dries Out to give up drinking. You might as well put yourself out there.

The varied filmmakers that form the core of the Toronto DIY are similar in their desire to approach filmmaking as a youthful creative endeavor and by being resourceful with their budgets. In the last few months their works have raised in visibility: Ennis' Lunarcy! is going to have its American premiere at South by South West, Cabot McNenly launched his web-series Poopsie Dries Out on Funny or Die! and he is preparing for a short film, Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis are looking for a festival to premiere to their new film that is sure to be a landmark The Oxbow Cure,  Igor Drljaca had a retrospective and a two-week theatrical run of Krivina at the Royal that also had its international premiere at Rotterdam, there is going to be a MDFF short-film program at The Royal on February 13th that will include work by Kazik Radwanski and Antoine Bourges (who was recently interviewed in Cinema Scope) and Tower opens on February 22nd, and to accompany one of the screenings they will also show Blake Williams' Many a Swan.

In the article What do you say, Simon Ennis? in The Grid, Jason Anderson writes, "It’s not hyperbole to suggest Simon Ennis was born to make movies," and brings up how he worked at the the Bloor Cinema and the Revue Video on the Danforth (where also once worked Radwanski and Stacey Donen, who now runs The Royal and College Street Pictures). It wouldn't be hyperbole either to say that the other Toronto DIY filmmakers were born to make movies, too. They can be regularly seen out at the local repertories and the cinematheque, and their recently compiled greatest films lists includes some very interesting choices. There is a social element to the community as well and they share amongst them technicians, and they give each other feedback, and they socialize. There is also crossover with the other growing film-scene the First Generation filmmakers.

But what makes the work of the Toronto DIY director so important is that the films add up to more than just film references. In the films there might be some scenes that look familiar but what make them so rich is the people that they are about and the experiences that they are going through. For example, the scenes of Jesse in Amy George suffering in silence as his parents openly doubt his social skills is just sad, or when his next door neighbor Amy George doesn’t want to see him any more his hurt feelings are palpable.
Lunarcy! is not the science-fiction film like the conceptual Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames’  or the emotional metaphor of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. but instead is like that of Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida. With Lunarcy! Ennis uses the documentary format to re-invent its capabilities and, in a style similar to Morris, is able to change the familiar into the unfamiliar. Along with an expressionistic use of framing (every shot is packed with insightful character detail), what makes Lunarcy! so subversive is how it is able to present these idiosyncratic characters as the norm and also suggesting that we are all searching for our moon.

There are four principal subjects in Lunarcy!: Dennis Hope from the Lunar Embassy Corporation (he sells property on the moon), Peter Kokh from the Moon Miners’ Manifesto, Al Bean who is famous for being the fourth man to walk on the moon but who now paints, and the hero of the story Christopher Carson who is part of many prestigious space-related clubs as well he is responsible for the Luna Project.

There is a troubling scene in Lunarcy! when Carson is asked why he would want to leave earth and go to the moon? He begins a rant where he complains about people who go about their lives starting their day with a breakfast sandwich and drinking five coffees. He has point, there is something wrong there. It is like the David Foster Wallace lecture This is Water where he describes the boringness of routine and its accompanying unfulfillment. If Chris is so inspiring, in real life and in Lunarcy!, it is because he is able to embody social change. All you need is just one person: you might as well live. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The 8 Fest at Workman Arts Theatre (Feb 8 - 10)

The 8 Fest is a festival for anyone using small-gauge to create rough little gems on film – personal, handmade, experimental, animations, diaries, essays, collage, cut-ups, performance/film, music/film. It is also one of most fun festivals in Toronto! - Clint Enns

(The Toronto 8 Fest is on from February 8 - 10 and the primary venue is the Workman Arts Theatre. Tickets are $5 per event or $25 for a festival pass. For more info:
Friday, February 8 at 7PM 
Zingers! Tales from the Funnel, Volume 4
The Funnel was an expermintal theatre in Toronto that operated from 1977 until 1989.  This program includes six films by Annette Mangaard, Laurie Humphries, Blaine Spiegel, Paul McGowan, Adam Swica, Michaelina Fontana.

Friday, February 8 at 9PM
Bagerooooo Six, Volume 1
This program includes films by many local, national and international filmmakers including Zoe Heyn-Jones, Graham Hollings, Pablo Marin, Brett Bell, Elie Vadakan, Baba Hillman, Stephen Broomer, Evanna Chan, Paul Clipson, John Creson + Adam Rosen, Penelope Uribe, Dagie Brundert, Sebastian de Trolio, Naren Wilks and Jamie Ross.

Friday, February 8 at 11PM
Salome by Teo Hernandez 
A tour de force by Super 8 feature film by Mexican artist Hernandez.

Saturday, February 9 at 7PM
Where the Sidewalk Ends, Montreal Showcase Begins
Curated by Claudie Levesque.
Recent Super 8 films from Montreal including work by Alexandra Grimanis & Steven Woloshen, Alexandre Larose, Anne-Michele Fortin, Suzie Synnott, Stephane Calce, Kara Blake, Malena Szlam, Daichi Saito, Andre Habib and Karina Mariano.
Saturday, February 9 at 9 PM
BANG IT OUT: Impulse + Warhol + Ross McLaren
Curated by Milada Kovacova
Ross McLaren will be in attendence!
Spotlight on the seminal work of New York-based filmmaker and mentor McLaren and those who entered his orbit. Films by Nadia Sistonen, G.B. Jones, Wrik Mead, Louise Noguchi, Eldon Garnet, John Porter and Ross McLaren.

Sunday, February 10 at 7PM
The Design of Everyday Life
Fashions, Interiors and household objects in the 20th Century presented by the Home Movie History Project.

Sunday, February 10 at 9PM 
Bagerooooo Six, Volume 2
This program includes films by many local, national and international filmmakers includingOxidize Sharlene Bamboat, Tara Nelson, Madi Piller, Nicholas Kovats, Leslie Supnet, John Rodgers, Ilse Kramer, Stephanie Gray, Naren Wilks,Pablo Valencia, David Frankovich, Aaron Zeghers, Kristen Mommertz, Clint Enns and Francesco Gagliardi, Scott Fitzpatrick, Robert Todd, E. Hearte, Gordon Nelson.

LUNARCY! at The Bloor (Feb 8 - 13)

(Simon Ennis' moon documentary Lunarcy! will have its theatrical run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema from February 8th to the 13th. See the Lunarcy! page on the Bloor's website for the daily listings.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The American Comic Film Tradition: Allen, Brooks, Apatow

"Laughter is evanescent, as fleeting as an orgasm and with equally limited capabilities for permanent fulfillment. And yet, it is a task that grown men and women set themselves to, plunging time and again into the abyss of discomfort, uncertainty, and potential humiliation, in the hopes of emerging, triumphant, with a single good laugh." - Saul Austerlitz

Here is a proposition: the two most important and influential American comic filmmakers are Woody Allen and James L. Brooks. Allen’s impact on the genre comes from his ability to incorporate stand-up into his films, and Brooks is important for incorporating a theater sensibility. These are the two distinguishing features between both filmmakers: stand-up and theater.

These two forms of performance are so intrinsic to these filmmakers' art, as if they were part of these films'  DNA. Allen’s use of stand-up is a model that relies heavily on wisecracks, a shtick, build-up and punch lines. For example, in To Rome With Love, when the young woman Hayley is describing her awkward parents, it’s then funny when the film cuts to a dolly-shot on a plane and there is Allen (back in front of the camera) kvetching to his wife. The build up is that of a joke.

Brooks, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on tricks and formula but instead if there is humor then it comes out through the characters and/or situations that they are in.  As Brooks quotes, it comes from Oscar Wilde's belief that, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.” For example, in Brooks’ most recent film How Do You Know when Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) one night has to decide between going home with her date or not, the framing of shot is set-up in a humorous way. The dramatic force of the story comes from what is this former softball-player Lisa is going through and less so on the laughs. But through using a variety of forms, and in this case the burlesque, Brooks is able to find the humor in the everyday.

For some more background information, which expands on this thesis: Allen started his career, when he was still in high school, by writing jokes for comedians and for talk shows. When Allen became a filmmaker his films had this rough quality as their slapstick and wisecracking vignettes seemed loosely tied together - as in a stand-up comedy act. Ralph Rosenblum, who edited these early films, speaks at length about his collaboration and efforts that went into shaping the films into their final form. Saul Austerlitz, in his great book Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy, posits that Allen's two major influences were Bob Hope and Ingmar Bergman, and that Allen who had a "natural whiz with wisecracks" was "striving for something deeper, something less instantly gratifying," and that with Annie Hall created, and would popularize, the somber comedy.

Brooks’ background is more in television than it is in cinema: he has worked as a producer on numerous popular series including The Mary Tyler Moore show, The Critic and The Simpsons. Compared to Allen’s filmography (IMDb has 48 listed director credits) Brooks’ directing career is a lot more smaller and includes only six films: Terms of Endearment ('83), Broadcast News ('87), I'll Do Anything ('94), As Good as It Gets ('97), Spanglish ('04) and How Do You Know ('10). It seems like Allen’s response to things is like the joke: you can fake quality but you can’t fake quantity! But, anyways, back on-topic. When How Do You Know had it’s theatrical run there were only two film magazines that gave it its due: Film Comment and Cahiers du Cinéma. The features in Cahiers on Brooks were especially good, which included a glowing review of Comment Savoir (its French title) by Jean-Sébastien Chauvin (N.664) and an interview with Brooks by Chauvin (N.665). Chauvin’s piece James L. Brooks, en toute discretion includes a nice introduction ("The lucidity of Brooks doesn't contradict the tender gaze he has towards people"), and many insightful answers about his life, career and new film. "I come from theater," says Brooks, who also speaks about his thoughts on a variety of subjects like drama, humanism, The Simpsons, and his research process. When Brooks is asked if he was a cinephile before he was a filmmaker: “I had a great passion for the theatre, to the point of just liking it when the curtains goes up, and keeping the torn entrance ticket, etc. I really like the cinema of course, but it is not my first love.”

So who are the new generation of mainstream Hollywood filmmakers that have been influenced, inspired or had the patronage of Allen and Brooks? In the Allen camp there is: Judd Apatow, for his comedic structure; Todd Solondz, for heightening the perverse; Whitt Stillman, for exploring the inner-lives of the upper class; and Wes Anderson, for his idiosyncrasies. In the Brooks tradition there is: Cameron Crowe, whose first film Say Anything… was produced by Brooks; Alexander Payne, for some shared preoccupations; and Noah Baumbach, for taking the material into darker places.

And so who then are the other major comedy directors and where do they fit into a comedy filmmaker lineage? The Robert Altman tradition of black comedy is kept up in the films of the Coen brothers (Burn After Reading), Richard Linklater (Bernie) and the Paul Thomas Anderson of Punch-Drunk Love and The Master. The screwball comedy influence can be seen in something like Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?. The Frank Tashlin-Jerry Lewis anarchic comedy spirit can be seen in the films of Adam McKay (Talladega Nights), the Farrelly brothers (Hall Pass, Movie 43) and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Philip Morris). And the Jim Jarmusch brand of dead-pan comedy (Stranger Than Paradise) is most on view in smaller scale independent films like Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel.


But these macro observations do not really speak too much about individual personalities and temperaments, and I want to talk more about Judd Apatow.

There have been many people who have made connections between the films of Allen and those of Apatow. Adam Kotsko, in his great cultural theory book Awkwardness, writes, “If Woody Allen was the king awkwardness in 1970s American film, then Judd Apatow arguably fills that role now.” And Austerlitz writes, "Before taking leave of comedy and entrusting it into the hands of the future, we must acknowledge the ever-growing influence of Apatow, whose films have come to define the 2000s like Woody Allen's did the 1970s." And regarding Funny People, Austerlitz writes , “It would be more accurate to describe the film as a stand-up drama, whose haunting emotional core is leavened by a steady stream of jokes and asides.” So let it be clear that there are many similarities between both the A-named directors (Allen, Apatow) and the prominent ones are that of awkwardness and stand-up.

Austerlitz describes the theme of friendship within these bromances as, "The becoming of one flesh is predicated on the abandonment of those who had once loved and cared for you. In the time of Adam, this meant one's parents. For Judd Apatow's man-boys, it means saying a painful farewell to the guys." And on his style Austerlitz describes it as, “Apatow's blend of no-holds-barred raunch, discreetly rendered emotion, and bromance brilliantly tweaked the formula established by Old School and its minions."

Apatow’s newest film This is 40 is about a struggling music producer (Paul Rudd) going about his life (the film also has interesting nods to the films of Steven Spielberg and Jonathan Franzen's book The Corrections). So far the best review of the film that I’ve read is from the great film-blogger Jake Wilson, who writes: 
“It's a far more believable and complex heterosexual relationship than anything Apatow has shown us in the past, which is one reason This is 40 marks an advance on his previous work. To be sure, for the moment he can't hold a candle to Cassavetes or Edwards or James L. Brooks (another obvious role model) or, for that matter, Albert Brooks or Lena Dunham. But so what?  This is 40 is all about doing the best with what you have – and like Pete and Debbie, he largely succeeds in muddling through."

Apatow writes more about his creative approach in the shooting script of This is 40,”I started out as someone who just wanted to write comedy. I never thought about comedy being an intimate, vulnerable act. Lately I have accepted that writing is a form of self-exploration. I am trying to sort through how I feel about this life while attempting to make it amusing on some level.” And one could look at the book of fiction that he edited I Found This Funny as where Apatow could have found other sources of inspiration.

But the best resource on Judd Apatow is a French book, Judd Apatow: Comédie, Mode d’Emploi – Entretien avec Emmanuel Burdeau (Capricci) where there is a thoughtful introduction and then for around 100 pages Apatow speaks about his life and career and so much more.

Some highlights: Apatow speaks about being a first generation Saturday Night Live viewer when it started in 1975, “this marked a golden age of comedy, […] and it took part in a tradition that is situated somewhere between the vaudeville and a talk-show.” On some of his favorite comedians, “as a Jewish kid from Long Island I already knew all of the films of Woody Allen,” and he also adored Steve Martin (there is a good photo-spread of the two in the Vanity Fair comedy issue). Apatow speaks about being a comedy nerd, his work on The Cable Guy (“I was devastated by its negative reception”), as a teenager he interviewed many famous comedians for a non-existent radio show, his work on the The Ben Stiller Show (“We were very much inspired by Albert Brooks…”), his work with James L. Brooks, and contributing punch-ups to screenplays to make them funnier and have more depth. On his new pre-production approach, Apatow writes, “I’ve learnt to adopt the strategy of a Cameron Crowe or of a James L. Brooks: to take my time, to dedicate several long years to refine one perfect screenplay that I would then be able to direct myself.” Apatow speaks about his work on the television series Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared and his frustration that they both only lasted one season (the new series Girls that Apatow produces is not encountering this). Apatow speaks about other filmmakers that he admires: Hal Ashby, John Cassavetes and Robert Altman. And what makes a good film? “If it connects people with people.” 

Monday, February 4, 2013