Sunday, July 24, 2016

Stanley Kubrick and Me: An Interview with Filippo Ulivieri

David Davidson: What were some of the rarest things that you’ve found for ArchivioKubrick prior to meeting Emilio D’Alessandro? How is the film culture in Italy and what is Stanley Kubrick’s place within it?
Filippo Ulivieri: I started my website purely for fun during my university years. I had this rather impractical idea of building an archive of all things Kubrickian, which is of course doomed for failure from the start. But it was indeed fun, and actually it was thanks to ArchivioKubrick that I got the chance of writing Emilio's biography, because a friend of his contacted me at that email address. My website must have given him the impression I could be the right person for the job, and that's how it all started.
Of all the material I gathered for ArchivioKubrick, what I treasure most are the letters that Kubrick wrote to Mario Maldesi, the dubbing director who took care of the Italian versions of Kubrick's films. I met Mario in 2002, and at that time nobody had seen Kubrick's production material such as letters, scripts, audio recordings from the dubbing sessions... It was really exciting to take a peek at the creative process.
Kubrick is very highly regarded in Italy. His films have always been very favorably reviewed here, and Kubrick himself often premiered his films in Europe at the Venice Film Festival. After he died, the attention hasn't diminished for a bit. The traveling Stanley Kubrick Exhibition went to Rome in 2007, and it was a huge success. The exhibition of the photos that Kubrick took for Look magazine also toured Italy for two years. Basically, in Italy as everywhere, you just can't stop talking about Kubrick.

DD: What was it like spending time with D’Alessandro and first discovering his amazing stories while you were doing the interviews?
It was incredibly exciting. It was every film buff's dream. I had the opportunity to ask Emilio everything I wanted about the production of the films, how Kubrick spent his days when he was shooting and when he wasn't shooting, which was something I was particularly interested in, because nobody really knew what Kubrick did when he was not making films. With his stories, Emilio made me feel the incredible amount of work that went into these films: I really had no idea. I mean, everybody knows Kubrick was a perfectionist and a taskmaster, but these are just words. Emilio made me understand the reality of such perfection.
What I found revelatory is to see Kubrick as a producer: how he conducted the meetings with his screenwriters, how he dealt with the actors, why he wanted to own his cameras and lenses while other directors just rent their equipment, how he managed the long shooting schedules, the brilliant ideas he had to save money, and so on. I really learned a lot about Kubrick thanks to Emilio.
In fact, before embarking on the project, I wondered if writing the nth book about Kubrick was worthwhile. After all, Kubrick is one of the most written about film directors. But Emilio's account truly is unique.

DD: What was the original writing process of the book like? How long did it take? Were there any other interesting stories that didn’t make it into the final edition?
FU: I went to Emilio's place during weekends, and I recorded our conversations. I talked with him and his wife Janette for around twenty weekends over approximately two years. I then wrote a first draft, which basically was a polished, chronologically ordered version of our very colloquial transcriptions. Emilio and Janette read this draft and they corrected some details, such as names, dates, etc. Then they left me alone, they trusted me completely and didn't want to interfere with my work.
I wanted the book to have a strong narrative quality: Emilio led an adventurous life – an emigrant who becomes a racing car driver who reinvents himself as a chauffeur who then is picked up by the greatest film director and spends thirty years with him – so much so that you almost can't believe it. I wanted the reader to be as surprised as I was when I listened to Emilio's memories. I wanted the book to be read as much as a novel as possible.
The easy part was the plot, so to speak: I didn't need to invent anything or to play with the timeline of the events, because Emilio's life had a wonderful shape in itself: everything that happened to him, in the exact order it happened, makes for a compelling narrative. It's almost as if his life was scripted by a very good screenwriter. I just had to dig up what was buried under thirty years of life.
I selected what I felt was interesting, and I tried to give the material a captivating quality. This was the difficult part, because I thought it wasn't just a matter of selecting, but also of connecting the episodes to build a momentum. For the book to work as I wished, I had to turn real people into characters too: I had to give each person a distinct voice, and I was wary of the risk of being unfaithful to their own personality, because I do not know these people personally.
I rewrote the book eight times. It was my first book and I couldn't rely on experience. I also didn't have any connection in the publishing business, so it took me three years to find a worthy publisher. All in all, from when I was first contacted to when the book came out in Italy, seven years had passed.

DD: Why originally first publish the book in Italian? How was the translation of the book in English? And how was it finding an English publisher?
I had to write it in Italian because my knowledge of the English language is limited. I can write grammatically correct English sentences, but this wasn't enough for what I intended to do. I knew that being written in Italian would have been a handicap for a story that is naturally of international interest, but I had no choice.
Despite our Italian publisher is extremely well established and the book was very well received, again it took us three more years to find an American publisher.
Simon Marsh, the English writer who translated Stanley Kubrick and Me, did an excellent job, by the way. He also writes poetry and music, and he has an excellent sense of the rhythm of language. I am immensely happy with his work.

DD: How have you found it to be already generally received? I feel like this book will definitively only become more popular with more word of mouth attention.
The reviews are very, very positive. The New York Times called it "a weird, revealing delight." Online all I read is "this is the best book on Stanley Kubrick", and I receive lots of emails and messages from people who want to congratulate Emilio for what he did for Kubrick. I've recently been told that the first printing has sold out already. But yes, if you liked the book please be as vocal as you can: word of mouth is essential for the success of such an unheard of story.
I am very pleased by the fact that readers are responding to the book in a strongly emotional way. They seem to enjoy not only the plethora of information about Kubrick the filmmaker, but also the very unusual story of kinship between these two apparently incompatible men who were in fact weirdly similar.

DD: What was the most surprising thing about Kubrick you’ve learned putting this book? How has this changed your perception of him?
FU: The most surprising thing is the story itself: before Emilio decided to talk, nobody had the slightest idea of who he was, or that someone had been so close to Stanley Kubrick for such a long time, apart from his family. When I was first contacted I had no idea what to expect. I knew vaguely Emilio had been Kubrick's driver. I even thought there wasn't much of a story in it. It was really a revelation. After listening to his thirty years of life with Stanley, what surprised me the most is how much Kubrick trusted Emilio. He was the only one allowed to enter his offices and private rooms, to the point that when he left for Italy for two years nobody could access those rooms, not even to clean them.
With Emilio's memoir, I believe you get a truer and more balanced picture of Stanley Kubrick: Emilio worked for him from 1971 to 1999, a time span unmatched by any of Kubrick's collaborators. Moreover, since Emilio didn’t even know who Stanley Kubrick was when he first met him, he experienced his job and Kubrick himself without any preconceptions or expectations, nor the will to prove or disprove anything. His alien nature to the movie business led Kubrick to open up to him, as if Kubrick felt safe around Emilio. The result is both a confirmation of the literature, and a complete revolution of Kubrick’s image.

DD: Do you see any of Kubrick’s own biography reflected in his films? Re-watching the films after reading the book, I notice new little details that make the films more personal...
FU: It's impossible to look at Kubrick's films in the same way after listening to Emilio's recollections. Every scene now has a hidden gem: the most obvious are the tributes that Kubrick put in Eyes Wide Shut to honor Emilio when he went back to work after the two-year hiatus; Emilio is the newspaper vendor in the scene with Tom Cruise, Janette is one of the extras in several scenes, even Marisa, their daughter, is in the picture. And of course the Caffè da Emilio in the Greenwich Village set. But again, when I now watch the training sequences in Full Metal Jacket I notice the English street signs because I know Emilio asked Stanley about this supposed error, and Stanley simply shrugged his shoulders – he was not that pedant. Or I know how freezing it was when they were on location at Beckton Gas Works. Or when Kubrick was finally satisfied over a particularly difficult scene. I see the Volkswagen minibuses out of Barry Lyndon's frames... But I have to say all this hasn't spoiled the pleasure of seeing his films. They are so powerful that even if you know how they were made, they still captivate you.

DD: What has D’Alessandro thought of the book now that it has been published? Do you know what the Kubrick-Harlan family think about it?
FU: We were all very anxious for the book to be published, and then to be translated into English. It really took a lot, and we were dying to see how people would react. Emilio and Janette were also eager to let their life known to their friends and relatives: they had been so faithful to Kubrick's request of secrecy that even their closest friends didn't know what Emilio's job was.
Emilio told Christiane Kubrick he has started to work on a memoir, and she understandably had mixed feelings at first. In the end, they consented to the publication of photographs and letters by Kubrick, something they very rarely – if not ever – did for a book that was not originated by them. I think this shows their appreciation for Emilio and Janette. I don't know if anyone in the Kubrick family has yet read the book or not, though.

DD: Were there more pictures or memorabilia of D’Alessandro that didn’t make it into the final edition?
FU: Emilio has around 200 letters and memos by Kubrick, and many more photographs than the ones that are in the book. I would have liked to have more pictures in it, but then the book would have been a very different object: more expensive, and less immersive as a story. But the photos are so good I managed to squeeze in a few more for the English version!

DD: What is the documentary by Alex Infascelli S is for Stanley? Where would people be able to see it?
Alex Infascelli was so moved by the book that he wanted to meet Emilio and then he bought its adaptation rights. I was particularly pleased by his idea of doing a documentary film. Emilio has a strong presence, and Alex thought it would have been interesting to show his rough hands to suggest his hard working life, his teary eyes when he speaks about Stanley's death... And in a documentary you can use Kubrick's letters, memos, production documents and movie props to convey a sense of reality and build a lively atmosphere. 
The film premiered in Italian theaters last May and it has been shown around in European festivals. Distribution rights for the international market have been acquired, but I don't know at the moment if the film will have a theatrical distribution or if it will be broadcasted, or streamed. Anyway, it is shot in English so this should speed things up.

DD: Are you still in touch with D’Alessandro? How is he doing these days?
FU: We speak regularly on the phone and we meet pretty often because, even if the book was published in Italy in 2012, we're still invited by bookshops, film clubs and even universities to talk about it. Emilio is doing very well: at first he was surprised to get all this attention, but now that he has seen how heartfelt the reaction has been, he enjoys talking to people about his take on Stanley Kubrick. I think the book has helped him cope with the void left by Kubrick's death. He says Stanley talks to him again now.

Lost Documents: John Hofsess on 2001: A Space Odyssey

One of the great surprises of Jerome Agel’s original The Making of 2001 (before it was removed in its current incarnation, along with its McLuhanesque medium-specific graphic design) is the discovery of John Hofsess original review of the film. There has been a renewed interest in Hofsess the filmmaker due to the publication and launch of Stephen Broomer’s Hamilton Babylon: A History of the McMaster Film Board – an essential read that re-writes Canadian cinema under the sign of Jonas Mekas, Sigmund Freud and T.S Eliot. An important filmmaker early on at the McMaster Film Board, Hofsess’ masterpiece Palace of Pleasure (1967) is a dual projection psychedelic trip full of symbolic imagery. This review from Hofsess ‘film critic’ period (before he would become a prominent Right to Die activist) is important for succinctly and clearly addressing what Hofsess valued so much about the film medium and his (bleak) view of humanity. One could even see parallels between Kubrick’s psychedelic trip and Hofsess’ mind-altering narrative and it is essential to better under its Dr. Strangelove references. But what’s the most important thing about Hofsess’ review is: that it’s Stanley Kubrick who is the catalyst. Kubrick continues to be the model for the artist filmmaker par excellence and this review testifies to that fact in Canada as early as the late sixties while his films were being released (Paul Almond was also a great admirer). Hofsess final challenge to filmmakers to match and exceed Kubrick’s s standard of excellence has now taken on a new prescience as it’s finally been done. One name: Matt Johnson. – D.D.

John Hofsess on 2001: A Space Odyssey (originally from Take One).

Due to the oohing and ahhing that passes for criticism of ‘psychedelic’ art, the true dimensions of 2001: A Space Odyssey have rarely been suggested. John Allen’s perceptive comments in The Christian Science Monitor and Clyde Gilmour’s columns in The Toronto Telegram represent the best attempts to explore the film in depth. For the rest we’ve been told to groove or grok as best we can with wide eyes and dilated pupils, and to drop the names of Marcuse or McLuhan if anyone suspects we don’t know much about Kubrick.

2001 no less than Dr. Strangelove is an apocalyptic vision: it is an alternate future but no less pessimistic. Beneath its austerely beautiful surface an alarm is sounded for us to examine a problem of which Dr. Strangelove was a pronounced symptom: the possibility that man is as much at the mercy of his own artifacts as ever he was of the forces of nature. The film depicts three leaps in evolution each time augured by the appearance of mysterious slabs. The apelike creatures discover the use of a weapon/tool based on recent findings of a carnivorous predator who used rudimentary weapons. Modern man, as depicted in the film, has built his entire civilization as an extension of this predatory beginning, and when he in turn encounters the slab, it signifies the obsolescence of man and the emergence of machine-intelligence such as H.A.L. 9000. But HAL too has pathological characteristics, and, for no more reason than that he is capable of killing, attempts to destroy the human crew and in all but one case succeeds. Finally, Kubrick envisions a complete breakthrough (not a further step in this progression of predators but a break in the chain), drawing upon the resources of a different type of human, the details of which are left to the imagination of each viewer to dream his own dream, to find out within himself what is salvageable and what requires change. Kubrick makes it clear, however, that astronaut Bowman alone displays any sign of non-cognitive skills; his sketches (of hibernating humans) are the only evidence of artistic wonder and curiosity, and represent one of the few activities and uses of mind that HAL is not programmed to emulate. To Bowman is given the task of dismantling HAL.

Reviewers who pursue the ‘man’s greatest adventure – man on the threshold of space – a roller-coaster experience’ type of approach to the film must consistenly be missing the irony. Kubrick is much more likely to regard man (as presently constituted and socially organized) as a superannuated form of life, rather than as a promote for NASA would, mindlessly extolling the platitudes of ‘progress’. That the music of Mr. Kubrick’s spheres should be that of a German nationalist is one of his inspired jokes. (The main point of Dr. Strangelove, if we can narrow it down to one, isn’t to illustrate the ‘fail-safe’ crisis – but to point out to what extent Germany won the last world war.) Dr. Strangelove dealt with savagely funny caricatures of various types of sexual pathology. From the mechanical copulation of two airplanes, to Slim Pickens disappearing from view astride a missile shouting ‘Ya! Hoo!,’ sexual hysteria and social catastrophe are inseparable in Dr. Strangelove.

2001 moves progressively away from the ‘animal warmth’ of the apelike creatures huddling together, to the ‘ballet mechanique’ of man’s complex technology, suppressing every form of human relationship. When Dr. Heywood Floyd arrives at the Moon base, he meets a woman scientist who casually remarks that she doesn’t see much of her husband any more due to his research in oceanography. When Dr. Floyd contacts hi home on Earth (his wife is absent), he speaks to a pale color image (his daughter, about six years old, wearing lipstick) and promises to bring her a present as a substitute for not being able to attend her birthday. Astronaut Poole, receiving a taped transmission from Earth, stares at his mother and father congratulating him on his birthday, completely void of any response. The line between humans and machines is blurred in the film not only because HAL is semi-human but because the humans are semi-mechanical, and as long as superiority is measured by the ability to destroy, HAL with his instantaneous memory-banks and improved logistics is the logical successor to man. As Abraham Maslow writes in The Psychology of Science (1966) ‘prediction, control, orderliness, rationality, organization – are all capable of being pathologized when pushed to the extreme.’

Frequently when critics discussed Lolita, both as a novel and film, they literally interpreted it as dealing with pedophilia. But Nabokov is a big-game hunter in everything but Lepidoptera, and Lolita is nothing less than the definitive satire on romantic love – and the age-difference between Lolita and Humbert merely a distancing device to make the self-deception, pathos, desperation and possessiveness seem remote from the reader and his ‘mature’ loves. But when the joke is unsprung, it makes the satire all the more biting. Looked at unsparingly, by a man of Olympian wit and disdain, western forms of love rarely rise above the level of Lolita. For Kubrick, Lolita is no more about pedophilia than 2001 is about space travel – he is drawn to psychological insights and satire, and his continuing exploration in Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001 is that of psychological space. Repeatedly in 2001 he nudges us with satirical jabs (‘Are those sandwiches ham? Chicken? They look like ham.’ ‘Yes, well they’re getting better at it all the time.’) to make it clear that he does not regard change necessarily as progress. Indeed, he inverts the Nietzschian myth of ape-man-superman to show that each stage is progressively worse than the one preceding it, for each time the circumference of its predatory powers is enlarged and the creature becomes increasingly single-minded in its destructiveness. 

Critics who have rhapsodized about the film (and falsified it) have overlooked the salient fact that it clearly depicts an early death for modern man. The assertion that man can only save himself through a thoroughgoing psychological reorientation or ‘resurrection’ is irony of an Olympian order. Mr. Kubrick offers man two futures, and both of them are funerals. In Dr. Strangelove he dies in nuclear war, unconscious of what drives him or his war machine. In 2001 he gains sufficient self-awareness to unplug his machines and phase himself out of existence, which is like imagining a cancer considerate enough to destroy itself.

Literary critic Harry Levin is reported to have said of James Joyce’s Ulysses that it set such a standard of excellence as to make the writing of novels thereafter much more difficult. Mr. Kubrick has presented a similar challenge to all filmmakers. An inarticulate rave is no substitute for understanding, and 2001 is about as well understood in its first year of release as Ulysses was in its first edition.

John Hofsess

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Twice Told Tales: an interview with Mike Hoolboom

David: You Only Live Twice begins with a chance encounter between yourself and Chase Joynt at the Orly Airport the day Chris Marker died. Is this really how the two of you met? This chance encounter and later on the café robbery near Marker’s apartment seems so fantastic and coincidental that it’s a little hard to believe. I’m wondering if any of these stories were embellished?

Mike: Every action relating to Chris Marker seems impossible. Even while he was still alive he was a kind of living fiction, everything he touched turned into myth and legend. As a notoriously shy man, he left a space where his real life, attention-seeking avatar might have held forth, opining at international festivals and granting interviews. Perhaps it was his absence that drew us to him. He embodied what David Mamet names as the uninflected shot, an image that fails to signify by itself, but only in relationship. His retiring persona left a lot of room for his many admirers. What was more of a surprise than meeting in Orly, where Chase and I were of course hardly alone, was the fact that we were both from the same city (at least temporarily), and concerned with questions of picture making. Marker has been a reliable touchstone in our journeys, though we have pursued very different directions.

Aren’t all of our most important meetings chance encounters? I’d want it to be otherwise, I’d like to scribble “let’s fall in love today!” in the calendar or else “Get a new best friend” but it usually doesn’t quite work out. Or?

David: I like how you talk about Chris Marker’s La Jetée as a model for second lives – that of experiencing life after a personal metamorphosis due to a turbulent, life-changing experience. When did you first discover Marker’s films and start having this interpretation of La Jetée? And on the topic of Marker, what exactly is the La Jetée film festival that you both attended or the project to reveal his web-browsing history? I’ve never heard of either of these…

Mike: Buddhists sometimes speak of the three kinds of impression an experience can make. Some experiences are written on water, some on sand, others in stone. When we first saw La Jetée it felt like it was written in stone. It is a science-fiction movie about a future that became my future, as if it was conceived and photographed for me alone. As if I had uncovered, strangely and unwittingly, the script for my new life.

The movie’s unlikely romance is set in the aftermath of a terrible war where the question of second chances is floated. If you could survive your own death, what story would be compelling enough to keep your new hope alive? When “the cocktail” arrived in the mid-90s, millions of us who were HIV-positive were delivered from a certain death sentence, at least, those who were not already too close to the end, or who were fortunate enough to live in a country that granted access. But we were faced with a new and unsuspected challenge. We had lived with the promise of closure that proved a rigorous mission, we had bent ourselves towards our dying, and now that had been taken away. Marker provided a map for what might happen next.

Marker’s website has been lovingly maintained (, his web browsings are part of a Second Life cache, and the festival was part of a private arrangement made with Parisian avant-gardist Yann Beauvais.

David: The book recalls Marker’s Sans Soleil with its structure of corresponding letters (which you also discuss in the book). How did these correspondences proceed and when did the two of you decide that this would take the form of a book? What is the time span between all of the exchanges? Which one of you also wrote the third person narrations at the beginning of each section?

Mike: In one of our earliest convos, I mentioned to Chase that I became HIV-positive long before drugs were available, I should have died, but brave new chemistries granted me a second life. Chase began his life as a she, and now is a he. It’s as if, we couldn’t help thinking: you only live twice!

We are both creatures of distance. The only way we could be close, close enough to divulge our forbidden secrets even, was to create a reliable structure. Instead of the unwanted slippages of a live encounter, we could comb our words smooth before releasing them. It helped that our letters always arrived as part of an exchange, nodding yes or no, or simply exclaiming in surprise over the last received missive. You did what? It was hard to keep up with Chase’s winning retrieval of dating patterns or familial trysts, each missive was a nudge to step further out on a limb of trust, newly undressed.

The earliest form of the novel was a collection of letters, and it was necessary for us to retrieve this old technology — the technology of the novel and its open-ended hopes — in order to find a common language. There are so many different ways to become a couple. Some couples like to look at things together. Ford Maddox Ford said that you marry to continue the conversation. We wrote our way towards one another.

The project took about a year and a half to write, generating too many versions to count, and in a gesture of trust that still seems unthinkable one of us would be visited by an inspiring moment of reinvention and shuffle up the chapters. The responses were rapid, or that’s how it felt at the time. It took shape organically, the way a chitchat proceeds, with all of the important underground bits as exposed as we could make them. We didn’t have a map at the beginning, only the compass of our inclinations. The novelist Catherine Bush was instrumental in applying a three-act structure: first life, transition, second life. Once that was in place it was obvious that the stories of our live encounters would provide the opening moments of each period.

David: The confessional aspects about the personal effects of the AIDS epidemic in the book (and in your films in general) present a complex portrait of the emotional and social toll that the disease was imposing onto people and the society at the time. This is one of the strengths of the book as it testifies to this pivotal moment in Canada’s cultural memory. Can you talk more about the period in terms of how these issues were being engaged with in Toronto by activist queer filmmakers and artist such as yourself, John Greyson, Bruce LaBruce, Will Munro and General Idea? What was the urgency to create art, films and media in this period?

Mike: I think the work offers testimonies, a bearing witness, but it’s interesting the word you use instead – confessional. It recalls Augustine’s book of the same name, Confessions, often cited as the first autobiography. His confession is also the saga of conversion, and both hinge on a calling; Augustine describes a voice reciting a Biblical passage, and at this moment he is called to convert to Christianity. His would be the first of innumerable callings and conversions, the template for being “born again” into a second life.

After my sero-conversion (becoming HIV positive) I was also called to make work about the condition. Along with many others, as you note. Two of the three folks who made up General Idea died of AIDS, and their work increasingly turned towards an examination of the iconography and politics of AIDS, most famously turning Robert Indiana’s LOVE poster into AIDS, or filling a room with oversize capsules and calling it One Year of AZT. AA Bronson’s heartbreaking book about the loss of his comrades (Negative Thoughts) remains a touchstone.

The rapid spread of the virus was also a problem of pictures. How do we make pictures that can inform, that can create changes in government policy and pharmaceutical practice, and in our sexual lives? Will Munro was a genius of making community pictures that were big enough for unmet strangers to live in.

I think John Greyson and Richard Fung are the two premier political poets in the fringe media arts scene. Their activism finds new roots in their pictures, Richard’s through a steadfast approach to family, while John’s hybrid creations arrive from a political collage tradition. In his masterpiece Fig Trees, John creates an AIDS opera (!) starring Tim McCaskell and Zackie Achmat, the South African activist whose drug strike brought Nelson Mandela and finally the government onboard to change its deadly policy of refusing AIDS pharmaceuticals. Richard meanwhile also made a movie with Tim, who is not incidentally his partner, and tells the story of his becoming HIV, and blends this illness narrative with his ailing sister, with essayistic asides on colonialism and disease.

I think one of the hopes of fringe media is to find new forms for new contents. To allow different kinds of voices to speak, and to allow them to be heard in different ways. How can we learn to love each other in a new way, and how can we learn to make pictures with each other that might make these new dreams possible?

David: With your published interviews with experimental filmmakers, the website Fringe Online ( and the vast archive on your own website ( includes 28 free-to-download books, the Independent Eye Magazine, Funnel experimental film collective) you provide an archeology of an underground and experimental film history of Toronto that’s a little forgotten about today. What is it about this late-80s to 90s period that you think is really important and should be better remembered?

Mike: When I started making and seeing fringe media it was part of a climate of anti-capital resistance. It wasn’t simply the movies we made, it was the places we lived, the clothes we wore (and didn’t wear), the things we didn’t own, the values we held in common. It was the way we had sex, the conversations we risked, the openings and closings of a face. You made movies with your whole body, as the dancer Deborah Hay likes to say, the whole body at once is the teacher.

Today at least some of the fringe is in danger of becoming a genre, sealed inside an academic kiss, safeguarding its rules and conventions. Recalling earlier modes of cultural resistance is not a nostalgia-fest, or some longing for the good old days, they are warning signs and reminders from the shoulders of past roads. The real estate moguls leveled the old avant scenes and undergrounds. How might they be reimagined today, as the triumphal march of capital turns once radical institutions into ruling class projections? Perhaps we can pick up a few old riffs and hack our way into new pleasure zones, where the lack of a good job will not effect our ability to hook up, where our new distraction machines will not distract us from each other.

David: Your Vimeo account ( is a great resource. Aside from Positiv and Mark, which you discuss in the book, what of your other work would you recommend people to watch to have a better idea of your focus and aesthetic in your body of work? And what are the videos that you have been making in recent years?

Mike: I’ve been slowly reworking and re-editing my entire body of work and posting it on Vimeo, there are more than thirty movies up, and the heap continues to grow. I made a home movie about my nephew called Jack (2000) that’s a dozen minutes long, featuring moments from his first five years. Frank’s Cock (1993) received a generous reception when it arrived, nearly two decades ago, winning awards at Locarno, TIFF and many other ports of call. There were three features in the early noughts that I’m partial to: Tom, Imitations of Life and Public Lighting. New versions of Tom and Public Lighting are ready for their close-up, bits and pieces of Imitations are online and there’s more to come.

Last year I finished an hour-long Marxist love story on super 8 that premiered in Rotterdam called We Make Couples. Could the couple also be a form of resistance? It features guest appearances by Occupy, Pussy Riot protesters, a runaway goat, two poodles, an army of street marchers, Mos Def, Frankenstein and cinema’s first kiss.

I also made Incident Reports last year, a feature-length movie made of one-minute shots that premiered at the Images Festival. It’s a love letter to Toronto with a number of cameos by my pals, film artists and writers mostly. I’m recutting Incident Reports, as usual, tweaking the sound, swapping out some shots, bigging up the colour. Digital media means never having to say the word stop. Last year’s flicks are not up for public viewing on Vimeo yet, but soon they’ll join the others. This year I’m working on four new shorts and a pair of new features. I just edited a book of Mike Cartmell’s brilliant writing called Disasterologies, and am nearly finished an oral history book about the Funnel, both books will be published by the kind and generous folks at the Canadian Film Institute.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The CBC Short Film Face Off

A really good idea: A CBC television show to highlight short films by emerging Canadian filmmakers in a competition for a large monetary prize. Modest in scope, Short Film Face Off is remarkably rich and diverse as it provides a great platform to actually watch Canadian short films. The 45-minute show with its light-hearted and critical commentary is available to watch at your leisure online while the public broadcasting of the show also raises the recognition of the work. And with its brisk format and commentary between the three shorts on each episode it provides a more satisfying platform to watch new short films as compared to say more private online links or the occasionally stressful group screenings. The host Steve Patterson is funny and the panelist Mohit Rajhans, Eli Glasner, Nadia Litz (The People Garden) all offer insightful advice. If the conversations with the filmmakers might run short then you can always find extended versions of them on its website. The nine filmmakers come from all the different provinces in Canada and the average 10-minute shorts reflect their maker’s different geographies, social issues and aesthetic sensibilities. Not that all of the short films are perfect but they are all still good and as a whole they provide an opportunity to see what aesthetic and dramatic techniques work better in the format. Some of my favorite short films have been Jennifer Walden’s Painted Girl, Brett Ferster’s Claddagh, Daniel Boos’ Bound and Rachelle Casseus’ The Buckley Brothers. The final show is this Saturday July 9th with the three finalist short-films Hector Herrera’s animated Western The Ballad of Immortal Joe, Mike Fardy’s comedic Moving On and Mark Slutsky’s love affair Never Happened. Short Film Face Off provides a great showcase for emerging filmmakers from all across the country. There should be more opportunities like these.

Monday, July 4, 2016

RIP Michael Cimino

“For example, let’s take a picture everyone, I think, including me (bud I’d like to defend it) considers a bad picture, Heaven’s Gate. I don’t what you have said about the picture, but I read some articles by Vincent Canby and other people, and I think they said a lot of good things about The Deer Hunter which I think was not that good; just as Heaven’s Gate is not that bad. Even if it’s a failure, in my opinion, failure is much more interesting than success because it is like a sick body. You can look at it and examine it and then say what’s going wrong or not. I think Heaven’s Gate is a very good example. It has a lot of magnificent things that the director cannot follow through on – for very obvious reasons which we can analyze. But the reviewers never say that, and never try to help even someone who is very arrogant, as Cimino is, to make a better picture next time… No but I am thinking that in that picture what was interesting was they got lost. Maybe I would like to talk to you about it because it concerns me as a moviemaker and I am interested in America, which I consider as my home for its mood and my link with Francis – he has a studio and he tries to make a home out of his studio, and I have a home and I would like to make a studio out of it. This is the only link I have with Francis. But I think all good American directors – Scorsese, De Palma, all the famous ones, they are as lost as I am; we are not turning out the pictures we could turn out. I could deliver a much better picture, Martin could, Francis could, but we are not. When I saw Heaven’s Gate two days ago I thought that he was trying to make a picture in America when a big picture – like Griffith – is no longer possible. It’s like seeing an artist who is crippled but doesn’t know it. It is very interesting; because Michael is inventing it as he goes along, he is only capable of turning out a few shots within a three-hour movie, but those few shots are much more interesting than a lot of shots in other pictures because it makes you understand what making a movie is. He is trying to make an American and that is very interesting… Well, look at the way the industry works. Even if you are not like a Time critic (because Time is in the movie business too), you are still part of the industry. Making a newspaper is part of the industry, it’s part of the culture… But I think if American movies are not so good today, it’s because you there should be a different way of writing about them. I don’t know if it’s possible – from what you say it’s not. You are not free, for example, to write regularly about an unknown movie. You would be fired by you editor. You are not free – let me put it that way. When I checked on the last two years of articles that you wrote in The New Yorker (I don’t want to attack you personally), you tried to be different from the other ones to a certain point. You told me about Kagemusha, for example. That you tried to review it after everyone else had reviewed it. But why not two years after, why not two years before? Why don’t you speak of a movie before it is completed? You are a movie critic. A movie critic is not just being a reviewer. You write about a Paramount picture when Paramount decided to open it. And so where is the freedom?” Jean-Luc Godard in conversation with Pauline Kael (1981)

Michael Cimino at Locarno