Marley

E40. That was the seat number. The Holy Grail. By now I am so baked I don’t know what is up. I’m in the mezzanine level of the State. The movie starts in five minutes. Please take your seats. I feel safe that this will be a gentle film. I am in disguise – beanie and spectacles. I am bent.

I thought it would be a good idea to see Marley stoned. This had always been the tentative plan. I was fortunate enough to procure a bit of weed and rolled myself a nice little spliff for the occasion. I decided not to take the train in. I didn’t think I could face Town Hall platform late at night. It was bad enough in my vulnerable state after my near meltdown during Rampart two nights earlier. So I drove in.

It was a Monday night, the public holiday. I figured parking would be easy in the CBD. Sure enough, I found a spot on Pitt Street, up from Market, a one-minute walk from the theatre. My plan was to arrive early, blaze up in the car so to minimise my public stonedness, walk straight through the foyer and take my seat and wait for the lights to dim. Quite aware of how painfully shy I get in the realm of the ganja, I wore a disguise. I donned a massive beanie, the closest thing I had in tribute to Rastafari headware, and some highly reflective non-prescriptive spectacles. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me.

The zone was still metred. Aware that marijuana wreaks havoc on my gross motor skills, I didn’t want to be reading street signs and negotiating coins and parking metres. OK, I’ll get out, pay the metre first, come back to my car, wind all windows up, and toke some reefer. A good plan. I reclined my seat a little, waited for an old couple to walk past, and surreptitiously lit my spliff. Within a few minutes I had myself a serious Dutch oven. Could people tell? Were the police gonna tap on my window? It was rather quiet that night on Pitt Street. I’d be alright.

I waited till about 9:20 and made a beeline to the State. The foyer was packed. Sheesh. I avoided eye contact. But I needed a beer. Yes, a beer. I joined the queue and breathed. Nobody see me. I’m here for Bob, that’s all. Sir, if you want to take your drink in, you’ll need a plastic cup. Hmm. I imagined my clumsy attempts to pour my Peroni into a plastic cup in that crowded cinema, dousing the lady beside me. Getting thrown out of the State. Nah, I’ll scull it in the foyer. It’s alright.

The theatre doors were yet to open. I stood in the middle of that foyer, people swarming around me. I reminded myself of that Dave Graney song Rock and Roll is Where I Hide. As I staved off an impending psychotic episode, the doors finally opened. I nodded to the usher as I flashed my iPhone ticket and with great determination found E40. I removed my coat and placed it in my lap, leant forward and waited. At last I was safe.

Marley was phenomenal. I had no idea what a warrior he was, that following an assassination attempt, he literally sang for his life. I had re-watched No Direction Home, Scorsese’s great film on Dylan, a week earlier. But this was something else. For Dylan, it really had been just about the music, the poetry. His mission was an exploration of creativity. He’d always denied his political agenda. “I’m just a song and dance man.” But Marley was almost the opposite, fighting for change, using song as a conscious means for peace. Both were outsiders, struggling with identity. But I had not realised the extent of this for Marley, that he was the child of a black mother and white father. I knew little of the Rastafari movement, and how integral it was to the use of cannabis and to the emergence of Reggae. There was no separating Bob Marley from the music, from the ganja, from the religion. He was all and more.

And I also got Reggae. It’s fucking sexy.

I had caught the Woody Allen doco that morning. I adore Woody Allen as a filmmaker, and it was a sheer pleasure to be immersed in the footage and excerpts of his films and interviews with his collaborators. It was a standard chronology of his life and career. But Marley was an enlightening and profound experience. I’ll attribute that to Kevin Macdonald. He’s assembled a fascinating story – faithful to its subject – the time, the man and the music – beautifully paced and filmed. And, yes, I can also attribute some of that to the ganja. The Rastas say it is a spiritual act, a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness and facilitates peacefulness. But most of all, and like the potential of cinema, it opens people’s minds to the truth.

Last Day

It’s a gorgeous morning – condensation on the window and sunshine. I’m soon to head in to see The Sheltering Sky at the Art Gallery. I vaguely recall seeing it back in the early nineties when I worked in a video store and was going through a massive Malkovich phase. I was about eighteen, nineteen, and I remember it being ‘slow’. I caught The Last Emperor yesterday. Finally. I remember as a child it winning Best Picture back in 1987 – its theme music imbedded in my head from that awards ceremony. It was a treat to see on the big screen.

So, last three movies today. I’ll be catching Side by Side - doco on the transition from film to digital. Very interested, particularly after my thoughts on Whores’ Glory. Then the closing night film at the State – Safety Not Guaranteed. I don’t know how I will feel after this is all over. I already feel changed by this whole experience. Inspired. When I told my mother about this blog, her response was, “So you’re procastinating.” I knew what she meant. Am I writing about cinema instead of making cinema myself? Well, I’m inspired. Perhaps I can do both, Mum.

 

The Loneliest Planet

Rifts, Nuance and No Embellishment

Last night I saw The Loneliest Planet. I went to see it because I’m a fan of Gael Garcia Bernal’s. Not him per se – although he’s one of the best actors around – but I trust his choices. See, he’s the guy from Y Tu Mama Tambien that didn’t do Dirty Dancing 2. Instead, he played a transvestite for Almodovar in Bad Education. The kid has the best career for an actor in the world, bar none. (I site Romain Duris a close second). He works with the most interesting directors worldwide. He shuns Hollywood. I trust his choices.

The Loneliest Planet pushes the envelope in simply letting the moment be. When a movie can capture the intricacy of a look or a gesture or a silence between two people, and we feel the whole relationship on tenterhooks, it’s pure magic. The Loneliest Planet achieved this. It was stunning, captivating. But what gets me is how it achieves this. This film is as no frills as it gets. Pure doco-realism. In fact, there’s no story or inciting incident until halfway. Prior to that we are just watching three people hiking around the mountainside. This film dares to be boring. For the woman in my row huffing and playing with her phone, I guess it was. But not for me. I was absorbed, mesmerised, taking in the scenery, marvelling at the beauty and also the behaviour of the characters on screen. These people weren’t acting. And when the drama kicked in, I was on the edge of my seat. More on the edge of my seat than I’ve been this whole festival. Why? Because I was pulled into the situation. I cared.

And perhaps here lies a new genre – the rift movie. These are films such as Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, Maren Ade’s Everyone Else, even Gus Van Sant’s Gerry. The entire drama lies in the nuances of the cracks within a relationship. It’s a micro drama, but more thrilling than any car chase. One word of warning. They don’t work on television. It is imperative you see these films on a massive screen. Some films only succeed when you become entranced. Because they need you to experience the story. Otherwise, yes, you will be bored.

After sitting through now 21 films, I’ve noticed a few things. As soon as a director puts things into slow-motion and adds ‘intense’ music, I am taken out of the situation. I don’t know anyone in this world who experiences things in slow-motion. I think Don Bradman might have a little bit. This kind of embellishment damages stories! It seems directors do not trust the dramatic weight of the circumstances in the script and must employ stylistic tricks. I’ve seen it over and over. Stop it!

Now, The Loneliest Planet goes to the extreme. It took a great artistic risk in trusting its audience’s attention, empathy and intelligence. And it paid off. (With the exception of phone woman, who was probably expecting Diego Luna.) I’m not saying this works all the time – Bachelor Mountain was as boring as hell. But when a film dares to ride that fine line of indulgence and restraint and succeeds, the result is astounding.

 

On The Road

Back-slapping, homoerotic, sycophantic, man-love, bromance sometimes on the road but mostly in little rooms in shaky close-ups.

I was bored. Like the book, the story is all over the place. Literally, of course. But I think this movie proves that some novels are not going to translate well. The whole thing seemed like a representation of the novel. A wax figure. There was no story. I felt no sense of where this was going, no sense of a beginning, middle or end, I had no investment in the next moment, I didn’t give a fuck about any of the characters, no nothing. The book is like that too, and that’s probably why I’ve had to put the book down and pick it up months later. It’s a sprawling ramble.

The film is too literal. Especially the characters.

There’s a sycophantic hero worship of Dean Moriarty, both in the the novel and in this film. It’s fine in the novel – there’s no other way to represent him but with description. I mean, the quote is: “The only people for me are the mad ones…” To do the same in a film is to set up for a fall. It’s like fictional rock stars depicted in film. They never ring true – only generalised stereotypes. Who can fill this man’s shoes? I’ve never seen Garrett Hedlund before, but something bothered me. I could not help but feel that here is a pretty Hollywood actor from the Midwest doing his best impersonation of the description of Moriarty, to be tougher and cooler than he actually is. It reminded me of Val Kilmer in Tombstone with a touch of Christian Slater. His deep voice seemed like an affectation. I may be wrong there. But the permanently confident smile, the backslapping, the twinkling eyes all seemed to be external representations of the character. We have Dean/Neal on the surface, but no gravitas. Oh, for a young Jack Nicholson.

And that begs the question – where are the Steve McQueens, the Jack Nicholsons, Dennis Hoppers of today? Who can fill this man Cassady’s shoes? He needs to be inhabited from the inside, from his essence. I was amazed to discover this:

Nolte is one of the most underrated actors in cinema. I mentioned Nicholson before. Now, here’s something interesting – Ken Kesey met Cassady around 1962 when Kesey was writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Did Kesey base Randle Patrick McMurphy on Neal Cassady? Apparently so.

Dean Moriarty and R.P. McMurphy are the same person. Ha!

I wanted to like this film, but suspected I wouldn’t. It’s a shame, because who’s going to have a crack at it now? As I mentioned before, this film was too literal. I’d like to see a movie inspired by On the Road.

It’s called On the Road. There’s cinematic gold just in the title! I want to see open spaces! I want to see the stars at night, I want to sit on freight trains at dawn across the prairie, meander through Momument Valley, I want to be free, in the open, wind in my hair. This was captured in the first five minutes when Sal Paradise hops the back of a pick-up truck. The glow of a cigarette cherry in the breeze at dusk. Lovely. Then never again for the rest of the movie. Those are not the boring bits! Put them in! That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? In a film of On the Road, I’m hoping to feel the cinematic experience of Days of Heaven, Y Tu Mama Tambien, even The Brown Bunny. I want Easy Rider, goddamnit! Isn’t the jazz and the language and the stream of consciousness that Kerouac pumped into his book the soundtrack and spirit of being free physically? I could have had two hours of shots of cars on the road over staggering landscapes to all kinds of music. Give me Koyaanisqatsi on the highway. Give me something to meditate on. Don’t give me this literal representation of a seminal novel. Don’t put page on screen! It don’t work.

Milos Forman didn’t with Kesey, and look what happened there – they created a fucking masterpiece.

Moonrise Kingdom

I haven’t got a lot to say about Wes Anderson. Perhaps I’m not sure exactly what to think of Wes Anderson. He’s one of those people whose work boils down to taste. You love him or you don’t. A bit like Belle and Sebastian. He’s certainly honed his quirky idiosyncratic style. Do I like his quirky, idiosyncratic style? For about fifteen minutes. By then I realise I won’t see anything accidental, spontaneous, organic, natural, or real. Or moving. The extent of the pathos in a Wes Anderson movie is well within the parameters of his own clever ideas, his own control. I’m not sure why actors seem to be lining up to be in his movies – there doesn’t seem to be much room to act freely, amongst all the rigidity of camera set-ups, costumes, posturing, marks, deliberate dialogue. I imagine it’s the desire to be associated with something cool. It’s a good boost to career cred. It is nice to see Edward Norton back, albeit playing well within his range.

But Wes Anderson is a visionary, he creates his own world, you might say. That he does. It’s a cute world too, hip, whimsical. But lifeless. I’m not passionately against his work. I thought The Royal Tenenbaums was amusing, but I couldn’t see much beyond a series of cute ideas. Let’s have a dad and his two sons in matching tracksuits. Let’s have a guy dressed like Bjorn Borg. Et cetera. It’s a cartoon world, sure, but I’m falling to glean much more than that. To me, it seems kitsch.

The writer Milan Kundera had this to say: “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.” There were plenty of children running on the grass in Moonrise Kingdom.

Wes Anderson’s best film is Hotel Chevalier, the short that precedes The Darjeeling Limited. That film resonates. He’s tapped into something deeper there, while retaining his visual flair.

And that’s all I have to say about Wes. Don’t love him, don’t hate him. But I’m sure Ray Carney would have a few words. And I adore Ray Carney.

http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/carncult/orfilms.shtml

I love Belle and Sebastian, by the way.

 

Cinema Overload?

A strange sensation came over me last night in the State Theatre watching Rampart, an ultra-violent, nasty, gritty police drama starring Woody Harrelson. This was my fourth session that day. I felt out of sorts, ill at ease, queasy, fearful even. I had to get the fuck out of there. Was it the movie? Or was it movie overload? So I walked out.

Into the city air and wading through the Saturday night bustle of Pitt St, I felt vulnerable. Have I been pushing my brain to the limit? Was this a case of cinema overload? Or was it the kind of movies I had been watching? Is this like a therapist with too many intense clients in one day? I must acknowledge that I am a sensitive boy.

Away from the safety and comfort of the dark movie theatre, I was an animal exposed. Can too much cinema lead to a meltdown? Strange, because only the day before had I felt elated, in my element.

I raced to the train station and headed home, determined to calm down and get a good night’s sleep. A recharge – that’s what I need. Slow down. It’s OK, they’re only movies. I thought I should limit my viewing to only three a day.

So I’ve awoken this morning fresh, with Last Tango in Paris my next engagement. Yes, I do want to see it. It’s not violent, I know (well, that’s debateable). What happened to me? Are my eyes going square? I did, I felt so good after Where Do We Go Now? Maybe it was Lore.

Lore was my 6:15 session last night. Lore is Cate Shortland’s long-awaited second film after Somersault back in 2004. I will confess, I was not a fan of Somersault. I don’t know if it was my bias, or the fact that she spoke before the screening, but from the second the film began, I couldn’t shake my awareness that she had directed it. There is a tone and look that only short films have. You see them over and over again at short film screenings. The mood is grim, the dialogue sparse, the photography ‘pretty’ with an extremely shallow depth of field. One can tell from the first 20 seconds that one is watching a short film. But this was a feature. It drove me mad. I mentioned the shallow depth of field. There seems to be a trend to use these lenses that put ears out of focus. They’re lovely for taking close ups of flowers, or food – yes, terrific for food – and hands, and feet. But not a feature film, please. Every shot in this film distracted me from the narrative. I mentioned feet. There were lost of close-ups of feet, hands, necks. All hand-held. The camera was never still for a second. There was a chaos to the whole thing. Perhaps that was the point. This is a story of the end of the Second World War, a chaotic time. I don’t know. I know I’m being harsh, but this whole experience smacked of film-school pretentiousness. All my reservations about Somersault were repeated here. There is a fine distinction between moody and vague. None of the characters behaved in any logical way. I felt a lot of the actions and behaviour of the actors was not honouring the character, but the director’s wishes. And the sparseness, sheesh!  A whole scene between the heroine and the young man she meets was done with humming. Do not people not speak? To me, this is lazy writing. There was no life in any of the scenes, just ‘intensity’ and ‘emotion’. Now, Terrance Mallick does this too, and I have to ask myself what’s the difference here? Well, referrring to his The New World,  that was about two people who spoke a different language and were communicating through the senses. This movie is about a family trying to make their escape through war-torn Germany. It’s a thriller, for God’s sake. Please don’t masquerade that behind meaningful looks, close-ups, slow motion, atmospheric music, and turn it into a vague, pondering, meditative, chaotic, dull, sexual-awakening-of-teen-girl art piece. I’m sorry, Cate. This is as much an attack on your film as it is on the Emperor’s New Clothes over-hype that certain films get in this country.

I have to go now. I think I’m ready for Brando, Bertolluci and butter.

Day Four

My Bertolucci odyssey starts today.

I can’t think of a better way to get to know a filmmaker than to start at the beginning of his career and work through film by film. On the big screen! I haven’t seen many of his films. Last Tango in Paris is one of those films that I have seen but can’t remember the details. Never saw The Last Emperor. I think I’m going to learn something.

I caught three films in the afternoon/evening yesterday. Play it Like Godard gave me opportunity to take a nap. I don’t know what it is about Godard. I simply do not get him. I’m sorry, but when it comes to that guy I feel it’s the Emperor’s new clothes. I caught Breathless at the Chauvel a few years back. Apparently he’s a genius. I left scratching my head. Do I need to go to film school to appreciate him? He invented the jump cut, right? I fucking hate jump cuts.

Anyway, Play it Like Godard, allowed me to get comfortable, roll up my jacket for a pillow, and nod off. Granted, it wasn’t a Godard film per se, simply an homage, or a pastiche? Or a parody perhaps? But it was just as boring – a cute mocumentary, with one big implausible premise, and it didn’t go anywhere. Let it be known that I struggle with films that have no pathos.

But then came Where Do We Go Now?

What a feast of a movie – so ambitious, so full of joy, life, passion, heart. This film is my pick of the festival so far. When I say ambitious, I mean this film takes a massive issue – war and religious conflict – and brings it down to the human level, and tackles it with humour. I was reminded of No Man’s Land, a masterpiece and one of the best films of the last 20 years. Bravo to Nadine Labaki, the film’s director and star. Be still, my heart.

I have so much more to say, particularly about last night’s screening of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. But that review will have to wait, as I must go in now to Before the Revolution.

Thanks for reading.

Just the Wind

Riveting, shocking.

Ahh, now this is cinema. Just got out of the matinee of this Hungarian film and I am feeling a little awe-struck. I posted earlier today about Mabo, and I couldn’t help but think if only it had been given this treatment.

This is a rather bleak story, told in a very minimalist way. A family of Gypsies in rural Hungary is living in fear and paranoia after a string of murders in the local neighbourhood. This film reminded me of the two Elephants, by Alan Clarke and Gus Van Sant.

Screendaily in Berlin had this to say about director Benedek Fliegauf’s second film, Dealer: This is a test of endurance for misguided audiences seeking pure entertainment. Those accustomed to Hollywood and others’ over-stylised view on drugs culture, replete with flashing guns and/or flying punches, will find it like a trip to another planet that you will never want to visit again. Those with more down-to-earth first knowledge of drug sub-culture will not be shocked by its despondent mood nor its forbidding length and instead appreciate Flieghauf’s remarkable achievement.

The same can be said for Just the Wind. Most of the movie is silent, the camera following its protagonist as they walk through the woods. But it pulls the audience in with the constant threat of violence. And the result is enthralling. Check it out for some compassionate, intelligent, gripping cinema that doesn’t tell you how to think.

Next chance to see it – 4:30 Sunday June 10.

Mabo

I was there at the State Theatre last night on my feet applauding, tears in my eyes, utterly moved. Bonita Mabo had taken the stage alongside her family. It was an important event and I felt proud to be there.

I spoke in a previous post about a distinction between form and content. In the instance of the film Mabo, content is everything. It is a retelling of a massively significant part of Australian history, and for that the film achieves its worth.

However…

Biopics are a tricky beast. They must span so much chronological history in only 90 minutes. That’s difficult to dramatise. Also, they tend to force themselves to be the definitive adaptation of the story. There’s pressure on the filmmaker to not be too creative, too personal, too original. When making a biopic, there is pressure to not take too big an artistic risk. They want to reach the broadest audience possible. They want to romanticise and glorify the figure, give the watered-down PG version, offend nobody. I feel that Rachel Perkins’ film Mabo fell into this trap.

I cannot judge this movie on its content. To be fair I’ll choose to look at this film as though it were made for a high school audience. It’s a great story  – the hero’s struggle to fight for justice against all adversity. Sacrifice, honour, faith, love, integrity. I love these stories. But this one simplifies everything, like a Disney movie. It romanticises, sentimentalises, and unfortunately does not delve deeply into the details and into the drama. I felt it skimmed the surface. I wanted to be thrust more into the dilemma, be given a greater sense of Eddie’s struggle and the impact it had on both himself and his family. This film chose to represent these themes, through music, montage, meaningful close-ups and other cinematic cliches. This could have been so much more.

Is it a question of funding? I don’t know. I believe it begins with the script. In spanning the history, like most biopics, it played out as a series of set pieces – this happened, and then this happened. I knew how every scene would end. The struggle is merely presented not lived. Look at films like Serpico, Ghandi, Land and Freedom. They tackle real events with greater craft, detail to the human struggle, and avoid the broad-strokes pastiche. They put you into the story, not keep you passive.

I guess this film is a step forward. We need to be making more, telling these stories. There should be more money contributed, more awareness made. This film should be seen by all, and not necessarily unpicked by the likes of me. But I don’t see this film impacting the world stage. And that’s unfortunate, because this story certainly should.

Day Three and a Stream of Consciousness

“I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”
George Bernard Shaw

It’s Friday, day three of this film festival. I spent a good 36 hours reflecting on the first movie I saw, Whores’ Glory. I will be watching four movies today. Now, at the current rate I am spending more time writing about the films I see than the duration of the films themselves. This is not going to work. I will have to reevaluate my process. My perfectionist nature generally leads me to overthink, to procrastinate. In creating this blog, it was part an excercise in forcing myself to write every day. That’s a personal goal. Of course, I want every review to be thorough, researched, considered, reviewed, edited. In a word, perfect. But I guess I’m gonna have to let that one go. So, for the sake of these ‘memoirs’, there’s going to be a new process – stream of consciousness. Trust my gut, go with it. Pour it out and move on. It is a blog after all. If I have something to say, I will say it, and think well of myself as I learn to say it better.

Now, people, get out of your house and get down to the festival and feed your souls. The Voice will be there next week.