Watching male rapes and Nazis over a late fifties bubble-gum music soundtrack made me wish Kenneth Anger had never gotten a hold of a video camera, but by looking back as his work as a whole it becomes apparent that he was a visionary. He experimented with elements of film and controversial issues that were far before his time, diving into the counter-culture. At first glance my impression was that Anger’s full intent and purpose when making his films was to shock, disgust, and mystify his audience to make them think about the art of cinema. But with some further investigation, I think maybe these troubling shorts may just be true expressions of a bizarre man.
Archive for 2009
Schizopolis, Steven Soderbergh’s unrated and hilarious film begins with an introduction to the film by Soderbergh. In this, he states his belief that every man, woman, and child should see this film, not during some matinee half-price sort of deal, but at full ticket price. He continues by saying that if any audience member doesn’t understand the film, it is their own fault and no fault of his, and they should see it again and again until they understand it fully. He follows this up by saying no expense was taken to create the film, and as such the introduction was not profit-oriented.
Funny, right? The film is a commentary about modern-day society, communication, and all of our schizophrenic tendencies. The 1996 film features Steven Soderbergh (writer and director of the film) as the lead characters Fletcher Munson as well as Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. The film contains such characters as nameless numberhead man, attractive woman #2, Elmo Oxygen, a psychotic exterminator that seduces lonely housewives and leaves pictures of his genitals on their cameras, and T. Azimuth Schwitters, the founder and spokesperson of the self-help company that Fletcher works for: Eventualism.
Before watching Shadows, an understanding of how it was created helps get the best experience from the groundbreaking film.
Director John Cassavetes taught an acting class and lead his students in an improvisation exercise to explore the emotions that come from unknown situations. The three main characters in the resulting film are siblings living in New York. One brother is black while the sister and the other brother are light skinned and pass for white. The original version didn’t live up to Cassavetes’ expectations, so he went back and added scenes, mainly scripted, and re-edited until the characters had more depth. Now they go beyond the racial issues on the surface and discover their own mistakes and how to overcome them.
Trying to describe David Lynch represents no small challenge. He likes to take us to the edge of reality and peer into the darkness of the unknown. Looking in, we see where his best films comfortably reside. Nestled in the thorny twisted branches of psychosis and desire we find such films as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr., and Inland Empire, among others.
Each of these films is totally unique (both from each other and all of cinema), yet they share a common fascination with the complex, and often troubling, roots of human psychology. Born in 1946, Lynch feels comfortable exploring these disturbing aspects of humanity when most filmmakers (or people in general) would rather not approach them so directly.
In Eraserhead we explore the life of Henry Spencer whose post-apocalyptic world gets turned upside down when he learns that his girlfriend is pregnant. The child she gives birth to turns out to be a bizarre mutant creature that constantly screams. Shooting the film over a nearly five year span, Lynch uses stunning black and white cinematography to capture this strange world filled with disturbing sexual imagery and hauntingly barren sound design. (more…)
Emotionally charged works that illuminate some of the most controversial issues of society are typical of stories written and directed by multifaceted rising director Kimberly Peirce. Peirce was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 8th, 1967 and lived in a trailer park for some time. After attending high school in Miami, FL she went on to study at the University of Chicago and there she majored in English and Japanese Literature. Following this she proceeded to go to Japan to work as a photographer as well as a model. Her notable debut, which established her reputation as a fearless and intriguing director was Boy’s Don’t Cry, which took her nine years to make. Her most recent Stop Loss, which was a Paramount Pictures production.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Peirce went on to get her MFA in film at the prestigious Columbia University in New York City. While at Columbia Peirce was working on a thesis about a female soldier in the American Civil War when she suddenly dropped the idea because she didn’t “personally connect to it enough.” But sparks flew and brilliance was concieved when Peirce read an article in the Villiage Voice about a person named Brandon Teena, a transman who was raped and killed in Falls City, Nebraska and Boy’s Don’t Cry was born.
Peirce notes that she “falls in love with characters as she brings them to life,” She says, “When I was eight years old I did animation and I loved bringing characters to life- they were like little friends to me, little human beings.” She certainly fell in love with the characters in BDC. She especially fell in love with Brandon Teena. The controversial film uncovers gender and sexuality issues that are generally brushed under the rug so to speak far too much within our society. Based on actual events the film follows the life of Brandon Teena a transgendered teen who preferred life as a male until it was discovered he was born biologically female. Her research and love for the film brought her to Nebraska where she talked to the real people she was writing about and she even sat in on the trials of the two homicidal suspects in the case which helped fuel her passion for the film.
Comic books are a common collector’s item and can even become an obsession, but it’s not as common to learn about the man behind the drawings. The documentary Crumb chronicles the life of Robert Crumb, a famous cartoonist/artist. It is through interviews with his mother, two brothers, wife, and ex-girlfriends that the viewer learns about how he grew up and his life. This makes it easier to understand the way Crumb is and explains his choice of drawings. It is an entry into Crumb’s subconscious that streams from his pen and reveals his life.
It was necessary to find a director that could match Crumb’s strangeness in order for this film to work. And what better guy than Terry Zwigoff? His love for comic books began in the early 1970s in San Francisco. During his mid-twenties he learned how to play the cello and joined Crumb’s string band, R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenades. They went on to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Crumb.
Crumb’s cartoons are extremely sexual. On screen he is uncomfortable and awkward, but somehow it works. He is a creep. Although, it becomes apparent that he is really just honest. He does not candy cote a thing. (more…)
Steven Soderbergh is an independent film icon for his making of sex, lies, and videotape which aired with great acclaim at Sundance and Cannes, also landing him an Oscar nomination for best screenplay in 1989. But like all other filmmakers struggling to make it in the new Hollywood tidal wave, Soderbergh’s persistence and vision granted him the entry to what would become an extremely successful career, both in the mainstream and off beat markets.
Steven Soderbergh was born in Atlanta Georgia, January 14th, 1963. During his early childhood his family moved to Louisiana where Steven’s father was the dean of education at a local university. Steven began making short films at the age of 15 when he enrolled in a high school class on animation. His first break into professional film work came when the rock group Yes asked him to film a full length of their concert footage which he called Yes: 2012 live. He won a Grammy Nomination for his work, which propelled him to film Winston in 1987, as short subject film that was expanded to make his legendary sex, lies and videotape two years later. (more…)
John Sayles was born in Schenectady, NY on September 28th, 1950. Who knew he would one day grow up to be such an innovative and influential independent film director? Now he is about 59 and 6′4″. Sayles got his start, like many, from Roger Corman, who had an incredible eye for young talent as he gave Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, etc their starts. Sayles’ first film was called The Return of the Secaucus 7 (1979). This film he made with $30,000 that he’d received from writing scripts.
Based on seven former college friends who get back together for a long weekend in New Hampshire, and reminisce about the good old days and a time they were arrested on the way to a protest in Washington, D.C. This film was shot in one location and the story was set over a long weekend (so as to reduce costume expenditures) and was written about people Sayles’ age (so his friends could be used as actors). This low budget can be surmised from the static master shots that comprise a majority of the film. (more…)
I may have heard his name once or twice before, but prior to checking out his films on IMDB I had no idea who Jim Jarmusch was! I had however seen two of his movies, Dead Man (1995) and Night on Earth (1991), both of which I really liked. In fact, Night on Earth was shown to me by a friend of mine, who raved about the brilliant director who shot it, but his name never stuck with me. I became a big fan of the movie as it had two of my favorite components– several intertwining plot lines, and most importantly intimate character development and a focus on clever, yet casual and realistic dialogue, this aspect I would later discover is prevalent in nearly all of his work. Dead Man, though beautifully shot, I found a little harder to love due to its length and slower pace.
I went on to watch two more films by Jarmusch, both of which I had heard of of but not yet seen, and ended up loving them both. Broken Flowers (2005) starring Bill Murray was a funny and touching film about a rather jaded mans journey to find his son. I loved how it didn’t really go anywhere, as opposed to having a predictable Hollywood happy ending. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) was also a blast to watch, he cast cool actors, and musicians all of which I am a big fan of to star in his collage of vignettes depicting random coffee shop small talk. The episode with Bill Murray and RZA was hilarious, as was the awkward discussion between Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. Jarmusch is clearly well connected in the world of music, and I greatly respect his taste in artists. (more…)
I will never be the same person again. Sundance marked a transition in my life, and there is no turning back. I cannot escape the vortex which I have fallen into. That vortex, being, of course, film. I have always liked movies (I rarely ever saw one I did not like) but never realized that they would be my life’s ambition. And that is how Sundance changed my life: it opened my eyes.
I did not try to go star gazing. I did not try to make it into any fashionable parties. I threw away all the bull that goes along with Sundance and got to its essence. I completely immersed myself into each film I saw. So much so that I do not know if I could remember all the films I saw. Some stuck in my mind: a gay zombie movie [Otto, or up with Dead People], a great baseball flick [Sugar], and a documentary outlining the country’s economic collapse [IOUSA] (”hate to say I told you so” comes to mind), but the entire experience changed me. I thought, “wow, not only is this the greatest thing that has come into my life, but I can do it too.” And so it began, my rocky but enthused trip into trying to make films. How will it all turn out? We will see.
The next turning point may be this year. I am enrolled in a documentary filmmaking program that works through Slamdance (the smaller, but not small festival in the same place). The things I learn, the experiences I gain, and the networking that will be established will hopefully be the crux of the next and biggest chapter of my life. I am taking the first step towards recovery: I am addicted to movies. And I am making the final step: I am never coming down off this high.
[Editor: Matt Went was part of the Sundance Winter Term trip in 2008; he is returning to the festival this year as part of a documentary filmmaking program run by Real Ideas Studio.]