Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Freedom Rides (USA: Stanley Nelson, 2012: 117 mins)

I was working with this documentary with Peace Studies students last week and I was amazed, inspired and awed at the courage and passion of the students who participated in the Freedom Rides.

To watch it online

Monday, October 29, 2012

2013 Spring Bluegrass Film Society Schedule

1/28: Tron: Legacy (USA: Joseph Kosinski, 2010: 125 mins) [Family Film Night]

2/4: The Producers (USA: Mel Brooks, 1968: 88 mins)

2/11: The Duellists (UK: Ridley Scott, 1977: 100 mins)

2/25: Putney Swope (USA: Robert Downey, Sr., 1969: 84 mins)

3/4: The Loved One (USA: Tony Richardson, 1965: 122 mins)

3/6: Videodrome (Canada: David Cronenberg, 1983: 87 mins)

3/18: Holy Motors (France/Germany: Leos Carax, 2012: 115 mins)

3/25: Never Cry Wolf (USA: Carroll Ballard, 1983: 105 mins)

4/1: Chicken with Plums (France/Germany/Belgium: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, 2011: 93 mins)

4/4: Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare (USA/China/Germany: Susan Frömke and Matthew Heineman, 2012: 95 mins) [Requested by Becky Barnes and sponsored by Our Time]

4/8: The Organizer (Italy/France/Yugoslavia: Mario Monicelli, 1963: 130 mins)

4/15: Turn Me On, Dammit (Norway: Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, 2011: 75 mins)

4/22: The Forgiveness of Blood (USA/Albania/Denmark/Italy: Joshua Marston, 2011: 109 mins)

4/29: Howl (USA: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010: 84 mins)

5/6: Eating Raoul (USA: Paul Bartel, 1982: 90 mins)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ENG 281 First Class Trip: Cloud Atlas (Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, 2012)

[Michael: I'm currently working on two guest lectures for the coming week (on the Civil Rights Movement and Biotechnology/Ethics). When I come up for air I will start collecting the wave of thoughts, associations and impressions I have about this brilliant film. In the spirit of the film please share your thoughts and engage us across time/space.]

Cloud Atlas and Bound." Sound on Sight #337 (October 28, 2012)

Hemon, Aluksander. "Beyond the Matrix: The Wachowskis travel to even more mind-bending realms." The New Yorker (September 10, 2012)

McGrath, Charles. Bending Time, Bending Minds: Cloud Atlas, as Rendered by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis The New York Times (October 9, 2012)

Sicinski, Michael. "Star Maps: Wachowski/Tykwer/Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas." Cinema-Scope (2012)

Wachowski, Lana. "What it Means to Be Transgendered." Women and Hollywood (October 24, 2012)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Visual Essays Collection

[Teaching collection]

Vigilante Man: Eastwood and Gran Torino

Analysis of Blade Runner

The Substance of Style: Wes Anderson, Pts 1-5[use pt. 1 and 5]

Chaos Cinema, Pts 1-3 (Watch pt 1)

The Prototype of Noir: Fritz Lang's M

Hugo and the First Movie Magicians

Devil's Spawn: The MTV legacy of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising

Open Source Epic: Sita Sings the Blues

Deceptive Surfaces and the Films of Christian Petzold

Looking vs Touching

Establishing Split: Requiem for a Dream

Takashi Miike's Mutations

Flooding With Love for the Kid

Steve McQueen: Too Cool

All Things Shining: The Thin Red Line

Unreliable Narratives: JFK and the Power of the Counter-Myth

McCabe & Mrs. Miller: A Video Essay

Audiovisualcy-Videographic-Film Studies (left off on Matt Zoller Seitz's second link

The Soul of Spock

Razzle Dazzle: Fame and the Movies, Pts 1-6

BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, INCEPTION, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and Spielberg: Five Video Essays by Steven Benedict

Outlaw Vision: Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker

Insomniac Dad Videos (Seitz)

Moving Image Source: Matt Zoller Seitz

Moving Image Source: Kevin B. Lee

Fandor: Videos

Video Essays on Film: Steven Santos

Women and Hollywood: Lana Wachowski Speaks About What It Means to Be Transgendered

[Discussion in another forum:
JV: Goddamn, what a fucking hero. It's not just the act but that she took the time to frame the social, ideological problem in such a vivid and remarkable way. One more [quote] I can't stop turning over: "the fundament upon which all our knowledge and learning rests is the inexplicable."
MB: That brief quote you highlight hits on what I have long been wrestling with in my own thoughts and writing. Developing the ability, creativity and courage to not fear the inexplicable (different), but instead engage with it to learn news ways of perceiving the world and as a method of making strange that which is familiar to me. I see a lot of the world's pain/violence as an inability to grapple with the inexplicable/different, especially when the reaction is fear/angry.... I really hope people take the time to listen to this whole acceptance speech -- it is very important.

" Invisibility is indivisible from visibility. For the transgendered this is not merely a philosophical conundrum, it can be the difference between life and death.

I am here because when I was young I wanted very badly to be a writer. I wanted to be a filmmaker but I couldn't find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others.

If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value."

Women and Hollywood: Lana Wachowski Speaks About What It Means to Be Transgendered

James Udden: Child of the Long Take: Alfonso Cuaron’s Film Aesthetics in the Shadow of Globalization

[Warning: the clip of the scene below gives away major plot details]

Child of the Long Take: Alfonso Cuaron’s Film Aesthetics in the Shadow of Globalization
by James Udden


Given his Janus-faced career, it was hard to know what to expect stylistically from Cuaron in Children of Men given the direct involvement of Universal. He answers almost right away in the third shot of the opening scene as to how far he is now willing to go. Expertly introduced in this single shot is a grim, dying world in which the Clive Owen character is but one small, languid part. It is a tour de force in terms of its set design, lighting, camera movement and most of all its daringly intricate orchestration of multiple animate and inanimate elements. Yet the most telling sign is the duration of the shot: this is a long take of over fifty seconds, which with almost devious subtlety leads to a most unexpected denouement, an explosion segueing to a title shot with uncanny effect. It is an impressive beginning to a film which overall deeply impressed select viewers, critics and scholars alike. Alfonso Cuaron has accomplished the seemingly impossible: he proffers a dystopian message concerning globalization, yet he does it under the auspices of one of globalization’s key cultural players — Hollywood. Yet he also accomplishes this in indelible aesthetic terms. After seemingly reverting back to more conventional form with The Prisoner of Azkaban, the long take makes a roaring return in Children of Men, with an average shot length of just over sixteen seconds per, an astonishing figure for a present-day Hollywood feature which sometimes can average less than two seconds per shot (Hollywood 122). Moreover, even if slightly shorter on average than its Spanish-language predecessor a half a decade earlier, these long takes are more complex and more accomplished in their design. As we shall see, they are too good to be true. Indeed, these long takes are contrived spectacles in their own right.

There is an overall pattern for long take in Children of Men: the more action and violence a particular scene possesses, the longer the shot duration generally becomes. This does run counter to current Hollywood norms. Many have recently noted how big-budgeted, Hollywood action films in particular tend to lead the way in faster cutting rates which are often employed for maximum impact (Bordwell, Hollywood,122, 58-159; King, New Hollywood, 246). Children of Men, of course, is not a traditional action picture, but a science fiction work with deep philosophical underpinnings. Yet during its non-action scenes often involving conversations between characters, Cuaron is more likely to use conventional editing schemes, most of all the ever reliable shot/reverse shot. Cuaron saves his most audacious long takes for the sequences where violence and action are at their highest pitch, with the longest reserved for the prolonged battle at the refugee camp at the end. Despite their reliance on long takes in lieu of “impact” editing, it is these moments in the film which seem to be most memorable.

What is most telling is how these long takes give the appearance of taking place in “real” time and “continuous” space. Cleverly disguised is how they are often multiple shots melded together digitally in post-production. The above mentioned opening scene, for example, was shot over two days, the first day covering the indoor portion in the café, while the second day involved the complicated section outdoors. However, in the finished product, the third shot begins indoors and then proceeds seamlessly outdoors, meaning somehow a single, “continuous” long take was shot over two days time. Using the café doorframe at the moment Clive Owen leaves the frame, the camera is deviously slow to catch up, and the special effects crew disguised the cut digitally in post (Fordham 34). In short, the opening scene is not three shots, but four shots disguised as three with the last being a long take under false pretenses.

This is not an isolated instance in Children of Men. The now famous scene in the automobile took two months to plan, eight days to shoot on three separate locations. The camera’s impossibly free movements in the car were in fact impossible — they were only realized by being filmed in six separate sections where often not all of the actors were present at certain stages. Once again, this was all amalgamated into a single artificial long take by digital means (Fordham 39). Claiming to replicate the feel of a documentary, this shot is also impossibly precise for any documentary shooting as events transpire. True, they did use mostly available light in a real setting, allowing every flare and reflection on the glass to remain, much like in a documentary. But no documentarian has ever had the luxury of a twin-axis doggicam rigged above a missing car roof which is then digitally filled in during post-production. The resulting camera movements would also be impossible for a documentary — in fact in a way that has never been done by fictional filmmakers either. Particularly noteworthy is the powerful effect of that moment when the camera returns to the front and Julianne Moore reappears at the right edge of the frame, now undeniably no longer among the living. Documentarians are rarely able to be that measured, and are hardly that lucky.

The longest take in the film is over seven minutes in duration, occurring during the climatic battle at the refugee camp when Theo Faron attempts to rescue the kidnapped baby. Being one of the most complex long takes ever attempted, it is in fact too complicated to be a true “long take.” Instead, this was shot at two exterior locations plus a studio; the first major section was filmed at Bushey Hall, while the second part was shot two weeks later at Upper Heyford. This particular transition was digitally disguised using the corner of a building, much like what they had done with the doorframe of the café in the pre-credit sequence (Fordham 42). Additional elements added to the seemingly real but impossible spectacle: for example, no documentarian has been so fortuitous as to follow someone just as Theo Faron passes a soldier dying in his half-severed body, yet reaching out for him with one last moaning grasp at life. The three sections combined comprise a highly calculated, and remarkably well-orchestrated game of lost and found where Theo loses the mother and child to the engulfing chaos, only to find them again in that same chaos, all within this same faux long take. Meanwhile, by scanning this dense, dreary mise-en-scene, Cuaron and Lubezki not only disguise cuts, they continue a deeper strategy seen also in Y tu mama tambien: to show a much larger world than merely the characters themselves, a world that becomes almost hyper-real due to the careful construction of the long take coupled with other stylistic devices. So spectacular are these long takes that they become spectacles themselves which became endlessly talked about by reviewers, scholars and film aficionados alike. And that appears to have been precisely the reason why they are employed in the film during those particular sequences which proved to be the most challenging.

To Read the Entire Essay

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Richard Porton: A Dangerous Method

The Dangerous Method
by Richard Porton
Cinema Scope

The title of Russell Jacoby’s 1983 polemic, The Repression of Psychoanalysis, suggests that the radical implications of the Freudian tradition have become muddled in an era where nothing seems more safely middle-class than a session on the couch with the shrink of one’s choice. In evoking a juncture at the turn of the 20th century when psychoanalysis still seemed subversive and a riposte to bourgeois complacency, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, with its curious tone pitched between placid costume drama and the threat of domestic horror, also seeks to rehabilitate the “talking cure” as a radical, even potentially incendiary, concept.

Inspired by John Kerr’s A Most Dangerous Method, a study of the complex relationship between Carl Jung, his patient (and mistress) Sabina Spielrein, and Jung’s mentor, and eventual adversary, Sigmund Freud—and more directly based on screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure—Cronenberg tackles one of his favourite themes: the toll exacted by sexual repression and the danger, as well as frisson, of shedding the weight of such repression. Just as these themes were delineated with the aid of generic horror tropes in Shivers (1975), A Dangerous Method reveals the emotional violence that bubbles below the surface of Hampton’s witty repartee.

It’s no secret that intellectual controversies often escalate into verbal sparring that mimics actual warfare. From the outset, the theoretical challenges posed to young Dr. Jung by the beautiful and brilliant Spielrein’s bout of “hysteria” (the Victorians’ favorite diagnosis for troubled women) take on a quality that is almost as feral and uncontrollable as the effects of those notorious parasites in Shivers. When the Russian-Jewish Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives by coach at Dr. Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) Zurich clinic in 1904, she might as well be the reincarnation of Jane Eyre’s madwoman in the attic. Yet as we soon learn, she’s sophisticated and erudite—as well as the intellectual equal of her rather stuffy doctor and mentor.

Spielrein’s journey from apparent lunatic to autonomous woman (and eventually to a career as a distinguished analyst in her own right) encourages Cronenberg to impose a deceptively restrained classical style (large swatches of shot-reverse shot) on feverish subject matter. The film mixes genres so unobtrusively that it’s barely noticeable. As the origins of Spielrein’s physical and psychological symptoms gradually emerge, we are lulled into believing that Cronenberg is dispassionately preoccupied with an intellectual detective story: locating the source of the patient’s trauma (a struggle with painful, as well as pleasurable, memories of her father’s beatings) and moving on to a satisfyingly dramatic “abreaction.” Yet when Jung plunges into an affair with Spielrein (professional ethics were less codified in the early days of psychoanalysis), a brief shot of the besotted doctor engaging in sadomasochistic sex with his corseted patient resembles an outtake from a Liliana Cavani film. The uptight analyst’s surface rectitude is unmasked with one succinct image.

For those of us who prefer Freudian rigour to Jung’s proto-New Age wooliness, it’s heartening that Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of Freud is endearingly complex. If Mortensen’s cigar-puffing Freud at times seems inordinately stiff (perhaps reinforced by the fact that Hampton’s script has Jung accusing him of “rigid pragmatism”), he’s at least witty. Although Freud’s initial meetings with Jung are cordial, there are certainly intimations of their epochal rupture. When Jung claims not to understand why the Viennese psychoanalysts are vulnerable to criticism because of their Jewish origins, Freud terms his friend’s demurral “an exquisitely Protestant remark.” In Cronenberg on Cronenberg, the director remarks that his parents, who celebrated Christmas, “invented their own version of what it is to be Jewish.” The same could well be said of Freud, a defiantly secular Jew, whose claustrophobic, cluttered home presents a sharp contrast to Jung’s relatively palatial digs.

To Read the Rest

Thursday, October 18, 2012

ENG 281 Week 9: Genre and Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (USA: Drew Goddard, 2012: 92 mins)

"100 Best Horror Films." Time Out London (2012)

"Category: Film Genres." Wikipedia (No Date)

Cook, Adam. "Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods" Notebook (April 13, 2012)

Dirks, Tim. "Film Genres: Origins and Types." Filmsite (Entire section of the website)

---. "Major Film Genres." Filmsite (Entire section of the website broken up into sub-sections on Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime & Gangster, Drama, Epics/Historical, Horror, Musicals/Dance, Science Fiction, War, Westerns)

Ebert, Roger. "The Cabin in the Woods Chicago Sun-Times (April 11, 2012)

Fernandez, Maria Elena. "‘The Cabin in the Woods’ Spoilers: Drew Goddard Speaks Freely." The Daily Beast (April 16, 2012)

Frevele, Jamie. "People Can’t Figure Out Why The Cabin in the Woods Is So Awesome, So Here Are a Few Solid Reasons For You." The Mary Sue (April 25, 2012)

"Genre." Wikipedia (No Date)

Grey, Ian. "Cabin in the Woods, Horror in the Dumps." Grey Matters (April 20, 2012)

Habib, Conner. "The New Old Real Fake Ones: The Conspiracy and Spectacle of The Cabin in the Woods." Peaches Christ (April 23, 2012)

"Horror Film." Wikipedia (No Date)

"List of Genres." Wikipedia (No Date)

McGovern, Bridget. "Joss Whedon, John Hughes, and Torture Porn: What The Cabin in the Woods Says About the Current State of Pop Culture." Tor (April 23, 2012)

Newitz, Annalee. "Do you need to talk about the ending of Cabin in the Woods? Here is your spoileriffic thread." io9 (April 13, 2012)

Woener, Meredith. "The Psychotic Cabin in the Woods Monsters You Didn’t See in Theaters! io9 (September 14, 2012)

Current: Sight & Sound Poll 2012 -- Tokyo Story

Sight & Sound Poll 2012: Tokyo Story

Not only was Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story ranked the third greatest film ever made in the critics’ poll (right below Vertigo and Citizen Kane), it came in first place in the directors’ poll. It’s clear: filmmakers continue to be influenced by Ozu, whose astonishing insights into the human condition are reflected in all his works. Tokyo Story, though, has long been held in particular esteem. Its every elegantly composed shot contains some poignant truth. Following an aging couple from the country as they visit their grown children in the city, only to be disillusioned by their offspring’s neglectful treatment of them, it’s a perfect distillation of Ozu’s pet theme of generational divide. Among its many filmmaking champions was the late Lindsay Anderson (If….), who in this 1993 interview (part of the documentary Talking with Ozu, available on our release of Tokyo Story) reminisces about first encountering Ozu in the fifties, thanks to a screening of Tokyo Story, and discusses the profound effect it had on him and on film itself.

To Read the rest and to watch video clips

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Howard Zinn: Stories Hollywood Never Tells

As a teacher, I'm not interested in just reproducing class after class of graduates who will get out, become successful, and take their obedient places in the slots that society has prepared for them. What we must do--whether we teach or write or make films--is educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world. (15)
---Zinn, Howard. "Stories Hollywood Never Tells." The Sun #343 (July 2004): 12-15.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spoiler Alert Radio: Paul Rachman - Acclaimed Filmmaker and Co-Founder of the Slamdance

Paul Rachman - Acclaimed Filmmaker and Co-Founder of the Slamdance - Drive Baby Drive, Four Dogs Playing Poker, Zoe XO/Zoe Rising, American Hardcore
Spoiler Alert Radio

Paul Rachman, filmmaker and co-founder of Slamdance, began his film career making underground hardcore punk films and music videos for bands such as Bad Brains, Gang Green, Negative FX, and Mission of Burma.

Paul quickly rose to become one of the of the industry's top music video directors at Propaganda Films in Los Angeles, where he worked with such artists as: Alice in Chains, The Replacements, Pantera, Temple of the Dog, Sepultura, Roger Waters, Joan Jett, and Kiss.

Paul has directed several award-winning short films, including: Memories with Joe Frank, Drive Baby Drive, Home, and Zoe XO. Paul has also directed the narrative feature Four Dogs Playing Poker.

Paul’s seminal punk documentary American Hardcore world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was picked up and theatrically released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Paul is working on a new documentary with American Hardcore writer Steven Blush, Lost Rockers, about great musiciaans over the years that have been overlooked by pop culture.

To Listen to the Episode

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spoiler Alert Radio: Sean Kirby - Cinematographer on Police Beat, Zoo, Lovely Still, Against The Current and The Tillman Story

Sean Kirby - Cinematographer - Police Beat, Zoo, Lovely Still, Against The Current, The Tillman Story
Spoiler Alert Radio

Cinematographer Sean Kirby shot the surreal film Police Beat, about an African-born bicycle cop encounters strange and mysterious situations on his police beat in urban Seattle.

In 2007, he re-teamed with writer/director team Robinson Devor and Charles Mudede and realized the controversial documentary Zoo about the life of an Enumclaw, Washington man who died as a result of an unusual encounter with a horse.

Some of his later credits include: Lovely Still, an emotionally moving holiday fable that tells the story of an elderly man discovering love for the first time, Against the Current, about a man, struggling with a tragic past, with an urgent calling who enlists two friends to help him swim the length of the Hudson River, starring Joseph Fiennes, and The Tillman Story, a documentary on the story of Pat Tillman.

To Listen to the Episode

Frugal Dad: Media Consolidation -- The Illusion of Choice (Infographic)

Media Consolidation Infographic

Source: Frugal dad

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Matthew Cheney: Outlaw - Josey Wales

Outlaw: Josey Wales from Matthew Cheney on Vimeo.

Current: Sight & Sound Poll 2012 -- Seven Samurai

Sight & Sound Poll 2012: Seven Samurai
Current (Criterion)

Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is remarkable for the way its director stages and choreographs action scenes that are thrilling and engaging while leaving space for meditation on the bloodshed taking place. Indeed, Kurosawa’s particular talent for sculpting kinetic battle sequences was never at odds with his humane view of the world. Even in his bloodiest films, including Rashomon, Kagemusha, Yojimbo, and Ran, there’s a definite sense of moral weight. In its fleet nearly three and a half hours, Seven Samurai manages to enrapture and delight and quicken the pulse with a story of peasant farmers who hire a band of misfit warriors to defend them against dangerous marauders—but it is also a moving tale of life and death. None of the killing on display is gratuitous, and the director never takes pleasure in watching his characters perish. There is, in fact, a lyrical beauty to the deeply felt conscientiousness of these groundbreaking action scenes. Kurosawa once said, “If it is necessary to show violence in a film, it is good to avoid ugliness.”

In the following clip, three renowned Kurosawa scholars—David Desser, Stephen Prince, and Donald Richie—discuss “one of the great poets of screen violence,” and describe how Seven Samurai moved away from the detachment of traditional Japanese cinema’s formalized representations of war and death.

To Watch the videos and to read the rest

Friday, October 12, 2012

Damon Wise: Director Behn Zeitlin and Actors Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry on the Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild: 'I didn't expect people to like it'
by Damon Wise
The Guardian

Filmed among the driftwood and insects of the Mississippi swamps, Behn Zeitlin's film is being hailed as an Oscar contender. The director and eight-year-old star recall making it


This "it" is Zeitlin's debut movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, which premiered at Sundance in January and has since swept across the planet, today hitting Cannes just as a violent storm sweeps in from the sea. Which is an odd coincidence, since Zeitlin's film, loosely inspired by the events of Hurricane Katrina, is a rites-of-passage story that depicts a bizarre, primitive swampland flooded by rain. At the centre of it are Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry), two local residents transformed by Zeitlin's production team into grimy, shock-haired rebels who must fight for their hometown and resist attempts by the mainland to assimilate them.

Henry and Wallis, in their everyday lives, are unrecognisable. Henry, 49, is the refined, sharp-suited and very charismatic manager of successful New Orleans eaterie the Buttermilk Drop Cafe and Bakery; Wallis's only previous brush with acting was playing at being Selina Gomez and Nicki Minaj with her friends. Onscreen, their chemistry is total, as Wink, suffering from a fatal illness, tries to school his daughter in the ways of the world.

And this is no world that we know, a world of rust and nails, sumps and driftwood, feral animals and insects – an anarchic paradise. "The first scene we shot was my most difficult scene," drawls Henry, "and we shot it in the Mississippi river …"

"It wasn't no pool!" Wallis interrupts brightly.

"… In 40, 50-degree water, all day. Because Benh wanted everything to be as real as it possibly could be, even with the animals that we had. The pigs, the chickens …"

"A horse!" chirps Wallis.

"… the birds, the dawg …"

"Everything was real!" insists Wallis."They were untrained before we started, and they were only trained to do what we needed them to do. So everything you see is real. Benh could have gone to California, to New York, maybe gone and got an actor to play my part. But what he wanted was somebody who actually, in real life, went through what we go through in the movie, with storms and the like. I'm from New Orleans, and this is something we go through every year. We have to deal with the possibility of a storm coming in, evacuating – family goin' all different places – so having someone that has gone through this brings a realness. I was caught in hurricane Katrina. I was in …"

"Neck-high water!" interjects Wallis.

"Because I had two businesses," continues Henry. "And when things like that happen, vandals come to your business, they loot it. And I refused to let that happen. So when Katrina came, I stayed down there, and I had to get out of neck-high water to save my life! That was a real thing that I brought to the movie. Versus getting someone from Hollywood who's never been through these things."

To Read the Entire Article

Films We Would Like to See #14: 18 Days (Egypt: 2011)

Films We Want to See #13: Hitchcock (USA: Sacha Gervasi, 2012)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Glenn Heath Jr. on Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995)

Glenn Heath Jr. on Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995)
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

It’s all theory and philosophy until someone gets bit. Abel Ferrara’s art/vampire film The Addiction, a dense and moody examination of fear and self-loathing in 1990s New York City, takes this credo to insane heights. In the beginning, words and ideas are modes of deflection used by characters living in an academic world where hypothetical thought rules. But their wake-up call sleeks through the night, appearing suddenly and without reproach, brutally executing a primal reckoning of faith. From here, a new language emerges written in jet-black blood, caked on the lips of sirens and streaming down the contours of swan-like necks. Here, the crisp texture of film and photographic images is crucial for Ferrara. He sees the jarringly blunt stylization of death and trauma as the only way to reveal highbrow banter as dangerous contradiction, doing so within a genre primed for social critique. But is the horror film itself part of the problem? It all starts simply enough with a nighttime stroll and a sudden proposition of fate.

“Tell me to leave you alone,” demands a stunningly calm vampire seductress to a shocked grad student in a dank New York City alley crisscrossed by sharp, bleeding shadows. What a dare! These haunting words are uttered before each brazen attack in The Addiction. It’s as if the various supernatural beings walking the dark streets must defy their prey to stand up for survival before jumping on a single bit of hesitation to justify the impending blood lust. But looking evil in the eye and failing to react is just one of the many philosophical and moral conundrums recycling throughout Ferrara’s black and white masterpiece about dependency, fear, and political outrage. In fact, there are so many competing ideological threads in The Addiction that the very act of verbal expression becomes a form of sadism.

Kathleen Conklin, the aforementioned tough-minded grad student played by Lili Taylor who gets attacked by a sleek vampire named Casanova in the opening moments of Ferrara’s film, initially defines her professional and personal life by historical revisionism. War crimes are her object of study, and she spends the film’s first moment studying graphic pictures documenting the Mai Lai Massacre. Kathleen views these images with cold detachment, listening intently to the droll voiceover of a lecturer: “The conscience of an outraged society was temporarily satisfied,” he dramatically muses, referencing the American public’s faux-appeasement after obtaining national justice against the guilty soldiers. But college life is just a façade, and Ferrara has big thematic plans for Kathleen. After being attacked, the deep bite marks on her neck and the blood streaming down her face, often framed within smooth, nearly slow motion dolly shots, begin a slow transition from theoretical dependency to literal acts of horror and extreme physical addiction.

To Read the Rest of the Response

Thursday, October 4, 2012

ENG 281 Week 8: Spike Lee's Bamboozled and the Representation(s) of Race

"How do images affect our hearts and minds? How do images influence our everyday lives, our techno-scientific practices, our connections and disconnections, our conscious and unconscious desires and fears? How do images show up in the clothes we wear, in the ways we walk, and the objects we want? How do images influence the foods we eat or don’t eat and the ideas and feelings we have about our selves and others? How do some images enter our flesh, captivate us, fascinate us, or arouse our senses? How is it that other images put us to sleep? How do images inform our habits and fantasies, pleasures and doubts, worries and joys, rituals and rebellions? How do images shape our personal, political, cultural, moral, and religious beliefs about nature and about justice? How do images influence what we imagine to be possible and what’s not? Visual images are today everywhere entangled within a complex and contradictory web of global electronic flows of information. Images are typically racialized, gendered, territorialized, eroticized, militarized, and class-driven. Some of the most powerful images are hooked-up to hi-tech machineries of war, surveillance, and the economic marketplace. Images also lie at the core of global corporate technologies of profit, control and advantage. How might such images be best understood? How might they be critically subverted, transformed, or remade?" -- Stephen Pfohl, "The Power of Images" (2011)

Bamboozled (USA: Spike Lee, 2000: 135 mins)

Baker, Courtney R. "Misrecognized: Looking at Images of Black Suffering and Death." [Dissertation: Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate Program in Literature at Duke University, 2008]

Bellamy, Jason and Ed Howard. "The Conversations: Bamboozled." The House Next Door (February 25, 2012)

Benton, Michael Dean. "James Allen: Without Sanctuary; The Debate Over the Hanging of a Barack Obama Effigy on the Campus of the UK; The History of Lynching in America." Dialogic (November 3, 2008)

---. "Learning From "El Mexterminator" and "Cyber Vato": Social Anxiety as a Performative Pedagogy." Reconstruction 2.4 (Fall 2003)

---. "Response to a Lynching Joke in an Email." Dialogic (January 18, 2011)

---. "Theodore W. Allen: The Invention of the White Race." Dialogic (January 23, 2008)

Classified X (France/USA/UK: Mark Daniels, 1998: 53 mins)

Delue, Rachel Ziady. "Envisioning Race in Spike Lee's Bamboozled." Fight the Power!: The Spike Lee Reader. ed. Janice D. Hamlet and Robin R. Means Coleman. NY: Peter Lang, 2009: 61-88.

Dyson, Michael Eric, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. "The N Word." Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations [from the originals CD, reposted on YouTube: May 11, 2011].

Easton, Lee and Kelly Hewson. "Reflections on the Interplay of Race, Whiteness and Canadian Identity in a Film Studies Classroom.” Reception (Summer 2010): 116-148.

Elam, Harry J. Jr. "Spike Lee's Bamboozled." Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture ed. Harry J. Elam, Jr. and Kennel Jackson. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005: 346-362.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Originally published in French in 1952. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. NY: Pluto Press, 2008.

Feeling, Kara. "Passing for Human: Bamboozled and Digital Humanism." Fight the Power!: The Spike Lee Reader. ed. Janice D. Hamlet and Robin R. Means Coleman. NY: Peter Lang, 2009

"Frantz Fanon." Wikipedia (No Date)

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks (United Kingdom: Isaac Julien, 1996: 70 mins)

Gilmer, Marcus. "The Controversy of Race in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled." Not Coming to a Theater Near You (July 17, 20004)

Gray, Herman. "Spike Lee's Bamboozled (2000) and Black Masculinity and Visual Culture." [CCTP695: American Popular Culture -- History, Story & Analysis, Georgetown University] (Fall 2005)

Holden, Stephen. "Bamboozled (2000) FILM REVIEW; Trying On Blackface in a Flirtation With Fire." The New York Times (October 6, 2000)

hooks, bell. "Revolutionary Attitude." Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992: 1-8.

Lott, Eric. "Love and Theft: The Racial Unconscious of Blackface Minstrelsy." Representations #39 (Summer 1992): 23-50.

The N Word (USA: Todd Williams, 2004: 86 mins)

Metzler, Jessica. "Genuine Spectacle: Sliding Positionality in the Works of Paulene E. Hopkins, Zora Neal Houston, Langston Hughes, and Spike Lee." [Thesis: Master of Arts in English, Florida State University, 2006]

Michael, Dennis. "Facing up to the past: Bamboozled offers unblinking look at race, perceptions." CNN (October 4, 2000)

"Microaggression." Wikipedia (No Date)

Patton, Tracy Owens and Deborah McGriff. "Ya Been Took, Ya Been Hoodwinked, Ya Been Bamboozled: Mau Maus, Diaspora, and the Mediated Misrepresentation of Blackness." Fight the Power!: The Spike Lee Reader. ed. Janice D. Hamlet and Robin R. Means Coleman. NY: Peter Lang, 2009: 89-102.

Pfohl, Stephen Images and Power (SC532 Course Syllabus, Boston College, 2011)

Powell, Gerald A., Jr. "A Rhetoric of Symbolic Identity: An Analysis of Spike Lee's X and Bamboozled." [Dissertation: Doctor of Philosophy in Communication and Culture, Harvard University, 2003]

Riggs, Marlon. "The Making of Color Adjustment." POV (1992)

Slaner, Stephen E. and Sandra Clyne. "The Use of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled to Promote Difficult Dialogues on Race." Human Architecture (Winter 2008): 7-16.

Sutherland, Jean-Anne and Kathryn Feltey. "Introduction." Cinematic Sociology: Social Life in Film. eds. Jean-Anne Sutherland and Kathryn Feltey. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2013: 1-23.

Tinson, Christopher. Framing Blackness: African Americans and Mass Media in the 20th Century [Hampshire College: Spring 2011]

Ward, Jerry W. "Prologue to an Essay on African American Satire." Black Magnolias 2.2 (2003): 4-9.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Films We Want to See #12: Harvest of Empire (USA: Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez, 2012)

Dennis Lim: Time Has Been Kind to Heaven's Gate

Time Has Been Kind to Heaven's Gate
by Dennis Lim
The New York Times


Lee Kline, the technical director at Criterion, said, “It wasn’t an option to go back to the original negative because that was what was cut down to the short version.” The original 70-millimeter prints were also in poor shape. So in a costly, complicated process, the restoration team scanned each color separation negative individually and recombined them.

“Heaven’s Gate” may be a subject Mr. Cimino has avoided for years, but once he gets going, the floodgates open. He spoke fondly of the performances of Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken and Isabelle Huppert, which he feels have never gotten their due. And he recalled the genesis of the project: Researching the history of barbed wire and the cattle industry, he came upon an incident known as the Johnson County War involving cattlemen, hired killers and local ranchers. He described the epilogue — the weary hero, James Averill (Mr. Kristofferson), on a yacht off the New England coast — as “a prelude to ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ” with Averill as the mogul awaiting the arrival of the young James Gatz.

Mr. Cimino also recalled his obsessive quest for authenticity that led many to characterize “Heaven’s Gate” as a runaway production. (First budgeted at less than $10 million, the film grew to a cost of $35 million, or $44 million including promotional costs, according to Mr. Bach’s book. Mr. Cimino maintains that it was “all in $32 million.”) As he put it, “Everything was problematical”: the locomotive that had to be transported to the Montana location from a Denver museum; a horse-drawn buggy whose spokes and upholstery had to be made in different states. “The movie could not be made today, even if you threw $300 million at it,” he said. “All of that is being lost. The wagons don’t exist, the skills are gone.”

Present-day viewers may well find that time has been kind to “Heaven’s Gate,” which plays more than ever like a fittingly bleak apotheosis of the New Hollywood, an eccentric yet elegiac rethinking of the myths of the West and the western, with an uncommonly blunt take on class in America. (“It’s getting dangerous to be poor in this country,” someone says. The rejoinder: “It always was.”) But this defiant last gasp of the downbeat ’70s, opening two weeks after Ronald Reagan was elected president, was plainly a movie at odds with its time.

Reached at his home in Hawaii, Mr. Kristofferson said he believes the themes of the film, with its grim view of American capitalism, were what made it so unpalatable. “It was a political assassination,” he said. He recalled getting word that Reagan’s first attorney general, William French Smith, had told studio heads that “there should be no more pictures made with a negative view of American history.”

Mr. Kristofferson, sounding more rueful than bitter, said that the reception to “Heaven’s Gate” knocked him off the Hollywood A-list for good. “I never really recovered from that,” he said, but he acknowledged that it was worse for Mr. Cimino. “It completely destroyed him.”

Mr. Cimino continued to work, albeit infrequently; he has made four features since “Heaven’s Gate,” the last one, “Sunchaser,” in 1996. A painter who began his directing career in advertising, he said that at home in Los Angeles he rarely watches movies now (and prefers to reread Pushkin and Flaubert). But he does have a film project in mind, which he hopes to shoot in digital soon.

Ms. Carelli, who was with Mr. Cimino in Venice, said that while there remain misconceptions about the making of “Heaven’s Gate,” “I don’t want to revisit old erroneous stories and try to correct them.” She added, “Now the film finally speaks for itself, and it has the final word.”

To Read the Entire Article

More Resources:

The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jeff Faux: Education Profiteering -- Wall Street's Next Big Thing?

Education Profiteering; Wall Street's Next Big Thing?
by Jeff Faux
The Real News Network

The end of the Chicago teachers' strike was but a temporary regional truce in the civil war that plagues the nation's public schools. There is no end in sight, in part because -- as often happens in wartime -- the conflict is increasingly being driven by profiteers.

The familiar media narrative tells us that this is a fight over how to improve our schools. On the one side are the self-styled reformers, who argue that the central problem with American K-12 education is low-quality teachers protected by their unions. Their solution is privatization, with its most common form being the privately run but publicly financed charter school. Because charter schools are mostly unregulated, nonunion and compete for students, their promoters claim they will, ipso facto, perform better than public schools.

On the other side are teachers and their unions who are cast as villains. The conventional plot line is that they resist change, blame poverty for their schools' failings and protect their jobs and turf.

It is well known, although rarely acknowledged in the press, that the reform movement has been financed and led by the corporate class. For over twenty years large business oriented foundations, such as Gates (Microsoft), Walton (Wal-Mart) and Broad (Sun Life) have poured billions into charter school start-ups, sympathetic academics and pundits, media campaigns (including Hollywood movies) and sophisticated nurturing of the careers of privatization promoters who now dominate the education policy debate from local school boards to the US Department of Education.

In recent years, hedge fund operators, leverage-buy-out artists and investment bankers have joined the crusade. They finance schools, sit on the boards of their associations and the management companies that run them, and -- most important -- have made support of charter schools one of the criteria for campaign giving in the post- Citizens United era. Since most Republicans are already on board for privatization, the political pressure has been mostly directed at Democrats.

Thus, for example, when Andrew Cuomo wanted to get the support of hedge fund managers for his run for governor of New York, he was told to talk to Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group set up to lobby liberals on privatization. Cuomo is now a champion of charter schools. As Joanne Barkan noted in a Dissent Magazine report, privatizers are even targeting school board elections, in one case spending over $630,000 to elect two members in a local school board race last year in Colorado.

Wall Street's involvement in the charter school movement -- when the media acknowledges it -- is presented as an act of philanthropy. Perhaps, as critics claim, hedge funders are meddling in an area they know nothing about. But their motives are worthy. Indeed, since they send their own children to the best private schools, their concern for other people's children seems remarkably altruistic. "Wall Street has always put its money where its interests of beliefs lie," observed this New York Times article, "But it is far less common that so many financial heavyweights would adopt a social cause like charter schools and advance it with a laser like focus in the political realm."

Yet, with the wide variety of social causes and charitable needs -- poverty, health, housing, global warming, the arts, etc. -- why would so many Wall Streeters focus laser-like on this particular issue? The Times suggest two answers. One is that the money managers are hard-nosed, data-driven investors "drawn to the business-like way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results primarily measured by test scores."

Twenty years ago, one might have reasonably believed that the private charter schools, which are managed to produce the numbers, would produce better outcomes -- as measured by the numbers. But the overwhelming evidence is that they do not. The single most comprehensive study, by researchers at Stanford University, found that 17 percent of charter school students performed better than their public school counterparts, 46 percent no better and 37 percent worse. Stanford's conclusions have been reinforced by virtually all of the serious research, including those at the University of California, the Economic Policy Institute and the policy research firm Mathematica.

Nor do charter schools seem more efficient. Those promoted as the most successful examples have been heavily subsidized by foundations and Wall Street donors. The film, Waiting for Superman that portrays a heroic charter school organizer fighting a selfish teachers union was widely hyped in the media -- including popular TV shows like Oprah Winfrey's. Yet, as Diane Ravitch, an assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush and a former charter school supporter turned critic, noted, the film neglected to report that the hero educator kicked out the entire first class of the school because their test scores were too low, that the school was heavily subsidized by the pro-reform foundations and that the hero took an annual salary of four hundred thousand dollars.

Neither do the data on international comparisons support either privatization in general or charter schools in particular. The foreign education systems that out score America's are government-run, unionized, monopolies. Ravitch asks: "I look around the world and I don't see any country doing this but us. Why is that?"

Good question. Although the data do not support the supposedly data-driven privatizers' claims, their enthusiasm is undiminished. In response to an op-ed by Bill Gates that crudely misrepresented the statistics on school performance, education policy analyst Richard Rothstein observed: "It is remarkable that someone associated with technology and progress should have such a careless disregard for accuracy when it comes to the education policy in which he is now so deeply involved."

The Times' other guess about Wall Street's motives was that hedge funders are attracted to the anti-union character of the charter schools. This is undoubtedly true; the attack on the pubic schools is clearly a part of the broad conservative campaign to discredit government.

Wall Street has always loathed the labor movement. And in the last decade it has had even more of a reason since corporate profits now depend more on cost cutting and less on the creation of new products. The Chief Finance Officer of JP Morgan reports that some 75% of the net increase in corporate profits between 2000 and 2007 -- before the financial crash -- was a result of cuts in workers' wages and benefits. Given that unions are the only serious vehicles for resistance to the corporate low-wage strategy, Wall Street's antipathy has become even stronger.

But today unions represent less than seven percent of private sector workers. And the influence of public sector unions on the bargaining position of workers in profit-making corporations is, certainly in the short run, negligible. So while hostility to unions plays a role, is it is not quite credible to believe that Wall Street profit maximizers would be spending so much of their time and money simply to beat up on a proxy for the private sector unions that they have already so beaten back.

As usual, when looking for what motivates capitalists in a market system, the answer is likely to have something to do with making money.

Having been rescued from the consequences of its own folly by the Bush/Obama bailouts with its de-regulated privileges intact, Wall Street is once more on the prowl for the new "big thing" -- a new source of potential profits upon which to build the next lucrative asset bubble.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Monday, October 1, 2012

Joseph McBride: Political Filmmaking and America's "Poisoned Chalice" -- The Banned Gore Vidal Interview

Political Filmmaking and America's "Poisoned Chalice": The Banned Gore Vidal Interview
by Joseph McBride
Bright Lights Film Journal


The good news is that, as a result, it is becoming easier to make movies about politics: "There is a real chance, because the country's falling apart very rapidly. Audiences are going to be drawn either toward total Spielbergism — total escape from their fear of losing their jobs, fear of walking down the street — or to things that speak to them and bother them.

"It has to be done ingeniously, because if it's done like a civics lesson, it will put people to sleep."

Looking back over the spectrum of American political filmmaking, Vidal can find little enough that's been done ingeniously: "The few I know of which are realistic — as opposed to being Frank Capra fantasies or fairy tales — are Citizen Kane for the '40s, my own The Best Man for the '60s, The Candidate for the '70s, Tanner '88 for the '80s and now Bob Roberts for the '90s."

Bob Roberts, writer-director-star Tim Robbins' scathing satire of our current political malaise, offers in Robbins' folksinger-politician the most credible portrait of an American fascist I've seen in any movie since Edward Arnold's newspaper tycoon and political boss in Capra and Robert Riskin's 1941 Meet John Doe. Though distributed by Paramount in conjunction with Miramax, the low-budget ($4 million) Bob Roberts was made independently, with half the money coming from the U.K. after Robbins shopped the script around the conventional studio route without success.

It's amazing that a mass-market film was made on this subject, since it deals with issues usually addressed only in the alternative media — issues such as the systemic corruption of the establishment media and political institutions and the cynical manipulation of public sentiment in favor of the Gulf War.

To Read the Rest of the Interview

Democracy Now: Alice Walker on 30th Anniv. of "The Color Purple" -- Racism, Violence Against Women Are Global Issues; Palestine Conditions "More Brutal" Than in U.S. South of 50 Years Ago; "Democratic Womanism" -- Women Rising, Obama and the 2012 Election

To watch all three episodes together: September 28, 2012: Democracy Now

Democracy Now

Alice Walker on 30th Anniv. of "The Color Purple": Racism, Violence Against Women Are Global Issues

On the 30th anniversary of the publication of "The Color Purple," we speak with author, poet and activist Alice Walker about her groundbreaking novel and its enduring legacy. Set mainly in rural Georgia in the 1930s, the book tells the story of a young, poor African-American woman named Celie and her struggle for empowerment in a world marked by sexism, racism and patriarchy. The novel earned Walker a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, making her the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer for fiction. Walker explains the origin of the book’s title and explores some of its central characters and their connection to her own family history.

Alice Walker, award-winning author, poet and activist. Her book The Color Purple was published 30 years ago. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction, and was later adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, and into a musical of the same name. Her latest book is The Chicken Chronicles, and before that, Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel. She is set to participate next week in the fourth session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

To Watch the Episode

Palestine Conditions "More Brutal" Than in U.S. South of 50 Years Ago, Says Author Alice Walker

We continue our conversation with the legendary poet, author and activist, Alice Walker, who has also been a longtime advocate for the rights of Palestinians. Last summer, she was one of the activists on the U.S. ship that attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla aimed at challenging Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip. Alice Walker also serves on the jury of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an international people’s tribunal created in 2009 to bring attention to the responsibility other states bear for Israel’s violations of international law. Walker describes her upbringing in the segregated South, then goes on to discuss today’s segregation in the Occupied Territories. "The unfairness of it is so much like the South. It’s so much like the South of 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, shot, killed, imprisoned. You know, there are thousands of Palestinians in prison virtually for no reason,” Walker says

To Watch the Episode

"Democratic Womanism": Poet and Activist Alice Walker on Women Rising, Obama and the 2012 Election

With less than 40 days to go before the 2012 presidential election, poet and activist Alice Walker reads her new poem, "Democratic Womanism," and discusses her thoughts on President Obama’s legacy, including his use of drone strikes. "You ask me why I smile when you tell me you intend in the coming national elections to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils," reads Walker. "There are more than two evils out there, is one reason I smile."

To Watch the Episode