Saturday, May 29, 2010

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

This 1971 Yugoslavian film by Dusan Makavejev has long been on my "to see" list, so long it's almost embarrassing. I became aware of this film through the radical left film journals, especially Cineaste, that I used to read in the early 1970s. It was also an art house and campus favourite of the era. But dang if I never got to see it until now......And I wasn't disappointed. The film is about the radical psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, who died in prison in the United States in 1957. His books were in fact burned at the request of the U.S. Government as late as 1960. Reich, an Austrian and onetime member of the Communist Party, who later moved to the United States (so was persecuted in Europe and Stateside) sought to reconcile the philosophies of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. While Freud thought neurosis developed in childhood Reich said social conditions (the economy, government) were a prime reason for an individual's emotional problems. He also believed people were repressed sexually, which reduced personal happiness. He argued that authoritarian societies like Nazism and Communism were an outgrowth of repressed sexuality. He wrote a series of highly regarded books. He was a renegade from the traditional psychiatric establishment but adopted by the New Left in the 1960s among other radical psychiatric therapists like Fritz Perls's and his Gestalt Therapy and Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy. Some of his ideas seem far-fetched, like the famous orgone accumulator - a sauna-like box which allegedly accumulates "orgone" energy and thereby restores body and soul. Through deep breathing and other physical exercises, often creating intense emotional responses, a person can regain health through catharsis......Makavejev's film explores these ideas but not in any dry documentary style. His was guerilla filmmaking so characteristic of the late 1960s and early 70s, where traditional story lines are broken up with a collage of images, some highly abstract, others such as bits of documentary but still disassociative or even jarring......The film was shot in Yugoslavia and in the U.S......It opens with a hippie-like character walking along a street in New York, changing into theatrical garb like a soldier, emblematic of the peace movement's mocking of the Vietnam War. The movie then flashes variously to scenes of Reich's farm in Maine, his early life in Austria. The collage counterpoints images of 1970s consumer America (including Coke and Coppertone commercials) to the authoritarianism of Stalinist Russia (though I don't think he's saying they're on the same plane but both exert abstract control over an individual). Meanwhile a Yugoslavian farce-like story plays out among several characters, representing Reich's life-giving philosophy versus the oppression of Communism.....There are many of the era's counter-cultural images along the way, including Tuli Kupferberg of the rock group The Fugs, transvestite Jackie Curtis of Andy Warhol's Factory, and the editorial staff of the infamous underground newspaper Screw walking around the editorial offices nude......Some may be more familiar with Makavejev's films Montenegro (1981) starring Susan Anspach and The Coca-Cola Kid (1985).....The Criterion DVD I rented is tremendous. Besides the film there is another version with commentary overlaid from film critic Raymond Durgnat, and another film Hole in the Soul, a comic treatment of Makavejev's Yugoslavia at the time of its war torn disintegration in 1994. There are two excellent interviews with the filmmaker - one from Sweden in 1972 and the other for Criterion in 2006. There are even clips from the film's "improved" version to allegedly conform with one time British censorship laws.....As Makavejev himself says, unlike Hollywood his films are not "wish fulfillment" but are like a "little machine for self-confrontation." Or as film critic Durgnat says, quoting Hitchcock about Strangers on a Train, "isn't it a beautiful pattern? You could analyse it forever."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

S&TC 2: smaller audience, limping plot

Okay, I went (along, with, count ‘em, possibly three other guys) to S&TC 2 last night at Windsor’s Silver City. I thought there would be such a crowd (as there was with the original film) I purchased tickets online. That was a first, and a relatively easy experience. And when you print out the confirmation there are even “tickets” with bar codes you give the ticket taker and bypass the box office crowd clutter......But I didn’t need to do that. There were only a few people (okay, women) at 9 pm prior to the 9.30 first screening. Which made me wonder: has the S&TC franchise declined in popularity, partly because film audiences are younger and S&TC’s demo keeps rising? Or maybe it was the multitude of advance screenings Wed. night that spread the audience around. Or perhaps the hot weather was keeping people at home. In any case the theatre got maybe two-third’s full.....So how was it? Long, at 2 hrs 27 mins. Of course it was good to see the gals again and their male hangers-on (Chris Noth as Big, David Eigenberg as Miranda’s husband Steve) and even Carrie’s old flame Aidan (John Corbett).....The picture opens with an over-the-top gay wedding – well, what else? - with Stan (Willie Garson) marrying Anthony (Mario Cantone) officiated by Liza Minnelli. And  the rest of the movie is about, well, the humdrum of everyday lives. The characters (except for Kim Cattrall’s Samantha) have now long been married, even at two years for Carrie and Big, who are falling into boring domesticity. For Charlotte (Kristin Davis) it’s not so much the pains of coupledom but the aggravation of raising screaming children (even with a nanny – ah, the plight of the rich!). For Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) child-rearing is fine with sensitive Steve, it’s the jerk of a boss at her law firm who is driving her crazy.....All the gals need an escape. And they get one when Samantha lands a PR job with an Abu Dhabi sheik. He flies them to the “new” Middle East – the land of Emirates’ skyscrapers and pleasure palaces, one in which they stay. (It’s a tired cliché that these girls always land the most fabulous perks).....The foursome’s desert adventure is fine until Samantha, being Sam – and in what turns out to be still the old Middle East - gets them in trouble....Some reviewers have criticized the movie for its jibes at religious conservatism. But I found them hilarious. What other movie has the courage (here it’s more like outrageousness) to criticize anything to do with that part of the world?.....And there were a few good jokes, mainly from Samantha - her “Lawrence of my labia” got the most audience laughs. But the movie was too long, dragging in parts, and had a melancholy air, as if all these domestic arrangements (Samantha excepted but her issue was menopause) were weighing them down.....It will be interesting if the series makes a third movie. There’s probably still enough fan interest and residual story line (“now they’re entering the primes of their lives”) to eke out one more picture. But after that, time to stick a fork in it.....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just one of the girls

News that Sex and the City 2 is launching with evening preview screenings May 26 was exciting. I’ve long been an admirer of the S&TC television series if less so of the movie franchise. Nevertheless I hope to be there for next week’s first screening even though I might be among a handful – if that! – of men among a mass of women (and, anyway, what’s so bad about that?).....Frankly it never occurred to me that S&TC was such an ultimate chick, uh, magnate. Obviously the TV series and films are about four successful Manhattan gal pals. So of course this would attract women who, while perhaps not of the same socio-economic or even sophistication of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, could relate on some level to their passions and misadventures over work, men and, as women, where they fit into the fleeting if sometimes crazy world around them.....But the reason I got hooked on it – indeed it is the only TV series in 20 years I watched consistently week after week – was hardly because of those things, though they were interesting......What glued me to the TV set was the series’ unabashed fresh personalities. I loved the roles created for these characters – their independence and wit, and even their style (in a world where fashion was heading steadily downhill)...... And the writing was great. Virtually every line of dialogue was witty or a set up to some extraordinarily hilarious moment or sub-plot. Not that the show was just a laugh fest. But the humour seemed to make these characters and the circumstances they encountered all the more real......And finally, especially in the Kim Cattrall (Samantha Jones) character, here at last was an independent woman being as sexually promiscuous as any man. I loved the fact the series so completely broke gender roles.....The movie version so far has been a little disappointing. It’s been great to see the girls back, but it seemed a bit like they were going through the motions. Nevertheless there were a few sparks in the 2008 edition. Let’s hope for more this time around.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh, so it was illegal after all

It's true. People download movies online. I’m not that technologically-advanced. I still go to movie theatres or, overwhelmingly these days, rent movies through a subscription service like (hey, you can order zip though my online newspaper by clicking on one of zip’s ads)...There are legal downloads and there are the, uh, illegal, kinds. A lot of folks - really?! - are choosing the latter. This of course is a reprise of the free music download controversy of 10 years ago. In any case, Hollywood is putting its foot down and not taking it any longer......Reuters reports that producers of The Hurt Locker are putting together a huge lawsuit, filed against tens of thousands of, yup, individuals who have downloaded the movie illegally. Voltage Pictures is teaming with the U.S. Copyright Group against users of BitTorrent. They’re contacting ISPs and and getting people’s IP (computer) addresses......This could be the first of many lawsuits brought by those who produce the films that aren’t generating expected box office revenue, as happened with The Hurt Locker, despite its Oscar kudos......Copyright Group lawyer Thomas Dunlap says he’s been contacted by as many as 30 independent film groups interested in joining litigation against folks who surreptitiously download......I think I would have a problem sitting in front of my computer screen watching a full-length movie anyway.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Media City's art & video fest coming right up

The 16th edition of the Media City Film Festival takes to screens in Detroit and Windsor May 25-29. The festival features award-winning mostly short films from around the world and has gathered substantial international acclaim....This year will see more than 75 films and videos, opening with U.S. filmmaker Kevin J. Everson’s Erie at Detroit’s Burton Theatre May 25......Erie focuses on several events that take place around, well, Lake Erie including – sadly appropriate for a Michigan audience – the human impact of the closure of a GM factory. Everson, who teaches at the University of Virginia, has long concentrated on African-American working class culture. He’ll be in attendance.....Festival films will be shown at  the Burton, Windsor’s downtown Capitol Theatre (the main site) and the Art Gallery of Windsor.....The International program has 31 new films and videos from 12 nations, with many of the filmmakers in attendance......Premieres, say the festival, will be of new works by veterans like Ute Aurand, Julie Murray and Vincent Grenier along with newer artists like Mati Diop, Arnaud Gerber and Alexandra Cuesta.....The Retrospective program May 26 features five films by Dutch documentary filmmaker Johan van der Keuken who died in 2000. Viennese filmmaker and photographer Friedl vom Groeller May 28 attends with 15 films she made from 1968-2009, as well as an exhibition of her photographs.... On May 27 the Regional Artists Program shows the latest flics from Windsor and Detroit area filmmakers....Rounding out the event May 29 will be a program of Canadian Film and Video.....Each fest screening is “pay what you can” with $5 suggested price. You can pick up a festival pass for $20.....For more info go to

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fear and Loathing at the cinema

Watching Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney 2008) brings back memories of a very bizarre movie experience. The film - one of three about the same character, and I have seen them all – are about the good doctor, the father of Gonzo journalism and writer extroardinaire (now deceased; rest in peace) for Rolling Stone magazine, Dr. Hunter S. Thomspon. The other films are Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam 1998) and Where the Buffalo Roam (Art Linson 1980). But first a little about this movie. Gibney directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Here, he has Johnny Depp narrate (Depp also starred as Thompson’s alter ego Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing) with a lot of previously unseen footage particularly of Thompson’s beginnings in the world of what we used to call the New Journalism or let’s just say highly-subjective impressionistic reporting with the facts sometimes taking a back seat but the story considered accurate because the writer’s overall vision rings true. (Phew!)..... Thompson was an illustrious or notorious (take your pick but both fit) journalist who broke zillions of boundaries of the then comparatively staid world of professional journalism, fuelled by his egomania and drugs. This was journalism on acid because, well, the writer himself was on acid or barbituates or cocaine or what have you. For those, like me, who grew up at the time, Thompson indeed was a trip. I devoured his extended pieces in Rolling Stone, loved his 1971 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 about covering the 1972 Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign.....Thompson of course has been immortalized in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip.....Gibney’s movie has excellent footage of Dr. Gonzo at home, on the road, whether covering the Hells Angels or Richard Nixon (ah, the memory of Democratic contender Ed Muskie in tears outside the Manchester New Hampshire Union Leader building)......Thompson shot himself to death in 2005.....The film also features scenes from the other two Thompson movies with Bill Murray starring as Thompson and of course Depp as Duke.....Okay, enough.....This post is about a personal film experience......Let me describe what happened one evening 12 years ago when a friend and I drove to Windsor’s Silver City to see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.....My friend (now ex-friend but not because of what you are about to read) and I took our seats. The movie came to life. And for all of its 119 minutes I had a pretty good time, laughing at the funny, outrageous, crazed and alcohol and drug-induced experiences of the aforementioned Raoul Duke.....The theatre’s lights came back on. My friend – I’ll just call him “J” for the first letter of his first name - and I sauntered out to his great big lumbering Ford SUV (SUVs were all the rage among high income-earning Yuppies in those days, the bigger the better).....As we drove along Howard Ave. towards the central part of Windsor I casually asked J how he enjoyed the movie. Little did I know that I was unlocking a torrent of unending verbal scorn against what we had just seen. My friend went on and on – I could barely interrupt – with his disgust emanating seemingly from the deep recesses of his psyche. He was a man in a trance, spewing gobs and gobs vitriol. He was like a tap that couldn’t be turned off.....In brief, he was greatly offended by the film, interpreting it as making light of the very serious problem of drug abuse. He came across as a member of the so-called Moral Majority. To which I replied, “Don’t take it so seriously” and “it’s all kind of a joke” and “well, it’s about the Sixties, maybe you had to be there”.....As we got closer to downtown I suggested we go for beers......And then I was really brought up. “Absolutely not,” J said. “I’m too upset”.....So I guess you could say I had my own little fear and loathing on the way back from an otherwise innocent night at the movies.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Festivals: why I prefer Montreal over Toronto

I’ve often been asked: how come you like the Montreal film festival so much? And, since you live in Ontario, don’t you ever go to the Toronto film fest? After all, it’s world renowned and these days perhaps rivals Cannes in terms of being an elite festival.....There are a great many reasons I prefer Montreal to Toronto. Here are a few.....When the Montreal fest started in 1977, one year after Toronto’s, at first the two fests were very much rivals. But slowly Toronto gained ground on Montreal. There were various reasons. Perhaps the major one was simply because Toronto is in the English-speaking world and most film business is done in English. As well, Toronto started to become a major market for Hollywood films and H’wood is, well, English-speaking. These festivals, in addition to screening for general audiences, are markets for film companies to find distributors. They are where business deals are done...The rivalry kind of sputtered out and Montreal threw in the towel, a bit grudgingly but reality is reality. Now the fests are distinct and go their own ways.....The fests are one week apart. Montreal ends on Labour Day. Toronto starts the Thursday after Labour Day......If Montreal still has any bragging rights it’s by claiming it’s a more international fest, meaning it screens more films from around the world. Toronto tends to be H’wood biased. Nothing wrong with that (or is there?) Not for me to judge. I’m just telling you why I prefer Montreal over Toronto.....I’ve attended the Toronto festival twice and in each case for only a few days. I’ve attended Montreal virtually every year it has been in existence, probably missing three or four editions. Here are the reasons I like Montreal over Toronto: 1) The venues: over the years Montreal has had theatres clustered within close walking distance. So if you had 10 minutes between films in different theatres you can usually get there in time. That changed in the last few years as the venerable Parisien Cinema closed with Quartier Latin taking its place, a 20 minute brisk walk away. Still the theatres are in closer proximity than those in Toronto. 2) Staffing. Toronto is run by volunteers, including the box office and ushers. Bless their hearts. But Montreal hires professional staff (in uniform) from what was Famous Players and now is the Cineplex Odeon chain. The ticketing is computerized; it’s virtually seamless. The last time I attended Toronto (2003?) ticket sales were a labourious and time-consuming process. Also inconvenient. Toronto has something called “rush” tickets, meaning you can show up at a theatre and hope to get in at the last minute. But if no tickets are available you’re plumb out of luck. 3) The crowds. Toronto is a highly popular festival to say the least. And that’s a problem. It’s an absolute zoo. Montreal never had the crowds (though it lasts roughly the same number of days – 10) as Toronto. Those crowds, sadly, have been dwindling in recent years. But even when crowds were larger the festival was manageable. 4) Films: often there have actually been more screenings of feature length films in Montreal than in Toronto. And for those who have a bias against Hollywood films Montreal can offer more international variety with heavy doses of French and German, South American and Middle Eastern cinemas (don’t worry, most films have English – not French – subtitles, a sore point with the home town French audience).....For folks in Windsor-Detroit Toronto obviously is closer. Chances are you’ve barely heard of the Montreal fest, yet it is on a similar scale. If you love international cinema, and want to travel to a more interesting city linguistically, culturally and aesthetically – and to a festival where the experience is just a whole lot more pleasant - I suggest the Montreal World Film Festival  (Festival des Films du Monde.)