Friday, May 27, 2011

L'Amour Fou shows St. Laurent as intellectual

Okay, so now it kind of makes sense. Pierre Thoretton, director of the new documentary about the great fashion designer Yves St. Laurent, was a visual artist before he set his sights on film.
 L’Amour Fou (which opens today at Landmark’s Maple theatre) in fact is Thoretton’s first documentary. And it’s a good one. But what comes across in L’Amour Fou more than anything else – more than St. Laurent’s ideas on fashion, more than St. Laurent’s love for his companion and business partner Pierre Bergé – is the vast, sumptuous and extraordinary collection of art that the couturier amassed between the 1950s and his death in 2008.
 The collection in fact surely must be one of the greatest private collections of recent times - and the film spends an extended period dwelling on it. The collection in fact forms the backdrop of perhaps most of the movie’s scenes and is the framework (excuse the pun) that holds the movie together.
 For example, among the film’s opening scenes are those at St. Laurent and Bergé’s homes in rooms surrounded by paintings and sculptures by Picasso, Goya, Brancusi, Degas, and Mondrian. Bergé, in the aftermath of St. Laurent’s death from brain cancer, says the art will have to be removed, giving a real sense that our most cherished possessions only can be temporary.
 Throughout the film the director keeps returning to the abundant art whether at the couple’s two Paris homes, their villa in Marrakech, or chateau in Normandy. We see crews increasingly taking it down and packing it up.
When it’s not focussing on the art the film does make an attempt to chronicle St. Laurent’s evolution from assistant at Christian Dior fashion house in the 1950s to his and Bergé forming their own house. Then of course there is St. Laurent’s stunning success through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
 But again the film returns to the art, at last ending with its vast auction by Christie’s at Paris’s Grand Palais, a sale for the ages.
 There’s nothing wrong with so much attention on the art collection. But this is a documentary first and foremost about St. Laurent as fashion iconoclast. Therefore the movie should present more detail about what drove his philosophy, indeed his attitude towards women that seemed to be at the centre of it.
 Instead we get snippets. For example, St. Laurent wanted to get women out of restrictive clothing. “When people are comfortable in their clothes they are more happy,” he tells an English interviewer. St. Laurent also introduced pant suits including the famous Le Smoking tuxedo saying they allowed women to “assert” themselves. And he introduced ready-to-wear or prêt-à-porter clothing. But the film doesn’t have more to say.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about this documentary.
You can probably even hate fashion and enjoy it. After all, the film is about a couple of intellectuals - St. Laurent and Bergé – who were also devotees of literature and philosophy, to the point of naming every room in their Normandy chateau after a Proust character.
The piano music score by Côme Aguiar is beautifully poignant.
L’Amour Fou captures something of the history of France over the past 50 years, from the May 1968 riots to the rise of the country’s first Socialist President Francois Mitterrand (whom St. Laurent endorsed), to the influence of the Third World on contemporary fashion and 1980s’ gay culture.
It shows that St. Laurent was very much of his time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Film fest's 2011 website's films off by one year

For the first time I will be attending the Traverse City Film Festival this July. It’s Michael Moore’s festival, the seventh annual. I fell in love with Traverse City on vacation last year and thought it would be great to combine another sun splashed weekend with the cool darkness of the cinema. Last week I started planning the event from the festival’s website I found a couple of dozen films to attend. I did notice that some of the films were dated from a year or two back. But these are independent films, and often obscure, so dates don’t always matter, right? I also thought it odd the festival was listing their films without having made an official announcement, at least one I had heard. But the films were all listed on a scrolled down page under the festival’s “2011” web site. A couple of days later I checked the site again and the list of films had vanished. Then I checked my list against this year’s calendar and found that the website’s dates had been off by one day. In fact they were last year’s! I doubt I’m the only one who got confused. And festival staff, probably realizing this, yanked the list on the weekend. Hey guys, if you’re going to have a website marked “2011” please make sure the content is up to date.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Film notes: Spurlock, Coppola, Maxwell

I went to see Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (at Landmark’s Main), a letdown after his 2004 Super Size Me. Super Size Me was innovative because, although everyone knows junk food is bad for you, Spurlock had the bravery (or stupidity, he might say) to consume nothing but McDonalds’ fare for an entire month and see what it would do to his body. The onscreen evidence is proof! The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is about brand placement and how the movie industry sells its soul putting advertising or product placement in scenes. Spurlock takes this to its ridiculous limit by having the film become chocked full of placements while he delivers a searing critique of corporate labels. Problem is, what he’s telling us is hardly revealing. Yes, there are a few laughs in the film and the story is enough to keep minimal viewer interest. But Spurlock provides no solution. Government grants?.....Just finished reading historical author Antonia Fraser’s memoir about life with husband and famous playwright Harold Pinter, who died in 2008. Fraser’s book Marie Antoinette was adapted for the screen by Sofia Coppola in her movie version (2006) starring Kirsten Dunst. It’s a dazzling film in terms of sets, costumes and depicting the sheer material sumptuousness of the 18th century French aristocratic class. But what was hilarious was Fraser’s description of when she and Pinter watched the film for the first time and almost fell out of their seats (her words) when they heard the movie’s rock music score.....And finally, as I watch – mostly chronologically – the early James Bond movies, I was surprised (I’m probably the last one to know) that the famous minor role of Bond’s secretary Miss Moneypenny was played by Lois Maxwell, a Canadian. She cemented the role in 14 Bond films from the first Dr. No (1962) to A View to a Kill (1985). Maxwell, who died in 2007, was a classmate of Roger Moore at the UK’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She eventually wrote a column for The Toronto Sun newspaper during some of her years as Moneypenny.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The big screen comes to Windsor

Windsor is finally getting an IMAX theatre. Cineplex Entertainment will be converting one screen at the Silver City near Walker Rd. and Hwy. 401 to an IMAX room opening July 15. It will coincide with the premiere of the final instalment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.....Cineplex spokesman Kyle Moffatt says it will be the first IMAX in southwestern Ontario. Another reason for installing it here is because the city has been “very good to us” over the years with stronger than average attendance, he said....IMAX features a larger screen that accommodates peripheral vision, 3D, and is matched by enhanced audio.....But don’t expect adventure movies showing Mt. Everest or the Antarctic. Films coming to Windsor will be squarely tion-adventure genre. IMAX is making an increased effort to target 18-24 males, said IMAX’s Ann Sommerlath.....The theatre will be slightly smaller at 420 compared to 445 seats to allow “optimal viewing angles,” Moffatt said. The seats will be brand new.....Films will be priced $6 higher than conventional movies.

Meanwhile, screening the second night in a row is Just Because I Am, a documentary about youth and homophobia shot locally by Juan Javier Pescador and Gabrielle Pescador.  It screens at Windsor's Walkerville Collegiate Auditorium at 8 pm tonight with an after party.....Says a new release: ”While experiencing the transformative energy of art and the empowering effects of self-affirmation, these youngsters also face aggravating homophobic reactions unleashed by their collective coming out in this traditionally conservative (USA-Canada) border city.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Media City's 17th & a free shuttle

Dutch artist Jaap Pieters will be on hand for the opening of this year’s edition of Media City, the largely Windsor-based and internationally-acclaimed film and video festival. Pieters’s The Eye on Amsterdam’s  (left)films  are shot on three-minute Super 8 reels. They're studied vignettes of unusual happenings and recurrences in everyday street scenes. The films screen at the DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre Tuesday May 24 at 8 pm.....After that, the festival reverts to Windsor’s Capitol Theatre, where the vast majority of the remaining more than 60 films (most well under half an hour in length) will be shown in various programs – with, say, five or six to a program or theme. This includes a regional filmmakers’ package.....The films of British director William Raban, who chronicles the evolution of working class East London including the Canary Wharf financial district – with a meditation on urban change - looks especially interesting.....The festival runs until May 28. Media City is remarkably inexpensive with a festival pass just $20.....To help Americans navigate to Canada’s Rose City a free shuttle will operate from designated stops in Detroit and Ann Arbor. You can book online.....For the experimental and cutting edge check out the 17th edition of Media City. Their web site is

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Atlas Shrugged needs more coherence

Okay, so what did I think of Atlas Shrugged (Paul Johansson), which is still screening in metro Detroit but has gotten very dismal reviews.  Rotten Tomatoes’ accumulated critics’ score is 13 per cent. And even right-wing talk show host Michael Medved gave it muted praise.....My big criticism of the movie - based on Ayn Rand’s classic 1957 book - is that, if you did not know what the story was about, you were a bit lost. (It put my friend to sleep.) If you know the story, are a Rand fan, or simply like the movie’s message or adventure plot, it will engage you even though it has the look and feel of a made-for-TV movie and has a few phony computer-generated graphics, such as the depiction of rail baron Dagney Taggart’s high speed train.....The best thing about this film bar none is Taylor Schilling (above left) as Taggart. Just as Rand depicted her, she’s an assertive beauty, interested in developing the very best railroad using the very best steel for her outdated and sabotaged tracks. She's a true hero fighting a bevy of politicians, bureaucrats and weasel business types who seek to undermine her and steel magnate Hank Rearden’s (Grant Bowler, who is the second best thing about the movie) vision.....I was surprised that the screening I attended at the Birmingham 8 had as many people as it did. The audience seemed a cross section of the population. This is Part I of a three-part film, one that took decades make (see posts below)......Producer John Aglialoro says the remaining parts will still come out in 2012 and 2013 despite the negative reviews.....Due to the film's low budget marketing was primarily through talk radio and web sites. Originally scheduled for 50 screens  public demand saw it end up on first 300 then more than 400 screens. It didn’t do too badly at the box office the first week - $1.6 mil and placing 14th overall. But ticket sales dropped dramatically after that.....If Parts II and III can be fine-tuned technically to match Schilling and Bowler’s performances, and a more coherent story line added, this film can be as good as Indiana Jones, and with much more of a message.....

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cinecitta' revived, Janus Films co-founder dies

Things were down but not apparently out at Italy’s venerable Cinecitta' studio.  This is an Italian national treasure which has been used by such directors as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Vittorio de Sica and Bernardo Bertolucci. Government arts cuts had put the studio on the verge of having to sell some priceless props to stay in business. But the government eventually came through providing, not unlike Michigan’s tax breaks, 25 per cent of the money that foreign producers spend when making productions there.  That made Cinecitta' more competitive with other European filmmaking capitals. Cinecitta' is a weird mix of private and public enterprise. But the funding was such it has revived the studio to the point where it is thinking of now expanding with a new sound stage, offices, hotel and restaurants. Perhaps little known is that the studio was created by Mussolini. Fascists loved art that glorified the country!

Meanwhile, in the I-had-no-idea department, the man who founded the art house distribution label, Janus Films, has died. Cyrus Harvey, 85, died April 14, in Connecticut. Harvey co-founded Janus in 1956. The business was an outgrowth of his Cambridge, Mass’s Brattle Theatre (which still exists in its hip intellectual glory). He and partner Bryant Haliday transformed what had been a live theatre to a cinema. Janus has distributed films by such luminaries as Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa. Also fascinating is that Harvey and wife Rebecca started the Crabtree & Evelyn consumer soap products chain. This stemmed from their obsession with flowers and herbs. The Janus logo is of the Roman god who has two faces pointing in opposite directions. Why? Said Rebecca: “They named it that because they themselves were opposites. Bryant was gay and Catholic. Cy was straight and Jewish.”

Just caught Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler (who used to live in Canada though Scottish-born) in 2009’s The Ugly Truth. The flick is good for a few laughs about the war between the sexes. (Everyone says there is, right?) The story works because it plays on opposite stereotypes – Heigl as TV producer Abby Richter and Butler as Male Chauvinist Pig (do they still use that term?) Mike Chadway. Loveless Abby is looking for a modern sensitive man who among other things loves cats. Then she collides with caveman Mike whose cable access show The Ugly Truth, which purports to explain that all men are, at heart, simple, base creatures with really only lust on their minds. Apoplectic at first Abby eventually falls under Mike’s spell. Predictable – you bet. But the one-liners keep coming and Butler is hilarious. Butler himself is definitely worth a look. This ambitious, pick-him-up-by-his-own bootstraps, actor’s resume includes Tomorrow Never Dies, Attila and Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000, designed just for him.