Monday, August 8, 2011

My Traverse City faves

One of the most enjoyable films at the Traverse City Film Festival wasn’t a major commercial film at all. It was an eight-minute promotional film for the festival. It’s called Lip Dub. The film by FishSoup Films is one continuous shot with a cast of hundreds of local residents who took part in what seems a spontaneous undertaking. Of course it wasn’t. But the film is great and everybody in it seemed to play their part well. The film starts at the downtown State Theatre and moves outside along Front Street, the main drag. It winds through the downtown with individuals and groups – some dressed in costumes – entering and exiting the frame, singing, dancing or re-enacting segments of the two songs in the soundtrack – Paul Simon’s If You Be My Bodyguard, followed by Van Halen’s Jump. Watch it at .....Meanwhile, in terms of the scheduled feature films I saw over the mere three days I was there, Richard Press’s 2010 Bill Cunningham New York impressed the most. The documentary follow octogenarian New York Times Style photographer Bill Cunningham on his daily bicycle rides around Manhattan. For decades Cunningham has made a living photographing what ordinary people wear. But this being New York street fashions can often dictate what the next designer trends (ripped jeans?) will be. The eccentric Cunningham – who lives in a hovel of an apartment in Carnegie Hall – is as an enthusiastic reporter of fashion at his advanced age as he always was.....Next up was Young Goethe in Love (Philipp Stölzl, 2010) about the early life of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of Germany’s historical literary titans and the writer of Faust. It shows how Goethe’s first and perhaps most famous book The Sorrows of Young Werther came to be. An historical film it’s anything but stereotypically solemn. Rather, it’s enriched by a vein of humour that captures a kind of everyday reality of what Goethe’s young life, when he was an unknown and had prematurely given up being a writer, could have been like.....Another film set in Germany was One, Two, Three. But this by classic Hollywood director Billy Wilder was a hilarious screwball comedy.  I’m surprised I never heard of it before. It stars James Cagney as manager of the Coca Cola West Berlin bottling plant at the height of the Cold War. Not only does the film have constant one-liners but politics are the underlying theme, presented in a hilarious light with Capitalism versus Communism centre stage. Also remarkable is what was filmed. The movie was made just before the Berlin Wall went up when there was still easy access to East Berlin. One, Two, Three shows the two Berlins which, especially in the East, still looked as if World War II had ended the day before. For screwball comedy enthusiasts and  Cold War historians this film is a must. It’s much better than The Spy Who Came in from the Cold!.....Queen to Play from first time director Caroline Bottaro (2009 France-Belgium) was an impressive first directorial outing though it was a bit derivative in its story line of a wallflower finding her passion, in this case through the game of chess. The acclaimed French actress Sandrine Bonnaire was in the starring role. Kevin Kline, in his first French-speaking role, played her mentor as the reclusive intellectual Dr. Kroger. What was great about this presentation was that both Bottaro and Bonnaire were present and answered questions on stage after the film.....And finally, the best of a midnight program of short films was Yuri Lennon’s Landing on Alpha 46 (Anthony Vouardoux), which captures a certain reality of an astronaut in his cramped cockpit landing on a distant planet. One doesn’t know whether to take the film seriously, which seems the intent of the director of this 2010 German-Swiss co-production. But upon Yuri’s emerging on terra Alpha we’re treated to some very black German humour.

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