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Yellow Earth and The Trials and Tribulations of Screening 35mm in the 21st Century

As the person charged with the task of seeking out prints for films screened in the Walker Cinema, I’ve found historically that 35mm prints from the 1980s are the hardest to find. Why this is is anyone’s guess; perhaps films from the 80s aren’t old enough to be considered “classic,” but aren’t recent enough to […]

yellow_earth

As the person charged with the task of seeking out prints for films screened in the Walker Cinema, I’ve found historically that 35mm prints from the 1980s are the hardest to find. Why this is is anyone’s guess; perhaps films from the 80s aren’t old enough to be considered “classic,” but aren’t recent enough to be still lying around archives. This black-hole-of-a-decade rule has certainly been true of the last several Walker film retrospectives: for the Mike Leigh Regis Dialogue and Retrospective, it was High Hopes (1988) that proved exceeding difficult to locate, and for Joel and Ethan Coen, Blood Simple (1984). For the current series The People’s Republic of Cinema: 60 Years of China on Film, it was the 1984 Chen Kaige film Yellow Earth.

By no means an obscure filmmaker, Chen Kaige is probably best known for his 1993 Oscar-nominated film Farewell My Concubine.  His earlier Yellow Earth announced the arrival of the so-called Fifth Generation Filmmakers in China, and is typically listed in the top five on “Best of” lists for Chinese films ever made. I did not predict that this major work by this well-known filmmaker would be so difficult to secure for the series—but it was.

To give a glimpse into the process by which film exhibitors can go through to screen films, and provide a sense of the rarity of the 35mm medium, I present to you my epic battle for Yellow Earth—in timeline form. My search began on July 1.

  • 7/1: I always start with the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). The company credits section for Yellow Earth lists International Film Circuit as the distribution company for the film. I send an inquiry to them. A general Google search for “Yellow Earth” and “screening” lets me know that Harvard Film Archive screened it last spring, so I also email a colleague there and await a response.
  • 7/2: International Film Circuit no longer holds the rights or prints of the film, and suggests I contact the British Film Institute (BFI).
  • 7/7: BFI informs me that they only have a 16mm print of Yellow Earth.
  • 7/14: I retrieve an archived file from the 1993 Regis Dialogue and Retrospective with Chen Kaige, for which we screened Yellow Earth. At that time, we dealt with an L.A-based company called China Film Import & Export Inc. for the print. I shoot off an email to them.
  • 7/22: Second email to China Film Import & Export. No response. When I try to phone them, I find the number disconnected.
  • 7/25: I email the China Film Archive (in Beijing), inquiring about several titles for the film series.
  • 7/28: The China Film Archive indeed has a print! They will look into its availability.
  • 7/30: The Harvard Film Archives replies to the Walker Associate Curator that they got the 35mm print from the China Film Archive, but have also heard of a print in Scotland and will inquire on our behalf.
  • 7/31: Harvard reports that the Scotland venue is in the process of sending the print to an archive.
  • 8/8: Still no word from the China Film Archive. I send a prodding email.
  • 8/11: As was suggested by the BFI, I inquire with the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA)  in England. They ask for a written request.
  • 8/17: Bad news. The China Film Archive finally gets back in touch to say that the film is already booked elsewhere–-with the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China looming, many film series are planned around the world.
  • I step up my efforts and send a follow up email to the ICA.
  • 8/31: Another follow up email to the ICA.
  • 9/2: ICA replies to say they no longer have the rights to the film. I call her directly and get a disgruntled response that in the past ICA has had to pay fees when other sites screened the film. I assure her that this would not be the case with us, and finally get her to agree to let me know who now holds the print so we can contact them directly.
  • 9/8: More nudging and she sends me to Perivale.
  • 9/9: The response: “We do not have a print at Perivale. The only copy on our system is out since Feb 2007 at Filmhouse Edinburgh!” At this point, I have forgotten that Harvard had referred us to Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh back in July. I call Edinburgh only to find out that the print had been sitting at their Cinema for a long time, and when Harvard called them on our behalf it made them think it really should be sent to a European archive for proper storage. It seems that our very inquiry may have made screening the film impossible, as the process of the new archive accepting it, inspecting it and sorting out rights issues will take more time than we have at this point.
  • 9/11: Shot-in-the dark query to the Chinese Taipei Film Archive. No dice.
  • 9/18: I’m starting to panic. I look up Chen Kaige’s agent on IMDB. The agency refers me to a Moonstone Entertainment, which produced Chen’s The Promise. They tell to contact the director of the company, “Etchie,” to whom I send a rambling email about Yellow Earth. No response.
  • 9/24: It’s gut-check time. The brochure for the People’s Republic of Cinema program is due at the printers. We scramble for a screening backup, and the best we can find is a DVD with both English and Japanese subtitles. I cross my fingers, and optimistically keep the 35mm listing in the brochure’s Yellow Earth description.
  • 10/8: Our University of Minnesota co-presentation partner Jason McGrath inquires on our behalf on several international listserves (Modern Chinese Literature and Culture and the Chinese Cinema List). A response comes in from someone who had previously worked at the USC School of Cinematic Arts archive, who says they had a print in the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive. A 35mm print inside the country??? Hurrah! But, this news proves too good to be true. Upon inspection it’s discovered that the print is in such bad shape it’s unscreenable.
  • Another response to the listserve: “Have they tried the BFI and the National Film Archive in the UK, or its equivalent in Canberra, Australia?” Well, this was interesting. I looked up the Australian archive and found The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. I send an email.
  • 10/9: Success! The NFSA agreed to allow us to screen their print. Finding a print can be only half the battle, as rights must be cleared, and several more frantic emails to the China Film Archive to ascertain the rights holder ensued. In the midst of this, as our screening date creeped closer and closer, I receive a call that an overseas package has arrived…Yellow Earth.

I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy Yellow Earth in glorious 35mm….

Now, on to the next series!

Special thanks to the British Film Institute, Contemporary Films (London), Fortissimo Films (Amsterdam), Celluloid Dreams (Paris), XStream Pictures (Beijing), and filmmaker Ying Liang for providing the films in this series. Very, very special thanks to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

60 Years of China on Film

As attested by the remarkably choreographed festivities at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese know how to party—and nothing was spared for the recent celebration of the People’s Republic of China 60th Anniversary party on October 1, with special attention paid to showcasing military strength. This momentous occasion marks the longest Communist party rule in […]

Still from Good Cats, 2008

Still from Good Cats (Hao Mao), 2008

As attested by the remarkably choreographed festivities at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese know how to party—and nothing was spared for the recent celebration of the People’s Republic of China 60th Anniversary party on October 1, with special attention paid to showcasing military strength. This momentous occasion marks the longest Communist party rule in history, and although the last 60 years have been met with much criticism and unease, and marked by intense economic, political, and cultural growing pains, China’s unique blend of communism and capitalism is undeniably large and here to stay. Chinese filmmakers (those both inside and outside of the border) are in a unique position to process and reflect their current cultural moment. Many different Chinese film programs around the world are running this fall to celebrate and recognize these filmmakers and this unique and important time in history, including our own film series, The People’s Republic of Cinema which runs November 4-23.

In the scheme of things, 60 years is a drop in the bucket for China’s immense history as one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, but the transformations the “New China” has undertaken are radical on a global scale. The process of modernizing an ancient culture coupled with an inflexible political climate, an environmental crisis, a growing consumerist culture, the tension between Eastern and Western values, a construction zone taking over every major city, and a new generation striving for individualism and creative freedom present enormous challenges.

I experienced this first hand in 2006 on a study trip through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Spending time with Beijing and Shanghai art students, hip-hop artists, and filmmakers allowed a privileged glimpse into the tensions they experience and make work about. I met some boys in Shanghai who strongly identified with American hip-hop and had started a group that traveled throughout southern China and rapped in Mandarin, Japanese, and English. (Most of the music they knew about had come through Japan, as the Japanese have an easier time finding American music and have been interested in hip-hop culture and paraphernalia for quite some time now.) The 021Crew, as they call themselves, recognize the challenges referenced in hip-hop music (the struggle for self-expression, distrust of government transparency, freedom, individualism, social and class distinctions, and the tension between generations) as parallel to their own. A few of them had studied abroad in Toronto and London, and were presented with new visions of China then the ones they had grown up with. None of them knew about the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 (it is impossible to find information about this when in China, as it is a restricted online search), nor did they feel comfortable discussing it in public. In fact, after learning about it, they said, “That’s not my China!” And although they felt extreme pride in their country, they longed to experience different freedoms they felt were denied them. Through hip-hop they are able to express themselves and their ideas in ways they couldn’t otherwise. To them, it is a platform of revolution, but the difference is the prescribed action. As language and the written word are the embodiments of knowledge and the foundation of Chinese culture (traditionally, at least), I wonder if in some strange way Chinese hip-hop is an attempt to be a contemporary equivalent.

My Chinese painting professor who led the trip had grown up in a much different China. In fact, as a young boy he had left school to become part of the Red Guard and march all over southern China with other boys his age. The changes he has seen in his lifetime, although subjective and unique, chart the transformations (I struggle to use the word progress) many have experienced on a large scale.

Here is a list of some other festivals celebrating and recognizing the “New China,” and although there probably won’t be fireworks or choreographed parades, I hope you can make it out.

The People’s Republic of Cinema

Walker Art Center

Minneapolis, MN

November 4-23, 2009

http://calendar.walkerart.org/canopy.wac?id=5308

China Independent Film Festival

RCM Museum of Modern Art

Nanjing, China

October 12-16, 2009

http://www.chinaiff.org/html/EN/

LENS ON CHINA

Portland Art Museum Northwest Film Center

Portland, Oregon

September 24-November 5, 2009

http://www.nwfilm.org/screenings/21/207/#1379

NYFF Masterworks: (Re)Inventing China
A New Cinema for a New Society, 1949 – 1966
Film Society of Lincoln Center

New York City

September 26 – October 6, 2009

http://filmlinc.com/nyff/china.html

China Classic Film Festival

Confucius Institute, University of Wales Lampeter

Wales

October 1-31, 2009

http://www.chinaclassicfestival.com/

2009 Tokyo China Film Festival

Tokyo International Film Festival

Tokyo

October 18-25, 2009

http://www.tiff-jp.net/en/lineup/title_24.html

New Zealand Chinese Film Festival

New Zealand’s Pacific Culture and Arts Exchange Center

New Zealand

October 15- November 8, 2009

http://www.nzcta.co.nz/events/

FILMING EAST FESTIVAL

British Academy of Film and Television Arts

UK

October 3-31, 2009

http://www.filmingeast.org/

www.bafta.org/whats-on/global-spotlight-china,828,BA.html

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

UK-China Film Association (UCFA)

London

October 3-10, 2009

http://www.raindance.co.uk/site/index.php?aid=3797

VISIBLE SECRETS: HONG KONG’S WOMEN FILMMAKERS

Cornerhouse

Manchester, England

October 9 -November 3, 2009

www.cornerhouse.org/visiblesecrets

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Jesikah Ruehle bio:

+Loves being an intern in Film/Video at the Walker

+Graduated last year from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA in Fiber and Material Studies and Film/Video

+Loves to ride her bike and experiment in the kitchen

+Is a hairstylist at FIVETWOSIX salon in St. Paul

+Some of her favorite filmmakers are Chris Marker, Shirin Neshat, Doug Aitken, and Stan Brakhage

+Is an escapist and consequently spends a lot of her free time looking up places to travel to

Life During Wartime

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBKzHhtCTMM[/youtube] Formally, the film is deep-dish pleasure. Cinematographer Ed Lachman (using the Red camera system) enables Solondz to raise his visual game to a new level; the richly colored compositions are as bold as the dialogue. —Variety After a four year hiatus from filmmaking, Todd Solondz is back with his latest feature Life During Wartime. […]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBKzHhtCTMM[/youtube]

Formally, the film is deep-dish pleasure. Cinematographer Ed Lachman (using the Red camera system) enables Solondz to raise his visual game to a new level; the richly colored compositions are as bold as the dialogue.Variety

After a four year hiatus from filmmaking, Todd Solondz is back with his latest feature Life During Wartime. Not to be confused with the Talking Heads song, Life During Wartime is an un-sequel (more of a variation to) Happiness because it stands alone as a singular body of work. Solondz (who made quirky indie favorites like Welcome to the Dollhouse, Storytelling, Happiness, and Palindromes), does not stray too far from his prior films in regards to his controversially dark themes (child abuse, suicide, incest, etc), but does in the regard of compassion. The characters in Life During Wartime have undergone life and the most brutal of its hand, and the way in which Solondz depicts them is with utmost honesty. His ability to tactfully comment the less than savory elements of human behavior—although at times uneasy and unsettling in nature—solidifies the understanding of the people in the film, of society’s capacity of growth and compassion.

While it is not necessary to see Happiness before seeing this film, there are subtle and very funny references to the previous film for those who are familiar with this work. The same characters, played by different actors, have moved on. Their lives have changed, but the memory of something terrible from the past lingers as three distant sisters reconnect and create a portrait of those seeking love and rebuilding family, all to the backdrop of mounting fear of terrorists.

The Walker will be hosting a sneak preview of Life During Wartime on Wednesday October 28th at 7:30 pm.

Working with the Coen Brothers: The Intolerable Cruelty title sequence

By Jon Maichel Thomas In 2003, my wife and I packed up and moved to New York City. She landed a prestigious internship with Pentagram Design and I followed looking for a new opportunity. Exactly one week later, I landed a gig with Big Film Design. Big Film Design’s founder Randy Balsmeyer is a renowned […]

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By Jon Maichel Thomas

In 2003, my wife and I packed up and moved to New York City. She landed a prestigious IntolerableCruelty05internship with Pentagram Design and I followed looking for a new opportunity. Exactly one week later, I landed a gig with Big Film Design.

Big Film Design’s founder Randy Balsmeyer is a renowned title designer and his firm created every Coen Brother’s film title sequence since Miller’s Crossing (1990). I was brought on as designer/animator after meeting with one of their designer/directors, a Minneapolis College of Art + Design colleague, J. John Corbett. Big Film Design was a small group of talented, intensely collaborative individuals where everyone was expected to toss out ideas.

IntolerableCruelty06As a result of Big Film Design’s collaborative approach, I found myself presenting my design direction for Intolerable Cruelty to Joel and Ethan Coen. Randy briefed us on the film and laid out the basic themes to explore. One concept centered around cupids, an iconic image, nestled in the finished film. I riffed off that and came up with a story based sequence that introduced our audience to a world where mischievous cupids spied on courting couples, mended broken hearts and wrote fail-proof pre-nuptial agreements. As I walked the Coen’s through a simple digital storyboard, they started to chuckle. They loved the pitch, found the irony in the idea, and gave us creative carte blanche to move forward.

The Intolerable Cruelty title sequence was an ambitious design and animation challenge. The IntolerableCruelty04sequence was a 2D animated short story; a quirky commentary on the courtship of love, layered with visual and narrative metaphors supported by the Elvis Presley song Suspicious Minds. The world where the story took place was inspired by turn-of-the-century ephemera and postcards that we hand-picked from local flea markets. Our typographic system and framing devices for the credit names were derivative of typography of that same era.

The opening title sequence of a movie is widely considered an art form. A good title sequence will “set a mood” and “capture the audience” before the film begins. The sequence may also extend, clarify or draw out narrative or story themes. Title designers have a very unique role in the filmmaking process. They are in a position where they can creatively affect outcomes, influencing the storyline itself. That said, The Coen’s implicit trust in Randy, after collaborating with him on all of their films, afforded us great latitude – essentially creating a two-and-a-half minute film before the film.

IntolerableCruelty03One of my favorite parts of the sequence is when the guy is standing by a tree with his lover. He is carving “WIFE” into the tree. While designing that piece I remember going back and forth about what it should say. I settled on “WIFE” in the end because I thought it was funny as opposed to “Mark + Sally” or “I love you”. Then “WIFE” came up in the client presentation. We paused on the frame. Joel and Ethan once again started to chuckle. “That’s funny” they said, “Back then, that’s what he would probably have called her, ‘WIFE’.”

It was an honor to work on Intolerable Cruelty and I want to thank the Coen’s, Randy and the Big Film Design team for an amazing experience. I was challenged as a designer and animator. It was a blast to work on and what I learned has been invaluable. Joel and Ethan were incredible to work with – I admire them a great deal.

The Intolerable Cruelty Team was:

Randy Balsmeyer – Creative Director

J. John Corbett – Designer/Director

Amit Sethi – Designer/Director

Jon Maichel Thomas – Designer/Animator

Kathy Kelehan – Producer

The sequence won a 2004 Art Directors Club Silver Award.

Intolerable Cruelty screens at the Walker on Saturday, October 3 at 4pm.

IntolerableCruelty02

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Jon Maichel Thomas is a designer and filmmaker. He lives in Minneapolis and runs a boutique design firm with his wife Alyssa called Studio Collective where they Design, Direct, & Produce Film Titles and projects for Broadcast, New Media, and Print. Jon also blogs.

Jon is currently finishing his first short film Photos & Drawings which he wrote and directed. Jon & Alyssa Thomas are also excited to announce their first published children’s book No Monster Here.

No Impact Man and A Serious Man hit the screen in Minneapolis

It’s a big film weekend in the Twin Cities. Our Joel and Ethan Coen series continues with screenings of Fargo; Intolerable Cruelty; O Brother, Where Art Thou; No Country for Old Men; and The Ladykillers. With all of our screenings, we’ve certainly had the newest from the Coens, the locally filmed A Serious Man, on […]

It’s a big film weekend in the Twin Cities. Our Joel and Ethan Coen series continues with screenings of Fargo; Intolerable Cruelty; O Brother, Where Art Thou; No Country for Old Men; and The Ladykillers.

With all of our screenings, we’ve certainly had the newest from the Coens, the locally filmed A Serious Man, on our minds.  That one, a sort of unofficial, off-site appendage to our series, opens exclusively at the Uptown Theater this Friday, October 2.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_FjvR6H8xo[/youtube]

As if that weren’t enough, if you didn’t catch the screening of No Impact Man at the Walker, it too opens up this Friday, exclusively at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9Ctt7FGFBo[/youtube]

Also, the 10th anniversary Sound Unseen Film Festival continues.

See you at the movies!

An uncanny Coen brothers coincidence: notes from a film extra

While it was not part of the Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain retrospective, the brothers’ newest film, A Serious Man, did screen at the Walker last weekend — as part of a cast-and-crew-only party, an event made it onto the front page of the Star Tribune (along with a rare interview of the directors, […]

While it was not part of the Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain retrospective, the brothers’ newest film, A Serious Man, did screen at the Walker last weekend — as part of a cast-and-crew-only party, an event made it onto the front page of the Star Tribune (along with a rare interview of the directors, by Colin Covert).

Among the cast in attendance was Mike Krug, who also happens to be the brother of Ilene Krug-Mojsilov, the Walker’s Artlab coordinator. He wrote in with this account of an uncanny coincidence he experienced during the audition for extras:

“Authenticity — that’s what the StarTrib suggested the Coen Brothers were seeking for their new movie, A Serious Man. So on a midsummer Sunday afternoon I hurried to a warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis with my three brunette children near the end of the mass ‘open audition.’ We were seeking roles as late 1960’s, atmosphere-authenticating, Twin Cities Jews.

‘Great, you’re an entire brunette family!,’ one of the extras casting staff greeted my brood. The white walls of the warehouse interior were hung with a gallery of actors and actresses, some clearly casted, some in the consideration stage. After completing biographical paperwork, the staffer suggested we look at the wall of 1960’s period photographs across from the wardrobe area, where hung thousands of suits, tight shirts, skinny pants, bullet bras, and women’s jumpers and dresses, circa 1968.

I looked at the first 1960’s photograph and my heart quickened. I recognized members of my Temple of Aaron Synagogue from the ’60s. To my amazement, there, in a group photo of six Temple of Aaron Board Members, was my recently deceased father Murry, with his Brylcreemed, pompadour hairstyle, generous smile and black suit. ‘Oh my goodness,’ I said, not trying to hide my pride, ‘that’s my father.’

And there was my Rabbi, Bernard Raskas, standing proudly next to the Temple of Aaron Confirmation Class of 1968 — among whom was the Walker Art Center’s Art Lab Coordinator Ilene Krug. “You won’t believe it, but that’s my sister!” I said to no one in particular.

The Coen brothers and their staff had clearly done their due diligence, contacting synagogues, obtaining photographs from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Jewish Community, replicating St. Louis Park homes, and locating haute couture.

Each of the four of us was ultimately selected as extras for A Serious Man. For me, unknown to Ethan and Joel Coen, this film is an ode to my father. While standing in the synagogue scene, reciting Kaddish repeatedly during the many takes from a variety of camera angles, it was only natural to feel the loss that the scene aimed to capture.

Whether any of my family ends up in the movie or on the cutting room floor will not be known to me until full movie release this October. Regardless, for me, A Serious Man, captures a personal era.”

A Serious Man opens at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis on October 2. Hey Mike — write in and tell us if you made the cut!

Coen Faves

As part of the celebration of the Walker’s 50th Regis Dialogue and Retrospective event—Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain—we asked local and national film critics (many of whom have been Regis Dialogue interviewers themselves) and film exhibition programmers to weigh in: In 25 words or less, what is your favorite Coen brothers’ film, and why? As […]

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As part of the celebration of the Walker’s 50th Regis Dialogue and Retrospective event—Joel and Ethan Coen: Raising Cain—we asked local and national film critics (many of whom have been Regis Dialogue interviewers themselves) and film exhibition programmers to weigh in: In 25 words or less, what is your favorite Coen brothers’ film, and why? As you’ll see below, the question was so intriguing that several could not limit their answer to 25 words. Every person we asked chose a different film to laud—certainly a testament to the breadth and depth of the Coens’ work.

The 13-film retrospective kicks off on September 18th with the directors’ cut of Blood Simple, for which we are pleased to be screening the Coens’ own personal print. Following the film, the entire audience is invited to a reception in the Bazinet lobby. I’m confident this question of favorite Coens film will arise many times that night!

I have a special dark place in my heart for Blood Simple. It’s a magnificent first movie, filled with tension and glorious, murderously flawed individuals. —Euan Kerr, Senior Editor, Minnesota Public Radio News

Miller’s Crossing: “Simply a great gangster movie.”—Florence Almozini, BAMcinématek Program Director

“Like the underdog protagonists in so much of their work, my favorite Coen Brothers’ film is an underdog black comedy with a less than appealing title—Barton Fink. It’s not the most entertaining of their films (Fargo, hands down) nor their most innovative (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), but it remains their only film to date situated in the belly of the beast—Hollywood. It features a Harold Lloyd-bespeckled John Turturro in the titled role as a successful dramatist lured by the promises of studio system only to end up saddled with writing a wrestling picture. Barton Fink is, in other words, an allegory of the treacherous artistic journey that the Brothers, themselves, must navigate each time they begin a new feature project.”—Bruce Jenkins, Professor, Department of Film, Video, and New Media School of the Art Institute of Chicago, former Curator of the Walker Film/Video Department. Regis Interviewer for The Brothers Quay: Alchemists of Animation, 1996 and Stan Brakhage: The Art of Seeing, 1999.

The Hudsucker Proxy: “The Coens’ first big-budget effort is no studio picture compromise. It’s an unclassifiable, deliriously funny riff on 1950s workplace dramas, hula hoops, the clockwork machinations of fate, and karma, the great circle of life. You know, for kids!”—Colin Covert, film critic, Star Tribune

“I’m going with Fargo. I think it’s their most humanistic film, and those devastating final scenes with Marge feel like the perfect/bewildered response to the Reagan/Bush era.”—Chris Hewitt, film critic, Pioneer Press

The Big Lebowski: “Whether it’s because the Coen Brothers hail from these parts, the expression of true feelings has never been their characters’ strong suit—or their own. But as The Big Lebowski‘s climactic bear hug signals direct communication more warmly than anything in their oeuvre, I’d say the Coens have finally looked into their heart.” —Rob Nelson, film critic, excertped from City Pages (publication date: 1998).

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “The Coens’ decision to treat traditional American music as a living presence makes this eccentric, picaresque period comedy perhaps the warmest production in their entire repertoire. And the music is superb, which doesn’t hurt.”—Kenneth Turan, film critic, Los Angeles Times. Regis Interviewer for Alexander Payne: A Sideways Glance at America, 2005.

The Man Who Wasn’t There: “You will not soon forget Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thorton), the antihero and narrator of the Coen brothers’ unforgettable neo-noir, with its sharp black-and-white photography and nonjudgmental tone.”—Howard Feinstein, New York-based film critic and a selector for the Sarajevo Film Festival (excerpted from the 2001 Sarajevo Film Festival catalogue). Regis Interviewer for Bela Tarr: Mysterious Harmonies, 2007.

Fargo is my absolute favorite, but Burn After Reading has grown on me the most. What seemed initially as silly and slapdash, a retro take on the ’60s Cold War spy movie, now feels like an entertainingly astute and up-to-date crafting of movie stars, genre storytelling, and satire that outshines most other recent attempts to re-invent the espionage film.”—Scott Macaulay, editor Filmmaker Magazine, co-editor FilminFocus.com. Regis Interviewer for Gus Van Sant: On the Road Again, 2003.

Raising Cain: Joel and Ethan Coen Retrospective Trailer

Despite the fact that his internship long since lapsed, he has been immersed in post production on his own feature film, and puts in 40-60 hours every week at his day job, our friend Evan Drolet Cook was kind enough to put together this trailer for the Joel and Ethan Regis Retrospective that opens here […]

Despite the fact that his internship long since lapsed, he has been immersed in post production on his own feature film, and puts in 40-60 hours every week at his day job, our friend Evan Drolet Cook was kind enough to put together this trailer for the Joel and Ethan Regis Retrospective that opens here at the Walker on September 18th with a screening of Blood Simple.  Take a look:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzSLmJc_trY[/youtube]

Tony Manero

Tony Manero is not a name often associated with Chile’s dark days under Pinochet’s regime. For those unacquainted with the 1971 film Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero is the charismatic character John Travolta plays. Naturally the question to consequently follow is how exactly do the dots of Saturday Night Fever and Pinochet connect? In a […]

tonymanero

Tony Manero is not a name often associated with Chile’s dark days under Pinochet’s regime. For those unacquainted with the 1971 film Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero is the charismatic character John Travolta plays.

Naturally the question to consequently follow is how exactly do the dots of Saturday Night Fever and Pinochet connect? In a simple response, through Pablo Larrain’s latest feature Tony Manero. But in actuality, the answer is not that easy.

Derived by both Larrain and actor Alfredo Castro, Tony Manero makes political and social commentary on Chile (and the United States, simultaneously). Released in 1978 in Chile, Saturday Night Fever came about in one of the bleakest and most miserable times during General Augusto Pinochet’s rule. Director Pablo Larrain and actor Alfredo Castro shared the role of writer, and as the film shows, were able to develop a story that not only exists in allegorical, but also in literal terms.

On the surface, it seems that the film is merely about a social outsider who is unable to break his obsession with Saturday Night Fever and consequently the American Dream. Because of his deep commitment to the film, he finds himself in a routine of watching it in the local theatre repeatedly, auditioning for Chile’s version of Saturday Night Fever, and eventually embodying a dark mutilated version of the character Tony Manero and perhaps Pinochet himself.

With the historical understanding of Chile and the time period, Tony Manero embodies the psychological process of living in a country that undergoes a deep cultural change, which defines how citizens act and relate to the world.

The film has garnered quite a bit of attention as of late. In a recent article from the Village Voice, J. Hoberman writes,

“Impassive but alert, Raúl not only internalizes Tony’s version of the American dream, but memorizes Tony’s lines for use in the four-actor version of Saturday Night Fever he’s staging, with an inexplicably adoring cult of losers, in a grungy Santiago cantina. Raúl’s obsession is complemented by a total disinterest in any human contact… Feasting on this bizarre fascist posturing, Larrain suggests that, with his sordid charisma, Raúl is a miniature Pinochet—reproducing the brutality of the state in his willingness to steal, exploit, betray, and kill in the service of a fantasy.”

Larry Rohter from the New York Times also did a piece on the film that is worth checking out.

As Pablo Larrain stated in an interview,

“I wanted to tell the little story of a man obsessed with what is foreign to him, who lives in a country going through the cultural process which defined our actual way of acting and relating to the world. A prowl on the process of a common man and what surrounds him; or as well, a fragment of something bigger that cannot be seen, because finally, the dance of Raul Peralta’s is, to me, the dance of all Latin-Americans. The dangerous air of underdevelopment and it’s delirious wild abandon that saw itself very much exposed and threatened during the seventies, in the middle of the military dictatorships that struck our region.” (Tony Manero Press Packet)

And that he does.

Tony Manero screens as a part of the Premieres: First Look Series in the Walker Cinema September 11, 7:30 pm, September 12, 4:00 pm, September 12, 7:30 pm, September 13, 3:00 pm. For more information, visit the Walker website.

A Coen Brothers Movie-Title Still Retrospective.

I ran across a website with an impressive collection of movie title stills. I love that moment occurs either right at the beginning of the movie, after some credits, or after an introductory scene, when you already have a feel for the movie, where the title hits the screen, either boldly or subtly or somewhere […]

I ran across a website with an impressive collection of movie title stills. I love that moment occurs either right at the beginning of the movie, after some credits, or after an introductory scene, when you already have a feel for the movie, where the title hits the screen, either boldly or subtly or somewhere in between. If you don’t have a feel for the movie yet, the  movie title screen should probably help you out with that. Really good ones do.

I collected the near-complete stills of the Coen Brothers’ movies, from Blood Simple to Burn After Reading. We are missing The Hudsucker Proxy and The Ladykillers. I’ve got to say…the typography on Blood Simple really blew me away. Take a look and a trip down memory lane.

The retrospective begins (as did the Coens’ career) with Blood Simple on September 18.

blood-simple-title-still

raising-arizona-title-card

millers-crossing-title-screen

barton-fink-title-screenshot

fargo-title-still

big-lebowski-title-screen

o-brother-where-art-thou-title-screenshot

man-who-wasnt-there-title-screenshot

intolerable-cruelty-title-screen

no-country-for-old-men-title-still

burn-after-reading-title-still

Something kinda nerdy. Look at Blood Simple and Fargo next to one another. BEAUTIFUL!

blood-simple-title-stillfargo-title-still

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