Blogs Crosscuts

Headline Rewind: The Lone Ranger and Dead Man

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was. News Event: The Lone Ranger in Theaters As one of the summer’s major times for blockbuster releases, this weekend saw Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger getting solidly outpaced at the box office by Despicable Me 2. There’s […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.

News Event: The Lone Ranger in Theaters

As one of the summer’s major times for blockbuster releases, this weekend saw Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger getting solidly outpaced at the box office by Despicable Me 2. There’s been a lot of build up for this new filmic adaptation of the old radio ‘classic,’ and one has to wonder whether some of that build up is part of the lukewarm reception that has met The Lone Ranger this weekend. As an action film produced by the widely-beloved Johnny Depp (who also stars as Tonto), most of this build-up is less about the film than the politics surrounding it — as NPR puts it: “Does Disney’s Tonto Reinforce Stereotypes Or Overcome Them?”

This is the first of a host of questions that the film raises, some of which may have different answers for Native and non-Native people (and for different individuals and groups within those larger categories). Should Johnny Depp have been adopted by the Comanche? Does Depp’s ‘indigenousness’ make the film okay? Why not have a Native actor play Tonto? Does representation always have to be accurate (and how do we assess that accuracy)? Where is the line between pure entertainment and that which becomes political? (Fuzzy and shifting, I’d suggest.) And—is it even a good film? (The New York Times says: not so much.)

As a medium, film is dependent upon images—it is built upon representation. And while the history of film as a bastian for Western white (Protestant) upper-middle-class straight male representation has been pretty solid, when the depictions we see in films include the identities of people or groups of people who do not fit that white-male-category, the way we evaluate those representations has a tendency to become more political, to draw more ire, or require more delicacy. Coming from my position as a white, female-identified, queer-presenting, liberal-arts educated Unitarian Universalist American 23-year-old who hasn’t actually seen The Lone Ranger, I’m probably more qualified (to a point) to comment on the representation of women in film, or the representation in New Queer Cinema like Weekend or Save Me, though I make no claims to have insight into the gay male experience(s).

So in the case of the question of misappropriation of indigenous culture, I’m going to defer to Adrienne Keene, who runs the blog Native Appropriations, and who has been writing insightful commentary on the pre-production, production, and now release of The Lone Ranger (and a host of other deeply interesting topics around indigenous representation). You can read her reactions to the film here—and as is clear from the 134 comments that have accrued (as of the writing of this post) since she shared her thoughts on Thursday, The Lone Ranger has at the very least given us a highly visible centerpiece for continuing an incredibly important conversation.

Film Recommendation: Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man

As the media and debates around the release of The Lone Ranger reminds us, representation of Native Americans in film—especially Hollywood film—has ranged from the woefully stereotyped to the relatively accurate (although tending heavily towards the woeful end of the spectrum). The 2009 documentary Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian, by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, does a fantastic job of chronicling and critiquing the portrayal of Native people throughout the history of film (incidentally available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Netflix).

And if you missed The Lone Ranger this weekend, don’t worry—or, if you agree with Adrienne’s assessment, congratulate yourself! Either way, you can still see Johnny Depp in a Western that does a decidedly decent job of engaging with Native American representation, and is just straight up great filmmaking: Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 cult classic Dead Man.

Shot in sumptuous black and white, this “Psychedelic Western” (as Jarmusch terms the genre) follows the accountant William Blake (Depp), who is being hunted across the American West for a ‘murder’ he committed in self defense. He is accompanied for much of his journey by a Native American (Gary Farmer) named Nobody who idolizes the poet William Blake and resolves to lead Depp’s Blake to the Pacific Ocean, in order to return him to his proper place in the spirit world.

Alternately meditative, wryly funny, brutal, pensive, trippy, and melancholy, Dead Man is the ultimate post-modern Revisionist Western. In typical Jarmusch style, it features a cast including the likes of Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, and Robert Mitchum (in his last role), and a chilling, improvised score recorded by Neil Young. Its engagement with the tropes of the Western genre is deeply self-aware, as is its engagement with the stereotypes of indigenous representation, where carefully-researched post-modern pastiche enacts a sort of tightrope walk between ironic critique and earnest representation. It crams itself with tropes but for a reason; and several conversations in the film are conducted in Cree and Blackfoot languages, left untranslated as exclusive jokes for members of those nations—a choice that is not unpolitical, but is certainly interesting and feels, as a gesture, well-intentioned and well executed. By some accounts, it may stray into the territory of cultural misuse, but if so, it redeems itself with its self-awareness. While it may raise some of the same questions that The Lone Ranger has been inspiring, it does so in a way that is sensitive but not sterile, within the context of a film that raises a host of other questions, beautiful, haunting, and incredibly worth watching.

Dead Man is available to stream and on DVD and Blu-Ray from Netflix, as well as Hulu Plus streaming.

Other Jim Jarmusch films that are equally worth your time are also available to stream on Netflix, including (one of my top five films of all time) Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers, and The Limits of Control.

If you’re interested in continuing your exploration of how Native Americans are represented on the film, Chris Eyre’s 1998 classic Smoke Signals (also starring Gary Farmer) is a great place to start; available to stream and on DVD/Blu-Ray on Netflix.

Headline Rewind: Wendy Davis and You Can’t Take It With You

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.   News Event: Wendy Davis’ Filibuster There’s just too much happening this week to keep our film recommendations down to one! Although it received less ‘official’ press than Wednesday’s Supreme Court Rulings, Fort […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.  

News Event: Wendy Davis’ Filibuster

There’s just too much happening this week to keep our film recommendations down to one!

Although it received less ‘official’ press than Wednesday’s Supreme Court Rulings, Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis’ filibuster of the Texas State Senate on Tuesday night drew a firestorm of attention on social media, particularly Twitter. Throughout her 14-hour stand against a proposed bill to ban abortion in Texas, support poured in from across the nation with the hash-tag “#StandWithWendy”—even President Obama shared the filibuster live-stream link and tweeted: “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

Nor is it the first time Davis has starred in this age-old piece of political theater; her 2011 filibuster of a budget bill including massive public education funding cuts also forced Perry to institute a special session to pass the budget. And although the practical victory from Tuesday may be short-lived (Texas Governor Rick Perry has already called a second special session for next Monday), the marathon stand for abortion rights has made Wendy Davis an overnight political celebrity, and represents a strong ideological victory for women’s rights. As Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards responded, “She’s carrying every woman in the state of Texas, if you will, on her shoulders.”

Film Recommendation: You Can’t Take It With You by Frank Capra

Something about the filibuster not only makes good political theater, but good cinema. The internet is already rippling with speculations as to who will play Wendy Davis in a film version of the event, and plenty of headlines in the aftermath of Tuesday have drawn associations between her efforts and the Frank Capra classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, even inspiring this poster-pastiche for a film entitled Ms. Davis Goes to Austin.

So instead of making the obvious recommendation—although if you haven’t seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, run, don’t walk, to your nearest viewing location (available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Amazon Prime)—I’m going to recommend another great Frank Capra film.

Like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frank Capra’s 1938 film You Can’t Take It With You stars Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart, this time paired as star-crossed lovers from different walks of life. Tony (Stewart) comes from the stuffy Kirby dynasty, and Alice (Arthur) hails from the free-wheeling Sycamore clan. When the two families meet for dinner, hilarity and ideological conflict ensue, and everyone gets arrested. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, The New York Times has called it a “paean to populism,” the film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and features a tender performance by the aging Lionel Barrymore.

You Can’t Take It With You is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Netflix, and instant streaming on Amazon Prime. If you can’t get enough Frank Capra, Lady for a Day is also available to stream on Netflix, as are a number of other Capra classics are available on Amazon Prime, including Arsenic and Old Lace.

Headline Rewind: Gay Marriage and Weekend

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was. News Event: Supreme Court Rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8 I couched last week’s news about Exodus International in the context of Pride Month, and now (at least in Minneapolis), it’s Pride Week. […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.

News Event: Supreme Court Rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8

Image © npr.org

I couched last week’s news about Exodus International in the context of Pride Month, and now (at least in Minneapolis), it’s Pride Week. And to last Friday’s laundry list of LGBT victories from the past year, we can add what has arguably been the headline of the week (so well worth the associative filmic rewind!).

Wednesday at last brought two much-anticipated Supreme Court decisions on the cases United States v. Windsor and Perry v. Holingsworth—or rather, a decision and dismissal. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was first signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, and in a 5-4 ruling on the first of those two cases, the Supreme Court has declared DOMA unconstitutional on the grounds that it denies same-sex couples the 5th Amendment rights to equal liberty.

On the heels of this historic decision, which now extends the same federal benefits and legal recognition to same-sex marriages legal at the state level, came the Court’s ruling on California’s Prop. 8 (Perry v. Hollingsworth), which has been met with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment among proponents of gay marriage. While the ruling that the pro-Prop. 8 petitioners lack standing to bring the case to court constitutes a technical victory for LGBT rights activists, NPR’s Carrie Johnson explains “the court avoids the underlying issues…that means same-sex marriages in California may resume, but the ruling does not have a broader implication across the country.”

To get more coverage and commentary on this week’s developments regarding these major rulings, follow up at the federal level on SCOTUSblog and the New York Times, and at NPR member station KQED for a focus on the Prop. 8 ruling and its implications in California.

Film Recommendation: Weekend by Andrew Haigh

Image © Andrew Haigh

This kind of “partial victory,” as some have dubbed the ruling on Prop. 8, has a certain echo in what I’ve experienced to be the occasional plight of queer cinema. To my own chagrin, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something and said “It’s good, for a lesbian film…”—which often means on some level that it’s good because it’s a lesbian (or “gay” or “queer” or choose your label…) film: don’t get me wrong—every time a queer film gets made, it’s a partial victory. But there are a lot of Perry v. Holingsworth queer films out there, leaving me sitting here yearning for more films in success bracket of United States v. Windsor.

So beyond mere connections in content this week, I want to make a gesture at this connection on the level of super-structure, between film industry/genre and political movements, and the challenges they face. At the risk of oversimplifying the parallels in a deeply complicated set of issues, I think this is a particularly appropriate example of how one feels the ripples of the political in the aesthetic, and the aesthetic in the political.

Both LGBT rights activists and a new generation of auteurs of New Queer Cinema are navigating a sometimes-delicate, sometimes-furiously charged balancing act. This interplay finds itself both in grassroots movements seeking to create change on an abstract level and change on a practical level, in films that want to act on a political spectrum while still acting on an aesthetic spectrum, or perhaps acting on those spectrums one through the other. And the kind of national (and international) shifts that create or reflect an environment in which there can be the kind of rulings handed down on Wednesday—these are the kinds of shifts that, arguably, make possible the kind of filmmaking that Andrew Haigh’s minimalist masterpiece Weekend achieves—or perhaps, are made possible by it.

So here is Weekend, a film that does not sacrifice the political to the aesthetic, through sheer force of its ability to operate so beautifully within its commitment to the belief that the personal is political. It premiered at SXSW and swept festival circuits in 2011 (and shook my personal world), garnering well-deserved critical acclaim and enshrinement in the Criterion Collection. While this week’s film is not about marriage per sé, it is a film about relationship, and as Rilke writes in his Letters to a Young Poet, about solitude filled with the possibility of relationship—all shot with an incredibly intimate camera in shifting palettes both stark and lush.

I think Weekend may be for New Queer Cinema what the defeat of DOMA is for LGBT rights—groundbreaking. Why? Because it escapes this rhetoric of “it’s good, for a gay film…”. It’s just undeniably good. Tom Cullen and Chris New star as Russell and Glen, two young gay men in the U.K. who meet and connect in what the Walker Still Dots series pointed out as a modern updating of Brief Encounter; A.O. Scott aptly praised the film as a “perfectly realized, bracing, present tense exploration of sex, intimacy, and love.”

All that being said, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin issued a statement after this week’s rulings, celebrating the advance of LGBT rights but reminding us that “there is more work to be done.” To my mind, this is not so much a caution as a cause for excitement—this is work that is ready to be done—and Andrew Haigh’s brand of filmmaking is in this same universe of possibility, by being more than partial victory. Weekend heralds a shifting and increasingly nuanced queer aesthetic agenda that will continue to work with and beside this larger queer political agenda.

With so much to celebrate, you may find yourself in need of a breather amidst all the festivities, rainbows, camp, and choruses of “YMCA” this Pride Weekend. Consider giving yourself 97 minutes of beautiful, delicate, heartbreaking (queer) realism.

Weekend is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming from Netflix and streaming on Amazon Prime.

Headline Rewind: Exodus International and Save Me

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.   News Event: Anti-Gay Group Exodus International Disbands June is Pride Month, and among the many LGBT victories that will be celebrated this year — changing policy in the Boy Scouts of America; […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.  

News Event: Anti-Gay Group Exodus International Disbands

June is Pride Month, and among the many LGBT victories that will be celebrated this year — changing policy in the Boy Scouts of America; a series of state legislative victories about same-sex marriage (including here at home in Minnesota); presidental support for the constitutional legality of gay marriage — is something that is perhaps less a “victory” than it is a barometer of a growing cultural shift. Until two days ago, Exodus International had functioned for nearly 40 years as an interdenominational “ex-gay” Christian organization whose mission statement, according to its website, was “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality” — or rather, to change people’s sexual orientations.

But on Wednesday, Exodus International President Alan Chambers issued a statement ap0logizing for the harm he and the organization had caused, through action or message, to members of the LGBT community and their allies, and announced that the organization will disband. In a formal letter of apology (read it in full here), Chambers stated that:

“Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.

In an open letter of response published this morning in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Kevin Winge responds that “there is an art to apologizing,” and that in his words and actions this week, Chambers has “done something profoundly right.”

Film Recommendation: Save Me by Robert Cary

While Exodus International worked at the macro level in real life, the fictional Genesis House in Robert Cary’s 2007 indie feature Save Me serves as a complex microcosm for the kind of collision between faith and sexuality that Chambers’ organization hopes to move forward in addressing with compassion. Produced by and starring gay actor Chad Allen, who himself came from a strongly religious (Roman Catholic) background, Save Me follows Mark (Allen) as he navigates recovery from a near-overdose. His brother enrolls him in a home for homosexual men seeking to become “ex-gay,” and things invariably get complicated when Mark and his housemate Scott (Robert Grant) begin to develop a close connection that challenges the group home’s goal of curing homosexuality.

This is a necessary challenge, one that Alan Chambers has publicly recognized and affirmed this week, and this film presents it in a surprisingly nuanced way. Albeit melodramatic, there are strong performances from all sides of the argument; both Mark and Scott, and the head of Genesis House, played with a compelling ferocity by Judith Light, demand our sympathy. So while we most definitely have cause to cheer the changes heralded by Chambers’ announcement this week, this film is a perfect piece to bring into dialogue with recent events, in its ability to highlight the greyer areas of human emotion and experience and remind us that empathy is, like apology, an art worth practicing.

Save Me, which first screened at Sundance in 2007, is conveniently, streaming online at Netflix Instant, and if the recent news has you interested in Exodus International and its longer history of quiet dissent, you can also check out One Nation Under God, a 1993 documentary by Teodoro Maniaci. It chronicles the departure of two of the organization’s major figures in order to pursue a life together as male partners, and is also available for instant streaming on Netflix.

Making Poetry Films: Some Discoveries

I’m stingy at the box office, but last week I saw Life of Pi in the theater for the second time. The movie is a visual knockout, a delirium of color, probably the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen onscreen, but what I love most about it is it central metaphor. The script is deeply […]

Still from Amy Schmitt’s motionpoem, which adapts Erin Belieu’s “When at a Certain Party in NYC”

I’m stingy at the box office, but last week I saw Life of Pi in the theater for the second time. The movie is a visual knockout, a delirium of color, probably the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen onscreen, but what I love most about it is it central metaphor.

The script is deeply flawed. When the narrative is unveiled as an allegory, the telling is clumsy. But in that moment the film is transformed into a poem.

In my dual roles as literary director of Motionpoems–a poetry film company that will premiere a dozen new shorts at the Walker on April 24–and as a publishing poet, I am interested in the intersection of poetry and film. I’m interested in where the language of film intersects with the language of poetry. I’m always wondering what the forms have to teach one another.

It’s one thing to say that a script approaches the poetic. But what happens when a poem is the script? That’s what we do: At Motionpoems, co-founder Angella Kassube and I give great contemporary poems to our network of filmmakers and invite them to use them as scripts for short films over which they retain complete creative control. We do it because we believe film can introduce more people to the world of poetry.

Poems are, in many ways, perfect scripts. They often tell a story whether they’re narrative or not. They have a structure, a shape, and a progression of ideas, and they involve a speaker or implied speaker. More importantly, they are complete works of art, wholly contained and perfect.

We now have more than 30 films in our three-year archive at motionpoems.com. Here are some things we’ve discovered about this unique blending of artistic languages:

Pacing is essential.

Listening to poetry out loud poses a challenge for most people, a bit like being led on a blindfolded walk in a tangled wilderness. Poetry is a dense, convoluted landscape, and one can easily get lost if you’re not used to that landscape. Poets who are great readers of their own work are rare, mostly because their familiarity with their own work makes them tend to forget that every listener is new to it; often they simply read too quickly. For this reason, Motionpoems video artists don’t often utilize the poet’s voice, and choose to utilize a more careful voice-over instead. A film can pace a poem by slowing it down, pause it so the reader can catch up, and allow it to unfold on a timeline that’s organic to the way in which the poem might be absorbed by a first-time listener, not the way it might be read by a poetry aficionado.

Film can add layers.

A great example of excellent pacing is Scott Wenner’s adaptation of Norwegian poet Dag Straumsvag’s “Karl” from our 2010 season, but it’s also an excellent example of how a film can layer metaphors on top of a poem’s existing metaphors. “Karl” is, by itself, a haunting little narrative poem about a man who keeps getting misplaced calls from the police, but the film adaptation boldly sets the poem in the context of a derelict basement and uses two bugs—a moth and a spider—as central characters in the drama. Like Life of Pi, the film becomes an allegory for the poem, not a literal depiction of it, and as such, it multiplies the poem’s power to mean.

Film can amplify humor.

Most people think poetry is gravely serious. Not so. A lot of contemporary poetry is downright hilarious, but you wouldn’t know it from its sober façade on the printed page. A great recent 2012 motionpoem that takes its cues from film noir and turns a sardonic poem by Erin Belieu into a hard-boiled rant is Amy Schmitt’s adaptation of “When at a Certain Party in NYC.” The thing moves like a city bus: In this case a literal depiction is the perfect choice because the scenery glides by so quickly. Most poets chafe at any mention of the arts as entertainment, but film happily exploits the entertainment in art.

Film can restore poetry’s original power.

It should be said that what my Motionpoems co-director Angella Kassube and I are attempting isn’t to make poems better, or to interpret them literally, but to consider them as starting points for another art form, and thereby extend poetry’s typical readership. If, in the process, our video artists interpret, well, that’s a casualty of the process. Some will take exception to this, but it misses the point; our mission is to treat the poem as a creative start-point, not an endpoint. At The Playwrights’ Center, where I worked for a time, I was surrounded by theater artists, all of them collaborative by training and necessity. Poetry’s origin as an oral/performing art leaves it rather orphaned in print. Just as television is finally rediscovering the power of great scripts, Angella and I believe film can restore some of poetry’s birthrights.

We hope you’ll come see our new films at the Walker on April 24 and share in the discussion.

Headline Rewind: WikiLeaks and All the President’s Men

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Walker Staff will point you to other films pulled from a headline in the week’s news in a series called Headline Rewind. News Event: Pfc. Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks Appearing before a military judge yesterday for more than an hour, Pfc. Bradley Manning confessed to supplying a […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Walker Staff will point you to other films pulled from a headline in the week’s news in a series called Headline Rewind.

News Event: Pfc. Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks

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Appearing before a military judge yesterday for more than an hour, Pfc. Bradley Manning confessed to supplying a vast quantity of military and diplomatic files to the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks. The former intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq alleged that he provided this suppressed information in order to make the public aware of the volatile secrets its government was keeping, as well as to spark an open debate about American foreign policy. According to Manning, he came to the conclusion that none of the materials he uploaded to WikiLeaks — which included videos of airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, logs of military incident reports, information regarding detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and 250,000 cables sent by American diplomats internationally — could damage national security. Nonetheless, his ten guilty pleas could lead to 20 years in prison, and possibly more if military prosecutors decide to charge Manning with violating the United States’ Espionage Act.

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Private Manning’s testimony — especially his statement that “the world would be a better place if states would not make secret deals with each other” — has only added to his underground appeal among advocacy and whistleblower groups. The eternal debate regarding government secrets and its willful misleading of the American public (specifically the question of whether policymakers and politicians should suppress information in order to “protect” the country) has only intensified in the digital age, when anyone with Internet access can disseminate vital information to mass populations. This controversial question is manifested in the figure of Private Manning, who represents a courageous freedom fighter for some, and a potential threat to national security for others.

Film Recommendation: All the President’s Men

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The Orwellian tendency of governments to hide information from their constituents may be even more pertinent in an online age — a fact supported by the number of WikiLeaks documentaries in various states of distribution — but the question has been relevant (and insurmountable) practically since the days of Nero. One of the finest films to deal with the hegemonic suppression of information, as well as the enterprising quest by journalists and activists to uncover these secrets, is Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film All the President’s Men. Released less than a year after the fall of Saigon ended the Vietnam War — a time when the barbaric crimes committed by the U.S. government and military were beginning to come to light, and when American action-thrillers were at their bleakest and most outraged (see also Pakula’s 1974 The Parallax View and Sydney Pollack’s 1975 Three Days of the Condor) — All the President’s Men follows two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who wrote the book on which the film is based), as they uncover the Watergate scandal via their top-secret government contact, Deep Throat. Ultimately they discover that Watergate was not merely an attempt to conceal Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (a scheme intended to sabotage Nixon’s democratic opponent), but American covert operations as a whole.

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If Private Manning and Julian Assange, among others, act as modern-day Bernsteins and Woodwards, then All the President’s Men‘s brilliant, formally complex portrayal of the interpenetration (and active resistance) between the government and mass media might shed some light on how volatile information is both concealed and exposed in the 21st century. The dogged investigations and editorial marathons undergone by Woodward, Bernstein, their Post editor Ben Bradlee, and various colleagues have transformed over the last four decades, yet the nebulous infrastructures meant to keep political machinery chugging away have remained in place. All the President’s Men is one of the finest, most disturbing, yet ultimately inspiriting exposés of the dark pathways through which such combustible information travels. The film is available on DVD through Netflix, on instant viewing at Amazon.com, and on YouTube.

Headline Rewind: The Oscars and Ingmar Bergman

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was. News Event: The Oscars As the 85th Academy Awards loom only days away (they’ll air on ABC this Sunday night, starting at 6pm), a flurry of articles, previews, and opinionated diatribes […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.

News Event: The Oscars

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As the 85th Academy Awards loom only days away (they’ll air on ABC this Sunday night, starting at 6pm), a flurry of articles, previews, and opinionated diatribes inundate the Internet, either touting the significance or decrying the irrelevance of this annual dog-and-pony show. Whether it’s the ceremony you love or merely love to hate, there’s little denying the cultural import these festivities carry in American pop culture. As bettors predict the honorees, naysayers lambaste the absurdity, and pundits question whether they even matter anymore, there’s little doubt that the awards will be one of the most-watched televised events of the year, and that a select number of powerful Hollywood studios (and artists) will bask in the glow of mass validation until the cycle of self-promotion begins anew for the next installment.

Film Recommendation: Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergman

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Among the many filmmakers and cinephiles who have viewed the Oscars with a certain amount of disdain, Ingmar Bergman might be the most pedigreed. As the Swedish filmmaker writes in this brusque letter he sent to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences following the nomination of Wild Strawberries (1957) for Best Original Screenplay, Bergman wanted nothing to do with the “motion picture art humiliating institution.” Indeed, the director’s sobering examinations of human desperation, cruelty, and alienation would not seem to mesh well with the stolid, pseudo-highbrow message movies the Academy tends to favor. (Remember Crash? Or Argo, for that matter?) Wild Strawberries — the bittersweet story of an aging physician who reevaluates his life before accepting a prestigious award at Lund University (a ceremony he significantly considers a hollow ritual) — is available online at Hulu Plus and on DVD through Netflix. One of Bergman’s most well-regarded films, Wild Strawberries also (perhaps to the director’s dismay) won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the eighth Berlin International Film Festival as well as the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

"Hour of the Wolf," 1968

“Hour of the Wolf,” 1968

Yet if you’re looking to avoid all the Oscars hoopla by venturing into some foreboding Bergmanian territory, a treasure trove of intense, thought-provoking cinema awaits you online. In addition to the voluminous DVD offerings that Netflix provides, the website also offers Hour of the Wolf (1968), Passion of Anna (1969), and The Serpent’s Egg (1978) through Instant Streaming. The first of these, Hour of the Wolf, would be my personal recommendation: the director’s haunting, nightmarish foray into the horror genre (kind of) literalizes the demons that typically remain under the surface in his films.

"Cries and Whispers," 1972

“Cries and Whispers,” 1972

Hulu, meanwhile, also offers The Virgin Spring (1960) and Through a Glass Darkly (1961), as well as many other titles through Hulu Plus. But the director’s most emotionally devastating film — and also the one that (not coincidentally) strays the furthest from Oscar territory — is also available for free streaming on Hulu: Cries and Whispers. (Ironically, Oscar voters continued to dismiss Bergman’s indifference and lauded the movie with five nominations, including Best Picture.) Concerning a trio of sisters (one of whom is on her deathbed) in a Swedish mansion at the end of the 19th century, Cries and Whispers returns to familiar Bergman territory (faith, doubt, love, death) while atypically conveying those themes through lush, saturated color cinematography (by Sven Nykvist). Including a shocking scene that’s referenced in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001), Cries and Whispers achieves a naked empathy that’s cathartic in its honesty and ambition. If you’re hoping to balance the pomp and glitz of the Oscars with an unsettling appetizer (or if you want to avoid the awards altogether), check out this unflinching masterpiece from an auteur who cared more about cinema’s emotional depths than the laurels it might bring to his mantelpiece.

Headline Rewind: Meteor and Stalker

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was. News Event: Russian Fireball Meteor If you are on the internet right now, you’ve probably heard about the unexpected meteor crash in western Siberia, injuring thousands. The crash is also stunningly […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.

News Event: Russian Fireball Meteor

Meteor

If you are on the internet right now, you’ve probably heard about the unexpected meteor crash in western Siberia, injuring thousands. The crash is also stunningly cinematic, with footage captured (largely by panoptically prevalent dashcams and security cameras) seemingly straight out of an action movie. The meteorite burning up in the atmosphere lights the world with an otherworldly flash and the resulting shockwave broke windows and damaged buildings across the region, one that houses much of Russia’s military and nuclear production. It’s an all too real reminder of our fragility on earth, since a similar event killed the dinosaurs who ruled the earth for 185 million years (that’s about 177 million years more than there have been humans).

Film Recommendation: Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky

STALKER

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) takes place in a Russian wasteland of its own, one referred to as “The Zone” that is reminiscent of the Zone of alienation surrounding Chernobyl, despite the film predating the disaster by 7 years.  Within The Zone lies The Room, a mystical space that can grant the wishes of any who visit it. This journey into the center of a forbidden and dangerous zone in the rural Russian countryside is science fiction and philosophical exploration, in equal parts, and led critic Derek Adams to write when comparing this film to Francis Ford Coppolas Apocalypse Now (1979), “as a journey to the heart of darkness, it’s a good deal more persuasive than Coppola’s.”

For those who can’t make it to a video store, Stalker is available on Netflix, though not streaming.

If you’re looking for a quick fix, a link to a film to watch while you twiddle your thumbs and think about our pending global annihilation, you can’t go wrong with almost anything from the Criterion Collection, all streaming for free on Hulu for this weekend only. (Though of course, you’ll have to stomach the film’s interruption with several ads, but thus is the price of freedom.) Several of Tarkovsky’s other films are available through Hulu, Ivan’s Childhood, Solaris, and Andrei Rubelev, and they are all worth watching.

Report from Berlin: 63rd Berlinale

This year’s Berlin Film Festival has been full of new discoveries and projects by filmmakers with whom Walker has had a long history. Now on day 7, I feel I can share a better overview of what I’ve seen with a better perspective. Most days start at 9 am with a film that is in competition for […]

Berlinale-film-festival

This year’s Berlin Film Festival has been full of new discoveries and projects by filmmakers with whom Walker has had a long history. Now on day 7, I feel I can share a better overview of what I’ve seen with a better perspective. Most days start at 9 am with a film that is in competition for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, and I’ll be running from one venue to another—often at opposite ends of town until midnight or later. I’m far from alone in this endeavor as there have been over 250,000 tickets sold as of the mid-festival. In addition to the festival’s official selections, there are 890 films screened as part to the European Film Market which runs parallel with the festival. At the market, there are 7,650 industry insiders taking part by buying and selling films across all genres.

From the competition, my favorite and the most buzzed-about title is Sebastian Lelio’s Chilean film Gloria, a striking portrait of an awkward, yet charming divorcee in her late 50s entering the dating scene. The thing that sets it apart is the raw performance by actress Paulina Garcia who embellishes her character with humor, vulnerability and passion. It was picked up for U.S. distribution by Roadside Attractions and it’s sure to make the Oscar list for the coming year.

This is a close tie with Ulrich Seidl’s final part of his new trilogy, Paradise: Hope, which is set in a fat camp for teens.  Reversing the Lolita story, one of the young girls develops an obsessive crush on the camp doctor, a man in his late 50s.  As with Seidl’s other films in the trilogy, it mixes humor with behavior that is often taken to extremes.

Urlich Seidl's Paradise: Hope Coutesy Strand Releasing

Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope
Courtesy Strand Releasing

Many films from Sundance have also come to Berlin for their European premieres like Matt Porterfield’s engaging I Used to Be Darker (produced by Steven Holmgren from the Twin Cities and playing to packed houses here); James Franco and Travis Mathews’ Interior. Leather Bar, a reimagining of the 40 minutes cut from William Friedkin’s film Cruising; Stacie Passon’s (she studied at the U of M) tale of fidelity in Concussion (produced by Rose Troche who was last at Walker with The Safety of Objects); and Kim Longinotto’s (her films Sisters in Law, Divorce Iranian Style, Shinjuku Boys, Gaea Girls all played Walker) heart-breaking documentary Salma concerning a Muslim poet who was confined to her home for 9 years starting when she was 13.

The Foum Expanded program is also presenting a focus on the work of Hélio Oiticica who may be familiar to Walker audiences for his CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in Progress installation realized with his collaborator Neville D’Almeida in which visitors remove their shoes before entering the space in the Burnett Gallery to lounge in hammocks, listed to a soundtrack of Jimi Hendrix music and to view the barrage of slides covering the walls. The festival has taken on staging one of the artists’ most ambitious variations of the work, Block-Experiments in Cosmococa-Program in Progress: CC4 Nocagions, a slide sequence with soundtrack that was installed in a swanky swimming pool for one night—unfortunately I hadn’t packed swim trunk (who would for Berlin in February?).  There is one more variation of the Cosmacoca that I’ll catch up with at the Hamburger Bahnhof on Friday. The head of the Projecto Hélio Oiticica, Cesar Oiticica Filho also presented the world premiere of his documentary on his uncle and there was a fascinating panel that included rare Super 8 films including the raw footage of Agrippina e Roma-Manhattan (Walker is in progress in digitizing the edited version of this title).

With just two more viewing days to go, I’m looking forward to Richard Foreman’s first feature film in 30 years Once Every Day, River Phoenix’s final film Dark Blood (yes, River Phoenix—he died before the shoot ended and the film was in limbo for decades), and the restoration of Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason.

Interview: Chris Sullivan on Michael Jordan, Jean Piaget, and The Sopranos

I met Chris Sullivan quite by accident at the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival. My friend and I had settled in for a screening of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt when the guy next to us struck up a conversation about the good crowd for the screening. He mentioned he was a filmmaker visiting with his […]

Chris Sullivan Coutesy Taylor Glascock

Chris Sullivan
Courtesy Taylor Glascock

I met Chris Sullivan quite by accident at the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival. My friend and I had settled in for a screening of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt when the guy next to us struck up a conversation about the good crowd for the screening. He mentioned he was a filmmaker visiting with his film, we asked which film? That film happen to be Consuming Spirits and the guy we coincidentally sat down next happened to be Chris Sullivan. The Walker had booked Chris’ film literally right before I had left for Vancouver, so I was thrilled with the lucky serendipity.

Three months later after this brief meeting and as the screenings for Consuming Spirits at the Walker quickly approached, I seized the opportunity to interview Chris about the film and his work for an article on the Walker site. Our conversation spiraled in many different and interesting directions, many of which I was unable to incorporate in the piece that I wrote. Read on for our full conversation where Chris compares Prairie Home Companion to The Sopranos, feels lucky that he didn’t make a film about Lady Di, and diviluges that David Bowie is on his short list for his next film, even if David doesn’t know it! (more…)

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