Blogs Crosscuts

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

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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 […]

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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…)

Smash Cuts: Django Unchained

Smash Cuts is a continuing series in which two members of the Walker’s Film & Video department go head-to-head on a divisive film, debating its various faults and merits. For our inaugural edition, Jeremy Meckler and Matt Levine discuss Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Warning: here be spoilers! Matt: Obviously if you’re going into a Quentin […]

Smash Cuts is a continuing series in which two members of the Walker’s Film & Video department go head-to-head on a divisive film, debating its various faults and merits. For our inaugural edition, Jeremy Meckler and Matt Levine discuss Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Warning: here be spoilers!

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained. Image © The Weinstein Company.

Matt: Obviously if you’re going into a Quentin Tarantino movie, you know you’re going to get graphic hyperviolence, a rewriting of both cinematic and real-world history, and a subversion of one of the director’s favorite genres: exploitation flicks from the 1960s and ‘70s. So I wasn’t as outraged by the premise of Django Unchained — in which Jamie Foxx’s former slave teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to kill white slaveowners and racists in the Antebellum-era Deep South — as some other people were (Spike Lee most publicly), though the underlying premise is unsettling (is it possible to make a badass revenge flick while remaining sensitive to this country’s insidious racial history and its unsettling aftereffects?).

After seeing the movie, though, it really does seem like Tarantino doesn’t have the ambition or the intelligence to indulge his fanboy tendencies while simultaneously saying something insightful or original about the knotty issue of race in American history. So my dislike for the film isn’t based on moral outrage or indignation at his insensitivity, since it’s obvious that Tarantino isn’t even trying to open up a dialogue about this tempestuous issue. But that seriously weakens my respect for Tarantino as a filmmaker (which is already only middling) and makes me question my enthusiasm for Inglourious Basterds, which I thought was a clever but precarious deconstruction of the integral roles that media and storytelling play in popular conceptions of history. It’s almost like Tarantino is so postmodern that he subscribes to the empty notion of “post-race,” which assumes that we live in a world that’s transcended racial divides and in which unique racial experiences no longer have to be respected — though anyone who thinks modern America is colorblind is oblivious to incarceration rates (and how they differ between whites and blacks) and to the widening racial and economic segregation in many urban areas.

“It’s almost like Tarantino is so postmodern that he subscribes to the empty notion of ‘post-race,’ which assumes that we live in a world that’s transcended racial divides and in which unique racial experiences no longer have to be respected…”

Jeremy: For me, I was not at all interested in the debate as to whether or not Django Unchained would enhance discussion about race relations in the United States. There have been so many films whose purpose has been to illustrate the very real racial inequities inherent in the culture, and the collective memory of the nation is certainly tied to a contemporary erasure of the horrors of those race relations. But, the thing about those films is that, though critically acclaimed, most of them suck (I’m thinking most specifically of Crash here) and none of them have managed to change the institutional and personal prejudices people face daily. School segregation and economic inequality seem to be increasing, not decreasing, not to mention the startlingly high incarceration and arrest rate differences across racial lines, but no movie, be it a mainstream critical darling like Crash or a deliberately provocative Blaxploitation-inspired-western epic like Django Unchained can make a dent in those problems. So I’m just not interested in judging this film by its ability to initiate discussions about race, whatever Quentin Tarantino may have said in interviews.

But, looking at the film itself, I think it has nothing to do with accurate historical portrayal or with the current situation in our culture. Like all of Tarantino’s films, this one is about film, existing entirely within the universe set forth by the pulpy B movies, Blaxploitation pictures, and spaghetti westerns that Tarantino grew up loving. Tarantino’s films,  so often praised for their “realist” dialogue, are so far from that, existing in a space so far from the real world, and so deep into minute obsession with the formal aspects of a particular era of studio production, that imitators consistently fail to keep up. I like Tarantino precisely for this, for his obsession, his use of bricolage and homage, and the way his films talk about issues from the perspective of living inside a 70’s film.

“[Django Unchained] has nothing to do with accurate historical portrayal or with the current situation in our culture. Like all of Tarantino’s films, this one is about film, existing entirely within the universe set forth by the pulpy B movies, Blaxploitation pictures, and spaghetti westerns that Tarantino grew up loving.”

And Django Unchained is one of his best in blending its particular combinations of styles and influences. It owes much of its style to the first revisionist westerns, the ultraviolent and morally complex films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, but it incorporates aspects from all over Tarantino’s library of influences. It has a lot of Blaxploitation in it, particularly a scene in which Jamie Foxx is chained up in a shack full of southern whites that could be copied nearly shot for shot from a scene in Foxy Brown. It also has a lot of deliberate Looney Toons cartoon violence, particularly in Tarantino’s strange cameo in an outrageously bad Australian accent. But beyond its charming blend of influences, the life-blood of Tarantino’s style, this film brings in some incredibly sweet moments between Waltz and Foxx. It’s a great buddy cop picture that happens to be set in the deep south during the wild west era.

Matt: You’re right that the best part of the movie by far is the rapport between Foxx and Waltz, and you’re also right that Crash is awful. I definitely didn’t want another highfalutin message movie about racial tolerance, and I had no misconceptions that Django Unchained could or should do anything to rectify the immense racial conflicts that still exist (have always existed) in this country. That being said, Tarantino’s infatuation with revenge storylines, indebted though they are to blaxploitation and Spaghetti Westerns, is more juvenile and simplistic than it’s ever been. I’m not a big fan of Kill Bill Volume 2, but at least in that movie Bea starts to come to the realization that eye-for-an-eye vengeance might not be as unproblematically gratifying as she had assumed. With Django Unchained, on the other hand, we’re supposed to be titillated and satisfied with the graphic (though, as you mentioned, Looney Toons-esque) violence that piles up in the last hour, including at least two men that are shot in the genitals and a woman who is comically blasted out of one scene by Django’s shotgun.

“Tarantino’s infatuation with revenge storylines, indebted though they are to blaxploitation and Spaghetti Westerns, is more juvenile and simplistic than it’s ever been.”

Aside from any question of racial sensitivity, Django Unchained‘s glorification of violence reveals not only a deluded view of human behavior, but also a filmmaker who seems to be running out of tricks. (I know Django Unchained is celebrated for its originality, but seriously, what does it have that we haven’t already witnessed in at least one Tarantino film?) He borrows some stylistic traits from Peckinpah and Leone, and even some broad plot points, but their treatment of violence is wholly different: Harmonica’s vengeance in Once Upon a Time in the West is carried out with a grim sobriety, as though he has nothing left to live for so he might as well embrace hopeless violence; and Straw Dogs is all about how vengeance can chillingly turn a man into a sadistic monster. As opposed to Django Unchained, which ends with a massacre followed by Django and Broomhilda von Shaft reveling in the carnage as though they’re in post-coital bliss. The movie is indeed supposed to take place in some kind of hermetically-sealed Movieland that has nothing at all to do with reality, but it’s not that simple; movies aren’t released into a vacuum. Django Unchained, in my opinion, operates at the lowest level of postmodernism, which suggests that nothing really matters in reality any more, so we might as well embrace a wholly artificial, mediated world.

Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. Image © The Weinstein Company.

Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. Image © The Weinstein Company.

Jeremy: Here’s where we differ, I think. Tarantino’s films are definitely postmodern and supremely intertextual. You would have to be a bigger geek than I am (if you can even imagine that) to identify all of the visual and narrative references that Tarantino packs in here for his fellow geeks, fetishists, and lonely purveyors at the few remaining video stores. But just because this world is fake, doesn’t mean that nothing in reality matters. I think it’s exactly the opposite, and that his films use their own shiny exterior to talk about concepts in interesting ways. Tarantino’s garish, polished, stylized universe is one that foregrounds its own artificiality, the way that modern art started to do at the turn of the twentieth century. The film is not intended to be watched as a document of history, and since it is so phony, it can’t really be read that way, even if most of the mainstream critique of the film has come from this camp.

Yes, there are probably historical inaccuracies in the film’s setting and characters; the most commonly leveled one (by a variety of historians and critics) is that the ultra-barbaric and near-unthinkable sport of mandingo fighting never existed. But I think what’s remarkable about this film and much of Tarantino’s work, is just that it really doesn’t matter whether it is “true” in the real world. The sentiment of the characters in his phony universe shines through, and his thesis is strengthened by its unbelievability. Watching a cartoonized, glorified scene of violence and gore on the subject of slavery is a way to think about that unthinkable subject, not because of the conversations it starts about slavery here in the real world, but because that moment of comparison between the real-world horror of slavery and a juvenile revenge plot allows a space to imagine the alternative. The alternative to this film, in my mind, is to put forward something realist that brings up the same issues, and that might be an interesting proposition too, but realist work is just as fake as stylized work. They are both films, just films shot in different styles. And isn’t a willingness to display its own means of production at the heart of modernism, not post-modernism?

“Watching a cartoonized, glorified scene of violence and gore on the subject of slavery is a way to think about that unthinkable subject, not because of the conversations it starts about slavery here in the real world, but because that moment of comparison between the real-world horror of slavery and a juvenile revenge plot allows a space to imagine the alternative [treatment].”

What’s more, this film, more than any of Tarantino’s earlier work, enlarges the gap between itself and reality by injecting a-historical moments, super stylized violence, and a ragged storyline together to create a setting, which no viewer can take for historical. So I think you’re mostly right that Django Unchained is a part of Tarantino’s vague and unexplained obsession with revenge plotlines, it is in no way original or new to his work, and many of its characters are flat photocopies of characters from other Spaghetti Westerns, but that is what makes it a strong film. And though it certainly isn’t much different from some of Tarantino’s other films, largely Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, and Jackie Brown, it is as well crafted as any of them. Django Unchained certainly has its failings, and I do think Basterds and Jackie Brown are both much better movies, but it does some things remarkably well, and does it with style, beauty (in parts) and some genuine Hitchcockian suspense.

Matt: Your comparison between Tarantino’s artificiality and that of modern art in the early 20th century is a very good point, although I think their historical contexts make all the difference: the formalist art from a century ago was responding to a Romanticist tradition that was dedicated to a faithful (or at least emotionally cohesive) portrayal of reality, whereas in today’s world we’ve been inundated with mediated artifice for decades. In other words, whereas the formalism of early modern art was breaking the artistic mold, today that kind of self-reflexive artifice is commonplace (witness the majority of television comedies today, for example Family Guy, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Modern Family, Community, etc.).

In terms of the historical accuracy of Django Unchained, I’m not really concerned with specific inaccuracies and definitely don’t think the movie should be read as a document of history; but I am concerned with the movie’s indifference towards the overall trauma of slavery. I wish I could agree that the combination of cartoonish, glorified violence and highly disturbing scenes of racial brutality offers “a way to think about that unthinkable subject [and] allows a space to imagine the alternative” to this kind of artifice, but I think the common interpretation is the other way around: watching that cartoonish violence side-by-side with scenes (albeit partially offscreen) of slaves getting ripped apart by bloodthirsty guard dogs or mandingo fighters gouging out each other’s eyes and getting offed with a hammer conflates these wildly different brands of violence, as though racial hostility is just another artificial trope for filmmakers to recycle into their own deconstructionist gimmick. This was partially true of Inglorious Basterds too, but not nearly to the same extent: imagine if Tarantino had balanced his goofy revision of World War II history with actual scenes of Jews being ushered into the showers or their corpses carted off by the dozens. He seems to have been aware that his kind of self-reflexive artifice comes off as heartless when paired with actual historical atrocity, so why is he comfortable including similar-minded scenes in Django Unchained? And while you’re right that a film about slavery in a more realist vein would be just as heavily mediated as Django Unchained, its effect on the audience would not be one of escapism and mollification, but (perhaps) an effect of introspection and unease. Django Unchained is certainly well-made, stylish, and visually beautiful—but in this case I don’t think that’s enough.

“Imagine if Tarantino [in Inglourious Basterds] had balanced his goofy revision of World War II history with actual scenes of Jews being ushered into the showers or their corpses carted off by the dozens. He seems to have been aware that his kind of self-reflexive artifice comes off as heartless when paired with actual historical atrocity, so why is he comfortable including similar-minded scenes in Django Unchained?”

Jeremy: Maybe you’re right, and I’m just a sucker for style. I love the tight, visually beautiful, and heavily stylized moments in this film just like I love the spaghetti westerns that they pay homage to. But, I don’t think you’re right to say that this film reacts with indifference toward the trauma of slavery. Take a look, for instance, at the film’s most charismatic character, Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Shultz. This is a character so disgusted by American slavery that he literally throws his life away only to kill a despised slave owner, and edify his sense of pure horror when faced with the reality of slavery. This moment actually makes little narrative sense, and feels relatively disjunctive in an otherwise tightly plotted enterprise, but I think it shows the film’s core, which is a strong refusal to accept this evil practice.

Perhaps there are indeed things and images too sacred, too intrinsically awful and unthinkable to be portrayed in Tarantino’s admittedly sloshy style, and if there are, then slavery may indeed be one of them. But I think criticizing this film for being revisionist or for being stylized is not dealing with it on its own terms. Certainly this film is unseemly, and probably in poor taste, but its vulgarity comes from the same place as Shultz’s misplaced sacrifice, a complete disgust and rejection of the ideas behind slavery. The film hates the institution of slavery so much that it finds it necessary to show some gruesome images of its horrors, and some disgusting rhetoric, particularly Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s speech about the phrenological justifications for slavery. What you see as a trivialization of slavery seems to me to be a sign of respect to its massive and terrible influence. It is exactly to avoid producing a mollifying or escapist film that those vile images and ideas are necessary. Absolutely those scenes are incredibly distasteful, but that’s their intent. I have a hard time believing that anyone walked out of that theater the same way they would have walked out of a real escapist film, like Avatar, or that anyone really thought that they walked into another moment in history. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say that that’s what all the style and gauche camerawork is for, to make sure that people cannot take this revisionist tale for reality. And the truth that lives outside the film, unseen (like much of that gruesome scene with the dogs) and implied through the narrative, is more terrible. This film reclaims history, rather than portraying it, but by doing so does that somehow negate history’s influence? I don’t think so.

“I think criticizing this film for being revisionist or for being stylized is not dealing with it on its own terms. Certainly this film is unseemly, and probably in poor taste, but its vulgarity comes from the same place as Shultz’s misplaced sacrifice, a complete disgust and rejection of the ideas behind slavery.”

Certainly this film is closer to Blazing Saddles than it is to Lincoln, but through its stylized parody, it gets at something a bit deeper, while remaining beautiful, very funny at times, stylish, and entertaining for those who can hold their screen gore.

Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund Secures Funding

The Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund (WCF), an international production and distribution fund, announced on Monday that it has secured funding through 2018. Established in 2004, the fund supports projects by filmmakers hailing from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central and South East Asia. Initiated by the Berlinale and the German Federal […]

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The Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund (WCF), an international production and distribution fund, announced on Monday that it has secured funding through 2018. Established in 2004, the fund supports projects by filmmakers hailing from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central and South East Asia. Initiated by the Berlinale and the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the WCF receives funding and support from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Goethe Institute, and the Federal Foreign Office. The WCF finances feature-length narrative and documentary films from regions “with non-existent or inadequately functioning production structures.” Filmmakers from the eligible regions submit applications and if awarded funding, collaborate with a German production and/or distribution partner.

Several films produced by the WCF have screened at the Walker, including Silent Night in 2008 with director Carlos Reygadas in attendance, as well as Paradise Now in 2005 with an introduction by director Hany Abu-Assad. Most recently, the Walker screened the WCF-financed and globally-acclaimed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who created Cactus River, a short video for the Walker Channel last year. Thus far, every film supported by the WFC has screened in cinemas and international film festivals in many different countries. In 2012, seven WCF projects premiered at international film festivals, and two were selected as their nation’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards.

The most recent batch of productions to receive financing from the WCF includes Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere by Diep Nguyen Hoang (Vietnam), Historia del Miedo by Benjamin Naishtat (Argentina), Remote Control by Byamba Sakhya (Mongolia), and South Facing Wall, by Elvent Kutlug Ataman (Turkey). The projects were selected from 95 submissions from 37 countries, and a total of 140,000 € was distributed among them. The selection jury consisted of film scholar and curator Viola Shafik (Germany/Egypt), documentary film producer Marta Andreu (Spain), distributor and producer Jan De Clercq (Belgium) and WFC administrators Sonja Heinen and Vincenzo Bugno. Since its establishment, the WCF has supported 106 films.

8-Ball: Luther Price

Luther Price brings his gorgeous and tactile images to the Walker for a month-long program of his slides in the Lecture Room as well as a presentation of his 16mm and slide work on Friday night where he will be questions from the audience in a post-screening Q&A. Called “Brakhage after punk,” Price buries, burns, paints, dyes, […]

Luther Price brings his gorgeous and tactile images to the Walker for a month-long program of his slides in the Lecture Room as well as a presentation of his 16mm and slide work on Friday night where he will be questions from the audience in a post-screening Q&A. Called “Brakhage after punk,” Price buries, burns, paints, dyes, scatches, stains and gives much love to his slides and films that are as ephemeral as they are beautifully ageless. Price took a moment away from his studio work to answer questions that shed some light on the man behind the art.

Luther Price, Untitled #9, 2012 Courtesy Luther Price and Callicoon Fine Arts, NY

Luther Price, Untitled #9, 2012
Courtesy Luther Price and Callicoon Fine Arts, NY

What was the first concert you went to?

………QUEEN…….BOSTON GARDEN  1975….I WAS 13………..

What is your favorite candy?

……..I LIKE SALTY AND SWEET…….PAY DAY OR IS IT PLAY DAY….CANDY BAR………….

What is your spirit animal?

……………CAT……….WE GET ALONG………..THEY KNOW AND I KNOW ………….WE JUST KEEP IT THAT WAY……….

What global issue most excites or angers you?

………WELL THATS KIND OF TWO QUESTIONS………….’EXCITES’……….WE NEED HOPE……..REBIRTH………….WE ALL HAVE BEEN KILLING AND FUCKING EACH OTHER ………OVER AND OVER AND OVER……………BUT I THINK ,…..AS THE WORLD IS GETTING SMALLER WE REALIZE …………….WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING …………….WE CAN BE BETTER……………..CLEAN UP THIS MESS………….ON EARTH…………BUT I THINK , MORE THAN EVER ,….WE ARE READY TO TAKE STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION…………..ANGER…………YES………BUT WHAT GOOD IS IT………………SADNESS ….SORROW …………………WE ALL THAT THERE IS WAR AND STARVATION ………………….THAT OUR TIME MAY BE RUNNING OUT……………….BUT WE KEEP FUCKING AND KILLING ….KILLING AND FUCKING ………………PERHAPS WE ARE NOT CUT OUT TO BE THE GATE KEEPERS AFTER ALL……….

What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

……………PATIENCE……………….

If you could pose one question to every person on earth, what would it be?

…………..LETS START OVER……………..

What is your advice for young people today?

……………MAKE IT BETTER………..DON’T BE A TAKER…….BE A GIVER…………….

Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

………………DAVID BOWIE…………….WE PROBABLY WOULD’NT EVAN TALK…………….JUST COUNTING SECONDS…………………

Who’s your favorite superhero?

…………..AQUA MAN…….I HAD A CRUSH ON HIM …………….HE WAS PRITTY HOT………………..

What is your least favorite sound?

………………..A BABY CRYING……………….

Luther Price’s program is on Friday, February 1 at 7:30 pm in the Walker’s Lecture Room. Bring the quiet babies.

8-Ball: Bill Morrison

Bill Morrison, experimental film director and miner of archival moving images, arrives Thursday for a three day, nine film program in the Walker Cinema as part of this year’s Expanding the Frame. Bill will be on hand at all screenings to discuss his work, but he was kind enough to answer a few questions that inquire just a […]

Bill Morrison, experimental film director and miner of archival moving images, arrives Thursday for a three day, nine film program in the Walker Cinema as part of this year’s Expanding the Frame. Bill will be on hand at all screenings to discuss his work, but he was kind enough to answer a few questions that inquire just a little bit beyond his professional life.

Bill Morrison

Describe a recent dream?

I realize this may sound like a fake dream, but I recently dreamt that I was standing amongst The Beatles as they were performing (which was awesome) but that they were all dwarves, or Little People (which was kind of weird). I think it was the only time I have ever dreamt about either the Beatles or Little People. It reminded me of that brilliant scene in Living in Oblivion where Peter Dinklage tells Steve Buscemi that the only place he’s ever seen a dwarf in a dream “is in stupid movies like this!” Now I’m remembering that the Beatles were briefly portrayed as dwarves in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, which also could have been a dream sequence. OK, next question.

What is your favorite place in the world?

A small cottage in Riverhead, NY, overlooking the Long Island Sound.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?

Oh a person, definitely.

What is your favorite comfort food?

Right now it’s Matzos Ball Soup.

What have you been listening to lately?

Today it was Wayne Shorter, Adam’s Apple. I never grow tired of that record.

Last month I listened to Brian Eno’s latest release, Lux, continuously for three days straight while recovering from surgery and deep in the throes of morphine. It held up.

What was the last film you saw?

I watched a few hours of Christian Marclay’s The Clock at MoMA – one of the great masterpieces of our time. An almost unbelievable achievement.

What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

I don’t know if this qualifies as a Minneapolis memory, but when I was 19 I started biking from Minneapolis to Chicago.  I got across the Mississippi, but then I found I had to start pedaling uphill for many miles. A pickup truck came along and gave me ride up out of the valley. Then I rode until it got dark and I found a bar to drink beer and eat burgers and watch basketball. Around closing time I asked if it would be OK if I crashed there and they gave me a room upstairs.

If you could travel back in time to any place, where and when would it be?

I would like to see America in the 15th century, before any Europeans arrived.

Black Elk spoke about the time when the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds ran together, which always struck me as a beautiful description of an entirely different way of relating to the world. If I had to choose a spot, I would start with the island of Manhattan.

Check out all of Bill Morrison’s film at the Walker: Short Works, Short Films and a Conversation, The Miners’ Hymns, Decasia: The State of Decay, and his newest The Great Flood.

Still Dots: Top Ten

Still Dots, our year-long plunge into Carol Reed’s The Third Man is over, with an upcoming free screening of the film on 35mm serving as a cap on the thirteen months we have spent thinking about this film. While writing a long form article to sum up our experience working on the project, we couldn’t help […]

Still Dots, our year-long plunge into Carol Reed’s The Third Man is over, with an upcoming free screening of the film on 35mm serving as a cap on the thirteen months we have spent thinking about this film. While writing a long form article to sum up our experience working on the project, we couldn’t help but think back on our favorite posts from the last year. And, as many of you may be trying to catch up on Still Dots before the screening (so that you’ll be able to figure out what the heck we’re talking about) we decided to share our favorites. Here we present our top ten posts out of the hundred and two we wrote. Out of a sense of fairness and midwestern modesty, we’ve each picked our five favorite posts written by the other, as well as a few essentials we couldn’t live without.

 

Matt’s Top Picks:

Personally, my favorite posts of my own are the ones which allow fleeting, unexpected insight into characters (for example, Still Dots #38, in which we can imagine Baron Kurtz as a lover of violin music, blissfully serenading Vienna’s hoity-toity elites); which bring in other cinematic examples that I previously would have thought had no connection whatsoever to The Third Man (#54, in which the structural patterns of experimental, avant-garde filmmaking come into play); or which forced me to deal with the overarching themes and worldviews with which The Third Man is concerned (#102, which parallels Holly’s unhappy ending with the postwar plight that the city of Vienna is likewise undergoing). But I’m most partial to Still Dots #64, a still image which succinctly represents what Richard Misek would call The Third Man’s “wrong geometries”—a skewed envisioning of Vienna which correlates to the film’s postwar malaise and ambivalent moral outlook. I loved bringing in other examples from visual arts which help exemplify the distinctly distorted aesthetic of the film, but the main reason I look back fondly on #64 is because it allowed me to make a diversion that empathizes with Anna Schmidt’s character. I love Anna: she may be the film’s most courageous and emotionally genuine character, despite (or because of) her undying allegiance to a bona fide murderer and racketeer. Departing from our usual template, I indulged myself by including a still of Anna in between our 62-second intervals, and wrote a hypothetical account from Holly’s perspective of his love for Anna. Such an indulgence broke our own rules, but also allowed me to temporarily inhabit the characters of both Anna and Holly—and isn’t the ability to float in and out of other characters’ mindstates one of the metaphysical luxuries that cinema offers us?

Still Dots was also fascinating because it allowed me to see how Jeremy’s writing and opinions differed from my own. I always looked forward to reading his analyses, his intellectual dexterity and his clear, swift prose, yet if pressed I could narrow it down to five essential, must-read posts:

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Second #4836, 80:36, Image © Studio Canal

5) #79: Arriving smack-dab in the middle of my favorite scene in the movie (Holly and Harry’s lengthy, complex, philosophical discussion on the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel), Jeremy’s post juggles James Joyce and Nietzsche (full disclosure: most of my discussions of Nietzsche were based on Jeremy’s previous citations of him) while emphasizing the underlying yet decisive influence of the two men’s Catholic upbringing on their modern behavior. #79 also represents one of the few times that Jeremy and I disagreed about characters’ emotions and motivations (Jeremy has a slightly rosier interpretation of Harry Lime than I do), in illuminating, highly revealing ways.

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Second #2604, 43:24, Image © Studio Canal

4) #43: The image here is a cross-dissolve between Harry’s porter (who is about to be killed thanks to Holly’s carelessly loose lips) and Anna Schmidt. I absolutely adore dissolves (no other image could possibly be more cinematic; even a still image of a dissolve suggests the movement of the film projector), and Jeremy connects the history of this cinematic syntagm to one of my favorite directors, Fritz Lang. Even better, Jeremy raises the tantalizing possibility that something scandalous is hidden within Anna’s bedposts – though if this is the case, we’ll never know which shocking discoveries remain inside.

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Second #3224, 53:44, Image © Studio Canal

3) #53: One of the most exciting action scenes in all of The Third Man – a chase between Holly and two of Popescu’s goons – is illustrated by Jeremy through a series of stills from various, seemingly unrelated films (The Matrix, High Noon, Vertigo, Casino Royale, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane). In doing so, Jeremy points out the substantial, ontological difference between the still image and the mobile one – a distinction which essentially forms the visual basis of cinema. In Jeremy’s words, “the illusion of cinema itself is the deception that lives between the film frames, that conceptual jump that transforms a series of still images into a living and moving shot, and that magic lives in the formless darkness that flashes itself between the frames.”

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Second #2976, 49:36, Image © Studio Canal

2) #49: The man who appears in Still Dots #49 will be onscreen for less than a minute, yet Jeremy nonetheless offers a convincing hypothesis that this taxi driver is in fact a cyborg. In doing so, he also raises the unsettling proposition (via Donna Haraway) that all of humanity is now cyborgized in postmodern technologization – a monstrous hybrid of man and machine. Where else, outside of Still Dots, would The Third Man raise the possibility of mass mechanization replacing humanity?

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Second #3720, 62:00, Image © Studio Canal

1) Speaking of the numerous eclectic strands that can be strung to The Third Man via a project like Still Dots, there’s no better example than #61, in which Jeremy cohesively incorporates in-depth formal analysis, the work of film scholar Richard Misek, 2D vs. 3D, the perspectival techniques of Renaissance artists such as Diego Velazquez, the novels of Orhan Pamuk, Copernicus, Galileo, Baruch Spinoza, and Einstein’s theories of general relativity and “Einstein’s Cross.” Our original intention with Still Dots was to explode the possibilities of film analysis through semi-arbitrary, microscopic constraints, which we hoped would lead down unforeseen avenues of exploration; nowhere is this better achieved than in this post.

Jeremy’s Top Picks:

As far as individual posts are concerned, certainly some shine through as stronger than others. I was particularly proud of the posts in which I managed to integrate disparate topics: Art History, Theoretical Physics, Philosophy/Theory, Literature and those posts which allow us a brief view of a character in a different light. I also, in retrospect, like the posts in which I went a little further off the deep end, so to speak–mostly the result of being unable to think of what to write about aside from a wild tangent. These are admittedly hit or miss, but a few of them rank amongst my favorites.

Among the posts I wrote, I am most proud of #61, which Matt wrote so glowingly about above, a post that manages to straddle countless disciplines without feeling too stretched (I hope). #77 is my most emotional post, and also the one in which we explain our project’s esoteric title. If this is to be a readers’ guide to those trying to catch up on the project, then I would also recommend #5, where Freud entered our co-analytic brain, and #18 where Marx came into the mix. I also prize those wild flights of fancy, #15, #31, #49, and most of all #85, where I trace the history of film all the way back to a bet made by a railroad tycoon and Ivy-league benefactor.

Matt’s posts tended to be well researched and tightly focused, with some marvelously deep analyses of cinematic tropes, historical contexts, and production history, demonstrating a tremendous force and knowledge about the film. His analysis and mine ended up complimenting each other perfectly, with his factual knowledge, graceful writing style and stylistic clarity the perfect balance to my slightly more chaotic blend of ideas. Building off of his analyses mine became stronger and more focused. I love some of his later posts, his last two #100 and the final, #102 are an amazing blend of formal and structuralist analysis, emotional potency, and devoted attention to the history of The Third Man itself (#100 goes so far as to quote the Greene novella on which the screenplay is based). I remember the first of Matt’s posts to really blow me away was #14, which largely consisted of a history of dogs in cinema. At that point, I knew that our project was growing into something good. Beyond that, as it is that time of year, I will offer my top 5 posts by Matt:

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Second #4030, 67:10, Image © Studio Canal

5) #66: this one its own flight of fancy. Beginning with the deliberately false assumption that The Third Man can be read as a horror film, Matt dances his way through the genre and makes a sharp compositional comparison between the sewer entrance Harry escapes into and the terrifying monolith that dominates Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The included clip, from Dario Argento’s Suspira, chills me to this day.

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Second #4154, 69:14, Image © Studio Canal

4) #68: This one manages to straddle several worlds, drawing together social science, The X-Files, Dostoyevsky, The Aquateen Hunger Force, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man into an argument that is not only (remarkably) coherent and focused, but important as well, about our relationship with corpses. It was also praised as an “eye opener” on Indiewire.

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Second #2914, 48:34, Image © Studio Canal

3) #48: I love this post. I can’t tell you exactly why, but each connection, comment and insertion seems perfectly structured, chosen and curated and I cannot read it without watching the entire clip included, from Nicolas Roeg’s eerily beautiful film, Don’t Look Now.

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Second #4898, 81:38, Image © Studio Canal

2) #80: I love this post for the same reason that Matt loves my post (#79). It is one of the few places in our analysis where we disagree. The rich and close contextualization of a shot, one of the film’s only extreme clos-ups, can completely transform the tenor of this important scene, and Matt’s analysis adds different paths of comprehension, further enriching the scene. Plus, this post is full and complex, with inclusions of Dadaists, Borgias, and even Nietzsche.

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Second #3410, 56:50, Image © Studio Canal

1) #56: Matt takes this opportunity, the moment that Holly realizes the evils that his friend Harry has done, to elucidate the evils of capitalism and war. In one stroke he divines Holly’s wavering trust in memory and friendship and the myriad problems with the military industrial complex. At once focused on these characters, The Third Man, war in cinema, and the real-world atrocities of war, this post hits hard and ties everything cohesively together in a way that makes me happy to be involved in this project.

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