Archive for the ‘Subversive Cinema’ Category

Subversive Cinema: Tops of 2007

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Here are my personal favorites from 2007. I’m only including films I saw screened on film (and of course I couldn’t see everything).

So here we go (in no particular order):

No Country For Old Men, Cohen Brothers – I mean, you just can’t go wrong with the Cohen brothers…

I’m Not There, Todd Haynes / Control, Anton Corbijn – “I’m Not There” was a radical departure from the banality of the biopic genre. After seeing it, I can’t imagine a Bob Dylan biopic done any other way. “Control” was a great looking (in B&W with tints) film about Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Anton Corbijn has made some great music videos (including my favorite, Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box), so I was glad to see him move into the world of the cinema.

Superbad, Greg Mottola / Knocked-Up, Judd Apatow – Finally Judd Apatow is getting the respect he deserves. He teamed up with Seth Rogen for both of these and we got the best comedies of the year. Looking forward to more Apatow efforts…

Flanders, Bruno Dumont – Technically this film came out in 2006 (it won the Grand Prix at Cannes) but it didn’t reach me in the theater until this year. This film deals with the horrors of modern middle eastern warfare better than any film I’ve seen [besides Battle of Algiers (1966)].

Into Great Silence, Phillip Groning – This film also came out some time ago but didn’t get a small theatrical release until this year. It is an experience. Sitting in a cold, quiet, darkened theatre for 162 minutes puts you near the carthusian monks the film documents.

Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett – Well this film is actually from 1978, but we finally saw it released theatrically this year. A classic.

Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal – This film showcases the power of Edward Burtynsky’s photography. Stunningly beautiful portraits of disturbingly huge Asian industrial structures. The 10 minute tracking shot of an factory floor is perhaps one of my favorite movie openings.

New Maps of the New World: The Short Films of Roger Beebe, Roger Beebe – This was my favorite experimental showcase of the year. His Fall tour gave me some hope for the touring experimental filmmaker.

The Bothersome Man, Jens Lien – This film is basically “Groundhog’s Day” for the 2000s. A great subversive look at modern corporate culture.

In The Shadow of the Moon, David Sington – This was a documentary about NASA missions to the moon with interviews with the astronauts who went there. Being a simple look at this remarkable feat, I’m surprised no one had attempted to document this before.

Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez – It seems everyone was “too cool” to put this on their lists. I preferred Rodriguez’s to Tarantino’s. I enjoyed the idea of bringing the double feature grindhouse experience to the theaters again. I’m also sad that it will never be released that way again (the DVDs are the seperate full length cuts of the movies). And while it wasn’t the strongest film of the year, I had more intense film debates about this movie than any other this year. Everyone seems to have their own opinion…

Transformers, Michael Bay – Actually the worst film I saw this year. Buried not so deeply within, it wraps all the current excesses of America into one two and a half hour Michael Bay epic.

On to 2008….


Subversive Cinema: Jim Henson’s Time Piece

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

Maybe it’s not that surprising that Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) was an accomplished experimental animator and film maker.

In addition to forever changing the worlds of puppetry and children’s television, he frequently made experimental shorts on the side. These included an experimental television piece titled The Cube.

However, his masterpiece in the experimental arena is undoubtedly 1965’s Time Piece. The 9 minute film debuted at the Museum of Modern Art and had a short arthouse/festival run. In 1967 the film was nominated for an Academy Award in “Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects”. Recently the film has been preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

“Dislocation in time, time signatures, time as a philosophical concept, and slavery to time are some of the themes touched upon in this nine-minute, experimental film”

I think this brilliant film proves once and for all that Jim Henson truly was a visionary.


Subversive Cinema: Todd Haynes’ "Superstar"

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

I’m Not There (out now!) wasn’t director Todd Haynes’ first biopic. In 1987, he created a short 43 minute Karen Carpenter biopic using Barbie dolls.

The film has become a piece of “illegal art” unable to be properly released because of current zealous copyright laws.

Stay Free! magazine’s illegal art exhibit explains it:
With Barbie dolls as the principal actors, Superstar portrays the life of Karen Carpenter and her battle with anorexia. Haynes never secured the rights to the Carpenters’ music he used in the movie, and Richard Carpenter filed an injunction that kept Superstar from public release. Even without Carpenter’s court order, the film would probably have been stopped by the notoriously litigious Mattel, the makers of Barbie.”

While most film prints were immediately recalled and destroyed, the Museum of Modern Art film archive holds a copy (although they’ve agreed to never show it).

Thanks to Stay Free! Magazine and other underground enthusiasts, you can download/view the entire film online. If you want your own DVD(-R) copy Stay Free! would also like to sell you one.

Streaming Google Video

Download at Stay Free! illegal art exhibit


Subversive Cinema: Len Lye Tourist Commercial

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

Len Lye edited together “swing” versions of the popular Lambeth Walk (including Django Reinhardt on guitar and Stephane Grapelli on violin), combining them with a particularly diverse range of direct film images, scratched as well as painted. He was particularly pleased with a final guitar solo (with a vibrating horizontal line) and double bass solo (with a stomping vertical line). For this film Lye did not have to include any advertising slogans; friends at the Tourist and Industrial Development Association, shocked to learn that Lye and his family had become destitute, arranged for TIDA to sponsor the film – to the horror of government bureaucrats who could not understand why a popular dance was being treated as a tourist attraction.”

I can’t imagine seeing this in a theater in 1939 (much less as a commercial)!


Subversive Cinema: Killer of Sheep

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

In 1977 Charles Burnett completed his UCLA Masters Thesis Killer of Sheep. He filmed the movie basically by himself on weekends in 1972 and 1973.

The film is undoubtedly a classic of American cinema. It was one of the 50 first films to enter the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry (along side such films as Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Vertigo, and Citizen Kane) where it will be preserved for future generations.

Burnett was able to make this masterpiece completely outside any big budget corporate Hollywood studio for a price of only $10,000 (which is an amazingly small budget for any movie – let alone an outstanding one).

The film captures urban African-American culture in 1970’s Los Angeles. It tells the story of Stan, a slaughter house worker, and his family in loosely connected episodes. Often times the camera just observes the actions of everyday life in this community. Burnett used non-professional actors and filmed completely on location. These low budget, but arguably better and more realistic techniques, recollect the radical style of post-war Italian cinema (Italian Neo-Realism). To celebrate the history of African-American music Burnett created a soundtrack that songs from all eras.

But it was this soundtrack that made the film literally “the best film you’ve never seen”. Burnett was unable to secure proper licensing for the soundtrack, so the film, while critically acclaimed, had no official theatrical release until 30 years after it was completed.

Thankfully, director Steven Soderbergh put down the $150,000 needed to license the soundtrack (except for one song). After a nice preservation job at the UCLA Film Archive (blowing the original 16mm print up to a theater friendly 35mm one), the film was finally given a proper (although limited) theatrical release earlier this year. [The film played at the Tivoli for less than a week this summer].

So where does this leave us? Well, this month a nice DVD boxset of some of Charles Burnett’s early films is being released. This is the first official home video release of the film (and it isn’t bootleg quality…).

OK, great. What else? Well, if you missed the short run of the film this summer at Tivoli, Webster Film Series (really the only place worth seeing films in St. Louis) will be showing the film this January on the 17 through the 19. And don’t make me remind you that seeing the actual film is always better than DVD…

AND… to top that, Charles Burnett himself will be doing a free workshop on Saturday January 19th. You must RSVP to that event so visit the Webster Film Series site for information. I’ll even be in town (from NY) attending that event, so see you there.

It should also be noted that Burnett is only one of a few filmmakers who has received the highly prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (“genius grant”).