Friday, May 04, 2007

Old Joy on DVD

Go figure... one of the best-received films of the last film festival, Old Joy, starring Will Oldham, who sold out three shows in a row when last he played Vancouver, has just been released on DVD, and very few of our stores have had the wit to stock it. I dropped by HMV last Monday night at midnight, just as they were putting out the new stock (it was released on May 1st): they'd never heard of it, though were busily emptying cases of Jodorowsky. A&B Sound and Future Shop - forget about it. Scratch say they'll be getting a copy any day. So far the only place that I've found selling it in the city is Videomatica. Maybe the rental stores are faring better?
This is a really beautiful, quiet film - lots of meditative silences and lovely photography, but also a very moving, if subtle, story of friendship, alienation, and life in contemporary America; it follows two friends and their dog (actually the filmmaker's dog, Lucy) on a camping trip to Bagby Hot Springs. The less said before you see the film the better; it's not that it offers up any particular narrative surprises, but simply deserves to be experienced with as a few preconceptions as possible.
By odd coincidence, just as Old Joy was my favourite film of 2006, Police Beat (due in July on DVD!) was my favourite film of 2005. Both films imagine the mountains, forests and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest - Old Joy more explicitly, though the working title for Police Beat was, in fact, Cascadia... It DOES comfort me to see forests that remind me of the forests I've explored in BC, to see landscapes that speak of home; even the grubby little suburbs of Portland at the beginning of Old Joy are pretty much exactly like the town I grew up in, Maple Ridge (where I'm currently blogging from, visiting my parents).
One warning to anyone considering buying the DVD, though: the commentary track is very, very odd, since it's punctuated by very long silences. It's impossible to tell if the people involved - director Kelly Reichardt, her cinematographer Peter Sillen, and filmmaker Michael Almereyda, who has nothing to do with Old Joy and says at the outset that he doesn't know why he's been asked to moderate -- are uncomfortable with each other, said things that got edited out at a later date, or, most likely, are just moved by the meditative qualities of the film to watch it in silence, perhaps also helping them cope with social awkwardness... It's pretty weird, though. There are six or seven minute stretches where the film simply plays and you wait, wondering if and when anyone is going to speak again, and if they're going to say anything more interesting that "it rained while we were shooting this scene" before lapsing into another long silence. It would have probably been better to just turn the film over to one person - Reichardt - and let her say what she wanted to... She DOES have interesting things to say when she speaks. Maybe she just doesn't really believe in the whole idea of commentary, though? It's not actually necessary.
I like that she sought out a story that she could write her dog into, in any event. Dog lovers would like this film.

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