Sunday, July 05, 2009

Upcoming Vancouver Arthouse Fare

Since the film festival doesn't start for a few months, I thought I'd mention a few film screenings that excite me, and a few that don't, and a few films I really would have liked to have seen on someone's program this summer.

I'm not very excited about the big-name highbrow crowd pleasers at the Cinematheque, frankly. Rashomon screened here just a few years ago, as I recall, as part of the Cinema Salon series at the Vancity Theatre, and is the sort of film that I feel little desire to ever go back to - a rather didactic elaboration of a straightforward parable that owes a great deal to John Ford and Ingmar Bergman, visually, it has never excited me much, and the last time I tried to watch it, I couldn't make it through. (How wrong am I, folks? It's been years since I saw it to completion). There are at least ten Kurosawas I prefer and would rather see, if forced to choose: Ikiru, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Red Beard, The Seven Samurai, No Regrets For Our Youth, I Live in Fear, High and Low, and especially The Bad Sleep Well or Throne Of Blood (the first a Japanese noir that takes a big bite out of J-corporate corruption and the latter being a noirish adaptation of Macbeth) would all have more of a chance of getting me to leave my futon for a film. There are a few titles that fall below Rashomon, too - including the also over-simple Stray Dog and Kurosawa's bigger budget later work after he became an international arthouse favourite, which bloats in a way similar to the way Bergman's cinema bloated, under similar circumstances - but I'd be much more inclined to see some of the Kibatsu Cinema series than anything by Kurosawa at the moment. Kamome Diner is, I gather, a must-see.

Similarly to Rashomon, The Rules Of The Game is a huge critical favourite that has never meant much to me - I attempted to engage with it twice as a younger man, and valued the experience so little that I have not ventured to see if age and maturity have transformed it. Ozu, whose Tokyo Story also plays, is someone I've grappled with a bit more willingly than Renoir, to the extent of watching Floating Weeds and Late Spring; though he is often taken as an artist mourning the passing of Japanese "traditional" culture - and thus a very conservative filmmaker - I've encountered an interesting article online that attempts to "queer" his canon, which has provoked me to want to revisit his work (or "try again," if you prefer). Now, however, is not the time: his cinema's slow, gentle qualities in theory should appeal to me, given my love of quiet cinema of late... but I'd really rather Seijun Suzuki, at the moment, if I were going to go Japanese.
There is better stuff a bit further ahead at the Cinematheque. Roman Polanski's The Tenant is a slightly sick film that I haven't seen in years. I remember loving the film - a paranoid black comedy about a man (Polanski) who believes himself persecuted by his neighbours - as a teenager; I often think I should see it again, and if I like it enough, I'll also revisit Repulsion. Revanche, too - a contemporary Euro-noir - also sounds great. (While people have said - Joe Dante, for example - that horror flourishes as a genre in troubled times, I'm not sure anyone has made the same observation of noir. It's so, I think). Re: Easy Rider, my favourite of the Corman 60's-youthsploitation movies was in fact the Jack Nicholson-penned The Trip, and I'd really rather look at Hopper's Last Movie (or Jack Nicholson's Drive, She Said or Fonda's The Hired Hand, neither of which have I seen) than Easy Rider, which is one of those films that seems terminally damaged by an act of criticism (Paul Schrader's nasty piece on it). But I have been considering seeing it again for quite awhile, and it's certainly great summer programming; at the very least, I know I'll enjoy watching the sequence that employs the Holy Modal Rounders' "If You Want To Be a Bird," both the songwriter (Antonia Stampfel) and main singer (Peter Stampfel) of which I have interviewed...

Dr. Strangelove, too, is a well-timed reissue, and I may bring a Russian friend or two to see it, but the truth is, I looked in on it just a couple of years ago and am not very hungry for the experience. Another great dark film for troubled times, but also very funny. I'd rather they were running Kubrick's The Killing as part of their noir series, tho'.

...which dominates much of August, of course, and I'm excited that there are many films in the series I haven't seen, plus one utter masterpiece of cinematic self-torture that I have seen, Nick Ray's very sad but powerful In A Lonely Place. It's a must-see, folks - trust me (tho' it does veer towards self-pity, it's more like Ray is burning a cigar into his flesh to punish himself for his failings in this film, which focuses on a nearly-unemployed screenwriter whose bitterness at humankind threatens to get the better of him). I would, on the other hand, suggest skipping Kiss Me Deadly, which seemed bafflingly plotted and not very satisfying: if you want a baffling plot that's attached to a movie that's kind of fun and always watchable, check out The Big Sleep.

And tho' the Polanski and noir screenings suggest that the Cinematheque is moving in the right direction by me, if I were to make a request for both the Cinematheque and the Vancity, it would be: darker. Sicker. Seriously: if you want to fill theatres, play more horror films, more noir, more despair, more violent catharsis, more antisocial sentiment. The times demand it. You want younger folks to come out, in the age of DVD and downloading: play Battle Royale, as part of a Fukasaku retrospective, maybe in a double bill with Peter Watkins' Punishment Park; or do a thorough retrospective of the films of Tsukamoto Shinya (not neglecting Shimizu's Marebito, by the way, a very creepy and vaguely Lovecraftian horror film in which he merely acts). These are the sorts of films that hungry, growing film geeks are craving right now, I suspect, as my packed house at my past screening of Battle Royale at Blim attests. Another Japanese film that I bet would fill the house: get up the jam to play Kichiku Dai Enkai, perhaps in a double bill with Wakamatsu's United Red Army film... I mean, tell me that isn't a great fucking idea for a double bill? (You have seen Kichiku Dai Enkai, right?).
Or: play an Alex Cox retrospective (why did no one project Straight To Hell when Joe Strummer died? It's truly wonderful as cinema - a gleefully idiotic, delirously inventive, thoroughly postmodern gem long mistaken for a complete and utter mess; and it would be a natural double-bill with Mystery Train). There are several of Cox's recent films that nearly no-one has seen, and he'd probably be even willing to travel with them; Criterion's reissue of Walker makes the idea a natural.

I realize that I won't be able to convince you to bring in a lot more exploitation horror films of the 1970's, say, and in some cases, it's just as well; I'd rather watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at home, to be honest, than to experience it with the sort of audience it'd bring out. Nonetheless, the Canadian film Rituals really deserves another run, since y'all have found a decent and COMPLETE, if slightly pink, print. It could be productively double-billed with the fascinating, disturbing Clearcut, which is one of the most interesting major shot-in-Canada, well-received, relatively high-profile recent films not to have been released officially on DVD (tho' what seems a bootleg DVD of the badly cropped/stretched VHS pops up on eBay now and then). Graham Greene plays a Native Activist on a rampage, who abducts and tortures a lumber exec whose mill is encroaching on tribal land. The only (quasi-?) horror film I know about the consequences of direct action gone awry, it brilliantly takes things to a meta-level with references to the slasher genre, treating Greene as an archetypal figure of frustrated rage unleashed. I knew Native people who really, really didn't like this film - preferring to see a friendlier face put on Native activism - but I think for smart folks, used to decoding cinema, this film is a fucking must-see. (Do I need to mention that it's very, very relevant to the Olympics?). I don't expect you will dig out a Rituals/ Clearcut double bill, any more than I expect to be watching Kichiku Dai Enkai on the screen, but you surely realize I'm onto something. Certainly I know a few people I could convince to come out to such films...

And I mean, has anyone ever even discussed a George A. Romero retrospective? Every summer, hundreds of Vancouverites are dressing like zombies and staggering around downtown, but no one is playing the complete "dead" series, I guess because you don't want to pander to youth or alienate the boomers. But you know what, you WOULD get a decent boomer turnout for Martin, I swear. Or The Crazies, or Season Of The Witch...

Oh, um, and speaking of great cult films that hipper boomers might go for, can I mention that there needs to be a David Carradine double bill of Death Race 2000 and Circle of Iron, really soon, and maybe a double bill of Rabid and - you know you want to, folks - Behind The Green Door? I mean, surely there are arthouses in North America that dropped everything to insert David Carradine and Marilyn Chambers films into their programming after their deaths; why not in Vancouver? This is the sort of move the Tarantino Generation would ratify, and frankly, I'm all for it.

And man, you want me to actually get into fundraising for a project? I would lay some of my own money down to bring Carol J. Clover up - if she's willing - to speak about urban/rural horror and rape revenge films, and play Ms. 45, Deliverance, I Spit On Your Grave, Pumpkinhead, Texas Chainsaw I and II, and whatever else she'd have in the program... Rituals would be right at home; I bet she's never even seen a decent print of it... maybe she hasn't seen it at all. Be sure to screen the excellent documentary on contemporary horror cinema, The American Nightmare, in which she speaks...

If getting Clover here is impossible, I wonder if anyone could convince Kier-la to do another Cinemuerte?

Okay, okay, I know, I'm being a bit unreasonable, but how about a Gregg Araki series, then? If you don't mind a bunch of ganja-stinkin' cinema hipsters in your theatre, at least play Smiley Face - the best marijuana comedy ever made, and very politically appropriate. The Doom Generation, Totally Fucked Up, Nowhere, Mysterious Skin... This is a good idea, gang.

...Which brings us around to the Vancity Theatre, under new programming director Tom Charity. I was thinkin' the other week that I really felt bad about how savage a piece I did on Birdsong, a film that involved former programming director Mark Peranson - who often brought some very interesting, adventurous films to town; I didn't mean to kick the film's ass so much - I did WANT people to be curious about it, in spite of or even because of my hostility, which I think now stemmed from the film's overwhelming presumption of class privilige over its audience ("we are more clever than you, and much more leisured" seemed to be the subtext). Hostile reactions DO sometimes indicate a very interesting film, however, and are sometimes necessary "for the record" (as even Zabriskie Point's reception attests). And I mean, I may be wrong to bristle as much as I do in this review, which clearly reveals a personal defensiveness, revealing as much about me as about the film. I enjoyed the joust with Mark, which sort of reversed a previous interaction between he and I about the same filmmaker's work, which I wrote about in Discorder... but I kinda liked, and kinda miss, Mark, truth be known. Hi, Mark!

However: I'm very interested to see what Tom Charity - who wrote John Cassavetes: Lifeworks, a highly valuable and readable book about my cinematic hero - will do for the Vancity as programmer. (One of my past interactions with Charity is readable here). Charity seems to have his finger somewhere near my pulse, based on his recent programming choices. For one, I've been asking around about Katyn for awhile - Andrei Wajda's new film about the long-suppressed Soviet massacre of Poles that was uncovered by the Nazis during World War II, footage of which appears in Makavejev's Sweet Movie. I am told Wajda's film is well worth seeing.
Elsewhere in the summer programming, Charity seems to be gambling that Michael Mann's new movie, Public Enemies, is going to be a hit, based on the upcoming program of prohibition-era gangster fare. I personally think trying to synch up the Vancity with local megaplexes is a risky proposition, in this case moreso because I have a strong feeling Mann's film is going to tank critically (tho' it does get 65% on RT) and put off serious filmgoers, while its fans, meantime, won't even know the Vancity Theatre's address, let alone go see Bloody Mama (the one on the list that *I'm* most curious about). I have not seen Bloody Mama - what a wonderful title, that - since I was a kid, and for all I know it's awful, but seeing Shelly Winters as a tommy-gun totin' gangster will make the film worthwhile, regardless. My question, though, is, if you're going to play Dillinger - and yay, more Warren Oates! - why don't you also do The Lady in Red, written by John Sayles? (Also not a film I've seen, but another film I would go to in a flash and find it interesting, even if it's horrible).

Now, there's some good thinking: a tribute to J. G. Ballard. But guys, why just do Empire of the Sun? There's a certain Cronenberg film... well, nevermind. Wasn't there a film based on The Atrocity Exhibition? How bad was it? (I don't suppose When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth is very Ballardian, eh?).

Of course, if you really wanted to do a film series on a great writer not too-long-dead, I don't believe the cinemas in town flinched a minute when Hubert Selby Jr. passed on, despite Last Exit To Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream, and It/ll Be Better Tomorrow. And what about Fear X, which he co-wrote? Has anyone actually seen it? Don't you want to? I do.

Also Vancity-wise, I have somewhat of a quarrel with the upcoming music festival at the Vancity, Summer of Sound, which, in its emphasis of recent box-office/indy successes (Once, Across The Universe) and boomer-fare (Heart of Gold, Gimme Shelter) misses my interests by a longshot.
I really don't think I'm unique in that regard: I'm not sure anyone under 40 in this city would be eager to revisit Woodstock, for instance. "Hippie" has become a derogatory term, like "boomer," to the younger generation, who, deprived of boomer priviliges and exhausted by their perpetual cultural self-celebration, have grown resentful and ornery about such folks (besides, we want to celebrate ourselves, man!). Barbara Kopple's My Generation, however - which looks at music festivals of today's youth, including Woodstock's sequels, hopefully questioning what such mega-fests mean for today's culture - could be very interesting indeed.
Otherwise, I've seen nearly everything in the festival that I want to see; I'll gladly get out of the house for the Ziggy Stardust and Velvet Goldmine double bill, but fucking Shine a Light? For whom does this screen, exactly?

The Leonard Cohen and Townes van Zandt docs are good ideas, mind you, if not where my head is at lately. And Stop Making Sense is a great concert film... I haven't seen 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould yet, so I might make that.... and hmm, wait a minute - I was going to slather some abuse on the idea of a CSNY doc, then I actually read the blurb. Directed pseudonymously by Neil Young, with an anti-Iraq-war theme? I may just go to this.
More to come on the Get Shorty Cinema Salon on August 4th... I have a special interview for that one that y'all might enjoy (can you guess?). By the way, if any of my readers want to ratify my suggestions above, who knows, maybe we can actually influence what films are coming to town? (I mean, Death Race 2000 really is a no-brainer, innit?).


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Walker, I saw it for the first time last week.

An odd experience, but in a lot of ways a perfect product of the limping counter-culture of the late 80s.

The fact that it was so horribly savaged by the critics of the day really brings into sharp relief the uptight eating-ones-own nature of the times as well.

Kliph Nesteroff said...

It should be noted that a great deal of these older films being screened at the cinematheque are merely projected DVDs - altho they still cost the same amount. Nor are they mentioned as DVDs in any program. If it doesn't specify that its a 35mm print, then you're paying to watch a DVD they checked out of the library.

BTW, they showed a print of The Trip last year.

Allan MacInnis said...

Kliph -

Sorry, but you're rather wrong, so much so that you need to reconsider. The Cinematheque rarely projects off DVD, and then, it's not a DVD you're likely to find in the library; the only time I've seen them project off DVD is if the film was obscure enough that tracking down a print was nearly impossible, when, in the case of very small films, the filmmakers had PROVIDED them a DVD, or when - as with the Frames of Mind screening of THE TENANT, someone else was doing the programming... and the fact that it is DVD projection, by the way, is ALWAYS mentioned in the program, at the bottom of the film listing:

See where it says, at the end of the listing, "Colour, DVD. 124 mins"...? I mean, is it possible you just don't read the listings that closely?

And like I say, Frames of Mind is a guest-curated series, not part of their regular fare. Their regular programming - I mean, it's more likely they'll break out some creaky 16mm from their vaults than play a DVD, and they don't do that often, either. The film noir series, for instance, is all 35MM:

(I mean, these guys put a LOT of work into tracking down prints and getting interesting programs to come through town... You do them an injustice, man).

On the other hand, I do realize that it's a kinda annoying thing when you miss that a film that's going to screen is being projected off DVD - I felt surprised that BLOODY MAMA at the Vancity was a DVD projection; I hadn't been paying attention - but that too was in the program guide, in plain sight. And if a film is of interest - which BLOODY MAMA was, and the programmer can't get ahold of a print, is it so bad? (I I mean, after the initial disappointment, I settled down and kinda loved BLOODY MAMA - or was sickly fascinated throughout, lets say. I was glad it screened; so?).

So I don't actually think DVD is an invalid means of projection. When I played PHASE IV (as a free movie screening for friends on my birthday), I used DVD. The Rio on Broadway do their Midnight Movies off DVD. Sure, I'd rather film, but there have been great screenings of films in town (COCKFIGHTER comes to mind) that could likely NEVER have been tracked down thus, they are all identified in the programs for both theatres as DVD projections... as long as its above board, I think doing the occasional DVD screening is quite valid. Even the Rio attendees know that that's what they're getting, so if they're happy... what's the problem?