Sunday, February 01, 2009

Movies watched, January 2009

Love and Death
, Woody Allen, 1975
In czarist Russia, a neurotic foot soldier and his wife plot to assassinate Napoleon, filtered through the zaniness of vintage Woody Allen. Woody, why don't you make movies like this anymore?

Who Is Bozo Texino?, Bill Daniel, 2005
This hour-long documentary is an exploration of the history of train graffiti, as well as a search for the identity of the person behind "Bozo Texino," a sketch of a character with an infinity
symbol-shaped hat that has been seen on railway cars for decades. Shot with a Super 8 camera over a 16-year period, it includes interviews with legendary boxcar artists Herby, Coaltrain, and so on. I found myself wishing it was a bit more in-depth, as well as more of an investigation into the mystery behind Bozo Texino, and found that the zine Bill Daniel's Mostly True, makes a nice supplement to the viewing experience. (It even has fake hobo ads!)

Dirty Work, Bob Saget, 1998
After reading Artie Lange's Too Fat to Fish, my boyfriend checked out a few of Artie's movies. That's all I'll say.

The Times of Harvey Milk, Rob Epstein, 1984
This documentary was made just a few years after the
assassination of Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official, and I find that I prefer it to Gus Van Sant's Milk, which actually features much of the same archival footage. Free of the cheesy narrative devices I disliked about Milk, this film tells the story in a more straightforward manner, and it's just as, if not more, powerful as the recent biopic.

Beer League, Frank Sebastiano, 2006
Way better
than Dirty Work. A baseball classic in the same league as The Bad News Bears. (I'm serious.)

Berkeley in the 60s
, Mark Kitchell, 1990
documentary chronicling the student protests at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. Interesting, but a little bit too long--there were definitely parts when it dragged a bit.

, Woody Allen, 1971
All you need to know can be found in this interview.

Woyzeck, Werner Herzog, 1979*

Punk Attitude, Don Letts, 2005
Another shitty punk documentary leading you to believe that punk music started in the 70s in England and New York and died there too.

Y Tu Mama Tambien, Alfonso Cuaron, 2001
This bittersweet road movie skillfully conveys the ways friendships change and people move on, how someone you were once so close to can become a stranger. I love the little asides, in which a small personal detail or anecdote is told about the characters. Much of the storytelling reminds me of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, and it's not just because the characters are Hispanic.

The Passenger
, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975
A journalist (played by Jack Nicholson) takes on the identity of a man he meets in a hotel in
Africa, about whom he knows practically nothing. Whether it's because he is bored or wishes to escape his personal problems, or something else, I find the abruptness of his decision intriguing. Of course, the consequences of this decision become more than he may have bargained for.

Lessons of Darkness, Werner Herzog, 1992*

Aguirre: The Wrath of God
, Werner Herzog, 1972*

Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog, 1982*

, Werner Herzog, 1977*

Who Gets to Call it Art?, Peter Rosen, 2006
A pretty straightforward documentary about Henry Geldzahler, the first curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he served as from 1960 to 1977. Nothing special here, other than a nice history lesson about modern art in the 60s and 70s, as well as a fine tribute to the man who breathed new life into a dinosaur of a museum.

Gate of Flesh
, Seijun Suzuki, 1964
This colorful film from legendary Japanese B-Movie director Suzuki takes place in the years after World war II. A band of tough Tokyo prostitutes live by a strict code, which consists of no pimps, defending the abandoned building where they live, attacking other hookers who come into their territory, and punishing anyone in their group who gives away sex for free. Of course, one of them falls in love with a thief who has been hiding in their home (he's killed an American G.I. and needs to l
ay low for awhile), which presents some problems.

Burden of Dreams, Les Blank, 1982*

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
, 1974*

F for Fake, Orson Welles, 1974
One of Orson Welles' last films, this free-form documentary focuses on the subject of fakery, weaving together a story about an art forger, whose biographer wrote a fraudulent book about Howard Hughes (the subject of which was made into this feature film a few years ago), the reclusive Hughes himself, and Welles' own career, which was launched on the grounds of a falsified resume, not to mention his legendary radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which had many listeners running to hills believing America truly was under extraterrestial attack. Throughout the film, Welles plays a few tricks on the viewers as well.

Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes, 2008
I was a little disappointed with this movie. Based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates (which I have been meaning to read for some time but have not done so yet), it tells the story of a young couple with lofty aspirations who move from New York City to the Connecticut suburbs to raise their children, because that's what you're supposed to do. Naturally, they're miserable, whether riding the commuter train amidst a sea of gray flannel and hats to their mindnumbing office job in Manhattan or wearing an apron and washing dishes and playing housewife in their well-manicured and smartly decorated house. They feel as though they're above suburban status quo normalcy, that they're destined for better things, but they slowly begin to realize that there is nothing special about them, and that's the real disappointment. No one will remember them, they will have no great legacy, after they die their memory will live on in the lives of their children but eventually there will come a time when their impact on the world is forgotten completely, (this point is emphasized when Frank asks his boss if he remembers his father, Earl Wheeler, who worked for the same company in the same department for years--the name does not ring a bell). All of this would have made for a powerful movie, the sentiments of which still ring true (many of the things I've just said mirror my own anxieties about mortality), but it misses the mark. The movie opens with the Wheelers already hating their lives and each other's guts, which immediately turns the viewer off to any emotionally empathy. Maybe that's how the book is structured too, but I think it would have been more effective if the viewer had seen more of a transformation, starting with happy and hopeful times. If we could have seen them age and disintegrate, their hopes squashed, the life squeezed out of them, we might feel the same pain for them. As such, I could have predicted the ending, and left not feeling numb so much as dissatisfied. I will be reading the book though.

*More on these to come.