Saturday, April 28, 2012

Zombie Girl, The 400 Blows, Sean

So let me see...what am I doing?

I watched Zombie Girl again. A documentary about a twelve-year-old girl filming a zombie movie from a script she wrote when she was ten. Her long suffering mothers is there to help and try to keep the tweenagers on task.

The trouble with zombies is that they need so many of them. With a vampire movie, all you need is one. Zombies, you need dozens of extras.

Watched some of the Antoine Doinel movies of Francois Truffaut, starting with The 400 Blows. It's been quite a few years since I've seen it. I expected to have a different reaction to it, but it still affected me the same way.

When I saw The Graduate again after twenty years, I was surprised to realize that Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was a terrible, terrible person.

I thought I'd watch The 400 Blows again and side with the poor parents and the teachers, but no.

But watching the other movies in that series, it was hard to connect little Antoine from the first movies with the character as an adult.

There are documentaries like the 7 and Up series, where you do see that continuity, where you see that the adults are in some ways the way they were as children.

On the other hand, there was a movie I had only read about before, a documentary in the Canyon film cooperative catalog called Sean. It was a movie made by a film student about his four-year-old neighbor, the son of hippie parents. He went back and followed up on it thirty years later. The little kid was now working as an electrician. His father was still a hippie unable, like most of the hippies I've met, to cope with the stress of working and leading an ordinary life.

But, again, with that movie you have a hard time connecting the four-year-old with the young man the filmmaker talks to.

But there was a real life case, a personal experience of mine. I was 11 or 12. I was delivering newspapers. Two little children were standing outside, like two and three years old. The older one was a boy and younger one a girl. The boy began shouting abuse at me. He threw a rock at me. I took a few steps toward him and they both ran, the girl laughing.

Several years later, I was in high school. I volunteered to be a tutor at a grade school. And there was one kid there who was terrible. A horrible, foul-mouthed little fifth grader. I had never seen anything like it. And for some reason he kept picking on me even though I was in high school.

A couple of years after that, I realized that this was the same child----the three-year-old throwing rocks and the nasty, vile little 10-year-old.

I wondered what ever happened to him. He had an unusual name. I was surprised to find two or three people in the country with the same name, but I don't know if any of them were him. I know he had some minor legal trouble when he was a teenager. I later knew his mother slightly. I saw her on the bus a few years ago and she either didn't recognize me or pretended not to.

But, anyway, The 400 Blows was, in its way, a more political film than Godard's early works, showing a kid caught up in the French legal system.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Horror movies that are boring and suggestive

I don't know if this was real or a clever bit of publicity, but there was a letter to the editor in the local paper---this was a few years ago---complaining about a locally produced horror movie that had its premiere at a theater here in town.

The letter writer said that he liked to support local movie productions, but this was deeply offensive, and he described a few of the scenes.

Essentially, he was complaining that a horror movie contained horror.

It does seem to be a problem with some locally produced horror movies I've seen that they try to be respectable. They try to make it suggestive rather than frightening, and they insist that this is actually scarier because it makes the audience imagine the horror for themselves. Like they couldn't have done that at home.

I was watching a horror movie produced in Portland, Oregon. I didn't know where it was made when I ordered it from Netflix. I had never heard of it before. Watching it, it looked like it might have been Portland, and I thought I recognized the Pitock Mansion, a turn of the century home now owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The movie was about some young women going on a trip somewhere. There's a brief gratuitous scene of one taking a shower. They get in the car and go. The car crashes. They're taken to a large Victorian mansion which is isolated in the woods. There are no roads, no telephone, no nothing. But they do have running water and we see in another brief shower scene.

I can't remember what was supposed to be scary. An old woman lives there. Maybe she had a deranged son. I don't remember.

But a bonus features on the DVD included an interview with the director on a local talk show in which he made that claim, that it was actually scarier because it was less scary.

Well, I can understand it. I can understand someone wanting to make a movie, deciding to make a horror movie but not wanting it to be offensive or horrifying. The guy did throw in two completely gratuitous nude scenes, though. The nudity wasn't excessive, but it was entirely unrelated to the plot. I was surprised to learn the movie was banned in Britain for years.

But there was Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog. I just watched it as a Woody Allen movie. I didn't think of it as a horror movie. If that's what he thought he was making, it failed completely.

I didn't consider this possibility until I read John Baxter's excellent biography of Woody Allen. He pointed out that audiences today weren't going to be scared by atmosphere----by shadows and fog.

"Hmm, well," I thought, "yes, I suppose it would have been scarier if it had had anything scary in it."

It's like comedy. It's fairly common for people to mistake comic potential for actual humor. Something being potentially frightening doesn't make it scary.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Aleskey Andronov, making movies in Russian prison

Russia Today, the Russian TV news service, ran an interesting story. A movie director, sentenced to ten years in prison after killing a man in a drunken knife fight, has directed some award-winning movies in prison using nothing but a digital camera. You can view it here:

He made a documentary about an army special forces veteran who was charged with murdering several people in Russia. He was sentenced to death, but the death penalty was abolished and his sentence was reduced to 25 years. Pretty light compared to the USA. The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether children can be sentenced to life without parole.

He's also filmed dramatic movies. Other inmates serve as actors, but they have to bring in female and child actors.

Here you have a guy equipped with nothing but a digital camera making award-winning films in extremely difficult circumstances.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace----you mean he was still alive?

Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes has died at 93. The father of right-wing Fox "News" "journalist" Chris Wallace.

He was known for his tough, tough interviews on 60 Minutes.

I remember a stand up comic joking about it. How people would agree to be interviewed by him thinking they could fool Mike Wallace.

But it was all fake.

What Wallace would do is conduct very polite interviews. Then, when they were done and the interviewee would leave, they would re-film Wallace asking the question and get new reaction shots. They would film him angrily demanding answers and and insert it with the person's polite answers, as if they had been completely cowed by Wallace.

He was exposed as a racist. He was doing a story on contracts with unreadable fine print being used to rip off poor people. He was recorded saying about black and Hispanic victims, "You bet your ass they're hard to read if you're reading them over the watermelon or over the tacos."

People who were present when he said this said that he laughed and slapped the top of his desk and smirked.

Wallace's comments were recorded by the bank that Wallace was "investigating". When he found out they had recorded it, he tried to get them to erase it. He said he was afraid people would take his comment "out of context". I don't know in what context this was anything but racist.

He interviewed Ahmadinejad of Iran and edited the interview to make him look bad. But Ahmadinejad insisted that the full, unedited interview be broadcast on C-Span. On 60 Minutes, Wallace accused him of wanting to destroy Israel. On C-Span, Ahmadinejad called for elections in Palestine in which both Jews and Palestinians would be allowed to participate. This was edited out by the Zionist Wallace.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade has died at age 54.

He put out mass produced paintings. Serious artists dismissed him, but he made a fortune.

I'm fine with it.

I've always been more intrigued by low cost "people's cars". I've never had the slightest interest in high-priced sports cars.

And with art, other than the money involved, what's the thrill of doing a painting that's going to be hidden away in some rich guy's "private collection"? This is a movie blog, dealing with art for the masses.

It reminds me of Alain Robbe-Grillet wanting to resurrect the novel as an art form. Does your novel constitute a resurrection of the art form if almost nobody reads it?

No, I'm fine with Thomas Kinkade's mass-marketing. I just wish his art had been better, or at least interesting.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kurosawa's Stray Dog

I watched Kurosawa's Stray Dog again after about twenty years. A police procedural, like High and Low, but this one made in the late '40s.

A detective (Toshiro Mifune) has his gun stolen by a pickpocket. He sets out to get it back. He's racked with guilt when it's used in a series of crimes.

It's interesting, a movie set in a country with strict gun control.

First of all, the gun was a tiny .25 automatic, something that would be considered grossly inadequate in almost any other country. And, for another, ammunition wasn't available. The gun was stolen with five bullets in it, and that's all there were.

The cops go everywhere either on foot or by streetcar. Japan was not a rich country and it was still recovering from World War Two.

Mifune is new on the job as homicide detective, and that gives it a certain appeal. He doesn't quite know what he's doing.

I liked it pretty well.

When I saw it years ago, it was either in a theater or a classroom, and there were two things the audience laughed at, and they had a point. But watching it alone on TV, those things didn't bother me.

These Japanese detective movies have a different look to them.

In High and Low, the detective walked around in pants and untucked short sleeve shirts. They carried little .25 and .32 caliber pistols and drove around in little Toyotas, or Toyopets, as they were called.

In Stray Dog, the cops were in linen suits and Mifune wore a tie. As I said, they went everywhere on foot.

They looked more comfortable in High and Low.

Aziz Ansari, Geraldo, Ashton Kutcher, Joe Paterno

Well, maybe I was wrong to attack Ashton Kutcher for his tweets defending Joe Paterno. He said he had walked through the living room, seen that Paterno had been fired, assumed it was because he was so old, and tweeted his outrage. Apparently he was completely out of touch with anything that was happening in the world. He doesn't read newspapers either in print or on line, apparently, and he doesn't even watch the news.

But yesterday I heard Aziz Ansari on NPR. Geraldo Rivera had suggested that Trayvon Martin caused his own murder by wearing a hooded sweatshirt and covering his head in the rain.

Ansari tweeted, "It's really appropriate to tweet this any day, but seriously - Fuck you Geraldo."

He indicated on NPR that he was a bit distressed when they started quoting this tweet in the press. He noted that, when controversies like this arise, reporters will quote these "tweets" as if they were well thought out pronouncements.

Should I not have taken Ashton Kutcher's tweeting seriously?

I heard somewhere that, when interviewers ask TV stars to name their favorite shows, they can never think of any. They don't watch TV.

It does say something in TV's favor. If you don't watch TV, you're like Ashton Kutcher, oblivious to what's going on in the world.