Thursday, April 30, 2015

Richard Linklater on Robert Bresson's L'ARGENT

On April 15, AFS screened Robert Bresson's L'ARGENT as part of the JEWELS IN THE WASTELAND series, programmed by AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater. Here Linklater, and AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick introduce and discuss the spare and extremely powerful L'ARGENT.

The series continues through June 3. Information about upcoming titles here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Watch This: Orson Welles' Complete 1979 Variety Show Pilot

Made in 1978 and 1979 as an attempt to land a network deal, this ORSON WELLES SHOW pilot is more cheaply made than most talk shows, it is shot with one camera, with patently staged audience participation and a laugh track. It's really weird. Welles directed it and his special gifts of direction and on screen presence are evident throughout.

Welles called in favors from guests Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson, Jim Henson and the Muppets. Strange as it is, it is no train wreck. We can tell we're in the hands of a genius. It's very special and as far as I know this is the first time it has been available in its entirety.

I recommend starting at about 59:40 and watching the ending of the show first, to get a feel for Welles' peculiar vision of the show, and then going back and watching the interviews later.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chale Nafus on Jean Cocteau

AFS Director of Programming Chale Nafus presents Jean Cocteau's BLOOD OF A POET as part of the Avant Cinema screening series on Tuesday April 28. Here are his notes on Cocteau.

Surrounded by 19th century artworks in his childhood home, Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (1889-1963) seemed destined for the world of art. A man of many talents he couldn’t choose just one specialty, but instead wrote poetry, novels, plays, and criticism, created evocative line drawings, designed sets for his theater work, and inevitably found his way into le cinema.
He had worked his way through the stylistic explosions of the 1920s -- cubism, dada, and futurism, but it was surrealism which worked its magic on his imagination with its emphasis on dreams, nightmares, free association, and the subconscious. In 1932, he hoped that his film THE BLOOD OF A POET would open the doors and hearts of the established surrealists gathered around Andre Breton, but their homophobia prevented Cocteau’s addition to their circle. Nonetheless, THE BLOOD OF A POET is still considered one of the masterpieces of surrealist cinema – officially sanctioned or not.

He left film for the theater during the German Occupation of France, and when he returned to the silver screen, it was with wondrous retellings of Beauty and the Beast, Antigone, Oedipus, and Orpheus.
JEAN COCTEAU, MENSONGES ET VÉRITÉS (Lies and Truths, 1997) is a subtitled documentary about Jean Cocteau in six parts. Fittingly, the version on YouTube is incomplete, but interesting anyway.

Besides snippets of Cocteau discussing his works or making enigmatic statements, there are wonderful comments from friends and filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO, SANTA SANGRE, and an unfilmed version of Dune) and Jean-Luc Godard, who is as playful with words as Cocteau.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Destination Auteur: the Premiers Plans Festival D'Angers and AFS' New French Cinema Weekend


AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick reports on one of the best film festivals in the world: 

To see selections from the Premiers Plans Festival D’Angers, attend AFS’ New French Cinema Weekend, taking place May 1-3. Filmmakers and Premiers Plans programmers will be in attendance.  

Best known for it’s medieval history (i.e., The Apocalypse), the Loire Valley city of Angers, France is also a key destination for cinephiles. For the past 27 years, Angers has presented the Premiers Plans Festival D’Angers, a festival celebrating new European cinema. Each year, alongside excellent new films from emerging auteurs throughout the continent, the festival also presents dazzling retrospectives of European greats.

The breadth of repertory programming at Premiers Plans is truly astonishing. The festival does not favor one thread of programming over another, and both the presentation of new films and the repertory programs play to sold-out crowds.  I sat in a full 600 seat theater at 10 AM to see a beautiful restored 35mm print of Il SORPASSO—playing as a part of a complete Dino Risi retrospective. Gerard Depardieu took part in a screening of the 1974 classic, GOING PLACES, playing in a retrospective of Bertrand Blier, who was on hand for introductions at each of his screenings.  Veteran French director Benoît Jacquot (FAREWELL MY QUEEN) was on hand to introduce NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, projected in the historic 1871 Grand Theatre in the city’s main plaza.  

And yet, the best surprise of the festival was stumbled upon at a first film competition screening at 10PM after a full day of retrospective screenings and festival gatherings. SPARTACUS & CASSANDRA, a documentary by a new French director, Ioanis Nuguet, was filmed in a Roma community at the center of Paris. Nuguet followed two squatter Roma children, largely abandoned by their parents, who fall under the care of a 20 year-old trapeze artist. SPARTACUS & CASSANDRA defies conventional documentary structure and respectfully prioritizes the emotional reality of its young protagonists, and the story seems to belong to them. I wasn’t surprised that the film made the cut of this year’s True/False Film Festival, a boutique documentary festival with a small and extremely selective line up.  It’s next US screening will be in Austin with us at AFS’ New French Cinema Weekend.

I got to thinking—Premiers Plans Angers looks a lot like AFS. These are two organizations that support emerging directors alongside maintaining a passion for great cinema of the past.  As we see fewer small independent European films have distribution opportunities in the US, it becomes all the more important to collaborate with organizations that create programming opportunities for us for undistributed films.

Each film in AFS’ New French Cinema weekend is a wonderful discovery. Check out this review of Marianne Tardieu’s QUI VIVE (INSECURE), and Guillaume Brac’s TONNERRE.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Richard Linklater Introduces and Discusses BLUE VELVET

As surely everyone in Austin knows, filmmaker (and Austin Film Society Artistic Director) Richard Linklater is programming and hosting a weekly series of '80s films that runs through the first week of June. It's a pretty sweet set-up, pretty much a film school in itself. If you're in Austin, go see these movies!

Here are Rick and Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick on David Lynch's great BLUE VELVET. Enjoy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Whoa! TWIN PEAKS-themed Japanese Coffee Commercials Directed by David Lynch

Apologies if you've seen these already. I never knew that David Lynch and the TWIN PEAKS cast made a series of commercials for the Japanese Georgia canned coffee brand, apparently in 1993. Kudos to Japan for their enviable track record of knowing a good, weird thing when they see it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Dark Story of James Gray's THE IMMIGRANT. What Happened?

Maybe you heard of James Gray's critically lauded period epic THE IMMIGRANT, starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. It played in competition at Cannes in 2013, and was the odds on favorite to cruise all the way through to the Oscars, as so many Weinstein-backed films have. But that never happened. In fact, the film was released with minimal fanfare for a number of obligatory engagements and the film sank - some would say it was dumped. Watch the trailer - looks pretty good, right. Well, what happened?

Now, James Gray has spoken candidly about what went on behind the scenes with Hammer To Nail editor Michael Tully:

"The Weinstein Company chose to release the movie in a particular way based on the fact that I was not going to change the film. That’s really what it is. It’s not really more complicated than that. It’s very, very simple. When you have a film that has a certain ambiguity and complexity and doesn’t end with everyone jumping up and down and dancing and saying, you know, “Asshole Number 1 saved the universe,” then you’re gonna have potential problems.

Here’s the thing. If I had revamped the movie, or made the changes that were suggested, then I really would have been left with nothing, because the movie would have been a disaster financially and critically, and it wouldn’t have been mine. So who wins there? Nobody. This way, at least it’s the film I wanted to make, and I can at least say to you I’m extremely proud of it and I’m thrilled by how it was supported, which is all true."

Many have noted that the wide release "Oscar-bait" arthouse films are held to a formula nearly as restrictive as a paint-by-numbers superhero movie or romantic comedy, but with Gray's story we see that a filmmaker who works outside that restrictive mold can have little chance of placing a film on 1500 screens, even if the film is excellent and the subject matter is timely.

The rest of the interview is very interesting as well, with digressions into such subjects as film vs. HD video (Mike Leigh gets gently roasted) and what it means to sell out nowadays.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Many Faces of Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo is one of the great stars of the international cinema. As a young former boxer and knockabout, he was thrust into international art-house stardom by Jean-Luc Godard in BREATHLESS (1960) and soon became a major box office draw in all kinds of films, from obtuse Godard polemics to spy capers. He was gifted with athleticism, great likability, masculinity and an extraordinarily expressive face. Here is a look at Belmondo's face through the ages, from his beginnings as a boxer to the near-present day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

One of the Best International Film Festivals is Here in Austin 4/22 - 4/26: Schedule Posted


Cine Las Americas is in its 18th year and is one of the very best festivals for discovering films you are not likely to see anywhere else. The range of films from the US, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Iberia is outstanding and the programmers always do an excellent job.

As an example of CLA's programming this year, check out MARSHLAND (LA ISLA MINIMA), the (10!) Goya Award Winning film about the pursuit of a serial killer through the marshes of Spain.

This year Cine takes place on April 22 through 26 at a number of venues including the Marchesa Hall & Theatre. Badges are cheap ($100) and well worth it.

The schedule, and more information is located here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Richard Linklater Introduces & Discusses THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE (1984)

At Austin Film Society our Jewels In The Wasteland series continues through the first week of June. Here, AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater joins me to discuss 1984's THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, a film that with its intense, method performances and emphasis on deep characterization was very much out of step with a Hollywood that had gone all out for the likes of GHOSTBUSTERS and BEVERLY HILLS COP. Enjoy.

60 Years Ago: Soviet & US Filmed Visions of Space

Sixty years ago the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States was just gearing up. The scientists and laboratories were in place, funding was prioritized and test programs commenced. The psychological and propaganda advantages to establishing a foothold in space seemed evident to all.

Here are a pair of films from the mid-'50s that show us a glimpse of both the Russian and American conception of space flight. Both are marvelously designed, and their glossiness and production value bear testimony to the importance of winning the war of images. These films represent the absolute state of the art of both visual information display and the science of persuasion.

First is the Soviet contribution: part two of Pavel Klushantsev's ROAD TO THE STARS, which influenced Stanley Kubrick's 2001 in several important ways, including the ring-like design of the space station. The exterior shots of spacecraft spinning and drifting also call to mind Kubrick's waltzes of gleaming space vehicles.

Second is an American film produced, appropriately enough, by Walt Disney. It features an explanation of a plan for moon orbit explained by rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, a brilliant scientist who had previously developed missiles for Nazi Germany. Again, an extraordinarily well-made film, with glossy paintings made by Disney's peerless art department. As in ROAD TO THE STARS, there is much here that contributed to the look and feel of 2001. We can almost hear Kubrick's sly, denigrating laugh as von Braun shows us the living compartments with their appeal to space suburbanites.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Resource Alert: Watch Dozens of Interviews with Important Contemporary Filmmakers

There's nothing like a good interview to get a sense of a filmmaker's personality, priorities, sense of humor, etc. Some of the best interviews out there right now are from a Toronto-based site called The Seventh Art. Recently they have featured interviews with the likes of Andrew Bujalski (RESULTS, COMPUTER CHESS), The Safdie Brothers (HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT, DADDY LONGLEGS), Ruben Ostlund (FORCE MAJEURE), the team of Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez (MANAKAMANA), Frederic Wiseman (NATIONAL GALLERY), Paul Schrader (HARDCORE), Margarethe Von Trotta (SHEER MADNESS) and so, so many more.

It's an important resource, and if you're anything like me, it will have you scrawling notes of films you must see next.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sam Peckinpah On Movie Violence

Critical impressions of filmmaker Sam Peckinpah have grown more complex over time, but during his lifetime, at least post-WILD BUNCH, he was THE avatar of cinematic violence for most everyone who knew his name. This was probably a bit unfair, considering that movies had become more violent across the board, but you get the sense that Peckinpah reveled in it a little.

This interview shows Peckinpah on edge, defending the humanity of his films against the widespread notion that he was some kind of Pope of movie violence. He gets out on the edge of himself in this interview - pausing for dramatic emphasis and speaking slowly, in staccato bursts like a newscaster describing an atrocity.

"I made THE WILD BUNCH because I still believed in the Greek theory of catharsis. That by seeing this we would be purged by pity and fear and get this out of our system. I was wrong."

Probably, Sam Peckinpah could not be boring if he tried. He's certainly not boring here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Watch This: Richard Linklater on STRANGER THAN PARADISE

Here's the video of the introduction and discussions from the Richard Linklater programmed STRANGER THAN PARADISE screening on March 25.

The Jewels In The Wasteland II series continues this week with two shows of BLUE VELVET - the Wednesday show will have a video introduction from Linklater (he will be absent due to an unavoidable travel commitment) and the Sunday show will have Linklater in person.

For more information about the Jewels In The Wasteland II series click here.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Filmmaking Advice From a Guy You Should Listen To: Frank Capra

Frank Capra is one of the most beloved old-Hollywood figures. His films have become part of the fabric of our lives as Americans. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a cultural myth we revisit again and again and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON is invoked during election cycles as a barometer of how far we as a nation have strayed from our own ideals.

Capra was, as you will see in the video below, a lovable figure, a sweet man. But, just as in his movies, the surface belies much deeper levels of complexity. Capra, with his insistence upon "one man, one film" (language that he would certainly amend to "one person, one film" today), helped to solidify the primacy of the director as auteur in the Hollywood system. He was as tough as nails and, even during a period mostly spent butting heads with notoriously tough studio head Harry Cohn, he managed to make a half dozen of the very finest films the art form has given us as well as an additional dozen movies that are very good, though not up to the absolutely towering standard of his masterpieces. This is to say nothing of the wartime films he supervised, which set the standard for, and largely created the language of, visual propaganda - for a very good cause.

In other words, if you're a filmmaker, every word this guy speaks should be closely studied. Capra's book "The Name Above The Title" is a great read, full of instructive anecdotes and Capra's philosophy of filmmaking.

Here are some of the gems that Capra drops in this interview. If you're a director or actor, treat these words as if they are carved on stone tablets. Even if the technology is different now, the principles are sound. Of course if you have made films better than IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, MEET JOHN DOE and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, you can safely discard Capra's advice:

"The people should act as if everything is happening.... NOW! For the first time."

"I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when the actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries."

"I found out early that the shooting of close-ups as we normally shoot close-ups is absolutely archaic. ...  I'm going to fix this. I did fix it. So I did the master scene. Maybe four people in the scene. And the ones (takes) I expected to use, I sent right down to the sound department and they'd bring back a record of it. I had a record player right here. I'd play the scene for the (actor) first. So she's hear the scene. Then, when it came to her part, I'd cut it off and she'd play her part... You could put that close up in there anywhere and it would match with the master shot. I never understood why nobody else did that. I told everybody about it."

"In a picture called AMERICAN MADNESS, I tried speeding up (the pace). I'd rehearse a scene and it would rehearse at one minute. I'd ask the actors to play it in 40 seconds. I wouldn't speed up the camera. I'd speed up the actors... And I'd see this stuff in the projection room and (I'd say) 'It seems awfully fast. They're talking a little too fast.' But in the theater... for the first time, the audience was a little bit behind you. You were a little bit ahead of them. So they dared not turn their heads because they might miss something. And that in itself gave impetus and made the audience more interested in watching it."