Room 237

August 9, 2012

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining carried a tagline: The Wave of Terror That Swept Across America. Interrogating just what that wave of terror might be, Room 237 consists of a series of off-camera interviews offering a number of focused readings of Kubrick’s film. Unfortunately, Room 237 is unkind to its contributors in its clumsy assemblage and presentation of their ideas.

The disembodied voices whose observations are told are never seen, leaving the viewer with no association for the words that spring forth. But worse than that, there is no presentation – not even a quick title onscreen – as to who these voices belong to at all. No names or credentials are ever given which further undermines and betrays their readings by asking the viewer to take a huge leap of faith and trust the opinions given, irregardless of their origins.

There is also little innovation in the visual style with many of the clips from The Shining, and indeed other Kubrick films, shown ad nauseum when one clear example from the text ought to suffice in illustrating the point. Coupled with the fact that the quality of the footage itself is visually poor, makes it difficult to become immersed in the analysis. Interesting and provocative readings aside, Room 237 is like a first year film student attempting to give a third year lecture. Messy.

Room 237 screens as a part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival with further sessions on Friday August 17th at 9pm and on Sunday August 19th at 11am. 

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Killer Joe

August 8, 2012

Killer Joe Cooper suffers psychopathy. He is a manipulative, egocentric, unempathetic, guiltless symbol for the patriarch and the Name of the Law – penal, and later, familial. His character commands control and receives submission from both on-screen characters and viewers alike. Therein is the problematic in “enjoying” Killer Joe.

There are five central characters; after Joe there is Ansel, the endearing but incompetent patriarch before Joe enters and assumes the throne in their domestic domain, and Chris, Ansel’s rogue, harebrained son who comes up with central plot device of killing his own mother to collect on the life insurance. Whilst Ansel and Chris are depicted as unintelligent, foolish and are often the subject of some particularly base jokes, they are kept just barely on the right side of audience alignment by the film’s further and more persecuting jokes aimed at the female characters. Of whom there is Adele – the absent mother mostly referred to as a bitch and only shown once where we see her dead – or at least near-dead – body during the patriarch’s removal of her impotent reign. Then there is Sharla, the deceitful, scheming, unfaithful woman who represents whore. Joining these two already glowing representations of women is Dottie, the virginal, naive, slightly affected and potentially mentally challenged daughter and ultimately little more than the retainer following a contract transaction between aforementioned patriarchal figures Joe, Ansel and Chris. After the film removes the impotent, it condemns the whore and finally rapes and damages its virgin. Dottie is almost the film’s innocent charmer until the final scene where she too forgoes any previous sense of morality, ethics, empathy, compassion – heck, humanity, and callously kills the only people she supposedly loves and cares for. The final sting being that all the concern for the weak and seemingly innocent version of the feminine was still a waste of male time and energy as she, like all women, was only to turn on the males in the end.

But what’s most concerning about Killer Joe is the guise that it is a “Black Comedy”. The entire Smith family are depicted as pathetic and parasitic to society. Although the focus is never on Joe as an officer of the law, we are always aware that he represents the penal code, societal structure and of course the Name of the Law. Here, with a family that are willing and eager to turn upon themselves, leaving one another out to dry, Joe is the only character with whom the audience are even close to aligned. Are we to take then that psychopathy is preferable to those who are depicted here as the economic dregs of society?

Certainly it is possible to take controversial, uncomfortable subject matter and satirise it in a way that is bleak and comedic; depictions of depravity that leave the viewer with feelings of uncomfortable self reflection on their ability to find such material amusing or films that expose their protagonists as weak, unstable – Happiness is a great example of such an achievement; but Killer Joe does none of these things. It may well be true that Matthew McConaughey’s performance is brilliant and even that the character of Joe captures onscreen the displays of psychopathy to perfection, but enabling that character control over the audience and their responses is a curious and pivotal choice for the film’s ultimate success. The result, unfortunately, is a room full of laughter – not at the suggestion of a misogynist act – but at the humiliation of the act carried out.

There are further issues in the film and certainly this is a gloss in terms of examples but what’s problematic about Killer Joe isn’t that its lead character suffers psychopathy, nor that it employs humour in a tale of such subject matter, but that it uses the psychopathy as a tool for seduction through which it repeatedly revels in the successful delivering of dangerous ideology.

Amour

August 6, 2012

From silent credits to abrasively intruding through the front doors of an affluent French home, Haneke immediately instructs his audience that their position is one of outsider intruding upon a personal space and by beginning with the film’s end allows the viewer an uncharacteristically kind act of mercy by letting us know from the outset that this will not be a film of causal narrative structure, negating any possibility of a sublime experience by removing the potential anticipation of ‘when will it happen’? Then Haneke allows the audience one more opportunity to choose to leave should our disposition be too weak to take on what he is about to uncover – a seemingly lengthy view of an audience sat in a theatre waiting for a performance to begin announces that we are about to look very much at ourselves through someone else’s story. The camera is stationary, unflinching in its observation.

Long takes and carefully composed, often still frames, with real-time movement ensure there is no escape for the audience from the film’s steady pace or the at times painfully tedious details of the story. Surmising ‘plot’ is a fruitless exercise here as Haneke’s voices tells us that we don’t recall the reaction or the film, but the emotion, that the vehicle and response don’t matter, it is the feeling that remains. This is his own synopsis of Amour. He further lets us know that “imagination and reality have very little in common” and gives us only Eva (a minor role here for Isabelle Huppert) as a possible stand in for the failed viewer’s anticipated insolent response, “What happens now?”, a question met with simplicity, “What’s happened up until now.”

Another achievement in truly affecting and intellectual cinema, Haneke’s Amour is confronting, inescapable; devastatingly brilliant.

Amour screens as a part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival with another session on Monday August 13th at 6.30pm. 

Jonas Mekas, regarded as the godfather of the American Avant-Garde, and José Luis Guerín, an accomplished documentary and narrative filmmaker, embark upon a series of film correspondence as part of an ongoing project funded by Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture. Though commissioned rather than ‘found’, the correspondence between the two is clearly the result of genuine friendship and a very earnest passion for visual representations of the moments and thoughts that construct life.

 

The two styles are almost polar opposites and as such compliment one another by creating an almost natural wave-like ebbing to and fro – Guerín’s videos to Mekas in black and white, perceiving the cities, people and spaces with the eye of an auteur expressing a reflective world view, filming never ‘taping’, whilst Mekas’ videos to Guerin are like home videos up from the underground blending the public and the personal with innocent ease. From revolving doors with stunning reflections in Guerín’s examination of the people he records and their supposed inability to put down roots in expansive public spaces to Mekas’ following an unaware Ken Jacobs down the street and occasionally filming his own feet in the wake of stopping to speak and smell lavendar – Correspondence is paced naturally with an intuitive rhythm that carries the viewer safely between a personal conversation and filmic endeavour from beginning to end.

The natural passing of time through recording of seasons gives the film its temporal structure effortlessly as our narrators release their perspectives on the world through honest nuggets; “I react to life”, and gentle reassurances that we are not intruding on their personal diaries; “It’s only part of a game”. An experience akin to being a very welcome guest in someone else’s home, Correspondence is a citric delight in a varied feast of a festival.

Correspondence Jonas Mekas – JL Guerin screens as a part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival with another session on Saturday August 18th at 11am. 

Headshot

August 6, 2012

Questioning the societal infrastructure built to dispense ‘justice’ and ‘morality’ is not restricted to any single nation. Headshot, a Thai/French co-production concerned with these themes does so predominantly through perspective and physicality. Opening with striking POV cinematography, introducing its protagonist through first person perspective and then a mirrored image sets up the film’s intent to explore interiority. Positing then the viewer as existing somewhere between aligned with and yet distanced from protagonist Tul, Headshot continues to play brain against braun in what is essentially a decent enough but far from innovative dramatic thriller.

Through a physical metamorphosis we see Tul transform from rogue individual to a modest monk. Performing the physical attributes of a monk however has no bearing on saving his ‘soul’. Just as it becomes apparent that Tul is an assassin carrying out a hit, he is shot in the head, falling into a three-month coma only to awake with a literally inverted view of the world. His now altered perspective is 180 degrees opposing his previous belief system as he views the world upside down. A series of temporal interruptions to the narrative fill in the past alongside the present preferencing neither as a true or correct path, leaving final judgement to the viewer.

Juxtaposed against one another are the presentations of intellect and physical strength; Tul reads about the conception of evil as originating from genetics and then works out whilst contemplating the merits of scholars and education. Unable to side with either  and struggling with each as the narrative unfolds – adopting again the physical life of a monk but never truly able to submit to its ideology and repeatedly theorising his life without killing whilst running, fighting and shooting at his pursuers – Tul has reached an impasse between his body and his mind. His perspective unable to shift despite the rupture to linear progression and his body constantly trying to heal despite repeated affronts upon it, Tul cannot locate ethics within the moral minefield of Bangkok’s underworld.

Interesting though the themes may well be, the film covers well trampled ground and ultimately fails to tread on anything fresh enough to be innovative or truly provocative. Its absence of ethical questioning is difficult to ignore as it contemplates morality only as far as the system’s effect on the individual is concerned without ever really contemplating the Encounter with the Other. A decent if somewhat standard crime thriller.

Headshot screens as a part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival with further sessions on Sunday August 5th at 9pm and on Sunday August 12th at 11am. 

The Blogging Abyss

August 6, 2012

It’s been almost a year and a half since my last blog post. For shame. The lack of words appearing on/in this cyber spatiality is less a reflection of my disinterest in writing however and more of a symptom of my finally becoming employed in February 2011. Lost to a timelessness that is reminiscent of many an experimental piece of cinema, I return with similarly sublime ambiguity; stating neither that this will be a permanent return to form, nor that my blogging days are necessarily an occurrence specific only to the past. If my subject matter is free to play with time and space, why not I? With that in mind, what I do wish to do is attempt to cover the Melbourne International Film Festival 2012 as best I can (time and energy permitting) here again at Liminal Vision.

Should you however hold a grudge toward my reckless abandon and failure to commit myself to the blogosphere then you can always listen in to Melbourne radio station 3RRR 102.7FM on Thursday August 9th 7pm to hear me speaking my reviews with esteemed colleagues both Josh Nelson and Cerise Howard in our Max Headroom MIFF Special. 

It is rare to come across a film festival so honest in intent that it charges nothing in admission and wants nothing from its audience other than their attention. But Australians are lucky; Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival, now in its 11th year, would rather focus on exhibiting and communicating the stories of a people than just making money. It is “the only festival in the country that is solely committed to presenting films made by and about Indigenous people and all screenings are free.”

Having visited most of its Australian city destinations already, Message Sticks concludes its 2010 tour at Carlton’s Melbourne Museum with screenings showing this Saturday 4 – Tuesday 7 September. Showcasing mostly shorts, the program are well framed by two feature documentary sessions that offer a contrasting real life and reel life context for the recurring themes within the festival program.

Lani's Story

Lani’s Story: Followed by a Q&A with Lani Brennan, Lani’s Story is a documentary about a woman who suffered an horrific spate of repression and self-loathing due to the persistent combination of substance abuse, small community, extreme domestic violence and a failed justice system. Experimenting with alcohol as early as eleven, Lani was a self-professed “daily drunk” at just thirteen. Having grown up with alcoholism and domestic violence as something that just occurred but wasn’t openly talked about, Lani quickly fell into a destructive pattern that continued to feed on her personal shame. It was only after sobering up and meeting someone else, a man who finally showed her the kindness and support she deserved, that Lani was able to throw off the shackles of her own fear and speak out against her perpetrator.

Nin's Brother

Shorts: From the nine shorts (ranging in duration from between 5 min to 52 min) at the heart of the festival, Message Sticks brings disparate filmmakers (from New Zealand, Canada, the USA and, of course, Australia) and diverse subject matter to create an overarching narrative of untold Indigenous tales. Nin’s Brother sees one young woman search for a connection to and the truth surrounding suspicious events in her family’s past; Big Fella documents one man’s struggle to overcome mental illness and its symptomatic morbid obesity; Nundhirribala’s Dream is a gentle rendering of subconscious spiritual connection; Shimasani is the beautifully shot story of a young woman who wants more from the world; The Cave quite literally shows the proximity between the living world and the spirit world; Barngngrnn Marrangu Story gives a heart wrenching view of the confines of the reserve; Redemption is a sad, prophetic tale about the bleak future for a young, apathetic generation; Daniel’s 21st reveals a desperation that spurs denial; and Boxing for Palm Island is a tale about fight and survival. Each of these shorts do, in the first instance, the same two essential things; 1) they tell an untold story 2) they communicate just how important it is that the untold story gets told.

Reel Injun: “Hollywood has made over 4000 films about Native people; over 100 years of movies defining how Indians are seen by the world.” Whilst a vast majority of film-goers will already know, Hollywood is, to some relative degree, responsible for the construction of what’s often known as “collective memory” or “social memory” and, moreover, that a considerable proportion of it is either undesirable or just plain untrue. Certainly their representations of Indigenous people have always been misrepresentative in their stereotyping as a result of their being driven by greater social/political agendas that in turn continue to perpetuate prejudice.

Reel Injun is the film that takes the time to sift through these representations and talk about them – openly and honestly. Holding nothing back; from the “great American plains” as backdrop, to altered historical accounts turning battle into myth to the ludicrous US summer camps that keep the Hollywood notion of a “noble savage” “alive and well”; this documentary tells it like it is – and how it’s always been. With commentary from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Jim Jarmusch, the taking to task of iconic westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), and with some pretty damn sarcastic comedy, “Chuck Conners as Geronimo – it’s like Adam Sandler as Malcolm X”, Reel Injun is the film of the festival – and if you do only have the time to go see one thing, make sure it’s this – because it’s absolutely brilliant.

Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival takes place at Melbourne Museum in Carlton from Saturday September 4 – Tuesday September 7. Admission to all screenings is FREE.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Catfish

August 9, 2010

Everyone said it was best not to know anything about Catfish (2010) before seeing it. So, trusting in at least some of the illusive collective, I refrained from reading the write-up, was sure not to watch the trailer and wouldn’t allow any of my fellow MIFFophiles to speak of its content in my company. Attending its second screening at the festival, I found the film to be highly enjoyable but not so incredibly shocking or perhaps even surprising as I had been led to believe it might be. In lieu of my own post-viewing assessment, be warned, the words that follow do talk about what actually happens in the film.

Documenting filmmaker Ariel Schulman’s brother Nev, a twenty-four year old photographer, and his incredibly funny yet incredibly sad experience of taking a Facebook “friend” to the next level, Catfish is about the fundamental desire we have to connect with other human beings. Now, the idea of finding interesting people via social networking sites and later meeting them in real life isn’t exactly foreign to me (hi to the many friendly twitter folk I’ve met during MIFF), however, Nev’s “connections” happen in a very different – and far more intense – manner than most of us (I at least speak for myself here) are familiar with.

Connecting first with an eight-year-old girl named Abby who is a talented painter, followed by correspondence with her mother Angela and finally “friending” Abby’s beautiful, older, dancer/singer-songwriter sister Megan, Nev has found himself a “Facebook family.” A seemingly great connection with an interesting and artistic family, Nev is happy to call, email and Facebook the entire family and their friends – until Megan records and posts a song that sounds suspiciously similar to a professional post on YouTube – suddenly it becomes clear that at least one of member of the family isn’t all she says she is…

Exposing a sad individual for the pathological liar she is comes across as a fault that resides ultimately with both parties; Nev’s involvement being implicit despite his naiveté to the contrary, “They didn’t fool me, they just told me things I didn’t care to question.” Handling the apparent situation with more than the appropriate level of tact and kindness it warrants, Catfish is a film that hopes to warn the gullible and lecture the weak. Entertaining if inconsequential viewing.

MIFF Shorts Awards

August 3, 2010

Having not really had time to check out all of this year’s Shorts strand at MIFF, I thought heading along to the Shorts Awards would at least afford me with a working knowledge of and opportunity to see the festival’s most outstanding highlights. After a fair bit of talking and some occasionally amusing anecdotes, the actual award ceremony got under way and the winners in each category were announced. They are as follows:

  • Jury Special Mention: Out of Love (2009)
  • Melbourne International Film Festival for Best Experimental Short Film: Long Live the New Flesh (2009)
  • Melbourne International Film Festival for Best Animation Short Film: Angry Man (2009)
  • Melbourne International Film Festival for Best Documentary Short Film: The Mystery of Flying Kicks (2009)
  • Cinema Nova for Best Fiction Short Film: Autumn Man (2009)
  • Melbourne Airport Award for Emerging Australian Filmmaker: The Kiss (2010)
  • Film Victoria Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film: Franswa Sharl (2009)
  • City Of Melbourne Grand Prix for Best Short Film: The Lost Thing (2010)

Somewhat disappointingly they didn’t quite have enough time to show all the shorts (although I dare say that if they’d cut some of the comedy intro – no offense to Colin Lane intended – along with the absolutely pointless “montage” of shorts’ opening credits that some poor bastard spend time needlessly editing together, then they could have fit them all in), but the majority of those shown were of a very high standard.

First up was The Kiss, a well observed Australian “coming of age” dramatic short that was well shot and suitably atmospheric.

Next was the fascinating documentary surrounding the act of “shoe tossing” which illuminates a number of global theories on the “origin” and “meaning” behind the phenomenon. Amongst the reasons cited are; marking the loss of one’s virginity; signaling a crack house; indicating gang territory; a sign of bullying and performance art. Using mixed media and with a strong but not omniscient voice, The Mystery of Flying Kicks is a tidy little film with peculiar yet intriguing subject matter.

The less said about Franswa Sharl the better – let’s just leave it at this: sometimes it seems Australian filmmakers don’t know where the line is – no matter what the motivation, an intentionally comedic character who “blacks up” is wildly inappropriate and always offensive.

Finally, The Lost Thing: a sweet, endearing, well animated tale about individuality and imagination. A kind, subtle metaphor for the anomalous nature of pure imagination within an industrial cityscape: “A place you wouldn’t know exists.”

Thomas Caldwell said it best in his brief intro when he urged the filmmakers present, “Please continue to make films that are true to your own visions because they’re going to be the good ones.” Just so long as they can leave the racial offenses aside, I wholeheartedly agree.

Every now and again the actual subject of a film is so incredibly engrossing that (upon its first viewing at least) the actual filmmaking presents as superfluous. The Invention of Dr Nakamats (2009) is one such film.

At a wee fifty-seven minutes long, Nakamats is just about as short and sweet as it gets. The documentary follows Japanese inventor Dr Nakamatsu whose thousands of patents include just about everything from the bizarre (but apparently effective) Love Jet (a type of “Viagra spray”) to the well-known and widely used Floppy Disk. Indeed the descriptions and demonstrations of his inventions are entertaining and fascinating in and of themselves, but really it’s the man who makes the movie…

Dr Nakamatsu is one of those incredibly endearing individuals who just about maintains the right kind of balance between genius and insanity. Keeping himself “active, aggressive, strong” through the use of many of his own crackpot inventions, an absolute maximum of four hours sleep a night and an unparalleled belief that 0.5 seconds before death is the optimum moment for brain activity and thus invention, Dr Nakamatsu reaches the ripe old age of 80 and not only hopes, but honestly anticipates, living to around about 143.

For some of the strangest yet most wonderfully wild mantras you’ll ever hear, including his “criteria” for buying a camera; “I smell the camera. Good smell is good camera. Bad smell or no smell, that is bad camera.”; The Invention of Dr Nakamats is an absolute must-see.

The Invention of Dr Nakamats is screening as part of the Flawed Geniuses strand of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again Sunday August 08 7pm at Greater Union Cinema 4.