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. 

Dolphins and Whales 3D

September 14, 2010

Commercial cinema 3D may well be taking the world by storm following the success of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), the recent spate of Pixar/Dreamworks animations and the occasional horror flick indulging in splatter-D, but before it became standard to have your own set of 3D glasses there was something called the IMAX. It really has to be said that IMAX 3D is still superior to the strange, conversely subtle and gimmicky modes of 3D that contemporary audiences have come to expect. And moreover, it’s worth saying that the immersive qualities of IMAX 3D, as they correlate to the content of their predominantly educational documentary short features, are absolutely preferable to the aforementioned popcorn fodder in every possible way. Melbournians are lucky enough to have the world’s third largest screen at their disposal and with the latest release of Dolphins and Whales 3D there’s really no excuse not to get yourself to Carlton to go see it.

Dolphins and Whales 3D does three things: 1) it educates audiences on a variety of species of the aforementioned dolphins and whales by giving an extreme, close “view” to their lives undersea; 2) it offers experiential cinematic engagement founded upon haptic, immersive theoretical discourse and 3) it reveals its moral project (cautioning against the farming and polluting of sea life) through a thematic thread that is enhanced and reiterated by its technology’s unique ability to inherently reference an historical real.

Ocean life is threatened by the continued human slaughter of dolphins and whales and by human pollution of the earth which in turn severely damages and endangers their habitat and food resources. Told, by Daryl Hannah no less (she of Splash (1984) fame) that many of these remarkable creatures “may soon become a ghostly shadow of the arctic, a mere memory”, the film highlights both the real threat that we pose to their existence whilst indexing their historical and anthropological significance.  Furthermore, the documentary also suggests in its concluding remarks that “we can change our way of life” which resonates so much more as it is being communicated through a pioneering technology that quite literally changes the way in which we see these (often hidden from plain view) mammals.

With the assistance of a heavily emotive score the images figuratively (and sometimes literally) wash over its audience like to a wave of consciousness, imploring those in the auditorium to take an active role in “viewing” so that it develops into “perceiving” and ultimately therefore an experience in educational comprehension. Upon leaving the theatre audiences will find themselves amidst a museum environment which is hardly incidental; the experience as it occurred in the auditorium fully intended to be built upon back in the “real” (temporally at least) world. In just 45 minutes the experience of IMAX 3D could truly alter your perception, a far greater feat than Cameron’s 162 minutes of “blue people” (IMHO!)

Dolphins and Whales 3D is playing now at the Melbourne Museum IMAX 3D theatre in Carlton. Click here to view the trailer.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

It may still feel like the middle of Winter, but actually Spring is just around the corner which means so too is Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. In lieu of this year’s upcoming fix for fashionistas, and as part of the cultural program surrounding MSFW, ACMI present a short season of Fashion Icons on Film; featuring four premiere documentaries celebrating the fabulous world of fashion and four of its most distinct and influential designers; Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (2009), Beyond Biba: A Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki (2009), Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House (2008) and Celebration (2007) about the late, great, Yves Saint Laurent.

Beyond Biba: A Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki – It’s thirty-five years since the doors closed on Biba for good and designer/founder Barbara Hulanicki is now quite comfortably situated on the other side of the world immersed in her latest creative design endeavour on Miami’s South Beach: hotel and nightclub interiors. Looking back over a life and a brand, Beyond Biba concentrates largely on the woman Hulanicki has become today as owing to the experiences that shaped her iconic foray into fashion and later, interior design.

Broken up into six main segments the documentary begins where it ought; Childhood, with Hulanicki talking about her memories of living in Warsaw, Poland and later in Palestine; it then moves on to her main passion which, perhaps surprisingly for some, is not “fashion” as such, but rather Drawing; the act of which leads to her infamous “big start” starring The Gingham Dress as featured in the Daily Mirror; but it wasn’t just Hulanicki’s passion for drawing and keen eye for fashion that led to the great success of Biba, it was – as with most profitable business endeavours – the product of a dream partnership with a man who simultaneously became her lover, Fitz; this led to The Shops: Abingdon Road, Kensington Church Street and finally, the coveted Kensington High Street; but creative differences between Hulanicki and her financiers was what ultimately put the nail in the coffin on Biba in 1974 when Hulanicki walked away from her once booming business, something she now views with deep Nostalgia.

Watching the woman “who gave us high street high fashion” as comfortable and passionate in her new life as an interior designer to the likes of Chris Blackwood as she was giving ordinary English women in the late 1960s the opportunity to look chic and sophisticated without breaking the bank, is as warm as the woman herself.

Beyond Biba: A Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki screens at ACMI on Sunday August 29 7.30pm, Wednesday September 1 2.30pm and Thursday September 2 8pm as part of their Fashion Icons on Film 2010 Melbourne Spring Fashion Week season.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Experimental Shorts

August 3, 2010

It is important when discussing experimenta and avant-garde modes of cinema to remember that one of its most significant and defining qualities is that it necessarily situates itself outside of, though still in conversation with, its “mainstream” counterpart. This year’s MIFF selection of Experimental Shorts was in many ways a typical, “balanced” program of its kind. What I mean by that is not necessarily negative, rather that the programming team clearly took into account that a relative portion of its audience might well be approaching experimenta from a “first time” perspective and, as such, the program includes a carefully considered breadth of experimental filmmaking.

Flyscreen (2010) / Richard Tuohy / Australia /8 min.

Working with 16mm film using the rayogram technique and optical sound, Richard Tuohy (part of the Artist Film Workshop) creates a successfully claustrophobic and atmospheric work. The flyscreens themselves simile the individual frames that make up the moving image and the optical sound of the screens emulate both the buzzing of an actual fly and the low drone of a film projector. It’s refreshing and exciting to see that there are still filmmakers out there who care about and are interested in experimenting with actual film.

Friedl vom Groller  (2009) / Austria / 8 min.

Passage Briare: A silent, black and white document of a middle-aged heterosexual couple reveals the simplistic beauty behind the human experience of (an)other.

Hen Night: A group of six women staring at the camera represent the reflected artifice and construction that appear in cinema and everyday life alike.

Wedding: A naked couple sit by one another facing the camera in what is shown to be a moment of “honesty”, transcending “seemlessness”. Simple yet beautiful.


Kitchen Horror (2009) / David Short / Australia / 4 min.

Using science and mathematics to inform its representation of the horrors hidden within a typically domestic space, Kitchen Horror is most interesting for its use of sound in illuminating the extraction of spacial ideological anomalies.

Palm D’Or (2009) / Siegfried A Fruhauf / Austria / 9 min.

The blurring of a fractured, fragmented crowd of people and places set to a sort of “white noise” soundtrack disorient and remove the viewer from a process of identification with the subject in this well executed black and white short.

Parallax (2009) / Inger Lise Hansen / Austria & Norway / 5 min.

A simply yet cleverly inverted image shows how the earth struggles to achieve its “natural movement”; suffering under the unnatural weight of human industry.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (2009) / Johann Lurf / Austria / 3 min.

Through framing film frame and showing sound, Lurf confronts his viewer with the very nature of the object they are viewing.

Long Live the New Flesh (2009) / Nicolas Provost / Belgium / 14 min.

Using CGI (computer generated imaging) to alter and enhance visceral sequences from famous horror films, Provost creates a new texture – or “flesh” – for the image. From conventional suspense horrors such as The Shining (1980) and Drag Me to Hell (2009) to Cronenberg body-horrors like Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986), Provost takes an experimental art form and makes it both contemporary and accessible to wider audiences. Although some of the images are quite beautiful the medium itself is disappointng; pixelation and computerised sound ultimately render it more like to a computer game than “film”.

Flag Mountain (2010) / John Smith / UK / 8 min.

Presenting a strong image of a liminal border space, Flag Mountain looks at a literal and ideological imprinting of nationhood upon the physical landscape.

Strips (2010) / Felix Dufour / Canada / 6 min.

Segmenting the image into “strips” we watch a woman “strip”. The cutting up of the woman and the image hark back to Laura Mulvey’s seminal article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Nothing new, but effective nonetheless.

Still in Cosmos (2009) / Makino Takashi / Japan / 19 min.

Matched to a soundtrack by Jim O’Rourke, Still in Cosmos shows scratched and deteriorating images that reflect the universe. Distorting the original photography it slowly reveals glimpses of nature and straddles the boundary between a Kantian understanding of beauty and the sublime.

Finally, whilst the program could be described as Austrian-heavy (hardly surprising when Austria is where pretty much most of the most interesting and cutting edge experimenta comes from), what was (pleasantly) surprising for me was to see Australian experimenta not only feature but contend in such an established program.

The Killer Inside Me

July 30, 2010

Although Michael Winterbottom’s films are for the most part formally faultless, I often find that they fail in terms of cinematic affect. It was only after seeing Genoa (Genova, 2008) that I began to suspect his films might ultimately be lacking in tone. But after seeing the trailer for The Killer Inside Me (2010) I once again allowed myself to get my hopes up for what looked like a contender for best film of 2010. Sadly, and despite being; formally excellent; visually stunning so far as art direction and mise-en-scene are concerned; and showcasing some absolutely stellar performances; The Killer Inside Me just wasn’t dark enough in its overall tone to truly leave its audience feeling something. Anything.

Now this is the bit where I admit to not having read the book, an admission I imagine is met with a plethora of “tsks” and shaking heads from the pedants amongst LV’s readership. But to your “tsks” and shaking heads I say this: it is irrelevant for two basic reasons; 1) the film was not made with the intent of being seen by only the relative number of people who have read the book (even with wide readership this is limiting when one considers that it is the primary aim of film distributors to make money, ergo this would be counter-distributor-intuitive) and 2) because a film has to be able to stand up on its own regardless of its “source material”. So, despite my being assured that for the most part the film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel (I have pedant friends who keep me well-informed I’ll have you know), I have it on good authority that the one thing evading the film is the novel’s successfully “oppressive, sweaty, horrible tone” (Anthony Morris.)

The atonal tale itself is of Lou Ford (expertly performed by Casey Affleck), a self-professed “man and a gentleman” who happens also to harbour sociopathic and insatiably sadist desires that confuse pleasure and pain with love and vengeance. And whilst this makes for a fascinating premise, its execution is only successful up unto a point. Preferencing aesthetics above tone, The Killer Inside Me is occasionally brutal in its visual violence though never actually dark in depiction. But perhaps leaving the audience as cold as what witnessing the narrative actions of a sociopath ought is the intent behind the adaptation- in which case I’d say choosing Winterbottom to direct was an absolutely smashing idea.

The Killer Inside Me screens as part of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again on Monday August 02, 9.15pm at the Forum Theatre.

The Unloved

July 28, 2010

Sometimes all it takes for a film to fail miserably is for just one detail to be out, especially if that detail is actually something of a lynchpin for the film. This was unfortunately my experience of Samantha Morton’s directorial debut, The Unloved (2009). Co-written with Tony Grisoni and based upon events and experiences of Morton’s own life growing up, The Unloved is a snapshot of an eleven-year-old girl’s experience of the UK’s social welfare system. But the problem lies with its protagonist, Lucy (Molly Windsor), who somehow, despite her screen father (Robert Carlyle, whose acting abilities actually seem to be getting worse) having a Scottish accent, and despite her living in the middle of the north of England, somehow has an accent that sounds a lot like it came from one of the home counties…hmm.

But for those of you who can disavow deep enough to let this detail slide, the film will be fairly decent. It’s a straight forward drama offering a grim picture of UK social care that is in some ways fair but also very one-dimensional, failing to properly explicate or elucidate issues surrounding resources and infrastructure. Welfare in the UK is not strictly social issue as it is inherently linked to greater political and economic concerns.

The strongest performance (and indeed character) in the film is Lauren Socha who is both believable and compelling in all her scenes, the only problem then being her constant outshining of the other cast members. Originally made for TV in the UK (and best left there), The Unloved is disappointingly less informative or moving than a simple stroll around pretty much any council estate anywhere in England. One for the middle-classes, innit.

The Unloved screens as part of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again on Monday August 02 2010, 7pm at The Forum.

Homecoming

July 28, 2010

This year’s tribute festival strand, Dante’s Inferno, is a series of retrospective screenings of the cinematic works of subversive Hollywood insider, Joe Dante. Working within the confines of the system, Dante’s films are just about B-grade enough for both them and him to achieve cult status. Familiar with a few of his features already (I am proud to admit that my geekery knows no bounds and I enjoy viewing Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2 (1990) as part of my annual Christmas triple feature; along with Die Hard (1988), of course), I thought it was about time I gave his shorter works a wee look-in. Although I’m usually happy to subscribe to the mantra that good things come in threes (skeptics can refer back to my aforementioned Christmas viewing program), when it came to Tuesday night’s screening, it was more the case that “two out of three ain’t bad”.

Homecoming (2005, 58 mins)

This is the most relentlessly self-conscious and blatantly subversive zombie schlock flick I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. Featuring sensationally drawn republican sycophants up against a bunch of military soldier “zombie dissidents” whose motivation to return undead has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to eat people or even to “infect” them, but comes rather from the great compulsion to exercise their democratic right to vote against the very administration that needlessly sent them to their deaths in the search for a bunch of made up WMDs. With a script so incredibly sassy that you’ll barely have time to finish laughing at one line of dialogue before you starting cracking up at the next, Homecoming is a film where one cheap shot constantly and hilariously supercedes the last.

It ‘s a Good Life (1983, 26 mins)

This might in fact be the very best thing I’ve seen at the festival so far. When the film started up I began to experience a pang of nostalgia and some kinda creepy deja vu. Then I realised that here was a film I have seen somewhere around twenty or thirty times (at least) in my childhood and that used to absolutely scare the crap out of me. The opportunity to see it on film, and on a big screen, well, that sure was something. The story is a simple one; Helen Foley is a school teacher whose life is ruled by “sameness” and who endlessly waits “for something different to happen”. Following an “accident” outside a highway diner, Helen drives the young boy involved home, stopping in to meet his “family” for just a moment… But Anthony is no ordinary boy and his “special powers” stretch the limits of reality in this imaginative and terrifying installment of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series.

Lightning (1995, 31 mins)

This was, unfortunately, the weakest film in the program. Not all together terrible but certainly paling in comparison to the two films that came before, Lightning is an old-fashioned tale about greed and comeuppance. Very straight forward, narrative and moral, Lightning ought to be daytime tele fodder programmed alongside the likes of Little House on the Prairie (1974-1982).

Homecoming, It’s a Good Life and Lightning are screening as part of the Joe Dante retrospective program of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again on Saturday July 31 2010, 4.45pm in ACMI 2.

Hahaha

July 28, 2010

Not since Chris Marker’s La Jetee (1962) have I seen still images used to so poignantly illustrate a truly Barthean understanding of photography (see Camera Lucida). Hong Sang-Soo’s Hahaha (2010) homages Marker and acknowledges Barthes and, in doing so, states from the outset that the content of the film will reflect a critical comprehension of the persistence of history as it pertains to the individual and the construct of their “memory”.

Mun-Kyeong and Jung-Sik are old friends who meet up after not having seen each other for a considerable period of time. Taking turns to tell “their” stories, they relay tales of women and events that have recently shaped and affected their respective lives; a rich tapestry of an image building, slowly revealing a greater overarching narrative.

Highly self-conscious, the film constantly makes reference to history and historical comprehension; the way in which an image is afforded with qualities according to its viewer’s contextual understanding; how “history is full of fabrications”; how mythology and folklore are born with words that “spread like wildfire”; the impossibility of ever really seeing things “as they truly are”, and so on.

But for all its worthy rhetoric, Hahaha isn’t a strictly cerebral film. In fact, it best suits the generic and entertainment label of “comedy” in the first instance. Well developed characters performed by some very clearly talented comedy actors in accordance with an incredibly witty script make this a genuinely funny, laugh out loud film. As enjoyable as it is intelligent, Hahaha is a sure festival highlight.

Hahaha screens as a part of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again on Saturday August 07 2010, 2.30pm in Greater Union Cinema 3.

Paju

July 27, 2010

This might well be the first Korean film I’ve seen where the allegory hasn’t immediately taken precedence and informed the majority of my subsequent “experience” of the film. Park Chan-Ok’s sobering drama Paju (2009) is a fascinating and bold cinematic work that showcases her ability as a filmmaker to preference emotional affect over narrative structure. Through giving her viewer small segments of a greater whole in installments, always holding something back, she achieves an occasionally confusing and even uncomfortable- though ultimately deeply affecting- viewing experience.

The story centres around the complex relationship between a timid young woman Eun-mo and her emotionally wrought brother-in-law Joong-Shik. Their character flaws and personal failings set against the backdrop of a poverty-stricken city run by corrupt “gangsters” that is physically falling apart at every cornerstone. The political content is certainly not absent and the city plays as large a role in the film as its two leads; their actions and afflictions dialectically linked.

A film that holds more than enough to benefit from second and possibly even third viewings, Paju is as involving as it is moving, leaving an eerie yet somehow necessary emptiness in its wake. A fine filmic example of contemporary psychogeography.

Paju screens as a part of this year’s MIFF and is screening again on Friday July 30 2010, 4.45pm, Palace Kino.

The Tree

July 27, 2010

Producer Sue Taylor was in attendance at Sunday night’s MIFF screening of The Tree (2010), an Australian/French collaborative film adaptation of Judy Pascoe’s 2002 novel, Our Father Who Art in the Tree. Very well received at screenings in Cannes, Paris and Sydney, its first Melbourne showing was no exception, the audience gasping, crying and clapping in appropriate accolade.

Dawn O’Neil (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a strong-willed woman left emotionally devastated and physically alienated in the Australian countryside following her husband’s sudden heart attack and subsequent death. On top of it all she has four kids to consider. When only daughter, and self-professed “dad’s favourite” Simone confides in her mother that she’s found a way of communicating with her dead father, Dawn’s outlook alters. The two then spend much of their spare time sat in the tree confiding in the supposed spirit of their lost loved one. As the family try to move on and rebuild their lives the tree and the memory they hold all too dear becomes a hinderance; literally and figuratively destroying their home and tearing the cohesion of their family unit apart.

Charlotte Gainsbourg gives a fantastic performance as always in what is essentially a very decent drama. Centred around a gentle metaphor (though occasionally erring on too sentimental) the vision is beautiful and the character relationships genuinely compelling. Not a film to change your life but an engaging enough effort and a well observed view of the rural landscape it’s set against.

The Tree screens as part of this year’s MIFF and is screening again on Saturday July 31 2010, 4.45pm in Greater Union cinema 3.