The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"Festival for the Independent-Minded" -- 15th Edition
"Scientists say the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."--Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Southland Tales"

[Contains some capsule reviews and perhaps spoilers]

Cheers! It's the 15th annual running of the Richmond Moving Image Co-op's James River Film Festival.

Yes, this is springtime in Richmond, when the cinema extravaganzas commence, just as our weather is at its most splendiferous (though with occasional downpours). [Image is still from Midlothian, Va's own Richard Kelly's Southland Tales via]

RMIC's week-long celebration of the independent-minded cinema kind of snuck up on us this year; what with the French Film Festival that came just before, and general demands of the thing called living-in-Richmond-when-you're-busy.

Convenient to us, the bulk of the offerings this year are either at the Byrd or Firehouse and that suits us just find, in particular if the weather allows pedestrian pleasures.

Richmond is bereft of a true repertory art house, but we have scads of cinema around, and maybe there's an advantage to compressing all your art/alternative film into a few weeks. A sense of urgency arises. If you don't see these films as part of a theater audience, you're other option is to get the DVD, and that works better for some film than others, though a number of the offerings at these festivals won't be on DVD. Which is why there's such things as Wholphin, the journal of short video and film, which has its representation here this year, too.

"'Ow about big dog's cock? Can you say that?" -- Control

For those of you in the billion-eyed audiences who are With Partner, and who find out aspects of The Other's personality you didn't know about, I got a revelation last night.

So, after our First Friday-ing-ness we went to see the RMIC's Byrd witching hour showing of Anton Corbin's Control, about the creation of the band Joy Division and the out-out-brief-candle life of its prime motivator, epileptic artist poet musician Ian Curtis.

I knew she owned some New Order CDs and I never thought much of that; but she also in her years of working in a studio amassed many boxes of cassette tapes, and some of them have Joy Division/New Order on them.

She used to listen to them, and even saw New Order perform live in New Orleans, "back in the day," as they say.

The film I'm sure is masterful, its won a raft full of awards, and lensed in clear as crystal moody black-and-white by a director who made some Joy Division videos and knew all the principals -- but the viewing hour was late for the middle-aged. And I had some PBRs in me. And up in the balcony where we'd stole to, I kind of dozed. I mean, this isn't La vie en Rose.

Still, people liked the film a great deal, judging from the excited burble in the lobby after, and WRIR had its table and Melissa of Mercury Falls was there, and Michael Miracle of the Lotus Land show gave a brief commentary prior to the screening.

For some reason, the big curtain rising above the Byrd screen reminded me of a funeral.

We're going to try and hit these events, but may not get to them--there's books to be written and art to make and leaves to rake, between rain showers.


Sponsored by WRIR, 97.3 FM
3:30 p.m., The Firehouse Theatre

Tactical media is creative solidarity in the fight for justice and democracy: resistance to the rampant tendencies toward repression, exploitation, isolation, alienation and corporatization.
– DeeDee Halleck

DeeDee Halleck, filmmaker, co-founder of Paper Tiger Television and the Deep Dish Satellite Network, and Professor Emeritus Department of Communication at the University of San Diego, will present a selection of provocative videos produced by Paper Tiger Television and Deep Dish Satellite Network and discuss the role that independent media can play in building community and promoting social change.

  • Community Media Around the World
  • Paper Tiger Reads Paper Tiger
  • Shocking and Awful (Iraq War)
  • The Last Televangelist, Rev. Billy C. Wirtz -- [We experienced Rev. Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping in Charlottesville, Va., as part of the Virginia Film Festival a few years ago--a service held in an abandoned grocery store. It doesn't get much better than that.]


Nanook of The North imageRICHMOND INDIGENOUS GOURD ORCHESTRA plays NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922, 79 min., silent with live score)
Sponsored by Plan 9 Music
8:30 p.m., The Firehouse Theatre
$10 advance @ Plan 9 Music and JRFF events;
$15 at door Seating is limited.
Robert Flaherty’s documentary on life with the Eskimos – Itivimuits – of northern Hudson Bay set the standard for narrative nonfiction and made Nanook the Hunter an international celebrity – remember the Eskimo Pie? Flaherty’s chronicle of Nanook’s and his family’s nomadic routine in the frozen North shows man at his best, living harmoniously with his surroundings, i.e. living green in black and white. Seen it before? Hear it new with RIGO’S live accompaniment!
Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra.

The Partner In Art For Life and me saw this at another venue last year, and the sound and experience will be more intimate at the Firehouse.

One has to remember that: the family put together for Nanook wasn't all his and that
some of the interior igloo scenes were shot on a soundstage under bright lights. Thus,
Flaherty created the genre of full-length documentary. Hell, even U.S. Civil War photographers Timothy O' Sullivan and Mathew Brady moved corpses for effect.

Barry Bless, of the RIGO, explained to me that the Inuits chose to live up there; they weren't marooned. No poisonous snakes or spiders, malaria, yellow fever, humidity, jungle rot nor many predators except for polar bears and wolves-- and no vegetables. Bless joked that Nanook's people didn't have gourds, either. But the music and sound effects the group created is now tied to the film for me.


Donnie Darko posterDONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2004, 133 min.) with Richard Kelly
Co-sponsored by Virginia Film Office
11:30 p.m., The Byrd Theatre
Admission $5
Director Richard Kelly will introduce his widely acclaimed feature, the hallucinatory Donnie Darko, an original and dark comic turn on suburban high school late 1980s time travel angst. Referencing everything from Harvey with Jimmy Stewart, Graham Greene’s The Destructors, Marker’s La Jetée to David Lynch and post-modern doppelgangers everywhere, Donnie Darko is a surprisingly assured first outing for Midlothian native Kelly. It was initially released in 2001, and has since been accorded “official cult status.” Please join us for this very special screening.

The first time we saw this film was at the Two Boots Theater in Greenwich Village at a midnight showing . Now, here Kelly is, back home, with his preferred edited version.

Sunday A.M. update:

Interesting cinematic experiences back-to-back: Nanook of the North to Donnie Darko. Films about isolation, adapting to circumstances (or not) and survival of a nuclear family in a confusing and harsh, uncaring world. No fantasy in Nanook's life (except in Flaherty's jiggering of reality), contemplations of immortality, eternity, time and space. Just endless ice on the edge of starvation. Maybe Donnie needed some real Nanook time. Suburbia is a physical isolation that becomes a psychological insularity although you can drive somewhere else. Nanook and his family could travel only by dogsled, kayak and on foot. Without assistance, Donnie would've been dead in few frozen hours.

A good audience for the witching hour to see this extended version of John Hughes taking a detour into Rod Serling/David Lynch territory. Amie remarked that the film shows its Lynchian and music video roots, with a dollop of X-Files influence -- which we enjoyed until 9/11 made the series seem rather innocent and irrelevant. Still, Amie said, one could put together a thesis about how Richard Kelly and X-Files writer and producer Vince Gilligan both came out of the cul-de-sac archipelago outside Poe's city. (Gilligan was a couple years behind me at Lloyd C. Bird High School -- Go Skyhawks!)

The big addition to the film is the text of the book Philosophy of Time Travel. Kind of reminded me of Myst: portentous and mysterious. I wondered where he came up with the material that expained how the Darko version of time travel worked.

And we had an experience of film festival reality mesh -- Joy Division was playing in the background of the Donny Darko house party scene.

Kelly spoke a little prior to the screening; he was genial and remarked that he was 25 when he made Darko and seems so long ago now, and made in a blur. Hell, it was 2000-2001, looking back at 1988 -- ah the far away days of Dukakis v. Bush the Senior. And that's enough of a blur right there.

I'm wondering if he's just plain tired of talking about the work -- he gave us no special insights -- but you know, billion-eyed audience, I'm an adherent of time distortion and past alterations and alternatives, and that a little free will discussion Darko has with Dr. John Carter, I mean, Noah Wiley, about free will or fate, that concludes with the science teacher saying, "I can't continue this topic of conversation...Because I could lose my job." Kind of sums up why we tend to see matters in a linear fashion. It's less controversial and easier to function.

I'd completely forgotten that the adoralicious Maggie Gyllenhaal was playing against her actual brother in the film--there were many nuances that, having not seen the film awhile, that were refreshed on this viewing on the Byrd's big screen.

Oh, and he's filming his next--which I think is about a strange time capsule placed in the footing of a school that's unearthed and there's documents with prophecies that have come true--except for the final one. (At least that's what it was when I last interviewed up years ago--but I think that plot line is discarded). Now this one seems more akin to an updated Brothers Grim/Poe fable Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella are in it; film's called The Box, and Kelly is using parts of Hampton Roads and Boston to resemble Richmond circa 1976. I don't get this part, but, maybe we'll hear more later.


Southland Tales poster
SOUTHLAND TALES (2006, 145 min.) with Richard Kelly
Co-sponsored by Virginia Film Office & Velocity Comics
12:00 noon, The Byrd Theatre
Admission $5
Guest Richard Kelly’s follow-up to Donnie Darko is an apocalyptic sci-fi war story that challenges an audience’s narrative expectations. Naysayed at Cannes, Southland Tales was re-edited and released and championed by critic Amy Taubin as a new form of cinema along with David Lynch’s Inland Empire, a form employing the associative editing and continuity breaking conventions of dreams. Kelly readily acknowledges the multiple pop cultural influences – comics, music videos, movies, internet – in his films but still manages to somehow twist them in his own image. A Richmond premiere!

The film was booed at Cannes. All this and Mandy Moore, too! She plays a manipulative, foul-mouthed political socialite. The Maestro himself is pictured below, and Sarah Michelle Gellar dances with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson during a sequence that maybe was or wasn't intended to resemble "Dance With The Stars" but while aboard a gigantic zeppelin. And we like zeppelins, or, to be accurate, airships.

Kelly's realization of a 21st century luxury airshp, as sleek, 1920s Deco through a 21st century aesthetic also bears some resembles to the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" U.S.S. Enterpise. Images Via Rotten

When the lights came up at the Byrd Theatre following The Southland Tales experience, Amie turned to me and said, "It's like Vince Gilligan. Like you. It's Richmond. It's time travel. It's all about the end of the world and going forward while going backward."

I think she got something quite right there.

Kelly is one of the Mellennials; a generation in the US bracketed by their media experience ranging from the Challenger explosion to Lady Diana's death to the Columbine slaughter to the televised Gulf Wars to 9/11. It's a generation afflicted/infected/affected by the Internet, global warming, blogs, smart bombs, AIDS, video games and Southern presidents. These under-40/30s don't just expect to see the revolution televised, but that CNN will break in to announce the world's final moments. How else do you account for V for Vendetta?

Kelly is one of those younger directors who've swallowed pop culture whole and now release the mashed up results in frantic frenetic visual collages.

Southland also represents how movies aren't movies anymore. Well, they've rarely been art for art's sake. Kelly doesn't want to be Jonas Mekas or Stan Brakahge. He's about something else, as are movies in the 21st century. No, movies have always been about pushing ancillary products: soundtracks, toys, fashion lines and assorted touchstone reproductions of themselves.

But here is an example where a mere movie--stretching and straining to pack as much information into the frame as possible-- is one component part of a universe-- a mythos--that utilizes graphic novels and the Internet to complement and overlap a story with layers to give a sense of complexity. The complicated interrelatedness of these realizations give a greater sense of importance to them than they merit. I'll leave aside whether they are huge wastes of time. Their audiences don't think so. Go ask any devoted fan of Lost.

The sum effect is a cataract of information that people Kelly's age have had to figure out how to process. They're exposed to such attention-robbing nuisances from the cradle on. And don't even get me started on video games that are now movies that spawn more video games and comic books.

All that said, I don't know sitting here in the misty Richmond evening waiting to see Juno if Southland Tales is a disaster movie or a movie disaster. That he shot it in 30 days accounts for the film's headlong rush.

I'm reminded of those 1970s films, The Towering Inferno, the Airport series, (many of which featured the late great Charlton Heston) The Poseidon Adventure, or trying-to-be-zany It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

The premise is simple: load a film up with a variety of recognizable faces from either their marquee wattage or character value, put them in a frantic situation and keep the pace rolling and the unusual cameos flowing. Voilá!

But in most of the above films, the situation was straight-forward: a burning building, a crashing airplane, Jimmy Durante kicks a bucket and sets in motion a crazy cross-country car chase in search of a pile of money under the Big "W."

Kelly's through lines are multiple and multifaceted. He said it himself: the movie starts with an atomic bomb blast during a Fourth of July party and goes on from there, to a Doomsday Scenario underwritten by Hustler and Bud Light. He said that perhaps that's why he hired the 1990s roster of Saturday Night Live and a Los Angeles comedy troupe, The Mechanicals, to bring his doomed, distressed and demented characters to life. (I recall how director Philip Kaufman hired a comedy troupe to represent "The Permanent Press Corps" attached to the U.S. space program in his The Right Stuff.)

And with an eye to the culture, there's actors playing characters who seem like other actors: a Will Ferrell double on roller blades; a Rob Lowe political suit (or, maybe, Robert Downey Jr.), and Kevin Smith sounding like Jack Black, playing a latter day Karl Marx. There's even a floating glowing ice cream van reminiscent of the car in Repo Man.

"This is only a movie, after all," Kelly said to the Byrd audience.

Yes, and it carries themes of his other one: vehicular homicides, eyes shot out, time travel, free will and fate and the End of Everything. I was reminded, too, Until The End of the World. The 1991 Wim Wenders endeavor featured, among other things, like Kelly's films-- an incredible soundtrack (which I still have, on tape, bought new at the time). Ominous chords conveyed by Moby were also reminiscent of the Wenders epic.

The '91 film also had a crazy scientist portrayed (naturally) by Max Von Sydow, here played by Wallace Shawn (!) who is a cross between his Smartest Man In The World from the Princess Bride, his journalist character in The Moderns ("If it wasn't for me, those people would think Surrealism was a breakfast cereal!") and Gary Oldman's Jean-Baptiste Zorg in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element -- another mashup of a film, that worked much better. Kelly, like, Besson, suddenly stops the show for a production number aboard a mammoth vessel.

[And another weird connection: Shawn was in the classic My Dinner With André that was lensed right here in Richmond, Va., at the Jefferson Hotel. Thank Thespis that the great Louis Malle, Shawn and Andre Gregory made the film 1981, just before the advent of hyperkeneticism in movies that Southland Tales is just but one and fuller expression. Only on HBO could something like Dinner made today.]

A reviewer of Until The End of the World praised Wenders for showing the audience a glimpse of the future. I'm paraphrasing from memory, but words tothe effect of: some films claim to show the future, but here, the future is impinging on the present. Maybe that's what I missed in Kelly's film: Germanic seriousness as opposed to U.S. antic-ness.

But that's personal taste; whether you prefer the first Batman or Batman Begins. I caved in to commercials and stood in line to see the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton effort but have always faulted the thing because of the devolution into glory passes of the Batmobile and Kim Basinger screaming. More rain. More darkness. More psychodrama. I don't care if it is a comic book, make it like Bergman meets Brueghel becomes The Bat-Man. Then you have the great trifecta: pretentious and portentous and ponderous. And I don't care. Why do we give up hours of our lives in big dark rooms, anyway? Entertainment is one thing; creating memorable art is another.

But there's something else at work here, too. There was some Charlie Kaufman in that a half-baked movie script becomes the movie you're watching.

So, OK. There's plenty of nods and winks and irony -- so much that the movie has more tics and twitches than some viewers may find comprehensible.

But for all the operatic pretense of Southland Tales, I left it feeling that I should be more than just conflicted.

Amie at one point whispered to me: Kitsch is hard.

But I don't think that's what Kelly sought to accomplish. If he did, as Amie said, it isn't bad enough to be good, nor bad enough to be really bad.

Camp is tough, if you're attempting to make it fresh and satire is difficult if your quarry is the sum total of contemporary existence. There were some amazing inspired moments -- the scene on the mega-zeppelin where the National Anthem his sung by a heavy-bosomed chanteuse backed by a contemporary music quartet is just one. The mighty mite, buffed Cheri Oteri kicking serious ass is another.

But after the third or fourth killing and arms thrown up like that Spanish Civil War soldier photograph, I got kind of disheartened. [That's the Robrt Capa image, via]

And in the end, I guess, I'm from Richmond, and I like my dystopia dark, rainy, dismal and monochromatic, with far less self-reference and with fewer levels of plot.

I don't need to be reminded I'm seeing a movie, I want to experience that world the director is taking me into, even if I'm unnerved and distressed. And if there are several story strands, they each should be fascinating.

Finally, was it Orson Welles?-- I think it was--who said being director of a major motion picture was like a boy getting the biggest train set in the world. Kelly is having fun. He's smiling through the apocalypses he keeps making movies about.

Maybe I'm too old to think that the End of the Age is a laughing matter.

BAD GIRLS (2000-2005, 85 min.) with David Williams

5:00 p.m., The Firehouse Theatre
Admission $5
Another in a series of works that delve into artists’ personalities and processes, Richmond filmmaker David Williams offers a work-in-progress on the local art duo known as “Bad Girl Art.” Keithley Pierce and Georgia Terry--who died in June 2007-- who make their art with an unflinching honesty and a humorous tongue-in-cheek quality derived from their own relationships with men and family. After cultivating a loyal patronage, they’re finally able to quit their day jobs and pursue their one true calling. Stay for a Q&A after the film with Mr. Williams.

If you don't see a Williams film here, the likelihood of you seeing it is remote, unless you're on a festival circuit somewhere. We love David and his work, and we're honored that he makes his art here.

As with all of his films, Bad Girls is a Williams character study -- and Keithley is quite a character; but real, vulnerable-- eccentric--and committed to her craft. She's gone from real estate to making her vision. Able to spin out world-wise steel magnolia-styled bon mots and apply them to fanciful, folk-styled portraits with the drawling ease of thought, but proving that making them is an industrious, wearying, chain-smoking process.

The film begins with a jolt--the death of Keithley's father. And ends with an ambiguous image of her standing in Hollywood Cemetery, her back to the camera. Fatality is never far from this story, which is also busy with the Bad Girls making their pieces in mass production fashion, and enlisting family and friends to help. By turns funny, poignant, and always authentic, this film deserves more viewings by other audiences other than the packed house at the Firehouse.


Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? film posterWHY HAS BODHI-DHARMA LEFT FOR THE EAST? (1989, 135 min., Korean with subtitles)
7:30 p.m., The Firehouse Theatre
Admission $5
The first major Korean film to be released in the U.S., director Bae Yong-kyun’s Zen saga relates the last days of an elderly Buddhist monk, and his two charges, a disciple and an orphan. As he prepares for his death, he wisely prepares them for their own life paths. Stunning cinematography in a restored print from Milestone Films. In Korean with subtitles.

I regret that Amie and I just couldn't stay for this; I think the film would've provided a unique capstone to our movie feast this weekend. We just had to go home.

The True Richmond Stories Are Here! The True Richmond Stories Are Here!

Yes, the World and his Wife can rest easy. The second printing of True Richmond Stories is arrving at finer book stores, Amazon and Barnes & even as we speak. Now, over at Chop Suey Tuey in Carytown right this instant they got 15 of the first editions that just, for reasons I cannot explain, showed up. I think History Press was shifting some back orders around, I dunno. I got a call from a friend telling me about that many were at of all places Sam's Club in Southside. So.

Anyway, I ambled over there and signed, dated and explained that the hand annotations weren't from just somebody writing in your book, but from me...writing in your book.

That's me, after the September release event, during the afterparty at Cafe Gutenberg.

Along the way I met filmmaker David Williams, and Keithley Pierce, one of the stars of his Bad Girls film screening tomorrow.

Federal Marshals! Open up!

Our place on Colonial Avenue has a criminal past. The place was a half-way house for those released from incarceration who had drug and alcohol problems. We on occasion get pleading letters from men behind bars who are soon to be released and don't have any immediate place for residence.

And there's also fierce communications from creditors--used to be, by phone, but not so much anymore, and maybe even a sheriff who didn't get the memo six years ago that those people don't live here anymore.

Well, this week, the Partner In Art For Life was home during the day. A knocking came at the door. This means we know the person. Amie thought the timing odd, as nobody had called, but we still have friends who do drop in. The knocking on the door got louder.

She throws her house robe on and dashes down stairs and peers out the front door window to see....two men in dark suits and one holding up a badge.

"Federal marshals!" was the insistence.

"Oh no," Amie thought. "What did we do? What did we not do?"

They were, actually, looking for a prior resident whose name was familiar to us due to correspondence that she's always noting, 'No longer at this address' and clipping to the post box. Amie explained to the federales the recent history. One chuckled, "Do you want us to stay?"

Amie said they were more like actors in a film portraying federal marshals. They did apologize for the interruption.


[Image: Marc's Voice blog]

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