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Film Festival Day 8, 02/08/2013

 Film #35: William Yang: My Generation

I don’t think that I was the target audience for this film. There was a target audience – I know, because they were there, and applauded at the end – but I found that the bulk of the film was a barrage of names I didn’t know and didn’t understand why I should care about, having parties and dinners and fashion shows and spats. It seemed to be a listing of events, with no overarching narrative or deeper context. There were flashes of interest, and it was well made, but on the whole I kinda wish I’d blown it off and gone to play with my nieces at Te Papa instead.

(I did go and play with my nieces, but it was a very truncated affair.)

Film #36: Making Utu

This was a really interesting (and short) documentary, although the maker (who was there) said that there was a five-hour film struggling to get out. (She was non-committal as to whether we would ever get to see that film.) She also talked about the movie that she originally wanted to make – she wanted to have a discussion about the ownership of land at each of the places that filming happened, with the making of the movie acting as backdrop; but she found that people shied away from the camera, both off set and on, so only flashes of that original concept survive. It would be interesting to see her go back to this material, and have that conversation now, when people are more comfortable with being on screen and have had more time to talk about this issue.  Weirdly, I recognised one of the things in the film (the Taranaki New Zealand Wars Memorial) from a recent Historic Places Trust bulletin, so it’s not like this stuff has faded away.

The film itself was really interesting – both from the point of view of how they tried to get things right (from a historical perspective), and how they did things from an effects point-of-view. For example, I had wondered how they had made the tattoos on his face so textured, so seeing the latex being applied to the main actor was really interesting; and seeing the gaffer tape and cardboard props used for the uniforms of the British troops only seen in the distance was very cool.

I’m glad that I saw it, and that I stayed and listened to the Q&A afterwards – the person from the film society lamented that this film didn’t spawn a genre, and it’s weird to think how NZ would have evolved if the Maori land wars had become our Western.

But then I had to hoof it from the City Gallery to the Embassy.

Film #37: Frances Ha

If you were to draw the main character, I imagine you’d have her walking, head in the clouds, with a trail of her belongings falling out of a hole in her bag that she hadn’t noticed yet. Tonnes of passion, not a lot of finesse… and not big on backup plans. There’s a lot of emphasis on not feeling grown up, on not feeling like you know what to say, or what to do…

It was a little slow, and I think that she’d be a frustrating friend to have. And I’m not as in love with New York (or dance) as these people seem to be. But she ended up being a pretty endearing character, and it was a pretty enjoyable film.

Film #38: North by Northwest

If you made this film now, you’d probably have about quarter of the expository dialogue (fortunately), and ten times the number of explosions (unfortunately); and some of the attitudes have aged a bit. But it’s suitably convoluted, some of the lines are still crackerjack, and it bumps along at a fair pace. In fact, one of its problems is that it has is that it’s famous enough that there are a few scenes that are iconic, which means you know they’re coming up; it would have been amazing to have seen it when it first came out.

In some ways, the architecture is one of the real stars – it’s something that’s aged a lot better than some of the leisurewear. 🙂 I liked it when I first saw it, and I liked it this time, too.

Film #39: The Strange Little Cat

An odd film. An extended family is getting together for a meal, and they arrive in drips and drabs. There’s the chaotic movement of a bunch of related people in a small space, punctuated by barking by the dog, and the occasional anecdote… which each seem freighted with meaning, perhaps in part because they’re in a movie. I liked the feeling of a family bumping along and teasing each other, and that part of it seemed really truthful; but if you’re going in expecting a narrative, rather than a slice of life, you’d be sorely disappointed.

My first session at the Film Archive. It was okay, but not as good as I had hoped.

Film #40: Starlet

There was a lot more explicit sex in this movie than I was expecting. I mean, it’s not extended or gratuitously shot, and it’s completely relevant to the story they’re telling – they pretty much just show that, yep, sex is happening, and then pan away to other stuff that’s going on. So… just something that you might want to be aware of, going in.

I liked all the performances – the old woman was suitably curmudgeonly and proactive, the dog was well-behaved, the main antagonist is suitably self-centred without being cartoonishly evil, and the main young woman is suitably blithe. The backstory is only sketched in to the bare minimum, and there’s plenty that is left unanswered because it’s irrelevant. I thought that they were very good at building up tension by having a whole wardrobe worth of shoes waiting to drop, and then being very judicious with which ones they let fall; and the director talked about how they chose to finish the film the way they did because they felt that what happened after that end was private.

Anyway, it wouldn’t be for everyone, but I liked it.

Film #41: V/H/S 2

Okay, this is basically a horror anthology with a framing device of a creepy house with a bunch of cursed videotapes – so all the short films are constrained to contain the cameras that are filming in the narrative of their story. This film follows a similar collection last year.

This collection, much more so than the last one, relied on jump scares and copious blood and mutilation – this meant that I looked away from the screen occasionally, but there wasn’t anything that’s likely to dwell in my mind as much as some of the parts of the previous film. There were a number of neat ideas – for example, guy with helmet cam gets turned into a zombie, so then you get a zombie point-of-view; or that some medical prostheses let you see things that you can’t normally see, which also allows them to get you. But I’m not sure that the shorts themselves give you much that a paragraph summary wouldn’t – I mean, they were mostly well-made (though the creepiest one, involving a cult compound, was let down by an unconvincing main monster), but by and large the films never really surprised me.

In fact, sometimes they sound better in concept than in execution. For example, the medical prostheses one let the main character perceive ghosts, and they’re angry for reasons that are never explored. (I guess the car accident that caused the injury the prosthesis was for could have killed the people whose ghosts are haunting him? But there’s no reason to think that’s the case, other than the car crash being mentioned in passing.) But my main issue is: why ghosts? Why not go with equating it with second sight, and showing fairies – there’s plenty of precedent for fairies not being particularly happy with being spied on, and you could go from beautiful and weird to terrifying pretty easily. Or aliens, though you’d need to be careful to pick a metaphor that hasn’t been overused – aliens as communists, aliens as consumer culture. Aliens as surveillance state, maybe? Though it’s probably a whole lot cheaper to make people up as ghosts…

Anyway, it was a bit disappointing; I’m not sure I could recommend it, unless you’re very into the genre.

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