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Film Festival Day 16, 10/08/2013

This is it — the write-up of my final day of the Film Festival..  I saw 88 films, which is about one under par for me.

(I went to Pacific Rim last night, which is why I’m still lagging behind with my write-ups.)

Something that I forgot to mention in my write-up of Computer Chess was how annoyed I was at the programmer who, when asked how many squares there are on a chess-board, answered “64”.  No wonder you’re having problems with your program if you can’t answer a simple question like that correctly; “squares” and “places a piece can occupy” are not synonymous.  “204” is a slightly better answer, since the whole board is a square, as is each of the four seven by seven squares, the nine six-by-six squares, etc.  But the best answer, in my opinion, would be to explain the ambiguity of the question, and ask what kind of answer is most useful to the person asking.

These are the things I think about when watching movies.  Sorry, guys.

Film #84: Cutie & the Boxer (and Butterflies)

The stop-motion short was about how much artists suffer, and how evil the people who give them jobs are.  Okay, no, that’s not fair at all — there’s a certainly a risk that doing a stifling version of something you are passionate about can end up killing that passion.  But… I don’t know.  There was something about this story that rubbed me the wrong way a little.

The feature did not hide where its sympathies lay; or perhaps it’s more fair to say that they the facts of the matter speak for themselves.  The “boxer”, Ushio Shinohara (I think they used the anglicized name order?) and the “cutie”, his wife Noriko, are two struggling  New York artists — in fact, Ushio has been a struggling artist since he arrived there from Japan in the 60s.  He specializes in giant cardboard sculptures of motorbikes, and canvases that he punches with paint-filled sponges tied to his boxing gloves.  She is 20 years younger than him, and also came to New York to become an artist; he charmed her, knocked her up, and then she stopped doing art for a while to raise their son… who, it is implied, has a drinking problem, like his father before him.

We see Ushio making new art for an exhibition — and their rent and utilities bills are such that they really need to make a sale.  The Guggenheim is interested in purchasing one of his paintings, in particular one that had been featured in journals… but it turned out that he’d given that away to a friend while drunk.  But someone in Japan is interested in buying a sculpture, so off he flies  to Japan…

Noriko, on the other hand, has started painting again — a semi-autobiographical series of pictures, almost comics, telling the story of her life since she came to New York through the characters “Cutie” and “Bully”.

But that stark description simplfies the relationship in a way the movie doesn’t.  It’s clear that they both still have strong feelings for each other, and Noriko credits Ushio for mentoring her, and pushing her in her art.

I have no real interest in this sort of art — I’m not offended that it exists, I’m just not moved by it.  But I’m glad that they are still going, and don’t seem likely to starve; and I enjoyed the film.

Film #85: Twenty Feet From Stardom

What’s the main thing that this film reminded me about?  It would have to be the douchebaggery of Phil Spector — taking the recording of “He’s a Rebel” sung by Darlene Love, and attributing it to The Crystals, for example.

This was a film about backup singers, and how some of them want to be stars in their own right.  All of the women (and handful of men) shown sounded amazing… but you also heard some of their solo work, and that was much more varied in quality.  It showed, sadly, that just having a good voice (and being pretty) isn’t enough — getting good songs is important too.

But it made a bunch of interesting points — for example, that the backup often get the hook of the song, so when people sing along to a pop song, it is often the backup singers they’re singing along with.  And people also talked about how that sound has gone out of vogue, and that many artists just get cheaper people in and tune them electronically, rather than paying for expensive professionals.  On the other hand, there were no shortage of stars willing to sing the praises of some of these singers.

I enjoyed the film, and there were plenty of good tunes; I’ll probably look up some of the artists (like Lisa Fischer) to see what their independent stuff is like.  But I’m not sure I feel that bad for people who never become as famous as they wanted to be.

Film #86: The Crowd

This was the silent film with an orchestra.  A young man comes to New York city, meets a girl, marries, has kids… but his life never quite gets the breaks that he’s sure are coming, and he never has quite the amount of elbow-room for bad choices that he thinks he has.

This was quite a sad film, for all that it ended on an upbeat note.  I was impressed by some of the effects that they managed to do at the time (for example, showing his internal state by superimposing images on his forehead).  And a live orchestra is always fun… some people play The Dark Side of the Moon over the top of The Wizard of Oz, so maybe it would be possible to write a score to be played over something like The Room?

It was an interesting film, but I don’t think I’ll seek it out to watch again.

Film #87: Museum Hours

A slow film that I quite enjoyed.  He is an older Viennese museum guard with a varied past; she is a relatively skint middle-aged Canadian pulled to the city by a relative in a coma.  Sadly, they do not fight crime.  Instead, we hear him commenting on his job, and on the people he watches, and about the art that he sees; and we see her talking to a cousin, a woman that she’s not seen since she was young, but for whom she has flown half-way around the world on borrowed money.  The two protagonists meet by chance, and he helps her, because… why not?

This is not an action-packed film.  It is not romantic, or sexy.  But… there’s an art historian that the man overhears, who talks about how the the Bruegel’s painting The Procession to Calvary might not be about Christ’s carrying of the cross; it might be about the little boy in blue running about in the background.  There’s a texture to the world, detail all around us, and it can as beautiful and meaningful as any carefully posed piece of art.

And it made me want to see more of Bruegel’s art, so there’s that, too.

So… definitely not for everyone, and maybe not something I need to rewatch, but I liked it.

Film #88: The Only Lovers Left Alive

This was my last movie of the festival.  A Jim Jarmusch film about vampires, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston sounded like my idea of a good time, and I wasn’t wrong.

Tilda Swinton is always intense, but she also gets to be playful here as Eve; Hiddleston is brooding and dark as her lover Adam.  They get to be the kind of cool that people around them want to be like, and we get to see the tension between making art that you want others to respond to, and the need for anonymity.

It looks gorgeous, and is frequently funny without making fun of itself.  It is sad about the wastefulness of people, and makes good use of decaying Detroit to make its points and set its mood.  The vampiric powers are there, but they’re more evident in how much Adam and Eve know and have seen than anything particularly flashy; but that makes the small glimpses of supernatural power we see all the more effective.

Random things from the screening: when one of the cool old guitars was broken, I heard a couple of people in the audience make an involuntary sad noise.  And when the two leads talked about Eve’s “sister” turning up, I thought we were going to get a Lilith reference, but it went in a different direction instead.

I liked it.

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