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Film Festival Day 11, 04/08/2014

Booking online for the Festival was great; the seats I was assigned are the very definition of the parson’s egg. Admittedly, some of this is due to the fact that I prefer the front row of the Paramount, which no algorithm can be expected to discern; but I booked pretty early, and in the first week was consistently being put in the seats above the entrance, which does no favors to the Paramount’s relatively small screen.  And there are weird things going on with the Te Papa seating, where they seem to fill up rows L and M, rather than clustering people in the middle of the theater.

Oh, woe is me.

But seriously, I hope they do something about the seating stuff next year.

* * *

What do you do when someone you love believes or does things that you think are terrible?  In Reaching for the MoonElizabeth Bishop, the American poet, faces this a number of times when she moves to 50’s Brazil after falling for her university friend’s lesbian lover, architect Lota de Macedo Soares.  From their different opinions on how to deal with the love triangle to their different attitudes to the 1964 coup d’etat, the two personalities are strong in different ways, and fragile in different ways — for example, Elizabeth’s alcoholism, and Lota’s later depression.

The poet’s great friend Robert Lowell (a noted poet in his own right) criticizes while he feels is a fragment of a poem at the beginning of the movie, saying that it is simply observations broken up into sentences.  This movie, like good poetry, is more than observations broken up into scenes.  That poem becomes One Art.

I enjoyed it. (Both the poem, and the movie.)

* * *

The lawyer is the bad guy, and that’s disappointing.

I hope that I am not a critic – I enjoy enjoying movies.  Unfortunately, I did not enjoy REALITi, because it was bad.  Not the grandiose The Room bad, or the somewhat cynical Sharknado bad — the type of bad where you can see the nugget of good trying to get out, but it is swamped by many little things that would be easy to fix, combined with bigger problems that do not have obvious solutions.  The kind of bad where you wish they had spent more time early on, so that they didn’t have these problems in the end.

The little things seem trivial when enumerated.  For example, if a company is drugging the water supply, they are involved in a “conspiracy”, not in a “conspiracy theory”; and if one character says that they are, then it’s a mistake the character makes, but when another character repeats it back to them, then it’s a mistake that the world is making.

Or if you’re showing us the Advertisement Of Evil for the first time, and the clip has music, you don’t have your soundtrack fighting with the diegetic music — you signal the character’s concentration by dropping away all sound except the click and whir of the machine, and the sudden noise of the clip acts as a “pay attention to this” cue.  Once we’ve started absorbing the ad, then you can decide to start to swamp it with the soundtrack, if you’re wanting to signal that the character is drawing back from what they’re watching to consider the larger implications or whatever.

The thing is, they also made some clever small choices — shining lights into the actors faces and keeping the displays off-screen instead of trying to make snazzy interface designs that will look dated in six months, for example.  And not trying too hard to future-up the cars and sets.  And the comment about the news and stock footage, it seemed like you could do something interesting with that.

But it felt like a 48-Hour Film writ large – chunks of unpolished, clunky, first pass writing and plotting married to chunks of unpolished, clunky, first pass acting and camera work.  And given the amount of slog and passion that any film takes, it is heartbreaking that it isn’t better.

It was interesting to watch, in that it made you think how to make it better.  But I wouldn’t suggest watching it for fun.

* * *

Fish and Cat is two and a quarter hour Iranian film done in one long tracking shot.  If that sounds like it could drag a little at times… I wouldn’t disagree with you. But it was very, very cleverly done; and they manage to present multiple points of view by simply tracking various people around the forest and campsite where the film is set, and letting the actors do the same scene again, filmed from a different angle, and focusing on a different person or part of the action. They also use voice-over to expand the scenes in time and importance, and start the film with the ominous mention of three restaurant workers arrested for serving human flesh, which gives an ominous edge to many periods that would otherwise simply be someone walking on a forest path.  It felt a little bit like a play, and I could imagine that you could stage something very interesting along the same lines.

Most of the characters are university students who have come to the campsite to participate in a kite-flying contest.  This is another smart move – the complicated relationships, weirdness and talky-ness of people that age works well in the movie.

I am not sure whether I can recommend it – it’s the first movie so far that has made me check my phone for the time – but I am glad I saw it.

* * *

One of the things that struck me about Jodorowsky’s Dune was how few people involved had read the book before signing up for it – the artists, the writer/filmmaker, the actors.  Jodorowsky said that the name came to him, and he could have just as easily have said Don Quixote, or something else.

I hadn’t realized how close the film was to being made… and what they could have actually accomplished at the budget that they were looking for.  What would Star Wars have been like if they were being compared to whatever this film actually looked like, rather than simply being able to steal from its filming bible?  Would it have had an impact in the mainstream, or would it have sat in the midnight arthouses?  Would I have enjoyed it?

In some ways, it gets to be as great as the director imagined it would be, because it never had to be nailed to celluloid.  I don’t see any way that it couldn’t have ultimately disappointed him if it had been filmed – if only because it wouldn’t have raised the world’s consciousness the way he wanted.  But… Dali as a mad space emperor, with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd and the director’s own son, who trained at martial arts for two years, in the main role!  With Giger and Moebius and Chris Foss designing, and Dan O’Bannon doing the effects!

It was a fun film about an interesting subject.

* * *

I like Stanislaw Lem, and I really liked The Congress.

On one level, it’s a straight science-fiction movie, more-or-less extrapolating a bunch of current trends to show a possible outcome.  At another, it’s a satire about how the movie industry treats actors (and everyone else that actually is involved with the making side, rather than the finance side), and what the public actually want.  But there’s other stuff going on, too.

Studios want to make crappy movies that their analysts and accountants think will sell, we’re starting to be able to digitally create realistic characters, actors won’t always do what the studios want them to do… so why wouldn’t the studios want to buy the acting rights off actors?  Scan them in, and then never have to worry about scandals or walk-outs or lavish trailers or… any of the challenges of working with a person, rather than with a technician you can fire and replace.

And if you can have a virtual world, why wouldn’t you live there?

(This has actually been postulated as an answer to the Fermi Paradox — we don’t see evidence for intelligent life in the universe because interstellar travel is a much, much harder problem than inventing enough fun so that we don’t feel the need to travel.  In other words, it’s possible that intelligence tends to invent reasons to turn inwards before it invents the means to go outwards.)

Casting Robin Wright as herself, referring to the other work that she’s done (and the way that many people in Holywood probably think of her) works really well.  And there’s the whole mixing of live-action and animation, and…

Look, it’s not a perfect film.  But it’s probably my favorite fiction film of the festival so far.

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