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Film Festival Day 14, 06/08/2014

I saw a bunch of movies on this day that I find that I have a lot to say about; but I had no time to say it in on the day, and I started Thursday with a movie at 10:15am followed by a movie of more than four hours, so I didn’t have much following day to write in either.  Normally, I try to write everything once, and then read it over and correct the more egregious mistakes, repetitions, dangling sentences, repetitions, sections that are out of place, repetitions, and some of the strained, unfunny jokes.

And repetitions.

But I’m also trying not to fall too far behind, or to stay up late (because I don’t want to fall asleep during the day); so you might have noticed that some films might have less polished commentary than others. But I think that the time pressure, and the need to finish and move on, is helpful in actually getting stuff written; otherwise, obsessing about finding exactly the right word or phrase, or worrying too much about whether I’m sufficiently insightful, would probably mean nothing gets published at all.

However, I’m also aware that if you’re reading this, you’re doing me a courtesy — by writing, I have an obligation to repay your courtesy (both by making the text easy to absorb, with the minimum spelling mistakse, and by being interesting and/or truthful).  Where my need to finish has conflicted with that obligation, I apologise.

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The opening shot of InRealLife was of a Victorian brickwork sewer. I believe that the filmmakers meant it to be a metaphor for social media (as well as illustrating where the internet’s supporting fibre cables are run); but I feel like it might also illustrate something more.  Sewers are super-important, and though you can live without them, your life would be much… well, crappier.

Moral panic, and people trying to exploit that panic, are nothing new.  Newspapers reporting how the population was panicked by an Orson Wells this newfangled, irresponsible radio nonsense, or the description of the spreading innovation of the motorcar as “brothels on wheels”, or Sousa’s fear that the music recording industry and radio would ruin family life and artistic development are just some of the examples of the excitable commentary that follows the spread of new technology.  But on the other hand — people can be panicked by irresponsible broadcasts, people do have sex in cars, and people don’t stand around the piano in the parlor singing any more (though people will still have a singalong with guitars at the marae).  So you certainly can’t say that these people were wrong — just that their concerns probably weren’t the most important problems with the things that they were worried about, that there were many upsides to their reported downsides, and that the things they worried about predated the thing they blamed.

I don’t want to give the impression that this was entirely a Daily Mail-style beat-up.  They interviewed a bunch of intelligent people, and touched lightly on a bunch of different topics — kid’s distraction and dependence on their phones, internet bullying, the reasons why various online services are offered online for free (and the privacy implications thereof), how parents increasing restrictions on kid’s freedoms of movement may be contributing to the increased use of social media.  But the worries about kids being less able to form personalities, that they can’t deal with loneliness and boredom — how do these people think we lived in agricultural societies, where two villages over was a foreign land, and time to yourself in the one room where your family and all the livestock slept wasn’t something imagined?

And there were a bunch of things that undermined the film’s creditability.  For example, talking about someone having 3 million subscribers — but then immediately revealing that he has three channels, which means that the number of actual people would probably be about a third of that. (Though they were successful in emphasising that he might have to think about the consequences of inviting lots of fans to one place, without organising some sort of crowd control or something.)  Or having a young man who watches porn with his mates talk about how he doesn’t feel like he can have a meaningful relationship with a girl, which felt less because of internet porn, and more because he was a 15 year-old lad.

I don’t want to downplay the kids who commit suicide because of internet bullying, or the girl raped because she was unwilling to let a bunch of boys walk away with her Blackberry, and so followed them into an abandoned house.  But I don’t think that these things will be the main problem with the internet going forward, any more than declining piano sales are the main issue with the music industry,  or teen pregnancy with cars.

A well-made documentary, but possibly not as useful as it could have been if it were more focused, and more rigourous.

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Gerard Depardieu is a large man, and you see all of him in Welcome to New York. As in, there’s a lot of flesh on display, both in time and volume. There’s also a lot of men (and the occasional woman) pawing women on display, though admittedly there’s nothing on the level of Starlet.  It’s the story of an academic and a World Bank official who is being groomed as the future President of France by his ambitious (and super-rich) wife, and is a sex addict; though all that comes out in the recriminations and arguments in the second half.  All we know initially is that he is important, and surrounded by women willing to have sex with him; and then we see him come out of the shower in a hotel and surprise a maid, who he drags over and molests. (I dare say the details are available on the net, for those interested.)

He protests that he has done nothing wrong, and seems to believe it; but he also seems to think that his diagnosis absolves his behaviour, and that everyone is being unreasonable.  There’s scenes where we can see how charming he can be, and successful at seducing women; but there’s also a horrible scene of a near-rape.

At the beginning, before the title, Gerard Depardieu appears as himself, and says to a pack of reporters (who may be actors) that he despises the man he’s portraying, but he prefers that, as an actor.  Weirdly, I think one of he reporters later turns up in the movie proper, as the near-rape victim.

I think it’s well made, and an interesting subject, and a good depiction of an unpleasant man; but it’s much more grim than you might expect.

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Maps to the Stars is David Cronenburg doing a Hollywood satire – a child star, a chauffeur driver who wants to be an actor and a writer, a girl from the sticks who has a bunch of crazy stories about all these famous people she knows, a show mom, a self-help guru, and an ageing actress obsessed with playing the part her mother played in a remake of a cult movie.  Stir to reveal the hidden, broken connections.

It’s more straightforward than other weird Hollywood satires, for example Mullholland Drive – by the end of the movie, there’s no question about what just happened.  And there are some really good actors doing good stuff in it, and I’ve no doubt that there will be details I missed on the first pass.

But I don’t imagine that I’ll make any great effort to see it again.

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I remember watching My Kid Could Paint That, which brought up a bunch of questions about authenticity, and whether the person who painted the image should make a difference to the value of the art, how good and enjoyable it is.

I guess that forgery is the logical endpoint of that train of thought.  If what matters to you is the image, if the painting stands by itself, then doesn’t a copy that fools experts count as just as worthy as the original?  Of course, the point of My Kid Could Paint That was that provenance is super-important in the Art world, and  Art and Craft shows that experts are not super-happy about being fooled.

One thing that I thought about during the movie is that Mark Landis (the forger in question) obviously have some issues, being shy, awkward, and a seeming a little slow — how many of the curators thought that they were taking advantage of him, or at least were convinced because they were sure that he didn’t appear to be bright enough to think of tricking them?  And the obsession obviously isn’t on just one side, given that one of the people featured in the film had been fired over his pursuit of him.

I found a lot of the technical stuff interesting – how he prepared boards with coffee to make them look older, blowing up photos and painting over them to give the painting texture, using coloured pencils instead of chalk and charcoal, getting WalMart frames and going over them with craft supplies to make them look authentic enough.  His overall method of giving away forgeries was also intriguing — choosing works that were bought by anonymous bidders at auction, with stories of donations in honour of his dead mother, father, or non-existent sister.  But he prepared multiple copies of works, which makes it all the more surprising that he hadn’t been detected before.

His donations to museums, to me, is embarrassing to the curators, but a salutary lesson, and might lessen general fraud if it encourages a culture of due diligence.  However, it’s hinted at the end of the film that he may move onto making forgeries for people who have lost artworks (to theft or whatever); I’m less comfortable with that, since this has the potential to seriously emotionally hurt vulnerable people.

He regards himself as a craftsman, not an artist, and he does not seem too interested in producing original works.  It’s a film that I can imagine saying more about.  I am glad that I Kickstarted it (even if I’d forgotten that I had).

* * *

Cold in July starts off as a revenge film in reverse – a Texan homeowner shoots an intruder, and then the intruder’s father, newly released from jail, starts stalking the shooter and his family. The police are skeptical about the danger at first, but are convinced after a break-in; however, not everything is what it seems.

It’s a period movie, set in the time of video cassettes and enormous American cars; interestingly, it also uses a vintage soundtrack, relying on synthesisers more than orchestral arrangements to set the mood. I wonder whether that has an effect on how I perceived it – whether I mentally compared it to 80’s/90’s thrillers, rather than contemporary ones.

I’m not sure I could trust someone who threatened my child, though I hope I would save him from being killed. I also wonder how the main character is going to explain what has happened to his wife. But those are minor quibbles, rather than major concerns. And the concentration on the details — wanting to clean up the mess from the death of a home invader before your child wakes up, having to scrub the dirty bootmarks off your floor after the police have been ranging through the woods searching for the guy who threatened you, having to deal with people who want to congratulate you for being a tough guy when you’re trying to cope with the guilt of killing someone — all those things made the movie good for me.

I found it tense and engaging. I’m glad I saw it.

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