The House


Rock Concert Films

[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a House feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers.]

Jason Bellamy: For one of my younger brothers, 2010 was the summer of music. Approaching his junior year at the University of Oregon, he spent the past few months attending about every concert that came his way in the Pacific Northwest. The criteria seemed to be this: If the concert was within driving distance and featured loud (preferably metal) bands that hadn't had a big hit since before he was born, he was going. And so he rocked to Iron Maiden, Cinderella, the Scorpions, Billy Idol, and more. He rocked at large arenas and relatively intimate county fairs, sneaking up to the front of the stage when he could to snap pictures that he would eventually file along with similar snapshots of bands like AC/DC and KISS.

My brother loves music—if he's partial to rock and metal, he's rather indiscriminate within that genre (if you couldn't tell). But I think the biggest reason my brother attends concerts is because he loves the energy of the live events, where he doesn't just hear the music but feels it, too. Even when you're pressed shoulder to shoulder with other attendees, and even when the musicians are so far away that you need to rely on the video screens to see the musicians' expressions, there's something very intimate and magically visceral about concerts. You can know every note and lyric of a band's work from listening to their albums, but somehow seeing them live makes us feel as if we know them better, or know them for the first time.

Maybe that phenomenon is what inspires filmmakers to make concert documentaries in the first place: the challenge of simulating the feeling of being there. There are numerous films about musical artists—from A Hard Day's Night (1964) to Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) to Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2005) to This Is It (2009)—some of which go backstage, some of which play historian, some of which are hardly about music at all, and so there's no way we could have an all-encompassing discussion about that larger cinematic genre and its many sub-genres. Still, it's a genre worth tackling, and so in this discussion we're going to focus on five films—Woodstock (1970), Gimme Shelter (1970), Stop Making Sense (1984), Rattle and Hum (1988) and Instrument (2001)—that despite their incredible diversity have one thing in common: their chief aim seems to be to replicate the sensation of being there. And in the case of the first film, Woodstock, the music might be the least interesting part of that experience, am I right?

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TAGS: fugazi, gimme shelter, instrument, rattle and hum, stop making sense, the conversations, the rolling stones, the talking heads, u2, woodstock


Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2010

"It's a surreal place, isn't it?" someone asked me about Abu Dhabi. The question made me think about my last night at the festival: Attending a gala, red-carpet, invite-only awards ceremony at the Emirates Palace, wondering what I was doing there, leaving 12 minutes in to catch another movie at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, falling asleep during it from too much sightseeing and partying, and waking up at the end to attend another party. I did these things rather than visit the labor camps about 20 minutes outside the city, where much of the working-class population lives. I told myself at the airport the next morning that I hadn't made the time.

That's Abu Dhabi for you—a city that paints a big smile for tourists, and one that exists where and as you care to see it. Wherever I went, though, I heard a voice screaming inside my head. At the Emirates Palace you can buy gold coins from a vending machine—and the voice went, but that's not reality! Next to the Abu Dhabi Theatre lies the Heritage Village, where you can see a wooden house built for your pleasure, a museum with myriad undated axes, fishing nets, and Korans, and a row of postcard-selling huts—and the voice cried, but that's not reality! A short bus ride, and you catch the Grand Mosque, a towering white dome that women must don abayat to enter, where a digital clock reads the six daily prayer times, and where seven enormous bejeweled chandeliers loom overhead. Large groups of people stream in and out to pray. Is this reality?

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TAGS: abbas kiarostami, abu dhabi film festival, abu dhabi theatre, certified copy, emirates palace, facebook


House of Suh

House of Suh (Iris Shim, 2010). Much like John Kastner's masterful crime documentary Life With Murder, Iris Shim's House of Suh looks into the eyes of a young murderer and finds an evolving mystery yet to be solved. Both nonfiction films unfold like great thrillers, revealing key information slowly and deliberately at crucial parts of the story. But each consistently considers the layers of human trauma under investigation, exploring the hidden evil lurking just behind the memories and reflections of various talking heads. The title of the film refers to Andrew and his sister Catherine Suh, first generation Korean American siblings who were both convicted of planning and executing the murder of Catherine's boyfriend Robert O'Dubaine in Chicago on September 25, 1993. Shim begins the film with a brilliantly precise family tree of all parties comprised of intricate animated etchings—connecting these characters on a superficial level only to reveal later on how fragile those links are in truth. Interviews with Andrew (now serving a 100-year sentence in federal prison), other Suh family members, O'Dubaine's brother Kevin Koran, and various lawyers from each side make up the core analysis of the film, and Shim's calculated layering of perspectives allows this seemingly open and closed case to grow more complex and insidious. "My identity is the one Catherine developed for me," Andrew states late in the film, confounding the audience's perception of his guilt even in the face of obvious misconduct. Despite all the procedural jargon and psychological analysis, House of Suh has a dark neo-noir heart pumping deception, betrayal, blackmail, and manipulation through the narrative with sly precision and unflinching honesty. It's a devastating example of the American dream hollowed out by the rot of tradition and expectation. Hilariously, the devastating true story was notoriously remade into an all-Anglo television movie, as if the crime itself was okay to represent but the fact that the perpetrators were Asian was off limits.

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TAGS: andrew suh, catherine suh, house of suh, iris shim, kevin koran, ngawang choephel, robert o'dubaine, san diego asian film festival, tibet in song


Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog's latest documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is an exploration (in 3D!) of the Chauvet Caves, an area that Herzog identifies, romantically and poetically, as the place "where the modern human soul was awakened." It would seem like a typically Herzogian grandiose description, if not for its essential accuracy: These caves contain the oldest discovered pictorial depictions to emanate from the human hand. The caves are thus an obvious symbol for the birth of human creativity, for the development of the uniquely human urge to document one's world and to communicate about it. For an artist like Herzog, this is an irresistible conceit. At one point in this film, a scientist remarks that the difference between the Neanderthal and the more modern, more human successor, the Paleolithic man, was precisely this flowering of creativity in carved icons, cave paintings and even crude musical instruments, like a flute carved out of ivory. Herzog's film resulted from a rare opportunity to explore these caves, which are jealously protected and sealed off from casual inquiry; normally, only a select few scientists ever get to see the cave interior, and even then only in limited ways.

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TAGS: bad lieutenant: port of call new orleans, cave of forgotten dreams, chauvet caves, ernst reijseger, marcel duchamp, nude descending a staircase, werner herzog


Trash

With contributions from Nick Schager, Michelle Orange, and Sam Adams, among others, IFC reveals The 30 Greatest Drug Scenes of All Time, with a scene from Paul Morrissey's Trash awesomely making the top five.

For indieWire, Eric Kohn on how we watch what we watch and the pirate in all of us.

James MacArthur, "Danno" from the TV series Hawaii Five-O and the adopted son of the great Helen Hayes, died yesterday at the age of 72 of natural causes.

The Associated Press reports that "an internal Pentagon study has found that most U.S. troops and their families don't care whether gays are allowed to serve openly and think the policy of 'don't ask, don't tell' could be done away with, according to officials familiar with its findings."

And here is the latest music video from one of my favorite people in the universe:

Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to ed@slantmagazine.com and to converse in the comments section.

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TAGS: don't ask don't tell, eric kohn, hawaii five-o, indestructible, indiewire, james macarthur, paul morrissey, robyn, trash


Peter Scarlet

Peter Scarlet is the Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. This is his second year at the festival. He has also held head positions at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Cinémathèque Française, and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Aaron Cutler: I came across an interesting quote from you. You said, "We're here not just to do a film festival, but to start a film culture." Could you elaborate?

Peter Scarlet: Here in Abu Dhabi, and I think in most of the UAE, when people want to go to the movies they go to the malls, and they have a choice between midrange Hollywood and Bollywood—or next week, for a change, there's midrange Bollywood and Hollywood. Every once in a while, maybe every month or two, just to liven things up there's an Egyptian film. Some of them may be perfectly fine. But the world of cinema's a lot broader than that, and a lot more diverse, and a lot older. So one of the things we're trying to do with this festival is show films from countries that never appear on screen here, show genres like documentaries and shorts and student work and experimental work, and show films from the past. Last year I had a wonderful screening of silent films, including some Chaplin and Keaton archival prints, [accompanist] Neil Brand came here from London, and it was like, "Wow, I'm showing silent movies for the first time in the whole country!" It was revolutionary.

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TAGS: abu dhabi film festival, charles chaplin, chronicle of a disappearance, divine intervention, elia suleiman, jafar panahi, jean-claude carrière, peter scarlet, pierre étaix, secretariat, the accordian, the circus, the mummy, we were communists


Vote, Baby, Vote!

Leading up to the 2008 election, we posted a series of vintage Rock the Vote ads on the Slant blog. Unfortunately, they didn't survive the transition to the new House, but here's one of our favorites:

Remember to vote this Tuesday, November 2nd!

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TAGS: 2010 election, deee-lite, mtv, rock the vote, vote baby vote


Faust

Michael Atkinson reviews F.W. Murnau's Faust.

Christopher Nolan reveals title of third Batman film and says its villain won't be the Riddler. Sucks for Depp.

The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff interviews Frank Darabont. The Walking Dead premieres this Halloween on AMC. Watch it: The first hour is, no lie, among the finest hours of television these eyes have seen in ages.

Nick Davis and Nathaniel Rogers on their favorite shots from Night of the Hunter.

Below, Super There Will Blood:

Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to ed@slantmagazine.com and to converse in the comments section.

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TAGS: christopher nolan, f.w. murnau, faust, frank darabont, michael atkinson, nathaniel rogers, nick davis, night of the hunter, the a.v. club, the dark knight rises, the walking dead, there will be blood


Just Dance 2On the heels of the Dancing with the Stars craze, as well as the continued trend of workout games like Wii Fit, it should be expected that a dancing game like last year's Just Dance would spawn a sequel. While the first one (which sold very well) met absolutely deflating reception, the second one's a big improvement, and is pretty fun to play—that is, if you're really, really self-assured. Or really wasted.

You see, unlike other games of this type, like the wildly popular Dance Dance Revolution series, in which you simply hopped up and down to a song's beat, Just Dance 2 requires you to actually dance. Well, what they call "dancing," anyway. In all honesty, you'll probably look like airport ground crew, trying to direct a plane while having a seizure on a moving treadmill. Some of the choreography is ridiculous, as are some of the graphics—specifically a few of the on-screen dancing avatars, whose moves you must mirror. (The Wii remote detects your motions. The more in sync your writhing is, the more points you'll get.) For example, if you select Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," you must shadow a doughy, mullet-sporting display of foppish androgyny in hot pants, who flails about as if Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is playing Whack-a-Mole.

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TAGS: dance dance revolution, jamiroquai, just dance, just dance 2, keha, nintendo wii, the pussycat dolls, the rolling stones, ubisoft, vampire weekend, wii fit


The Searchers

[Editor's Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

There are a hundred objections to The Searchers, none of which are as convincing as the film itself. It's an easy target for criticisms of Wayne and Ford's right-wing, chest-forward brand of American masculinity, and of pre-civil-rights Hollywood's maltreatment of minorities. Its climax—when the Debbie character, apropos of nothing, just decides with a "Yes!" to join her brother and leave the Comanches—is among the least satisfying dramatic resolutions in canonical cinema. And its spiritual lynchpin, a man whose self-destructive, obsessive quest eventually consumes him, is one of the most overplayed character archetypes in American storytelling; as the temporal and stylistic connective tissue between Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, and Star Wars, one might expect the movie's emotional impact to be dulled by familiarity.

These are fair points, though I have nothing but pity for the moviegoer who watches The Searchers and lets them overwhelm the sheer visual magnitude on the screen. There are shots in this movie that are so beautiful they make me gasp in gratitude even though I've seen them before. Some, like the reverse-silhouette doorway views that open and close the film, are rightfully famous. Others are seemingly inconsequential, like the seriatim appearance of each Edwards family member on the porch as Uncle Ethan makes his first approach across the desert. Or the long, plotless table scenes that unfold once Captain Clayton and his gang arrive in the first act. These are tiny masterpieces of framing and art direction, and they're essential to that iconic final image's resounding sadness as well. The Searchers builds up to that picture of wounded-looking Ethan pausing at the doorway and skulking off, uninvited—but it's so powerful precisely because the audience knows what communal warmth and stability he's deprived himself of. The ambivalence of this shot is no less extraordinary for being so endlessly analyzed: Ford leaves Ethan out in the stunning VistaVision wilderness, but the audience, having been guided through that same awesome scenery for the previous two hours, can only feel sorry for him as we retreat into the pitch black dining room. It's some of the warmest darkness in all of art history.

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TAGS: alex cox, das rheingold, del zamora, ed pansullo, jaclyn jonet, john ford, john wayne, richard wagner, searchers 2.0, sy richardson, the searchers







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