Sally Potter (#110 of 5)

Roger Ebert: A Hero, A Teacher, An Inspiration

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Roger Ebert: A Hero, A Teacher, An Inspiration
Roger Ebert: A Hero, A Teacher, An Inspiration

My initial reaction to Roger Ebert’s death was a selfish one. I was on my way to a screening, and received the news via text from a friend. “I’m sorry about roger ebert,” the text said. This friend isn’t connected enough to the world of Ebert to have known about his “leave of presence” announcement two days prior, so I immediately took to Google, and saw the flood of headlines. Almost in spite of myself, I cried a bit in the street. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that the film world had lost one of its finest voices, or about the hard truth that someone so integral to my whole life’s film consumption was gone. All of that is still sinking in. My first thought was, “I’ll never meet him.” I felt envy for friends of Slant and The House Next Door who’ve had the pleasure, like House founder Matt Zoller Seitz, Ali Arikan, Steven Boone, Odie Henderson, and Kenji Fujishima, and others, like Simon Abrams and Sheila O’Malley, who, in recent months especially, had earned the privilege to correspond with, and write for, the “Movie Answer Man.” I’ve only had a handful of heroes in my life. Ebert was always one of them, even when I was still a film-enamored art student who hadn’t yet shifted his focus to writing. Despite Ebert’s eventual illness, my vision of one day shaking his hand never wavered. It would happen, at some point, at some festival, once I’d built up enough success, or something like that. And then April 4 hit.

New York Film Festival 2012: Ginger & Rosa

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New York Film Festival 2012: Ginger & Rosa
New York Film Festival 2012: Ginger & Rosa

Though Ginger & Rosa is arguably Sally Potter’s best work to date, it’s certainly the English filmmaker’s most accessible. But that’s not to diminish her past experimental, more iconoclastic movies. Her previous work has clearly enriched this finely observed and affecting tale about two teenage girls coming of age in early-1960s Britain. Like Orlando, her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s centuries-spanning novel which established her name internationally 20 years ago, there’s a strong female protagonist through whose POV the movie unfolds. We sense a deep personal involvement in the narrative, though not to the autobiographical extent of Potter’s The Tango Lesson, in which the director played herself. The formalist challenges she took on in the fashionista thriller Rage—comprised almost entirely of confessional close-ups—seem to have resulted in the huge emotional payoffs in the intimate scenes in the current film.

New York Film Festival 2012: Amour and Not Fade Away

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Amour</em> and <em>Not Fade Away</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Amour</em> and <em>Not Fade Away</em>

The key scene in Amour comes during the film’s second hour, in a scene in which Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tries to desperately to shield his concerned daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), from seeing her mother (Emmanuelle Riva) in her dying state. In response to her increasingly frenzied demand that she see her, Georges says, “None of all that deserves to be shown.” He eventually relents and apologizes for the concealment, but in that one line of dialogue, one can grasp the unmistakable touch of the film’s director, Michael Haneke: Georges may be afraid to confront the horrors of his wife’s slow death, but Haneke will surely force all of us in the audience to confront it, in all its agonizing ugliness.

If you’re looking for empathetic humanism in the contemplation of aging and dying, á la Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow or Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story, you won’t find it in Haneke’s carefully composed frames, ruthlessly prolonged takes, and generally detached stance. Amour plays like a dissection more than anything else, and however one reacts to it depends almost entirely on the emotional resources the individual viewer brings to it. Haneke, as usual, isn’t interested in holding your hand in that way.

No Difference at All: Tilda Swinton and Sally Potter Talk Orlando

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No Difference at All: Tilda Swinton and Sally Potter Talk Orlando
No Difference at All: Tilda Swinton and Sally Potter Talk Orlando

The 1992 release of Orlando propelled director Sally Potter to forefront of independent filmmakers. She had achieved the seemingly impossible task of bringing to the screen Virginia Woolf’s fantastical 1928 novel about a 16th-century English nobleman who lives through three centuries, while aging only three decades and changing gender in the process. Not only did she create a sumptuous historical epic with independent financing (it marked the first film co-production with Russia), she also retained the wit and tongue-in-cheek lightness of the original, expanding Woolf’s story into the 20th century as well. The movie also launched the career of Tilda Swinton, the incandescent Scottish actress who played Orlando, as both male and female.

Potter had begun making experimental movies as a teenager in England and made her first full-length feature film The Gold Diggers, starring Julie Christie, in 1983. She had also pursued a career as a musician as well. The Museum of Modern Art in New York recently concluded a two-week retrospective of Potter’s four-decade avant-garde career, including her latest work Rage, a set of confessional vignettes about a New York fashion event seemingly recorded by a schoolboy on his cellphone, which was initially released on mobile phone applications prior to a theatrical release last year.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Rage (via Halloween II)

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<em>Brief Interviews with Hideous Men</em> and <em>Rage</em> (via <em>Halloween II</em>)
<em>Brief Interviews with Hideous Men</em> and <em>Rage</em> (via <em>Halloween II</em>)

There’s a more adept portrayal of human suffering in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II than in all the lollygagging throughout John Krasinski’s timid adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Sally Potter’s iPhone-destined, fashion world monologue-a-thon Rage. Throughout Zombie’s slasher yarn, there’s inevitably a close-up, as the killer comes crashing down upon his prey, where the victims’ eyes drift heavenward and a brief, unspoken plea for mercy passes between them and monster. As they meet their doom, Zombie dwells on the mayhem in real time, each brutal pulverizing blow given resonance. You would think this example of pulpy shock cinema couldn’t hope to compare with the more supposedly contemplative American independent cinema, much less surpass the emotional, cinematic, and humanistic impact of a world where academic characters and fashion moguls gaze into the heart of darkness within their navels.