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Santa Fe Independent Film Festival 2012

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Santa Fe Independent Film Festival 2012
Santa Fe Independent Film Festival 2012

Thanks to a new programmer, Lauren Wissot, who covers festivals for Filmmaker and contributes to this site, the selection of films at this year’s Santa Fe Independent Film Festival was arguably as piquant as any of the local chile-centric food. Culled from her trips to other festivals, Wissot’s programming was eclectic and provocative, and even though many of the films had already run the larger festival circuit, most were obscure enough to pass as premieres, which had the effect of giving audiences the unmediated sense of discovering what turned out to be quite a few gems. Executive director and co-founder Jacques Paisner and company have done a great job at bringing the community together—even luring in corporate sponsors like Whole Foods and Ace Hardware—to conjure up this festival, now in its fourth year, out of a budget as dry as a Southwestern desert.

The Conversations: Terrence Malick Part I

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The Conversations: Terrence Malick Part I
The Conversations: Terrence Malick Part I

“Think of a tree, how it grows round its roots. If a branch breaks off, it don’t stop but keeps reaching toward the light.”

Jason Bellamy: Terrence Malick’s next film, due soon in theaters, is called The Tree of Life, and coincidentally or not it is set up by the final shot of Malick’s previous film, The New World. In both the theatrical and extended cuts of that 2005 film, Malick closes with a shot at the base of a tree: gazing up the side of its mighty trunk as it stretches heavenward. It’s a quintessentially Malickian shot, both in terms of the camera’s intimacy to its subject and in the way that it presents nature with a spiritual awe, as if the tree’s branches are the flying buttresses of a grand cathedral. But the reason I mention that shot is so I can begin this discussion by acknowledging its roots. We’ve been regular contributors to The House Next Door for almost two-and-a-half years now, and, as loyal House readers know, Terrence Malick’s The New World is the seed from which this blog sprouted. What began in Janurary 2006 as Matt Zoller Seitz’s attempt to find enough cyber real estate in which to freely explore his passion for The New World—a rather Malickian quest, if you think about it—became something much bigger, until now here we are: writing about the filmmaker without whom this blog and thus this series might not exist.

I make that acknowledgement en route to this one: By the very nature of its origins, The House Next Door has always been something of an unofficial Terrence Malick fan club—nay, house of worship. Many of us first gathered at this site because of this subject matter. (Any immediate kinship many of us felt with Matt was inspired by a shared religious experience with The New World, not to mention the holy awakening of seeing serious criticism posted to the Web by amateur means.) I make this observation in the interest of full disclosure—less an acknowledgement of the House’s origins, which so many of its readers know already, than an indication of my awareness of it—in the hopes that by doing so I can convince the Malick nonbelievers that they are welcome here. Because, see, Malick is one of those filmmakers who seems to inspire two reactions: genuflecting reverence and head-scratching ennui. Is there room between the two? Or are total immersion and deference to Malick’s filmmaking elemental to its effect? In Part I of this discussion, we will look at Malick’s first four films, Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World (the theatrical cut), and what I hope we begin to uncover is why Malick’s filmmaking inspires such divergent reactions.

I am, admittedly, a singer in Malick’s choir. His films don’t move me equally, but when they do move me I’m profoundly affected. You come into this conversation having just watched most of Malick’s films for the first time. So let me ask a question that will cause the Malick agnostics to roll their eyes and the Malick believers to raise their hands to the sky like Pocahontas in The New World: Did Malick’s filmmaking inspire you with a unique sense of awe, or do you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, or something else?

"Stay Alive, No Matter What Occurs": Sex and Survival in The Last of the Mohicans

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“Stay Alive, No Matter What Occurs”: Sex and Survival in <em>The Last of the Mohicans</em>
“Stay Alive, No Matter What Occurs”: Sex and Survival in <em>The Last of the Mohicans</em>

Spurred by this weekend’s lively and often contentious discussion of Miami Vice director Michael Mann—macho poet or flashy fraud?—I offer the following piece on The Last of the Mohicans, originally published in the 2005 National Society of Film Critics anthology The X List, edited by Jami Bernard. (Caution: nothing but spoilers ahead.) For a concise, thoughtful look at Mann’s filmography through 2002, see Anna Dzenis’ Senses of Cinema article. Odienator’s review of the movie version of Miami Vice is here. My Star-Ledger article on the original NBC series is here.

A romantic drama set during the French and Indian War, Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is a primal epic of survival and the overpowering urge to reproduce. Reworking the same-named 1936 movie, Mann and co-screenwriter Christopher Crowe transform their literary source, James Fenimore Cooper’s chaste frontier potboiler, into a passionate tale of tough, simple men fighting and dying for land and women. In the movie’s political/historical background, Native tribes, white settlers and British and French military forces compete to control the mountains and forests, which they hope will be overrun someday by their descendants. Mohicans shows that both an individual’s goal to mate and pass on genes and a civilization’s desire to possess and transform the land issue from the same biological urge. As articulated in the original 1992 version, and deepened in Mann’s 2002 director’s cut, the major characters are driven by the need to control, protect or perpetuate their bloodlines.

The film’s central triangle sees Nathaniel “Hawkeye” Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis), the adopted white son of Mohawk warrior Chingachgook (Russell Means), competing with British Col. Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington) to defend and possess Cora Munro (Madeline Stowe), Duncan’s presumptive fiancée and the daughter of a British colonel. A secondary triangle echoes the first: Nathaniel’s adoptive brother, Uncas (Eric Schweig) pairs off with Cora’s sister Alice (Jodhi May), then loses her to Magua (Wes Studi), a Huron warrior whose wife and child died in an attack ordered by the Munro sisters’ father, Col. Edmund Munro (Maurice Roeves).

Charting The New World

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Charting <em>The New World</em>
Charting <em>The New World</em>

Hi everyone. First-time blogger Keith Uhlich here with my inaugural contribution to The House Next Door. This one’s been a long time coming and it’s appropriate that it is finally finding a home on Matt’s blog since it’s about his favorite subject: Terrence Malick’s The New World. As I’m sure most of you know, there are two currently circulating versions of The New World: the 150-minute pre-release cut (henceforth the first cut) and the 135-minute theatrical/home video cut (henceforth the second cut). I managed to see the first cut twice before it ostensibly vanished from the public eye, then ended up seeing the second cut three times, and it was during this latter period that I took extensive notes detailing the differences between the two versions. I mentioned to Matt that I was planning on writing an extended essay about the two cuts for my primary publication, Slant Magazine, and Matt very kindly announced the upcoming essay (which he preliminarily described as “exhaustive”) in one of this blog’s numerous New World entries. Time passed. I wrote about nine or ten paragraphs that I was exceedingly unhappy with. More time passed. The film disappeared from theaters. And then I basically seemed to be of victim of what Al Swearengen very sagely advised on Deadwood: “Announcing your intentions is a good way to hear God laugh.” Well, he who laughs last: With the official release of The New World DVD this past Tuesday I’ve been given a handy excuse to once more make my intentions a reality. What follows is a numbered, point-by-point subjective breakdown of The New World’s two versions. Though I have full confidence in all the differences I note herein (having seen both cuts very close to each other) I did rely primarily on memory during my research, as I did not have the means to do a side-by-side comparison of the two cuts. I think it works better as a blog entry than as an essay and I hope it will act as a much-needed rebuttal to those (among them New World producer Sarah Green and film critic Roger Ebert) who have rather ridiculously stated, in one form or another, that “You won’t notice the changes.” I think this quite strongly proves otherwise.

"There is only this…All else is unreal."

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“There is only this…All else is unreal.”
“There is only this…All else is unreal.”

Other people direct movies. Terrence Malick builds cathedrals. The New World is my new religion, easily the most pictorially innovative and moving American studio release I’ve seen in the 15 years I’ve been a professional movie critic. To appreciate it requires viewers to abandon narrative filmmaking conventions they’re comfortable with (perhaps even spoiled by) and learn a new language, a primordial language of pictures that largely bypasses narrative cinema’s persistent theatrical influence and plugs into the rhythms of thought.

Where even the greatest of Malick’s American contemporaries (Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese) are content to wring minute variations on established strutures and techniques—mainstream filmmaking techniques—Malick has devoted himself since 1973 to creating a new language, one that fuses nonlinear, overtly omniscent filmmaking techniques favored by silent masters (D.W. Griffith, Abel Gance), Hiroshima Mon Amour, the French New Wave and 1960s Italian art cinema and experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage.