Hello, and welcome back you crazy kids.
Episode 3 marks the first time weâve started recording under our new name, and just in time! Andrew OâHehir (Salonâs Beyond the Multiplex) and Glenn Kenny (Some Came Running) return to Grassroots to give us their thoughts on what should be a surprise at this yearâs New York Film Festival (which began this past Friday evening).
We go over the hit-making process, Glennâs recent delve into the newly released Godfather collection (the first two films are now playing at Film Forum) and OâHehir defends his loving takedowns of Burn After Reading and Towelhead.
So listen on, and join us next time as Keith Uhlich, Steven Boone and Lauren Wissot take our place at the bar while Vadim goes across the country in search of himself and I look for work in Manhattan.
As always, thanks to our guests, and if you see Vadim or me at the bar, buy us a drink and employ us. John Lichman
John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.
Keith Uhlich is editor of The House Next Door.
Glenn Kenny is the man, the myth, the legend.
Andrew OâHehir is former mentor of the Andy Kaufman of journalism (three guesses).
Berlinale 2019: A Dog Called Money, Lemebel, & Searching Eva
Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices, nine of the Panorma sidebarâs 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.
The ostensible goal of the Berlinaleâs Panorama sidebar is to offer a 360-degree snapshot of the current state of world cinema, but this year its curators seem inordinately concerned with the pursuit of artistry. Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voicesâHonor Swinton Byrne as a fledgling filmmaker in Joanna Hoggâs sublime The Souvenir, and Mei Kayama as a cartoonist with cerebral palsy in Hikariâs sweet-natured 37 Secondsânine of the sectionâs 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.
Among these, A Dog Called Money is perhaps the most fascinating, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Directed by photographer Seamus Murphy, it charts the making of PJ Harveyâs 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was directly inspired by trips the pair took to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and deprived neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. The famously publicity-shy Harvey then took the unlikely step of turning the recording process into an art installation, setting up a pop-up studio in Londonâs opulent Somerset House, and inviting members of the public to observe her at work through a one-way mirror.
Though the project appears to have been a noble attempt on Harveyâs part to broaden her political and cultural horizons, A Dog Called Money demystifies her creative process in a manner that proves extremely unflattering. Murphy presents the overseas excursions solely as material-gathering missions: We see Harvey exposed to human suffering in various guises, and hear her recite song lyrics that matter-of-factly recount her observations, but are offered no insight into her overarching aims for The Hope Six Demolition Project, and no sense of how these experiences may have affected her worldview.
Thereâs something strangely distasteful about the way Murphy juxtaposes haunting footage of Middle Eastern warzones and American ghettos with scenes of Harvey, safely cocooned in her sleek studio, joking around with her overwhelmingly white band as they endeavor to distill the worldâs misery into a whimsical art project. And frustratingly, the film fails to address the controversy surrounding album opener âCommunity of Hope,â which describes Washington D.C.âs predominantly black Ward 7 as a âdrug townâ full of âzombies,â and which led to a local official ridiculously saying that Harvey is âto music what Piers Morgan is to cable news.â
Joanna Reposi Garibaldiâs Lemebel, which just won the Teddy Award for best queer-themed documentary, does a far better job of representing the aspirations and achievements of a politically motivated artist. The film explores the career of late Chilean writer and activist Pedro Lemebel, who spearheaded a public LGBT rights movement amid the hostile environment of Pinochetâs dictatorship. Weaving together evocative archive footage, intimate talking-head interviews, and grainy home movies, Garibaldi charts the formation of Lemebelâs provocative queer collective dubbed the Mares of the Apocalypse, his flair for attention-grabbing performance art, and his masterly manipulation of Chileâs mainstream media.
An erudite raconteur, Lemebel is fascinating when discussing the intersection of LGBT and working-class communities, and appears remarkably ahead of his time when explaining his rejection of the word âgayâ and his reclamation of derogatory terms like âmaricĂłn.â Occasionally it seems that Garibaldi, who befriended Lemebel years before attempting to make the film, is a little too close to her subject to offer an objective portrait. She fails, for example, to interrogate Lemebelâs conspiratorial views about the origins of AIDS. But given the fearless, trailblazing nature of his work, a somewhat hagiographic approach can be forgiven.
Many would surely balk at the description of Eva CollĂ¨, an obscure twentysomething blogger and Instagrammer, as an âartist.â But her scattershot, disarmingly frank musings on Tumblr have inspired a formally ambitious documentary feature, Pia Hellenthalâs Searching Eva. The film delivers an impressionistic account of this nomadic young womanâs compellingly chaotic existence, encompassing her move from conservative small-town Italy to hedonistic Berlin, her professional experiences as a sex worker and fashion model, her embrace of sexual fluidity, and her struggles with drug use and mental illness.
To underscore the fact that CollĂ¨ elects to live out her daily dramas before an enthralled online audience, the film is narrated by anonymous comments lifted directly from her blogs. But while said comments tend to be either blindly sycophantic or scathingly judgmental, Hellenthal delivers a refreshingly even-handed assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of online culture. Eva seems to derive much of her self-worth from the knowledge that she inspires others to be their authentic selves. And thereâs a sense that the barrage of criticism she faces only strengthens her resolve to carve her own path through life.
Hellenthalâs perspective becomes much harder to fathom when sheâs exploring CollĂ¨âs life philosophy, which seems to boil down to a flat rejection of any label you might try and attach to her. At one point, Eva states her intention never to work a conventional job, on the grounds that the working class must refuse to be defined primarily as a workforce in order to make its mark. But itâs unclear whether Hellenthal regards this as a bold political statement or the pseudointellectual ramblings of a self-involved millennial attempting to justify her decadent existence. Those who suspect the latter will likely have a hard time fully embracing Searching Eva, but its assured approach to nonlinear storytelling makes the journey worthwhile.
Berlinale runs from February 7â17.
Berlinale 2019: I Was at Home, But, So Long, My Son, and Ghost Town Anthology
These films depict in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting the deadâs presence in our lives.
The dead haunt Berlin. The Martin-Gropius-Bau, the museum building in which the Berlinaleâs European Film Market is hosted, is still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Battle of Berlinâas are many other buildings in the center of the city. A 10-minute walk north of Potsdamer Platz, the center of the film festival, is the powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction down StresemannstraĂe and youâll see the bombed-out faĂ§ade of Anhalter Bahnhof, once one of Europeâs most resplendent train stations. And all over Berlin, you trip over Stolpersteine (or âstumble-stonesâ), small, square, brass plaques laid into the sidewalk bearing the names of former residents of that street, dispossessed and killed by the Nazis.
Like any city, Berlin is many things, and itâs certainly most known today for much more than its tragic past. But the history of the 20th century is in particular written across its face, and while it can be easy to turn your gaze away from the dead, they remain a part of life in Germanyâs capital. Several of the best films up for the Golden Bear at this yearâs Berlinale contemplate the persistence of the dead in the lives of the living, depicting in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting this presence in our lives.
Set in Berlin, Angela Schanelecâs I Was at Home, But opens with an anomalous prologue that foreshadows the filmâs equal-parts mix of despair and world weariness, of tragedy and banality. A dog excitedly chases a rabbit; the camera catches the rabbit initially running, and then seeming to give up, panting on a rock. In the next shot, the dog is greedily pulling apart the rabbit carcass in its den, a dilapidated building it appears to share with a donkey. Itâs a potentially fruitful odd-couple scenario: You can almost read subdued exasperation in the donkeyâs face as it ignores its roommateâs greedy consumption of a fellow herbivore.
What does this prologue have to do with the remainder of the film, which concerns a woman, Astrid (Maren Eggert), and her childrenâs flailing attempts to process the grief of losing their husband and father? This quietly masterful film never even comes close to connecting these threads for its audience, requiring us to make connections on our own. Weâll see a foot being bandaged, but not the event that caused the injury, and characters dancing to entertain someone in a hospital bed, but not the person in the bed. Elsewhere, a needlessly obstinate Astrid demands money back for a perfectly reparable bicycle she bought on the cheap, and middle-school kids perform Hamlet in the most neutral of ways.
These still, vignette-like scenes elliptically narrate Phillipâs (Jakob Lassalle) week-long disappearance and return. Infused with the profound pain of grief and with the consciousness that such pain is both inescapable and futile, a universal tragedy that has played out innumerable times, each scene in I Was at Home, But could stand on its own. Assembled together, they comprise a story told between the lines. When Astrid theatrically collapses in front of a headstone, lying silent and immobile like a stage corpse, we donât need the camera to show us the name on the grave to let us know which tragedy sheâs currently performing.
Wang Xiaoshuaiâs So Long, My Son is a pointed critique of Chinaâs one-child policy, which was relaxed in 2013. Cutting between at least four different periods in the life of a couple, Liyun and Yaojun (Mei Yong and Wang Jingchun), whose family is shattered over and over againâfirst with a forced abortion, then with the drowning death of their biological son, and finally when their adopted son absconds from their homeâthe film is a stark condemnation of an inhuman measure undertaken for the sake of the ultimately abandoned dream of a workersâ utopia. Surprising for a film produced in a country with heavy censorship, the story is explicit in its political and ethical concerns, demonstrating how Chinaâs strict rules in the 1980s imposed unjust sacrifices on the countryâs people only so, as one shot set in todayâs Beijing suggests, shopping malls could be erected behind statues of Mao Zedong.
Mixing around the storyâs timeline, Wang opens with the death of Liyun and Yaojunâs son, and flashes forward to their adopted son, also named Xingxing, fleeing home, so that Liyunâs coerced abortion feels like a third loss, even though it actually comes first. This captures something of the temporality of regret: The abortion, which Liyun was pressured into having by Haiyan (Haiyan Li), a close friend and local communist party functionary, is the decisive tragedy of their lives. Having been denied the choice of having a second child, Yaojun and Liyunâs repressed grief and self-imposed exile away from the pain of their old relations has excluded them from sharing in the winnings wrought by Chinaâs rise.
The unhappy accidents, betrayals, and suppressed resentment that make up the story could easily lend themselves to overwrought, melodramatic treatment, but Wangâs dedication to the details of Chinese working-class life grounds the film in a reality unmarked by melodramaâs hazy-eyed stylizations. Fine leading performances by Wang and Yong capture the simmering sadness of a life whose fulfillment was precluded by an overbearing ideology. So Long, My Son runs a bit long, piling a few too many poetic parallelisms into a protracted conclusion, but itâs a precisely constructed, deeply felt, and humane drama.
The wackiest of the competitionâs films that contemplate loss is Denis CĂ´tĂŠâs Ghost Town Anthology, which sees the Quebecois director returning to his favored rural Canadian terrain with an ensemble cast. Shot on grainy 16mm, and somewhat resembling a â70s-era drive-in cheapie, the film remixes the iconography of ghost stories and post-apocalyptic thrillers to narrate its charactersâ collective confrontation with death.
A town of 215 residents somewhere in Francophone Canada is rocked by what their imperious mayor calls âour first death in a long time,â the presumed suicide-by-car-crash of the 21-year-old Simon DubĂŠ. That Simonâs death is the first in a long time raises a couple of questions about the dreary and desolate village: Where are the old people and, for that matter, where are the children? CĂ´tĂŠ shows us some children, but theyâre strange, impish creatures who wear clay masks and heavy ponchos, and they appear to live in the surrounding woods. When Simonâs car crashes, they play amid the wreckage; later, they chase the frightful, innocent Adele (Larissa Corriveau) into an abandoned garage, backed this time by a group of adults who stand silently behind them in the snow, simply staring forward.
It turns out that the dead are returning but not exactly back to life; this isnât George Romeroâs Night of the Living Dead, and the ghostly figures who begin sprouting from the snowy landscape donât do much of anything but stand and blankly stare. The villagers, accustomed to a life close to outsidersâCĂ´tĂŠ makes his point clear when a hijab-draped official sent by the government to consult with the mayor elicits cool, suspicious stares from the denizensâare forced by the deadâs mere presence to confront what lies beyond their provincial life. âTheyâre like us, in a way,â one character muses toward the end of Ghost Town Anthology, a belated realization that the radical difference of death is also a commonality.
Berlinale runs from February 7â17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Film Editing
Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories?
Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories? AMPAS has officially brought more queens back from the brink than this yearâs season of RuPaulâs Drag Race All-Stars. Now that the academy has reneged on its plans to snip four categories from the live Oscar telecast, after first attempting damage control and assuring members that it will still run those four awards as not-so-instant replays in edited-down form later on in the show, we can once again turn our attention to the other editing thatâs so vexed Film Twitter this Oscar season. We yield the floor to Twitter user Pramit Chatterjee:
People, actual fucking people, are watching scene after scene like this and are saying “bruuuh! best. movie. of. the. year”?
This is objectively bad. Someone with no idea about editing will notice it. My brain is on fire thinking that this is an OSCAR NOMINATED MOVIE! FUCK! pic.twitter.com/QVDCxe2iaf
â Pramit Chatterjee 🌈 (@pramitheus) January 26, 2019
Very fuck! The academy wouldâve been shooting itself in the foot by not airing whatâs starting to feel like one of this yearâs most competitive Oscar categoriesâa category that seems like itâs at the center of ground zero for the voters who, as a fresh New York Times survey of anonymous Oscar ballots confirms, are as unashamedly entertained by a blockbuster that critics called utterly worthless as they are feeling vengeful against those who would dare call a film they loved racist. Interestingly enough, the New York Timesâs panel of voters seems palpably aware that Spike Leeâs BlacKkKlansman is the nominee this year thatâs going to go down in history as the âright thingâ they’ll be embarrassed for not âdoing.â No arguments from this corner. Leeâs film is narratively propulsive and knotty in ways that ought to translate into a no-brainer win here. (My cohort Ed recently mused that heâd give the film the Oscar just for the energy it displays cutting back and forth during phone conversations.)
Weâre glad that the academy walked back its decision to not honor two of the most crucial elements of the medium (editing and cinematography) on the live Oscar telecast, but what weâre left with is the dawning horror that the formless flailing exemplified by the clip above might actually win this damned award. Guy Lodge sarcastically mused on the upside of Pramitâs incredulous tweet, âIâve never seen so many people on Twitter discussing the art of film editing before,â and honestly, it does feel like Bryan Singerâs Bohemian Rhapsody getting publicly dog-walked like this stands to teach baby cinephiles-in-training the language of the cut as well as any of the myriad montages the show producers intended on airing in lieu of, you know, actually awarding craftspeople. But only a fraction of the voting body has to feel sympathy for John Ottman (whose career, for the record, goes all the way back with Bryan Singer), or express admiration that he managed to assemble the raw materials from a legendarily chaotic project into an international blockbuster. The rest of the academy has their ostrich heads plunged far enough into the sand to take care of the rest.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: BlacKkKlansman
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman