Hello. This is Vadim, taking over just this once on intro duties for reasons which, hopefully, will be clear in a moment. This podcast commemorates the one-year-anniversary of Preston Millerâs Jones, which debuted last December at the dearly departed Pioneer Theater. And now you may quite reasonably ask: what the hell is Jones, and why are we doing a podcast about it?
Hereâs the full-disclosure part: Prestonâs a friend of ours, and was long before we watched his movie (except for Keith, who first met Preston because of the movie). Heâs a podcast veteran, and regular listeners will recognize his lovely accent, but heâs joined us before primarily as color commentary. The subject of this podcast, though, is explicitly Prestonâs movie, which John and I have both finally watched and liked greatly. Weâre not the only ones: Jones was well-received by Karina Longworth and singled out as the âSelf-Distributed Pickâ of the month by Amy Taubin in Film Comment. Yet itâs undeniable that Jones got somewhat lost in the shuffle, and thatâs a damn shame.
We didnât do this podcast out of some kind of weird sense of friendly nepotism or as a favor. We did it because we like the movie a lot and believe it deserves to be seen far more widely. You could start by ordering it from Prestonâs website. Or not: you could just listen to the podcast, in which we kind of unapologetically delve into the background stories, inspirations and anecdotes surrounding a movie you may well have never seen. Itâs still fun, we think. Weâre joined by actor Trey Albright, DP Arsenio Assin, musician/all-round-good-guy Leif Fortlouis and actor/ex-cop/old-school personality Cabrini, who is amazing (if you want to listen to his storiesâhence the last 20 minutesâfirst, I wouldnât blame you.
What I want to stress, in a moment of quite possibly uncharacteristic earnestness, is that Jones is as relevant a topic of discussion as any weâve covered this year. In a podcast that isnât up yet, we get into a lengthy discussion with Varietyâs Peter Debruge in which, at one point, I express quite possibly misplaced frustration at how one of criticismâs primary tasksâchampioning the underseen and unknownâis one of the biggest casualties of 2008âs much-discussed Death of Criticism. Consider this, at least in part, an attempt to put this practice into action, one movie at a time. On my HMs for 2005 (which is Jonesâ IMDb date, for whatever reason), this ranks higher than, say, Brokeback Mountain or The Wayward Cloud. Jones is a terrific movie, and Iâm happy to encourage people to watch it. Or just enjoy the podcast; either way, we hope you get something out of it.
Thanks for listening and, as always, weâre still waiting for someone to buy us a drink. Vadim Rizov
Trey Albright is the lead performer in Jones and is currently starring, through December 20th, in The WorkShop Theater Company production of A Memory Play.
Arsenio Assin is the cinematographer of Jones. His website is Shoot Straight.
Cabrini needs no introduction.
Leif Fortlouis is the composer for Jones. His website is Preserved Fish.
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.
Preston Miller is the writer/director of Jones. His website is Vindaloo Philm-Wallah.
Keith Uhlich is editor of The House Next Door.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Actress
Sometimes itâs important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress.
Sometimes itâs important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress for having given a performance that, while not your, um, favourite nominated one, is still deserving of an Oscar victory lap. Now, if only others felt the same. Very early on in the awards season, there was already a sense that this award could become a career-achievement coronation for the six-time losing Glenn Closeâand that people were going to have a problem squaring that with the fact that her Oscar would be tied to a film perceived to be a piffle. Thatâs not an inaccurate perception, but itâs difficult to remember a time when critics have used that as an excuse to not do their homework.
In short, have you seen The Wife? Indeed, until the awards-media systemâs attention shifted full time into covering AMPAS’s A Series of Unfortunate Oscar Decisions, it seemed as if every day brought us a new article by some pundit about the Oscar race in which it strangely sounded as if the The Wife was still a blind spot for the writer. Which is shame, because Close gives good face throughout the film. Certainly, few Oscar-nominated films this year are as absurd as The Wife, but Iâll do battle with anyone who thinks Close is getting by on her legend alone. Closeâs triumph is recognizing The Wifeâs inherent ludicrousness and elevating it, and without condescension, with a kabuki-like verve that seeks to speak to the experiences of all women whoâve been oppressed by their men. Itâs a turn worthy of Norma Desmond.
Today, the most reliable Oscar narrative is the overdue performer. And if you take stock in that narrative, then youâll understand why I texted Eric, my fellow Oscar guru, the following on the morning of November 29: âI think Close is going to Still Alice at the Oscars.â After that morning, when the New York Film Critics Circle officially kick-started the Oscar season (and gave their award for best actress to Regina Hall in Support the Girls), no actress ran the table with the critics and guilds, but most of the cards that matter did fall into place for Close, and much as they did for Julianne Moore ahead of her winning the Oscar for Still Alice.
This was a done deal when Close won the Golden Globe, received a standing ovation, and gave the nightâs most impassioned speech, immediately after which Eric conceded that my instincts had been right. Of course, that was no doubt easy for him to admit given that, by that point, the oxygen had already seeped out of A Star Is Bornâs awards campaign, leaving only Olivia Colman in Closeâs way. Colman has worked the campaign trail in spectacular ways, giving speeches that have been every bit as droll as this, but in the end, she doesnât have the SAG, and as bold and subversive as her performance certainly is, it isnât sufficiently big enough to convince enough AMPAS members that Close should continue waiting for Oscar.
Will Win: Glenn Close, The Wife
Could Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Should Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
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.