Last October I wrote: “Quel deluge! The awards season scramble is upon us.” Everyday it would seem a new “important” film opens in New York City. The march to Academy Award nominations is in high stop motion. Understand that the setup is to qualify for the IFC Spirit nominations (the independent film movement of approximately 6000 voters), the newly merged SAG-AFTRA Awards (this is the biggest voting bloc with approximately 60,000 paid up members with a ballot to cast) and on the opposite side of relevance, the glitzy Golden Globes from the Hollywood Foreign Press members (approximately 135 actual voters who are fiercely wooed in all manners imaginable). Yet the Oscar remains the most coveted film award in the world and a film that wins will see box office revenue increase worldwide. So, media buys will alert the public, to the stars in big movies and these campaigns (and that is what they are) are more about catching voters’ attention.
Once again, as good as some of these well publicized features are, and there are a number of them of merit which I will write about online, I will again bring some smaller films that will be harder to see once they leave the theaters that I think equally merit your consideration for the “Reel Deal: Movies that Matter Awards.” And nothing has changed except it now begins in September.
Competing with these new films are some very ambitions programming at cinema art temples. Lincoln Center has a “complete” retrospective of John Waters films (September 6-14) with Waters introducing most of them in person. Me, I am excited to see his never publicly screened shorts, reminiscing with Divine, Mink Stole and the “egg lady” Edie Massey plus six twisted films he wishes he had made. I can’t imagine! Go to filmlc.org.
Film Forum is on fire this month including three new restorations of classic films: Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist. Given the political fall out caused by Citizens United his film about fascism’s effect on individuals is as relevant today as when it was first released; Billy Wilder’s last film Fedora is a return to the film noir genre of Sunset Boulevard, again written by IA Diamond. This time it is Martha Keeler playing an ageless Hollywood legend, Delicious pleasure of a brilliant constructed “bad” movie made by Hollywood geniuses, and a beautiful restored masterpiece Roberto Rossellini post-WWII opus Open City with Anna Magnani.
Lets Go to the Movies
Born to Fly, Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, director Catherine Gund .
One of the earliest heartbreaks a child has is when she realizes she will not be able to fly. Choreographer Elizabeth Streb never let go of that dream. Influenced by 60’s Judson Dance members Steve Paxton and Trisha Brown and the magic of circus trapeze acts feats of wonder, Streb has devoted much of her career making visual what was said could not be done. She is today to dance what Jerzy Grotowski was to experimental theater in the 60’s. She is not afraid to listen to her own muses and inner artist voice. Streb carries on the Grotowski edict that her dancers, like his actors, must be able to accomplish what we have been told is impossible. For Streb it is to soar through the air like a bird with no fear.
Gathering together a group of well-disciplined dancers with a heightened desire for adventure and endorphin reward, Streb founded her own company and school. What Gund successful accomplishes is that we become that fly on wall that goes with Streb on a commissioned adventure to London to document walking up the curved wall of a modern building, kissing the sky and leaping off of buildings and bridges in a disciplined choreographed work. It was conceived for an Olympic mindset and rightly so given the skill and athletic commitment athletes and her dancers share.
Born to Fly is a heart stopping, thrill seeking attempt to do the impossible. You watch her push her dancers who are quite thrilled and sometimes scared to push the boundaries of human physical endeavor and the redefine the borders of dance. Grund captures and builds the cinematic tension when they face unexpected detours and the challenging adversarial weather conditions. Born to Fly sometimes makes one feel one is not absorbing an artfully directed and edited documentary but instead smack dab in the middle a Tom Cruise action film. Watching Born to Fly was more thrilling than a roller coaster ride that is seemingly out of control but not. It is the Streb exploration of how far can the body be pushed and still be called dance.
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People director Thomas Allen Harris
It was often said that 70’s British punks, mostly working class kids, shaved their heads, put safety pins through their flesh, etc., as a desperate shocking attempt to be seen and not be invisible. Selfies are a way of doing the same thing in this digital age. “This is me. This is how I want to be seen.” What Thomas Allen Harris has accomplished is to concretized aesthetically the question of “Who am I and why does it matter?” Who decides how I look? The imaging of Michael Brown recently brings home the point, as it did with Trayvon Martin, that how the media presents a person determines how they are judged.
Rap music video with its distortions of black youth and poverty reality also raises the question who decides the representation and why does that matter in affecting self-image and self-esteem. He has made a critical and very necessary exploration of how black photographers may see the same set of circumstances differently from a non-black photographer and what is shared in the artistic expression of that vision. Harris border crosses art, family story and news reporting. He shows how important the formal visual representation of family has been to identity and dignity through posed photographs of for black families in the 19th and 20th century was. He also shows the difficulty of breaking into the white controlled world of style, fashion and news reporting let alone the museums and academy. We meet a cross section of professional photographers. These are the black women and men who broke the racial barriers of professional photography who kept clicking and mastering their own eye and vision in order to create authenticity and art. This is a wonderful family movie going experience.
THE SKELETON TWINS director Craig Johnson
SKELETON TWINS opens with two people in different parts of the country attempting suicide. They both fail. They know each other. Not only are they natal sister and brother but they are in fact twins, Two messed up adults in their 30’s who have not spoken to each other in 10 years for very good reasons. Despite the absence of physical presence they remain deeply bonded in their unhappiness. This is a serious film about loss of identity. It is also a comedy, a very funny dark comedy. SNL veterans Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader are so comfortable and trusting with each other that all the SNL stick is gone and they become two people who emotionally are the same damaged person. We begin to understand when we meet their new age guru mom, a sassy narcissistic performance by Tony award winner Joanna Gleason. She drops in on them to kill a couple of hours as her guru tour happens to be making a spiritual pit stop where they live. Uninvited and unannounced, we learn that she has managed to sidestep the toxic energy generated by her husband suicide, an act that stained and damaged their two children, leaving them essentially bereft of any sense of self. The Skeleton Twins screenpay (Johnson and Mark Heyman) deservedly won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting award at Sundance 2014 given each year by the Writers Guild. I will tell you it twists and turns in surprising direction with a nuanced sense of drama and made me laugh so hard so many times when I wasn’t weeping with human identification that I stopped counting. Beautify cast and with a tone that makes believable this tragic mess of adult children of narcissistic parents. I think this is one of the sleeper films that just might click with awards voters. I know it did with me.
THE GREEN PRINCE and the genre challenging THE CONGRESS with Robin Wright is online and in the Reel Deal: Movies that Matter blog.