Well,spring is here and movie festivals are popping up all over New York City like daffodils in Central Park. The Tribeca Film Festival is the biggie (see separate article),but most weeks, there is a smaller festival somewhere in NYC.
LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES
FINDING VIVIAN MAIERdir John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Imagine buying at a storage space auction a trunk full of undeveloped rolls of film and discovering later it was as if you have found an abandoned Picasso. That is what happened when John Maloof, a documentary film maker, bought the trunk at auction near his home in Chicago. He began to develop and print some of the work of a mysterious photographer. He had discovered Vivian Maier just when her life work was about to be consigned to a dust bin. Who is Vivian Maier you may ask? Well, she had leapt posthumous into the first ranks of photographers, an acknowledged master of picture taking. She was unknown and may have stayed so if Maloof had not raised his auction placard that fateful day
Finding Vivian Maier takes you on a journey of finding who was behind the shutter and raises as many questions as it answers. The rhythm of the editing heightens the sense of investigative discovery usually left to whodunitand crime stories. Maloof discovered Vivian Maier was employed in NYC and Chicago in the ‘50s-‘80s as a nanny. She began taking pictures with the legendary Brownie that became the first camera of many a child before digital photography evolved on everyone’s cell phone. She secretly roamed the cities clicking away. The gift of a master is not in the equipment but in the eye itself and the printing of the image. Even today, it is the eye and aesthetic that remains the difference between an artist and an amateur. Maloof documents the 100,000 images she left, most undeveloped, and unearths the biography facts of her life. Yet what makes Finding Vivian Maier a masterful documentary is for every fact we learn, new questions arise. Was she a closet lesbian? Was she a high functioning autistic person long before we had a word for it? Or was she an obsessive voyeur which fulfilled with artistic expression her passion and felt no need to share with anyone else her work.
What we discover is that her work ranks with the masters of contemporary portrait and street photography. Helen Levitt, Peter Hujar, Arthur Tress, Diane and Dune Arbus come to mind. All those questions in addition to the beautiful images of Vivian Maiermake seeing this documentary a pleasure and an adventure.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVEdir Jim Jarmusch
Indie cinema legend and SoHo resident Jim Jarmusch makes a creative leap forward in this beautifully told love story set in exotic Tangiers and contemporary Detroit.It is the story of the longest love affair in history. The entwined couple Adam and Eve played by Tilda Swinton andTom Hiddlestonare both century-old vampires.
Jarmusch’svampire storytelling is unlike any such story I have ever seen. Jarmuschsays about his characters, “These two lovers are archetypal outsiders, classic bohemians, extremely intelligent and sophisticated — yet still in full possession of their animal instincts.” Adam is a reclusive rock star despairing of completing his latest masterpiece despite having surrounded himself in his barricaded residency with a home recording studio that rivals any professional setting (Think Axl Rose or Trent Reznor).
At the right precise moment of need, Eve, his muse and lover for centuries, appears to nourish him, but she is not alone . Her sister Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska, is a punk teen nightmare looking for adventure without the caution Adam and Eve have developed for survival. A Sartre-like triangle evolves that puts all three at risk of discovery. Also present in the superb cast are John Hurt, Jeffrey Wrightand Anton Yelchin. Special mention must be made of the use of color and light in this most specific of vampire tales. Both the director of photography Yorick Le Saux and production designer Marco Bittner Rosser have pushedJarmusch into a new and welcome visual direction.In ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE,Jarmusch manages to make human the yearning and desire these two ancient but ageless lovers have that resonates across centuries: human need rooted in affection. The sister is a ticking time bomb that moves the story from a present day Cocteau fairy tale to an existential survival tale that encapsulates the rough reality of today as individuals become more and more like expressions of robotic life. Nice to see an artist like Jarmusch challenge himself. Tilda, well, she is luminous in every single frame she appears.
NYMPHOMANIAC pts 1 and 2 director Lars Von Trier
What is one to make of the fascination now turned obsession of one of the world’s most determined film directors to hold on to his own style and vision? Lars Von Trier has always been bedeviled in a quest to understand the difference between men and women especially when it comes to sexual desire and passion. In Melancholiawith Willem DaFoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, clearly delineated between the male’s desire to understand and to distance himself from the unknown and the female who embodied unfiltered passion and an irrational feeling driven reality check. It was vivid and disturbing and almost Greek in its heightened storytelling. Showing sexual violence in a metaphorical way became indelible in many frames in the memory banks of the viewer.
Von Trier showed the tension and distance and lust vividly but his insight into the sexual energy of the female was almost zilch, so now he is back continuing in Nymphomaniac pts 1 and 2 with both his returning stars (Gainsbourg and Defoe) and with the addition of Shia Labeouf, StellanSkarsgård,Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen Udo Kier andJamie Bell and his body doubles reputedly for all penetrative sex. Now obsessed with understanding female sexuality and pleasure, he foists upon the audience his perceptions of heterosexual man’s idea of a living sex doll who can not resist a penis she senses in the room or on the street.
Other than as set up for the flashback, part one does not feature Charlotte Gainsbourg but Stacy Martin, a young actress willing to have sex over and over and over again on screen to the point of boredom for her and the audience. Pt 2 brings out overtly the sadist in Von Trier with a cunning piece of casting. He has Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) do a Miley Cyrus and with all his wholesomeness embodies the whipping man for hire by females in need of a good leather strap slap, or twenty. Jamie Bell is convincing and makes the big leap from favorite son to sadist with a smile and a work ethic.
Gainsborough brings again an unnerving commitment to her character who a) can’t get enough; b): has no feeling . We see her and or her body double give men pleasure. Let me say here that Shia LaBeouf rises to the occasion repeatedly and StellanSkarsard as the understanding older man who finds her roughed up in an alley and takes her in and listens to the story, we seen flashbacks showing how a man can be compassionate. At the screenings I attended, many times there was what I would call inappropriate laughter from the men in the room, most likely to deflect feelings be they erotic or disgusted.
Nymphomaniac is not a comedy. Nor is Von Trier Russ Meyer.
What makes it rise above porn is Lars Von Trier’s commitment to nuancing the motivations of his characters and his skilled crafting of this complicated story telling. Brave, yes. Interesting? The answer will come from each individual viewer. For me, I found the 2nd part unnecessarily violent without the underpinnings of classic heightened Greek tragedy. Sadly, he seems no further along in his attempt to understand female sexuality nor in particular the work of noted Psychotherapist Karen Horney which seems to have informed him . Horney, sometimes referred to as the origin of feminist psychotherapy suggested that all differences between men and women were culturally reinforced. Her theory on female neurosis ripples throughout the film but never is truly embraced as it gets mired in s/m expression. In the end his quest to understand remains a male concept. Both parts 1 and 2 are available for the shy on iTunes while playing in theaters.
CESAR CHAVEZ director Diego Luna
Mexican born and internationally renowned actor Diego Luna (he played Harvey Milk’s lover in Gus Van Sant’s Milk) has chosen to tell the story of CESAR CHAVEZ, the organizer of the Farm Workers movement which built a union for farm workers most of whom were immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. The struggle took place in the 60s and Chavez insisted on using the organizing strategy of Gandhi and non-violence. Grapes became verboten in many a home in America during his campaign for higher salaries and better working conditions for all workers be it from Latin America or the Philippines. With the life threatening fasts and the support of Robert Kennedy, the union eventually won. CHAVEZ is more successful humanizing a larger than life figure in US history than say the biopic of Nelson Mandela. Luna is especially sensitive to the role that women played in the farm workers’ struggle.
CC: jim fouratt email@example.com