Posted on April 30, 2011 by Lincoln Spector
The San Francisco International Film Festival’s Kanbar Award tribute to screenwriter Frank Pierson started 10 minutes late. But it was worth the wait.
Pierson’s work ranges from memorable ‘60s classics like Cool Hand Luke to one of the best TV shows of recent years, Mad Men. As the Festival speaker who introduced the event put it, “Clearly what we have is not a failure to communicate.”
After some clips from his work, Pierson was interviewed onstage by Roy Isenhart (I’m not sure of the spelling), then he answered questions from the audience.
Among his more statements:
- “I don’t know if I learned anything [working in the industry], but I can testify to an awful long of change in the business and in the world…The craft of movies hasn’t changed that much. It’s become much more efficient with computers and such. When I started in westerns, we literally communicated with flags.”
- On the role of screenwriter during 60s and 70s:: “Hollywood was a smaller place then. Everybody liked to sit at the writer’s table. The conversation was better then.”
- When asked if he would go into the same field today: “I guess I’m masochist enough to do it anyway. I’d do it for minimum wage. Thank god the studios don’t know it and the writer’s guild won’t let me.”
- On Sidney Lumet: “An extraordinary director and underrated. Not a stylist, but a story teller. Needed the style that matched that particular story. You don’t recognize it as a Lument picture.”
This was followed by a screening of Dog Day Afternoon. It was my first time seeing it on the big screen with an audience. It’s much better that way. Pierson and Lumet did the almost impossible: They started the movie as a comedy and turn it into something serious. I’ve seen that attempted many times and seldom seen it done successfully. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more successful attempt.
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Posted on April 28, 2011 by Lincoln Spector
I skipped Oliver Stone’s tribute this evening at the San Francisco International Film Festival and I’m glad I did. In its place, I caught a French gem that’s the sort of movie you go to film festivals to discover.
A Living on Love Alone
“Youth,” as W. S. Gilbert wrote, “must have its fling.” But flings have consequences, and growing up can be painful. Writer/director sabelle Czajka’s second feature starts out examining the difficulties a young person faces starting out on her own—even with a college education. It finishes as something far scarier. Julie (Anaïs Demoustier) is 23, beautiful, impulsive, and looking for a job. But she can’t quite bring herself to do the demeaning chores and groveling involved when you’re starting out in the business world. She embraces life in the moment, but is terrified of it in the long run. No surprise she falls for a charming, good-looking young man who refuses to be tied down to a job—and doesn’t seem to be concerned about it. A character study that slides slowly into a thriller, Living on Love Alone mixes a strong moral sense with a sympathetic eye for those too young to see right from wrong.
Unless someone picks it up for American distribution (keep your fingers crossed), your last chance to see this unique film will be this coming Friday, at 9:00, at the Pacific Film Archive.
Czajka was there for the screening I attended, and answered questions (through an interpreter) after the film. A few of her more interesting points:
The first question: What was the starting point of the film. “I wanted to investigate what youth is now.”
She was, of course, asked about Demoustier, the young actress who has starred in both of her films. “In the first movie, she played an introvert. I wanted her to be someone different this time. Not someone who looks at herself. She just does things.”
I asked about the music. “I knew I wanted a rock rhythm.” (I’d describe it as very hard rock.) The final song was about a true story that vaguely paralleled the end of the film. I won’t go into details.
When asked about the film’s meaning: “In France, we have a saying we tell young people, ‘You can’t live on love and clear water.’ [The film’s original title, D’amour et d’eau fraîche, translates as ‘living on love and clear water.’] You have to work, too. Young people have to learn this themselves. They have to try living without working.”
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Posted on April 28, 2011 by Lincoln Spector
I took yesterday off the festival, but made it here today (Wednesday). I had other business in San Francisco, so it was a good excuse.
Unfortunately, at least with my first movie of the day, it wasn’t a good experience.
C- At Ellen’s Age. Flight attendant Ellen arrives home to her boyfriend, who’s strangely distant. He got another girl pregnant.Then Ellen does something stupid and loses her job, and everything goes weird from there. The story meanders, and occasionally just changes without explanation. That can work if done with wit, good characters, and a point of view. In fact, it could happen with any of these. But there’s little evidence of such virtues here.
For what it’s worth, Ellen spends much of the movie with a bunch of PETA-like animal rights activists. I can’t honestly tell you how the filmmakers thought of these people. But I did learn something: In Germany, even the vegans smoke.
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Posted on April 26, 2011 by Lincoln Spector
Two years ago, the San Francisco International Film Festival screened the animated film Battle For Terra. Although the film was made in 3D, and screened for press that way, it was shown flat at the festival.
A lot has changed in two years. To my knowledge, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the first feature screened in 3D at the SFIFF.
A- Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Only Werner Herzog would ask a scientist about his dreams. But that’s precisely why Herzog was the perfect choice to make this documentary about very ancient cave paintings—amongst the earliest works of art in existence, and works that show significant talent. Herzog’s movie goes beyond the conventional archeology documentary (although it is certainly that). The filmmaker’s unique narrative voice, the eerie beauty of the caves themselves, and the haunting score by Ernst Reijseger combine to turn Cave into an homage to what makes human beings so different from other animals: the artistic, creative spark. And yes, the 3D is justified.
It’s screening again tonight (Tuesday), at the Kabuki, at 9:30.
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Posted on April 25, 2011 by Lincoln Spector
B+ The Colors of the Mountain. On one level, this is a funny tale about adorable boys who love soccer, set against beautiful mountain scenery. On another, and more important level, it’s about the harse realities of third-world life when caught between violent revolutionaries and an utterly heartless and cruel government. At first, Manuel’s life seems good. His family is poor, but not desperate. They have electricity and running water, and his parents buy him a brand-new soccer ball for his birthday. Then the revolutionaries mine the makeshift soccer field, and then the army arrives. Writer/director Carlos César Arbeláez shows us the effects of political upheaval through the eyes of someone too young to understand what is happening, but old enough to be horrified.
The Colors of the Mountain won’t play the festival again, but it may receive a theatrical release later.
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Posted on April 25, 2011 by Lincoln Spector
Last night I attended Christine Vachon’s State of the Cinema address. By her own count, Vachon has produced over 60 films (IMDB says 65), including Boys Don’t Cry, Happiness, I Shot Andy Warhol, and The Notorious Bettie Page. On the other hand, she’s also produced I’m Not There and Cracks; not everything she made is a masterpiece.
But she’s definitely an independent producer with an extremely impressive track record. Her films have been daring and experimental, and have helped launch numerous careers. And enough of them have been profitable to keep her in the business.
If I was trying to break into movies, I’d want her on my side.
She came onstage in an untucked tee-shirt and jeans at 9:00, carrying a wine glass. “It’s like midnight for me," she admitted, apparently having just flown in from the East Coast. "They supplied me with a glass of wine, so I’ll be really honest.”
She talked a great deal about how television and the Internet are changing the nature of the business and the art, and about how overall this is a good thing. Television offers more artistic freedom than movies these days, and the Internet allows unknown filmmakers to get their work seen.
She noted that a lot of filmmakers are reluctant to embrace new technology. “I remember when we changed from cutting on film to Avid, and a lot of filmmakers objected."
Here are a few choice comments:
- “I’ve produced over 60 films, which is unreal. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I’ve seen independent film die and be reborn over and over."
- While discussing contracts that require her to regularly post about the movie on Facebook and Twitter. "We have to think about how we build community now."
- “When I started, there was Hollywood, and there were experimental films…then I started to see filmmakers like Jim Jarmish…and the Coen Brothers making movies, and not asking permission to make them. That’s what filmmakers are doing again."
- “Cinema is happening on YouTube. The state of cinema is not necessarily taking place in theaters.”
- "TV is so much less risk-averse than cinema these days. Young people have grown up with fantastic television."
- "It’s super-exiciting to me that it’s so much easier to make a professional-looking movie. When I was making Poison, a $100,000 didn’t get you much. Today you can make an extraordinary movie for half or a quarter of that."
- "Hulu’s what HBO was 15 years ago. It’s beginning to do original content. I feel that the play with portals is just going to become more interesting."
- "You have more access to 1974 content than you had in 1974."
- "Working with HBO was terrific. It’s a terrific company with a real vision of what they do and what they’re trying to accomplish. Nothing bad there."
At one point, in defining the types of films she makes, she used a term that I’d never heard before but liked very much: execution-dependent. It means that your film has to be well-made to work. Hollywood prefers films that are execution-independent.
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