Monday, July 11, 2005

2005 Sydney Film Festival - The Films

Two weeks ago the Sydney Film Festival finished up. I made it to 20 films, although it's more like 19 and a half, since I walked out on one. The roster of new feature films seemed a little lacklustre, but the documentaries were consistently good. And of course they showed some lovely old films. I've divided this review into three handy parts. 1 - New films 2 - Old films 3 - Crap films (yes, the rumours are true, I walked out on one!)
1. NEW FILMS: *** Me and You and Everyone We Know. A quirky little independent comedy-drama from the US, along the lines of last year's Sideways, though a little less funny perhaps. Lovely new filmmaking from a woman directing and starring in her first film. Quite worth seeing. As a side issue - why are goldfish so misused in movies? They only ever make two kinds of appearances: 1) as decorative swimmers in restaurant fish tanks, which will always be smashed to bits if it's an action film, or 2) as tragic creatures, who fall on the floor and can't breath after their bowl is over-turned, or get eaten by the cat, or who die after not getting fed by the house-sitter, or get flushed down the toilet by a small girl. Why does Hollywood continue with these tired clich├ęs? We demand new roles for fish! *** Inside Deep Throat was an consistently good documentary about what was on the one hand just a tacky porn flick, but which also had a wonderfully interesting history. Pretty much everyone involved was interviewed - the director, the male star, cinema owners who showed the film (including one hilariously cute retired couple), folks who tried to get it banned, and all the usual american sexperts (Gore Vidal, Dr Ruth, Camille Paglia, Larry Flynt and more). Linda Lovelace is dead now, but we get to hear from people who new her, both before and after she was famous. The documentary had so many facets to it. Unfortunately I doubt even SBS could show it on tv, since it has some brief explicit snippets from the original film (which caused some slight coughing and shuffling noises from the audience I saw it with). I guess I was bound to enjoy a film that dealt with such juicy topics (sex, movies, politics, the mob, and censorship), but this doco was more smartly put together than any other I saw during the festival. Also, you get to learn lots of titbits: That after Harry Reams (the star from the old film) became famous, he was cast to play a supporting role in Grease - until Paramount Pictures got cold feet at the last minute; that Scream director Was Craven worked behind the scenes of porn flicks before moving on to the mainstream; and that the old disco hit More, More, More was sung by a porn actress! My goodness! *** 36 Quai Des Orfevres. Twisting and dark Parisian cop drama featuring Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil. This film kept going in different directions, focusing on a group of policemen who disagree on what compromises are appropriate to make to catch a group of dangerous criminals. *** Howl's Moving Castle. The new film from Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away). This tended to meander a bit, but had some fantastical images and ideas. I want to have a house like that - with a magical door that can open on 4 different streets! *** Oh, I just remembered a film called Duck Season. Very small film from Mexico with just 4 characters stuck in an apartment for a couple of hours. Lovely little film which hopefully will get released sometime. *** A State of Mind. Documentary showing the life of two families living in North Korea. Life's fairly simple, and not too bad if you don't expect too much, and are happy to love your leader. But then they've got to live with things like the radio station that is piped into one family's house every day. It's a government run station. They can't change the channel, and they can't turn it off. Big Brother is alive, and not just on Channel 10! *** Shake Hands With The Devil (on a UN soldier returning to Rwanda) and Enron: Smartest Guys In The Room (on the rotten ethics behind the company before it's demise) were grim experiences.
2. OLD FILMS: *** PEOPLE ON SUNDAY is a silent German film from 1930, which used non-actors in it's portrayal of an ordinary sunday, where folks go down to a lake. A little sad to see peaceful Berlin life before things went to shit. One scene I loved started with a couple having a minor domestic argument. To get some revenge the man 'accidentally' throws some of his shaving cream on a photo of a male movie star that's been pinned on their wall. The woman decides to get back at him by tearing up a photo of a glamorous actress (I think it might have been Greta Garbo). Soon they're excitedly tearing up each other's photos. Nice. *** THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT. Funny film. I discovered that Jayne Mansfield's physique is even more startling on the big screen. I don't think I've ever seen anyone else walk quite like that. *** Cade came along to see CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC with me, and admitted to really enjoying it. Most Aussies my age and over seem to have seen it. It's still a silly yet hugely fun experience, with more innuendo than a Carry On picture. The music is cheerfully fun, and everyone seems constantly happy and ready to burst into a musical number, even when wearing the tightest imaginable shorts. *** I saw my old favourite BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, and was overjoyed with the response of the audience. For most of the movie they laughed almost as much as I did, and at certain parts they actually laughed more (which is saying something considering I felt sore from over-laughing)! Astounding! It was one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever had in a cinema. Later on as people were leaving, you could still see the smiles on their cynical film festival-going faces and hear laughter coming from their weary film festival-going throats. A beautiful thing.
3. NOW IT'S TIME FOR ME TO MAKE ANGRY STATEMENTS ABOUT FILM-MAKER'S WHO LET ME DOWN: *** Saw one crap Australian short film (which shall remain nameless), directed by some young git who thought she was making a statement about young women taking up the torch of the previous generation who have sold out their feminist ideals. Kerry Armstrong was still very good (as usual), but the rest of the film was kind of insulting in it's stupidness. How can you not hate a story which spends the last few minutes explaining supposed 'twists' which were bleedingly obvious the whole way through. The director came on stage afterwards and said she hoped everyone liked it - I sternly refused to applaud and had a determinedly unhappy look on my face, plain for everyone to see! I hope the director noticed!*** They showed a short computer-animated film called Ryan. It won an oscar, and was based on interviews a guy did with an old animator who has now retired and begs on street corners. It was kind of interesting, and visually inventive. But after it was finished they showed a more traditional documentary which had fuller interviews with both the new and the older animators. This was so much more enlightening and heartfelt than the initial new-fangled short film, that it made it look redundant. So I suspect that the new invention, the 'documentary animated' short-film, will have about as long a life as the Australian version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (or the US version of The Office for that matter).*** I WALKED OUT ON A FILM!!!!! This is an amazing thing. I've never ever done this before. To let you in on the full story, here's some of what I wrote on about it: This film was shown at this year's Sydney Film Festival as 'Half-Price'. I'm afraid I can't give a complete and proper review because I walked out on it after watching just over half of it. And I wasn't alone, as I noticed twenty or so other people leaving at the same time. I swear I heard the phrases "rats leaving a sinking ship" and "women and children first" in the foyer as people left. This is in fact the first time I've ever walked out on a movie, so that tells you something. I have no idea whether the film finds a way to justify itself in the end, but it had already used up all of my patience. I presume the director was trying to show us something about the lives of children when they're alone together by filming them up close, letting them do their own thing, and not including anything else that would intrude (such as a plot or dialogue). But from what I sat through, all that you're left with is the kind of boredom you'd get from watching someone else's particularly dull home movies of their kids. We're told very little about their lives, so we're left to watch their behaviour without any useful context. They listen to music, laugh, and go to the toilet. So what! Apart from the fact that the kids play together, we don't even get a feel for the bonds between them. This is really only bearable for a short while. By the 30-minute mark I was bored out of my skull. And when you're that bored, you start to question the point of watching scenes of kids sitting on the toilet, or hanging around the house naked while playing music. It's a lot like having someone show you pictures of their kids. If there's a couple of embarrassing photos in there - maybe of a kid naked in the bath - that's fine. But if it turns out that a whole heap of the photos are of a kid naked in the bath, then it becomes plain weird and uncomfortable, and you start wondering why the person showing them to you doesn't realise it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

2005 Archibald Prize

I think the Archibald prize exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery has closed by now.
I spent an hour there one recent afternoon.
Saw the winner, which nobody was paying any attention to. The two-headed Janus idea was a good one, but the execution was garbage. Firewood.
My personal favourite picture was Adam and Harvie (Krumpet) by David Ralph. I liked it's squareness for some reason, and the cheerful animated look Adam had. And the relationship between Harvie and his creator kept me wondering. Was Harvie creeping up on Adam to surprise him? Was he riding on Adam's back? Was Adam looking more startled or wary?
One picture that I didn't exactly like, but found interesting was of Gretel Killeen. I wasn't sure the picture was so good, and at first I didn't even think it looked too much like Gretel. It looked to harsh. But after looking at it some more it struck me that Gretel sometimes does actually have that harsh look to her.
* I really enjoyed many of the entries in the Australian Photographic Portrait Prize that hung in some nearby rooms. Some good ones of Libby Gore, Duncan Armstrong under water, a guy sitting below the mural of Martin Luther King in Newtown, and Bob Hawke (with skin tone darkened as if to exaggerate his exposure to harsh Australian sunlight).
The most gorgeous shot was of a young woman standing in a suburban backyard. I don't remember the name of her or the photographer, but it was impressively good. It was all fairly simple and straightforward, with just a few odd touches including mesh material wrapped around the woman's face. But she had a presence, and the strong colouring of the photo made the ordinary backyard (little more than some grass and a fence) look like something extraordinary. The blurb beside it mentioned that the photographer took a long time to set it all up (I believe it was over a number of weeks) and it showed. Top marks!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Live 8 Concerts

I have a bit of a problem with the 2 hours of footage that Channel 9 gave us from this weekend's Live 8 concerts.
Obviously the main problem with this kind of concert is that only some performers could get shown while many others were cut completely. Couldn't we have had at least 3 hours of it? Channel 9 would only have had to cut 1 extra hour out of it's schedule of garbage to do it. Should have been piss-easy.
Channel 9's disappointing choice was to go almost solely with the big-ticket golden oldies:- Elton, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, U2, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Sting... I could count the number of songs that were less than 10 years old on 1 hand. One of the few recent songs was from Coldplay, but I suspect that was only so they could show shots of family members Gwyneth Paltrow and baby Apple bouncing along in the crowd.
The annoying thing is that there were plenty of younger acts performing at the actual concerts, but Channel 9 didn't care to let us see them. I would have loved to see some Travis, Joss Stone, The Killers, Dido, or Scissor Sisters. I presume Channel 9 was more interested in an older demographic, so younger music fans weren't considered worth catering to. Thanks heaps!
This also made the older performers seem older again. Rather than mature active musicians sharing a stage with newer artists, they tended to look like a nice bunch of semi-retirees having a comfortable reunion gig. And we could have done with more from the performers outside the main London gig - a bit of Shakira, Bjork, Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran wouldn't have hurt.
But I am complaining too much now. The glass being more than half full - it still was very enjoyable viewing overall. The standard of music only fell a couple of times. The bland country song by Keith Urban, and the uncomfortable duet between Tina Arena and Craig David were obviously only included in the broadcast as the singers were originally from Australia. It's a little sad to think what other great performances we missed out on just to hear them. (I have since found out that Tina & Craig's duet was a last minute effort after another singer dropped out. So it was good to see Tina giving it a go, but it still didn't sound that hot).
So to wrap up, there were plenty of nice things to say about the concerts. But as for Channel 9, a rather ordinary effort indeed.