Category: festival

“The animal is not naked because it is naked”

Godard does with 3D in Goodbye to Language what he did to cinema’s conventions with Breathless. Pushing dimension into low-grade cell phone footage, or exaggerating the depth to the extreme of a street scene, at times rendering different images in each eye. But the surprising star of the show was the play of sound, volume in particular. The event’s host told us that the projectionist wanted the disclaimer made that all extreme leaps in volume are deliberate and not a technical error.

Jean Luc Godard

In fact, what Godard does here is extraordinary; continuity, score, diegetic sound are all abruptly interrupted, distorted or played back on the wrong stereo channel, keeping us ever aware of the construct while also imparting powerful emotional shifts. From the burst of ear piercing shouts in a street level riot to the hilariously deliberate squeak of Mary Shelley’s fountain pen across a journal page as she scrawls Frankenstein while Lord Byron’s dialogue crackles as it blows the mic capsule, Godard plunges us viscerally into the hunt for a palpable sensation, something rip us out of the reverie, the smokescreen of language. He imparts to cinema sound what My Bloody Valentine did for recording music, always pressing against the seams, exposing its mold lines, making us not only hyper-aware, but wary of its inherent limits.

“I have always detested characters. From birth we are forced into them”

In this vein, Goodbye to Language is an ontological exploration actually well-served by the exploitation of the media’s limits: Immediately in the title sequence, Godard delineates the 2D from 3D planes and then effectively makes the 2D the more reliable, as 3D low-grade images smear across in the background, searching, searching, just the like the dog upon which he spends most of the film – pointing out that through the gaze of an animal are we able to access the real world.

Friday, January 23 – Thursday, January 29, 2015
Exclusive Los Angeles Engagement – 3D
Aero Theatre Santa Monica
1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, 90403
More information at American Cinemateque

Last Train Home (2009)
“Documentarian Lixin Fan follows a couple who, like 130 million other Chinese peasants, left their rural village for work in the city, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents. The husband and wife return only once each year, on an arduous 1,000-mile journey. But their homecoming is not a warm one, as their now teenage daughter, Qin, makes her bitter resentment known and debates pursuing a factory job herself.”

From Zeitgeist films, two things struck me about this epic film – the incredibly personal footage that the filmmaker captured amidst the pandemonium and sheer size of this movement, and the insight it affords into one of the most powerful but least understood countries in the world. In spite of its scope, it focuses on the individuals and tells a powerfully intimate human story.

Last Train Home – official US trailer:

Sweetgrass (2009)
“As much a work of cultural anthropology as it is a documentary, this unique film traces the path of a family of Montana sheepherders as they drive their flock down from the treacherous and beautiful Absaroka Beartooth mountain range. With no guiding narration, filmmakers Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor let the natural images speak for themselves, capturing the danger, pathos and humor in this haunting elegy to a bygone way of life.”

If there is a thing that links the five films I have selected together, it is the ability of the filmmakers to render from seemingly abstract subjects, legitimately engaging stories focused on the people inside of their contexts. On the surface, Sweetgrass may appear a remote subject to city dwellers, and yet it works as an analogy that in spite of the incredible feats of which we are capable, the greatest obstacle is often within our own minds. An awe-inspiring document of a reality leaving the modern world perhaps forever.

The trailer for Sweetgrass:

The Cool School (2007)
“In the late 1950s, when Pollock and de Kooning were being hailed as revolutionary artists in New York, Los Angeles was still dealing with a blacklist that gutted creativity in all media. This is the story of the two men who changed all that. Recording a pledge on a hot dog wrapper to open a cutting-edge gallery, Walter Hopps and Ed Kienholz took the West Coast art world by storm, embracing artists from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol.”

Los Angeles is a city like no other. It is a lens and a megaphone, a magnet to the luminaries of so many small villages scattered around the world that transforms and ignites their minds. And yet it is often looked upon as a vapid cultural cesspool. In The Cool School we explore the transformation of a dustbowl into a hotbed of cultural significance that would be exported and impact perceptions of popular culture irrevocably.

The Cool School trailer:

Superheroes (2011)
“Filmmaker Michael Barnett takes on the ultimate odd job in this eye-opening documentary about real-life “superheroes,” ordinary people who don capes, masks and alter egos in their spare time to right wrongs and make criminals pay for their actions. Among other characters, you’ll meet a tight-knit Brooklyn foursome that tackles tough cases as a squad dubbed the New York Initiative and a San Diego security officer who calls himself Mr. Xtreme.”

We collectively pay a lot of money into the blockbusters centered around the fantastical comic book heroes that raised us. Some take these examples of benevolence, courage, public service and yes, pageantry to heart, and in a quest to emulate them, find ways to substantiate their obsession by attempting to make them real. Beyond the rubber-necking curiosity that these real-life characters may elicit, comes a poignant message about being proactive and taking the risk to make a change in the world as opposed to a passive onlooker, judging their often dangerous lifestyle from the sidelines. A parable about taking responsibility and not simply being an innocuous voice of dissent.

Here is the trailer:

Samsara
“A nonverbal film described by the makers as a “guided meditation”. The film uses very high quality images, scenes of nature and mankind to stimulate the viewer. The film contains no plot or actors, although there are several performers in the film. Samsara is Ron Fricke’s 2011 follow-up to Baraka.”

In the picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words spirit of Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi, “Samsara” affords us yet another lovingly executed, desperate look at our beautiful planet. At present, Samara, which had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival is awaiting distribution. You can help coordinate a screening at the official site.

samsara monks