STUDIO-ONLINE

3/15/2011

The Poetics of Color: Natvar Bhavsar, An Artist’s Journey

Filed under: Art,Ecalendar,Events,Film,mp — veronica @ 12:47 pm

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Film Screening:
The Poetics of Color: Natvar Bhavsar,
An Artist’s Journey

A documentary film written and directed by Sundaram Tagore.

The 60-minute documentary chronicles the life and work of the noted Indian painter. The film follows Bhavsar as he journeys to New York City, the very nerve center of the art world, in the 1960′s. An immigrant in the new city, Bhavsar settles into a loft in SOHO, falls in love, and comes of age as an artist. Written and directed by art historian and gallerist Sundaram Tagore, the film explores the multicultural nature of Bhavsar’s work and how that affected the trajectory of his career.

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Saturday, March 19th, 2-4pm

FREE with museum admission

A Q & A with the filmmaker will follow the screening

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Southern Asian Art Council

Bing Theatre
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Thursday, March 24th, 7pm

FREE

A Q & A with the filmmaker will follow the screening

1/10/2011

Slamdance Film Festival Jan. 21-27, 2011

Filed under: Art,Ecalendar,Film,General,mp — veronica @ 4:02 pm

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The 17th Annual Slamdance Film Festival, All Is Not Lost will be showcasing fresh and innovative voices in short film featuring 56 shorts continuing with Slamdance tradition of presenting rare precious cinematic artifacts. Screenings will run January 21-27, 2011 in Park City, Utah.

For more information visit:

http://www.slamdance.com/news/index.html

12/2/2010

Park Avenue Armory Presents: Leonardo’s Last Supper

Filed under: Ecalendar,Events,Exhibitions,Film,mp — site admin @ 9:44 pm

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Leonardo’s Last Supper: A vision by Peter Greenaway

Through an ingenious manipulation of light and sound, filmmaker Greenaway brings to life a perfect facsimile of one of the world’s most celebrated artworks.  He has created vivid audio-visual environments from the triumphant overture of Italian architecture to an epilogue celebrating Veronese’s Wedding at Cana.

If you are in NYC, don’t miss this show.

For more information go to armoryonpark.org

7/30/2010

Will He Kill Her, Or Will He Love Her?

Filed under: Books,Bookshelf,Film,mp — cindi @ 4:11 pm

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Darling Jim by Christian Moerk (Holt pbk, 2010)

Reviewed by Cindi DI Marzo

Prophets and madmen use the same door to people’s hearts, don’t they? They always grab hold of your hope and start turning the handle until it gives, whether you want them to or not.

–A warning from Gatekeeper

Celtic mythology contains a mind-boggling cast of otherworldly spirits: good, bad, mischievous and those with irresistible charms marking them as tricksters and thieves. Such shapeshifters endanger all who encounter them on back roads and in the forests of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwell, Brittany and Galicia. To many inhabitants in rural areas today, the voices of wee folk and Druids echo in unconscious creeds and consciously upheld superstitions. Still considered power places, standing stones in sacred circles draw natives, tourists and true believers.

Former Warner Bros. movie executive Christian Moerk set his first novel published in the States, Darling Jim, in one such locale, Castletownbere, a small fishing port in County Cork, Ireland. Sexy, leather-clad Jim Quick rides into town on a fiery red vintage motorcycle, initiating a chain of grisly events. His first victim: 24-year-old teacher Fiona Walsh, who falls head-over-heels for his implied danger, impish smile and x-ray eyes. A sensible girl when compared to her renegade younger sisters, twins Róisín and Aoife, Fiona can swear and drink the best of ‘em under the table. In the Irish language, “Fiona” means “fair”; Róisín, “Dark Rose” and Aoife, “joyful.” Their names sum up the girls’ physical features and obvious personality traits: Fiona the girl next door obsessed with Egyptian history; Róisín the tattooed loner addicted to shortwave radio; and Aoife the flower child earning her bread as taxi driver. Beneath the surface, each sister resists easy definition; just when you think you have their “type,” unexpected facets emerge. Fiercely loyal to each other, they share a finely tuned sense of justice. When push comes to shove, most who know the Walsh sisters would bet against their adversaries. That is, before Jim Quick arrives.

A foe equal to Walsh sister solidarity, Jim, as Fiona describes, “was a force of nature there’s no name for yet, unless that word is ruin, fury and seduction.” A male Shéhérazade, or seanchaí in Irish tradition, Jim’s storytelling finesse rivals his movie-star looks. Unlike the Persian queen from Richard Burton’s 1885 The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, though, Jim does not spin tales to preserve life. He creates intricate webs of malice, murder and mayhem. If Moerk’s novel sounds like yet another gothic thriller, it is–with a twist. Like Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind, Darling Jim surpasses genre and, with enough press and word-of-mouth, could rank among these predecessors on bestseller lists. In fact, Fiona, Róisín and Aoife are close cousins, separated by a few intervening countries, to Larsson heroine Lisbeth Salander. As strong women, they define Girl Power for the 21st century.

Raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, Moerk convincingly captures the quaint setting, quirky dialogue and prickly characters of small-town Ireland. His ability to write like an insider is one marvel among Darling Jim’s many wonders. While working for Warner Bros., Moerk traveled to Ireland to oversea shooting of Neil Jordan’s films Michael Collins and The Butcher Boy. (Jordan set his latest film, Ondine, in Castletownbere. For www.studio-online.com’s review of Ondine, click Film on the menu bar). In an essay closing the book, Moerk explains that Darling Jim germinated from three seeds: his visit Castletownbere, a village “spilling over with hidden stories”; a kid on an old motorcycle; and a newspaper reporting deaths of three women from County Kildare, apparently from starvation. Similarly, Moerk’s novel develops in layers, with diverse threads winding like twisting country roads through narrative accounts and diary entries. A master storyteller himself, Moerk reels in his audience with multiple perspectives and clues judiciously doled out like crumbs in the forest. Along with readers, the novel’s anti-hero Niall, an aspiring illustrator daylighting as a Dublin postal clerk, follows the trail. Niall believes that if he can draw the scenes related in Fiona’s and Róisín’s diaries, he might solve the many puzzles presented in them.

Moerk packs Darling Jim with fairy tale imagery (wolves lurking in the woods; a wicked stepmother figure; a wheel chair-bound wizard) and magical symbols (twins, keys, a bride). References to legendary figures old and new (Amenhotep, Jesus, Elvis, JFK, Tom Cruise, Obi-Wan Kenobi) and ubiquitous features of modern life (cigarette butts, phone cards, Hello Kitty stickers) have an unsettling effect, as if time stood still while barreling forward at breakneck speed.

Despite Gatekeeper’s warning broadcast by radio to a scheming Róisín, Moerk leaves little doubt about Jim Quick’s identity. Neither prophet or madman, Quick is a cold-blooded killer. The true mystery at the heart of Darling Jim pivots on a question as old as the hills. And the answer to it solves the greatest mystery of all: love. Fiona never stops wondering whether Jim will kill her or love her. It’s a fine line between love and violence, and she cannot fathom the distance.

Surprisingly, Moerk’s gothic tragedy spins gold from a rum deal. Although the cards are stacked against the Walsh sisters, readers should place their bets wisely.

7/13/2010

A Fairy Tale for the Real World

Filed under: ArtView,Exhibitions,Film,mp — cindi @ 1:45 pm

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Ondine (2009; 2010 U.S. release)

Directed by Neil Jordan

Reviewed by Cindi Di Marzo

Water spirits have beguiled humans–at least in folklore and literature–for some time. Their origins resist definition. Whether known as elementals, nymphs, mermaids, nixies, melusines, ondines or selkies, they portend tragic destinies for themselves and those they ensnare. Fifteenth-century Swiss/German physician Paracelsus discussed them quite seriously. Composers, choreographers and artists have created legendary operas, ballets and beautifully illustrated picture books featuring them, particularly during the Romantic period; German author Baron Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s 1812 novel Undine is one notable example.

Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan’s (Michael Collins; The Crying Game) 2009 film Ondine merges varying mythic strands but focuses on the selkie, or seal maiden, a creature found in Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Icelandic folk tales. Sightings of selkies continue to be recorded, most frequently off the coast of the Orkney and Shetland islands where seal mythology seems to have begun. Selkies, it is said, can shed their seal coats and live on land. In some tales, she (or he) marries a human, bears children and then must leave without warning, recalled beneath the waves; in other stories, a human hides or burns the coat, as dramatized in the 1994 John Sayles film The Secret of Roan Inish. Stranded, these sea creatures express their longing for the waves as a low keening song.

In Jordan’s film, one day fisherman Syracuse (Colin Farrell), otherwise known as “Clown,” hauls in his nets with no catch. Failure does not surprise him–Syracuse is a pretty luckless fisherman. But snagging a beautiful, half-drowned woman (Polish actress Alicja Bachelda) gets a rise out of this laconic chap. A former alcoholic, Syracuse hasn’t been on the wagon long enough to trust his eyes. After reviving and calming her, Syracuse tells the woman he will get help. Terrified of discovery, she begs him to hide her. Syracuse doubts he can do this in Castletownbere, a tiny village on the Beara peninsula in southwest Ireland. Until he has a better plan, he takes her to his mother’s cottage built into the cliffs overlooking the sea. Not long after, she is spied by Syracuse’s daughter, Annie (Alison Barrie) who, like Syracuse, comes to know her as Ondine. The term derives from the French word for “wave.”

Immediately, Jordan engages viewers’ sympathy with Syracuse’s self-deprecating, droll questions and replies. Dublin native Farrell’s (Crazy Heart) portrayal of the prince in clown’s clothing should win him more fans. Bachelda as Ondine sparkles as a cross between tragic heroine, lucky charm, Super Woman and super model. Despite these near-perfect performances, Barrie’s Annie steals the show. Wheel chair-bound, awaiting a kidney transplant, Annie has the great misfortune of two alcoholic parents. Taunted by schoolmates, she spends her days whizzing around in her electric chair, scouring library shelves and developing an OED-caliber vocabulary. Perhaps the most precocious of the many cheeky young characters in film today, Barrie’s Annie should grate just a bit. She doesn’t because this know-it-all metes out wisdom sparingly, and only to those she deems worthy.

After Annie and Ondine become fast friends, Annie reads everything she can about selkies in folklore studies and old picture books she secures from the library. Not one to take anything on faith, Annie acquires the facts she needs to convince herself and Syracuse of Ondine’s magical existence. In one affecting scene, Annie ponders the puzzle Ondine presents while tracing an illustration English artist Arthur Rackham made for a 1909 edition of Fouqué’s story. Such touches are Jordan’s stock-in-trade. A master of brevity, Jordan limits action and dialogue to essentials, each move and expression acted as a symbol of character; each word spoken the necessary one. For instance, Jordan inserts Syracuse’s confessions (the village doesn’t have an AA) at pivotal moments to bring the fantasy to ground. Guaranteed to draw wry smiles, his scrupulously honest revelations merely earn sad head shakings and patient lack of judgment from Stephen Rea as long-suffering priest. Their friendship poignantly conveys the gift of acceptance–scars, faults and misdemeanors, the rose, its thorns and everything in between.

Although far more mature than Syracuse and her mother, Maura (Dervla Kirwan), Annie remains a child. Underneath her stoical acceptance of life’s disappointments, Annie dares to believe that Ondine will stay and she will get better. Yet she is prepared for a different ending and, when the fiction unravels, Annie adjusts. After all, she might still get her wish. Ondine is a fairy tale that hardcore realists can appreciate. Even in troubling times, wishes come true.

When Reason Fails

Filed under: ArtView,Biographies,Film,mp,Reviews — cindi @ 12:53 pm


Agora (2009, released to the U.S. market June 2010)

Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, screenplay by Amenábar and Mateo Gil

Reviewed by Cindi Di Marzo

At its most dramatic, political ambition and religious fanaticism have destroyed entire civilizations. Yet these dangerous bedfellows also threaten culture at subtle levels, no more so in the ancient world than in our own. Director Alejandro Amenábar’s latest film, Agora, works both ends of the spectrum. Set in a Roman-ruled Alexandria torn by religious hatred between pagans, Jews and early Christians, Agora centers on the life, work and death of fourth-century Neoplatonic philosopher, mathematician and teacher Hypatia (ca.360-415 AD). On the surface, Agora is a bloody exposé of the death of reason. Under the blood and gore, the senseless savagery and massacres, the director orchestrates a human drama fueled by fear, hunger and greed. Digging to the roots of violence, Amenábar reminds viewers that, indeed, we have not come so far.

Born in 1973 in Santiago, Chile, just prior to Pinochet’s coup, Amenábar was politicized at an early age. His mother lived through the Spanish Civil War, and after the coup his Chilean father moved the family to Madrid. With poor scholastic achievements behind him and a talent for film and music, Amenábar switched course.1 Now known for his fever-pitch psychological thrillers, he has been dubbed by reviewers as Alfred Hitchcock’s successor. Like Amenábar’s 2004 release The Sea Inside (Mar adentro), based on quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro’s 28-year crusade to legally terminate his life, in many ways Agora is atypical for his work. With The Sea Inside, the director risked a more elastic treatment than he used in his previous, highly controlled horror films.2 Viewers get to know Ramón (Javier Bardem) through two women who love him. In a 2004 interview published in Venice Magazine, Amenábar spoke of Ramón’s writings:

“He talked about loving, but not possessing someone. To be able to accept not owning a person. At the same time, he felt that he owned his own life, but he also didn’t mind getting rid it.”3

Similarly, Agora considers Hypatia through the people who love and admire her. Otherwise, she remains closed, yielding little evidence of an emotional life. That said, the beautiful Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) has plenty of passion for her studies, the contents of the last great bastion of learning in Roman Egypt, the Alexandria library, and the Chinese puzzle presented by Ptolemaic astronomy. While her students (young pagans, Christians and slaves) pine over her and noble pagans wrangle with Christian persecutors, Hypatia literally has her head in the clouds. She submits to no god or God, champions learning as the salvation of humanity, and believes that true justice is logical and egalitarian. The only axiom she never questions, “More things unite us than divide us,” reverberates through the film.

Ironically, Hypatia contemplates a universe far beyond human imaginings, symbolized by Amenábar’s cutaways to expansive clips of the cosmos; but her personal experience is narrow, limited to the sheltered environment provided by father Theon (Michael Londsdale). Theon encourages her to forsake marriage and motherhood for scholarship. Another irony: Hypatia’s beauty sits uncomfortably with her scrupulously honest (i.e., blunt) speech. For example, when student/suitor Orestes declares his love she responds with a handkerchief soaked in menstrual blood. Could she be less clear? Could he be less offended? Nevertheless, despite his lighthearted approach to lessons, Orestes remains devoted to Hypatia’s mind as well as her body.

As the film progresses Amenábar stacks irony, contradiction and opposition. Orestes’ counterpart, slave Davus (Max Minghella), thinks deeply about Hypatia’s theories and offers lines of inquiry that impress her. Where Orestes can state his feelings, Davus must hide them. Where Orestes not only survives her rebuff but renews the chase, Davus bristles when Hypatia refers to his slave status. Like other slaves, he is ripe for the Christian’s promises of power and bread for the meek and hungry. Perhaps more so, with wounded pride igniting his resentment. Viewers will not wonder at his vulnerability to recruitment by charismatic street preacher Ammonius (Ashraf Barhom) for the black-robed Christian militia, the Parabolini.

Amenábar sets Davus’s conflicted religious zeal against Orestes’ politically motivated conversion when Orestes becomes Roman prelate. Against these, the director places Synesius of Cyrene’s conventional, if peaceful, faith. Eventually, former Hypatia student Synesius becomes a powerful bishop. The devotion of all three of her formal pupils attests to Hypatia’s truly noble character but cannot save her. She is sacrificed to Christian extremism and martyred for the truth. She will not forsake reason, even when it fails. She has pledged her life to the agora, the open-air forum for trade–ideas as well as commodities. Like Sampedro in The Sea Inside, she feels she fully owns her life and its disposition.4

Weisz (The Lovely Bones; The Constant Gardener) plays Hypatia to perfection. Suspicious of emotion, Hypatia discounted its value to intellectual discourse and reasoned judgment. Hypatia can shed tears: for her father, bludgeoned in the agora; for the scrolls burned by the rabble; and for Orestes’ and Davus’s compromises. In the film’s most powerful scene, Orestes attends Hypatia while she ponders the lack of love in her life. Clearly capable of feeling loss, Hypatia then easily turns her thoughts to her astronomical quandary. Is her mistrust of emotion a subterfuge? Due to lifelong training? Or a well-reasoned choice. As Hypatia would no doubt counsel, viewers should judge for themselves.

1 Amenábar has scored most of his films. Dario Marianelli scored Agora.

2 Amenábar wrote the screenplay for The Sea Inside with Agora collaborator, Spanish director Mateo Gil.

3 The interview is available at: http://thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com/2010/01/alejandro-amenabar-and-sea-inside-open.html

4 For a lyrical fictional portrait of Hypatia, readers should acquire a copy of Ki Longfellow’s moving Flow Down Like Silver (Eio Books, 2009).

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6/15/2010

New Film: Revolution of Everyday Life

Filed under: Art,Ecalendar,Film,mp — veronica @ 3:42 pm

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Revolution of Everyday Life, a new film by Marc Lafia.

A beautifully shot and tragic documentary fiction between two young women who meet in an explosive and highly emotional love story where art and revolution ignite.

Screening: Tuesday, June 15, 2010.

Time: 7pm Drinks and 3 screen installations

8pm Screening (71 min), followed by an after party

17 Frost Art and Performance Space
17 Frost Street, Williamsburg
New York, NY 11211

RSVP: l_roze@hotmail.com

Join Facebook Group:
Revolution of Everyday Life, and The Auteurs (now known as MUBI), a fascinating online cinema platform, to learn more preview our trailers.

To view interview with art critic Peter Duhon and film director Marc Lafia, please click here.

4/25/2010

Contemporary Filmmaking at its Best at the IFC

Filed under: Art,ArtView,Events,Film,mp,politics,Reviews — cindi @ 8:42 am

Contemporary Filmmaking at its Best at the IFC

Reviewed by Cindi Di Marzo

For independent film fans, New York City is a great place to live. A visit to the small but stylish Paris Theatre in midtown provides a bit of culture between morning window shopping on Fifth Avenue and (we recommend) afternoon tea at the New York location of the famous Viennese Demel Café.1 Downtown, venue choices expand with the Angelika Film Center and Landmark Sunshine Cinema on Houston Street and Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. In Greenwich Village, the Independent Film Center (IFC), housed in the historic Waverly Theater, presents a low-key face to the world and might easily be missed by those walking up and down Sixth Avenue on their way to Fourteenth Street or Bleecker. But film buffs know it well; one look at the IFC marquee or printed calendar of events whets the appetite for gluttonous indulgence. It is no wonder that many of those “in the know” stop here, skipping the shopping (and, alas, the pastry) for a three- or four-course meal of superior filmmaking.

Opened in June 2005, the IFC underwent a four-year renovation to create five state-of-the-art cinemas with living room-style seating. Along with new independent and foreign films and documentaries, the IFC has a Weekend Classics series; a “Short Attention Span Cinema” consisting of short-film screenings prior to the start of featured films; and a gallery displaying vintage movie posters from around the world. Viennese pastry does not figure into the snack-bar mix, but there is organic popcorn with, yes, real butter.

On the spring 2010 calendar are three films as diverse as they come: an Academy Award-nominated animated feature inspired by a medieval illuminated manuscript (The Secret of Kells); a blistering exposé of greed and political intrigue in the art world (The Art of the Steal); and a revisionist fairy tale (Barbe Bleue/Bluebeard) starring the first recorded serial killer. While only one is truly appropriate for children–and it isn’t the fairy tale–most adults will be variously charmed, entertained, provoked and enlightened by all three.

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The Secret of Kells, directed by Thomm Moore and Nora Twomey with a screenplay by Fabrice Ziolkowski

Compiled sometime between the sixth and ninth centuries, the illuminated manuscript that has come down through the ages as the Book of Kells (also known as the Book of Columba after the sixth-century, book-loving Irish saint who travelled to the Scottish island of Iona to spread the Christian faith) continues to intrigue scholars, artists and folklorists, as well as general audiences entranced by the intricate designs etched in harmonious hues that decorate each page. Even more astounding, the book survived hundreds of years of threats from natural disasters, fire, religious turmoil and foreign invasions.

This animated feature directed by Thomm Moore, a joint venture of production companies in Belgium, France and Ireland, makes real for children and adults the power of the book’s visual symbols and the lengths to which people–here 12-year-old Brendan and an aging master illuminator–have gone to protect it. Viking invasions during the eighth and ninth centuries caused monks on Iona to flee to Ireland. In Moore’s film, the Vikings who overrun the abbey in Ireland where Brendan lives with his uncompromising uncle, the abbot, and a group of monks colored in an ethnic rainbow, are shown as dark, looming shapes. The invaders and spirit figures from Ireland’s pagan past are mildly frightening, as they are whipped into a frenzy by Celtic music (pulsing bodhrán beats overlaid with haunting penny whistle).

Although Moore glosses over the history of the Book of Kells, it is likely that many viewers will want a greater understanding post closing credits. Such is the success of Moore’s visuals, a kaleidoscopic melange of mostly hand-drawn swirls, spirals and bold geometrics lushly colored to resemble a Celtic Garden of Eden, that his whimsical film will appeal to the widest range of ages.

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The Art of the Steal, directed by Don Argot

The subject of Don Argot’s documentary is money and power, but the conclusion here defies the certainty that one equals the other in the eyes of the world. Centering on the multimillion-dollar art collection amassed by Albert C. Barnes, who rose from working-class background to Philadelphia physician, medical researcher and pharmaceutical company owner, Argot’s film promotes the view that Barnes’s will has been deliberately subverted by the city (Philadelphia) and institutions (e.g., the Philadelphia Museum of Art) from which he hoped to protect the works.

At the time that Barnes (1872-1951) purchased top-shelf pictures by the likes of Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and Cézanne, the American art establishment jeered at their work. Barnes reviled the museum system as a commercial enterprise prostituting great art works to draw large audiences that did not appreciate them. He built his own private gallery in the suburbs of Philadelphia, decorated to his idiosyncratic aesthetic code, and invited scholars and students rather than city museum-hoppers. The Barnes Foundation stipulated a by-invitation-only policy and seemingly prevented his collection from being sold or lent to other museums.

After his death, a devoted follower ran the foundation until her death in 1988. Dramatized in Argot’s film, what happened thereafter will elicit strong feelings, whether one believes that Barnes’s wishes should be respected or that the caliber of his collection demands public display. Between these extremes hovers a very real concern; ignoring Barnes’s wishes may have served money-and-power seekers, not Barnes or his collection.

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Barbe Bleue/Bluebeard, adapted and directed by Catherine Breillat

Originally, French author and poet Charles Perrault (1628-1703) wrote his fairy tales for an elite adult audience resident at the court of Louis XIV. Born into an aristocratic family, Perrault aspired to the lofty artistic ideals of his times. He injected intelligence and wit into his romantic stories, inspired by the form and content of oral tales. Perrault’s literary fairy tales were immensely popular, all the rage at court. As with Grimm and Andersen, later Perrault was folded into the children’s cannon, despite the violence and dark themes percolating in his work.

French author/filmmaker Catherine Breillat (The Last Mistress; Fat Girl) remembers reading “Bluebeard” as a 5-year-old fan of fairy tales. The impact that this and other traditional stories had on her emerging feminist consciousness resounds through her beautiful rendering of Perrault’s shocker.2 Known for her controversial portrayals of women’s internal lives as they unfold within class-conscious misogynist societies, Breillat has been marginalized by censors and timid promoters. Reviewers have commented on the comparatively staid tenor of Breillat’s Bluebeard, yet the sense of calm pervading the film reflects Breillat’s reverence for fairy tales and their creators. Like them, she has mined story for the greed and cruelty inherent in quests for domination.3

Breillat organized her film as a story within a story, with two sets of sisters living centuries apart. In interviews, Breillat identifies herself with a defiant young girl, 1950s era, who sneers at her sister’s fears. Perrault’s cautionary tale reveals the price women pay for disobeying men. Breillat’s film reveals the price they pay for fearing them. Fairy tales appeal to children primarily, perhaps, because their finely tuned sense of justice refuses to accept the underdog’s defeat. From Jack the Giant Killer to Clever Gretchen, characters in folk and fairy tales win children’s hearts by using their wits to defeat brute strength. In the murky waters of adolescence, Breillat’s territory, women awaken to the rules of the game. In Bluebeard, the filmmaker once again tackles the hate men have for willful women to highlight the love women have for their murderers. It is a chilling view.

1 Located on the lower level of the Plaza Hotel on West 58th Street, the Demel Café serves world-class Viennese pastry from the Demel Bakery, founded in 1786 in Vienna.

2 For admirers of fractured fairy tales, Breillat work stands with celebrated stories and studies by authors Alison Lurie, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Marina Warner, Terri Windling and scholar Maria Tatar. For a 2002 addition to Windling’s Fairy Tales series, Fitcher’s Brides, Gregory Frost wrote about a Bluebeard figure living in the 1830s in New York’s Finger Lakes district. An outstanding list of works incorporating the theme (e.g., a novella by Anatole France, poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, short story by Shirley Jackson, operetta by Jacques Offenback and Maurice Maeterlinck’s play, Ariane et Barbe-bleu) can be accessed at: http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/bluebeard/themes.html

3 Prior to the official March 26, 2010 release date of Briellat’s Barbe Bleue/Bluebeard, Anthology Film Archives showed the film in its Bluebeard on Film series along with Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), Edgar G. Ulmer’s Poverty Row production (1944); Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947); Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door (1948); and Michael Powell’s Bluebeard’s Castle (1964).

 

 

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Filed under: Art,Film,mp — site admin @ 8:05 am

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

Written by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown

Reviewed by Justin Nogosek

Although Terry Gilliam’s The Imagination of Doctor Parnassus was nominated for two Academy Awards (Art Direction and Costume Design), many people only have a vague notion that this movie exists, and most of these people only know of it as the film Heath Ledger was making when he died.  But The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has much more to offer than its notorious status as Heath Ledger’s last movie.

With The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Terry Gilliam has created a world of magical realism that masterfully blends the surreal and fantastic with the unfortunate limitations of real life. Actors known and unknown alike contribute outstanding performances. Lurid special effects and good old fashioned hand craftsmanship blend almost seamlessly. Its coming of age tale covers not only the innocence of youthfulness and the dangers of life, but also the inability of even the aged and wise to learn from those same lessons. Altogether, Parnassus is just one more example of Terry Gilliam and cohorts using fantasy and film to entertain and engage.

The story begins and mostly takes place in contemporary London, with all the trappings of modern western civilization, except for the horse-drawn carriage that looks plucked out of some past century. This carriage also acts as a vaudevillian stage, turning into one as its left side cranks down to reveal its innards. This is Doctor Parnassus’ traveling show, where he and his troupe play and live. The audience is first introduced to it parked outside a loud bar where patrons letting out for the night stumble upon it. We soon discover it is something of a gateway between imagination and reality, as well as past and present.

Parnassus’s troupe consists of his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), his friend and confidant Percy (Verne Troyer), a young loner Anton (Andrew Garfield) and later down the line, the mysterious Tony (Heath Ledger). Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is in competition with the devil, who goes by the name Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), for five souls. If Parnassus cannot win five souls before Mr. Nick, he risks losing his daughter to the devil. In order to claim a soul (which really entails getting people to embrace their positive fantasy as opposed to their sinful fantasy), Parnassus must entice an audience member into an onstage mirror. Once through the mirror, people enter the world of their imagination as manifested by Parnassus. They find themselves in a position to pick between Mr. Nick’s path of death and destruction or Parnassus’s path of life and enlightenment.  This is illustrated early on in the film by a scene in which a drunken audience member, who has forced himself through the mirror and into Parnassus’ imagination, must choose either a long Zen like staircase bathed in promising spotlight or Mr. Nicks neon lit pub that sits in otherwise darkness easily accessible. The inebriate chooses the pub, comically promising himself just one more drink but ordering two as soon as he’s entered. His soul becomes Mr. Nicks.

Complicating matters is Parnassus’ defeatism, which results in plenty of alcoholic fueled bouts of self-pity. He is a man lost in time and unable to use his ancient gifts to entertain and win over the people of today. Parnassus relies heavily on Percy, his confidant and moral compass, who despite being a dwarf, seems to be the only character in the troupe able to constantly hold their head above water. Even with Percy’s guidance, the troupe’s original dynamic is incapable of helping Parnassus save his daughter’s soul, just as Parnassus proves incapable to help himself. Valentina is unaware of her predicament, despite Parnassus’ attempts and failures to disclose the doom that awaits her 18th birthday and the part he played in sealing her fate. With the appearance of the mysterious Tony, whose identity is a mystery even to himself, Parnassus may just have the help he needs to defeat the devil.

Unfortunately, Tony also threatens to rip the troupe apart. Valentina is almost instantly smitten with Tony. Anton feels abandoned by Valentina’s budding relationship with Tony. Anton is also threatened by  Parnassus’ faith and reliance on the mysterious newcomer. Part of this precarious situation is illustrated early on when Anton uses his sleight of hand to repeatedly and unsuccessfully give Tony back his prized pipe, a pipe that figures later on in the film. Tony and Valentina are not amused with Anton’s tricks. Anton is left smarted and it’s obvious that Tony has created a fissure between Anton and Valentina.

Not only jealous of Tony, Anton is suspicious of Tony, and rightly so. They found Tony unconscious hung beneath a bridge, mistaking at first his dangling shadow for someone dancing on the river. Once he awakes, Tony cannot remember who he is or how he got there. The fate of the troupe and Valentina’s soul depends on the nature of Tony’s character, not only what the troupe finds out about Tony but also what Tony finds out about himself.

If you choose to see this movie just for Ledger’s performance, you won’t be disappointed. As Tony, Ledger is simultaneously suspicious and likeable, foreboding and inviting. His Tony appears to us in the reality scenes, those that take place outside of Parnassus’ imagination. Ledger does an outstanding job of conveying Tony’s complex and mysterious nature simply, almost effortlessly. Not to take anything away from the all star cast that filled in for his imagination scenes, but one can’t help but pine for Ledger’s presence in the scenes he was unable to complete.

You may however be surprised to find yourself just as smitten with the rest of the main cast. Waits sees a surprisingly large amount of screen time, adding a peculiarity and pop to Mr. Nick. Waits gives the devil an oddly carefree and playful demeanor that works very well despite its incongruous nature. Occasionally, his Mr. Nick even flirts with compassion, appearing to treasure his competition and relationship with Parnassus. Mr. Nick often seems remorseful and apologetic for the obvious advantage providence gives him over Parnassus.

Verne Troyer always seems to bring a disproportionally large screen presence to every scene. Indeed, Troyer’s size is used for comedic effect at times, as in the scene where Tony dresses him as a baby in black face for a successful performance in an upscale shopping center.  However, in many more scenes Percy is the most articulate and logical character on the screen. He is, outside of Mr. Nick, the only character that never loses his cool. Troyer balances these humorous and serious sides to his character nicely.

Plummer renders Parnassus pathetic and powerful, compassionate and self centered. In too many scenes he is crippled by drunkenness.  In one scene Parnassus is unable to carry on a show because he is fall down drunk, despite finally having an eager audience in the parking lot of a grocery store thanks to the help of Tony. Parnassus is egotistical enough to wager his daughter’s soul with the devil and selfless enough to risk everything to save her. Despite his flaws, he possesses the power to animate the fantasies of any person who steps through his mirror and subsequently leave them in a state of bliss. Plummer masterfully develops and maintains a sympathetic character despite all of Parnassus’ floundering and self inflicted woes.

A relative newcomer, Cole creates a fully developed and multilayered Valentina.  She is playful and alluring, lost and hurt all at the same time. Visually stunning, her skin is flawless and her figure is so perfect it appears hand drawn. She toes the line between the protections of youth and the dark portent of the world to come. Cole manages to straddle these two opposites and convey their effects on Valentina naturally.

Garfield is responsible for one of the most interesting characters in Parnassus. Anton is an underappreciated hero, the continuously embarrassed failure who is ultimately successful.  Anton is among many things a terrible performer, a decent trickster, a relentless sleuth and a victim of unrequited love. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. A loner, Anton lights up in Valentina’s company. Of course, Tony has taken her away from him. Garfield does a fine job of juggling these different variables and turning out a character the audience can root for, as well as one who deserves to be rooted for.

These performances nearly suffice to make you forget memorable appearances from Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Gilliam remedied a problem that may have derailed the whole Parnassus project quite successfully. Depp, Law and Farrell appear as Tony in different imagination sequences. They all manage to capture Ledger’s Tony in look and personality while adding their own personal touches. The script does not shy away from confronting the presence of slightly different Tony’s. Their identity is questioned aloud within these scenes and tied into the story of uncovering Tony’s mysterious past.

In many ways, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a typical Terry Gilliam film. Like most of the director’s work, Parnassus is a dazzling cinematic display, full of computer generated imagery as well as the handcrafted effects that make most Gilliam films so endearing. Parnassus’s traveling stage, an anachronism in modern London, seems like it could have been created in a garage with just a few tools and a very low budget. Unlike some of Gilliam’s efforts, Parnassus is an easily accessible and highly entertaining experience that will make adults and children laugh. It’s not as abstract and trippy as Tideland. Its characters aren’t as strange and fringe as those found in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s not quite as childish as The Brothers Grimm.

As you can expect from Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will make you think and entertain you at the same time. It is a fun film full of unflinchingly flawed characters and comical caricatures caught up in circumstances ominous and lighthearted alike. The script may not be as tight as Brazil or The Fisher King, but like these two great Gilliam films, Parnassus is a thoughtful and exciting journey through a conflict that is just as much internal as external.

Parnassus is should leave you ready for an encore. There is not much like it in today’s cinema. It defies Hollywood’s conventional wisdom, seeking to entertain through craftsmanship and creativity rather than formula. For anybody interested in supporting films with artistic merit as well as promising entertainment value, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a must see.

Films Directed by Terry Gilliam:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Jabberwocky
(1977)
Time Bandits
(1981)
Brazil
(1985)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
(1988)
The Fisher King
(1991)
12 Monkeys
(1995)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
(1998)
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Tideland (2005)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

3/19/2010

Holylands by Seamus Harahan

Filed under: Ecalendar,Events,Exhibitions,Film,mp — LoriMP @ 11:00 am

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Holylands was made over the period of a year and a half from 2001 to 2003, shot through the artist’s window and on the streets occupying a 20 yard radius from his house in Belfast. The title Holylands is the name of his neighbourhood, named after the titles of its streets – Jerusalem Street, Palestine Street, Damascus Street, Carmel Street and Cairo Street. The area was originally developed by a property firm, headed by Robert McConnell a devout Christian. It is also a district of the city that combines a transient student population with more long-term residents.

The film in part depicts these people going about their every day lives, showing fragments of their negotiations through this territory but it firmly resists either a documentary or narrative approach. A bag lady rummages in a bin, young boys play with a water pipe, and a delivery van unloads out side a shop.  It is an ordinary snapshot of an extraordinary area, defined by its history of religious divide and social unrest.

The film’s images are spliced together with an evocative soundtrack that includes hip-hop, traditional Irish and classical music to provide a counterbalance to the images and enables them to work as abstract sequences.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Lichfield Street
Wolverhampton
WV1 1DU
Phone:  01902 552055
Web:  www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk

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