Category Archives: film

Lame Adventure 421: My First Love

This isn’t the tale about the fetching ten-year-old blue-eyed blonde haired Latina vixen waiting to kick my ass in the schoolyard, encouraged by a devious sixth grader who claimed that I was sweet on her boyfriend, a guy with as much appeal to me as a dented hubcap. Vixen perched on the flagpole’s concrete base eating her breakfast: Fritos. When I entered the playground she called me over by my last name. I sensed danger; she was the type that reeked attitude. She also didn’t talk to innocuous kids like me. Even though I was a year older, she towered over me, a whippet thin and pasty white comic-bookworm. I kept my cool, walked over and groused, “Yeah, what?” My lack of intimidation threw her off her tough girl game. I might have been small but I was feisty, confident that I could talk my way out of this predicament. She got nervous and stammered, “You, you, you like Richie! I don’t like that!” I looked her straight in the eyes and said in a definitive tone, “You’re mistaken. I don’t like him.” Even though her complexion was dark olive, her face flushed crimson. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my eleven years. She was flummoxed, unsure of what to do next. It was a standoff. I wondered if I was about to say ‘adios’ to my teeth. Instead, she offered me her Fritos. We also shared chemistry and she ditched Richie. Decades later, I’m still finding same sex love in the most unlikely places, but to reiterate, this tale is not about that, it’s about another of my life long passions: animation.

When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, I had a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons with my favorites being any fare pumped out by Warner Brothers — Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. When I reached my teens in the Seventies I caught a screening of Disney’s Fantasia at the Larkin, a movie house that seemed determined to play the re-release of this masterpiece in perpetuity. It featured the early work of the animator John Hubley. He participated on “The Rite of Spring” segment. At that time I was enrolled in the Teenage Animation Workshop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not only did kids get hands on experience animating their own films, the instructors enlightened us about the pioneers of the craft, including Hubley, whose frequent collaborator was his wife, Faith.

Hubley left Disney in 1941 during the animators’ strike. Next, he joined United Productions of America where he created Mr. Magoo, based on an uncle. Due to the blacklist, he was forced to leave UPA because he refused to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Next, he founded his own company, Storyboard Studios. There, he made animated TV commercials, including the Maypo cereal ads.

With Faith, he continued to direct his own independent animated films, films that resonated with me. They often featured soundtracks with jazz greats. My favorite Hubley film is a timeless six-minute impressionistic love story made in 1958 called The Tender Game. The soundtrack features the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ella Fitzgerald delivering a satin smooth vocal on the song, Tenderly.

When I first saw this film about forty years ago, I was certain I wanted to be an animator. When I informed my mother about my goal, her reaction was comparable to what a mom of today might think if her daughter announced that she aspired to be a pole dancer. 1974 was decades before the arrival of Pixar. Animation, particularly the independent style of animation, was a guaranteed one-way ticket to the poorhouse. My mother feared that she and my father would be stuck supporting me forever. In college, I shifted gears and earned my degree in live action filmmaking. I worked for almost ten years in TV commercial film production. Eventually, I lost interest in making films on my own, preferring to write unmarketable screenplays.

In honor of the centennial of John Hubley’s birth, Manhattan’s Film Forum is holding two tribute screenings of his work. The first screening, this past Tuesday, included The Tender Game.

Ray Hubley delivering an introduction about his father before the screening.

Ray Hubley delivering an introduction about his father before the screening.

I attended with my colleague, Godsend. It was a delight to see this classic short in a pristine 35 mm color print.

When an event is shown for one screening it doesn't make the marquee.

Film Forum under blue skies.

Considering that this weekend starts summer, and all the promises that come during the warm weather months, embedded below is a crummy quality YouTube video of The Tender Game. The story is set in the fall, but falling in love is not seasonal, unless I missed that memo. Even though the characters are abstract the emotion is familiar, and the overall effect is quite charming.

 

Lame Adventure 420: Springtime Spewing

Three months ago I looked down my block and it looked like this.

Cold and snowy February.

Cold and snowy February night.

On Sunday it looked liked that.

Warm and sunny May.

Warm and sunny May afternoon.

When the weather is warm, sunny and the humidity is low, it’s the perfect time to go outside and take a hike in the hood, which is exactly what I did.

Stop raising plows!

Stop raising snow plows!

Toss that snow shovel away!

Toss that snow shovel away!

Sit the flowers on the sill.

Sit the flowers on the sill.

Upper West Side water towers looking good against a clear blue sky.

Ogle a water tower or two.

Last week, on a lovely spring day, my friend, Coco, noticed this magnificent tree that is growing on the West Side Highway at Canal Street.

Coco's magnificent tree.

Coco’s magnificent tree.

This prompted yet another in our ongoing series of philosophical text exchanges.

Exchange of deep thoughts.

Exchange of deep thoughts.

For those of you who read this site for its vast educational component, Coco accessed her inner dendrologist and has since learned that it is a Redbud tree.

I’ll admit it: I have some quirks. I fantasized about eating cigars as a small-fry thinking that tobacco tasted like chocolate. I started reading the obits at age ten. Whenever I see a ticket stub on the sidewalk I try to see what event it is for — but I don’t flip the stub over.

Frustrating.

Frustrating.

I also pay fairly close attention to my small change.

Recently, when I was purchasing carrots, kale and bananas in my market’s organic department, I needed a penny to complete the transaction. As I was digging through my coin purse, I noticed that I had a wheat penny. No way was I going to part with that special cent, even though the clerk insisted I do so.

Me: No, I can’t spend that one. It’s from 1920.

I pulled the year 1920 out of thin air. I had no idea of that penny’s vintage. The clerk gave me a look that screamed:

Clerk’s look: Nerd!

It takes more than a hairy eyeball to intimidate me. If she wielded a bat, knife, or surface to air missile, then I would have handed her the entire contents of my wallet and a kidney. But, the transaction reached a peaceful conclusion. It so happened that my wheat penny was not from 1920. It was from 1918. Woodrow Wilson was president. The most popular film that year was Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln. (Who?) The second most popular film was the infinitely more intriguing sounding I Don’t Want to Be a Man directed by Ernst Lubitsch about a crossdressing teenage girl who thinks she can have more fun being a guy.

My 1918 penny.

My 1918 penny.

How often does one have a 96-year-old penny in one’s change? Apparently I have one in the 288,104,000 that were minted in 1918. Hold the smelling salts.

I realize that this one one-hundredth of a dollar is showing its 96 years and would never be mistaken with being US mint factory fresh. But it’s been out on the front lines of the world for nearly a century, except maybe when it sat neglected in Hubert’s sock drawer for three years starting in 1936 and then it was stuck in Ida and Ralph’s couch cushions for a decade that began in 1954. Those periods of isolationism aside, it’s been kicked around proving that it’s a coin that can withstand the test of time, it’s a sliver of copper with character. How admirable. Can we say that about the nickels, dimes and pennies in our usual change?

Therefore, it was disheartening to learn that its value is only somewhere between four and forty-five cents today. How can that be? If only this heavily battered and bruised cent, tattooed with nine decades and six years of wear and tear could enter a time machine that reveals all the pockets, change purses, sidewalks, fountains, cash registers, piggy banks and occasional loafer (leather and human) it’s been in. Its many encounters with the rich, the famous, the notorious, the historical, the obscure, and now me, the hysterically insignificant, then it could come full circle and reap the respect this common but rather rare vintage of coin still floating around Manhattan island in 2014 deserves. Then, it could skyrocket in value, merit being displayed under glass and finance my retirement … or possibly just some organic carrots, kale and bananas. I’ll settle for free groceries.

1918-ish looking street lamp and flag displaying a Bill Cunningham photography exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

1918-ish looking street lamp with banner for a Bill Cunningham photography exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

Lame Adventure 391: Blue is the Longest Color

Au revoir 51st New York Film Festival.

Au revoir 51st New York Film Festival.

Milton and I have attended our last screening at the New York Film Festival, the highly anticipated and critically acclaimed 2 hour and 59 minute lesbian opus from France, Blue is the Warmest Color. Adapted from a graphic novel written by Julie Maroh and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, it stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the jury gaveExarchopoulos and Seydoux an Honorary Palme d’Or of their own. I had originally thought they shared a Best Actress award.

This is a coming of age story about the sexual awakening of a teenage girl named Adèle who experiences love at first sight when she sees Emma, an art student with blue hair, walking arm in arm with her girlfriend on the street. The hype surrounding it is a ten minute graphic sex scene that Kechiche shot with a handheld camera. I had hoped that this film would be on par with Brokeback Mountain in depth and quality, but  now that I have seen it, I declare it a straight guy’s wet dream about pretty girls who are the Energizer Bunnies of the boudoir.

Milton’s two-word review:

Milton: Major disappointment.

Thus far, critics have been praising this film all out of proportion which is baffling. This is certainly not the lesbian Citizen Kane. Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln ran 2 hours and 30 minutes, 29 minutes shorter than Blue. Is a slender tear-drenched and snot-soaked ode to first love on the same level as an historic epic about the man who freed the slaves Milton?

Milton: I hated most of the film. It was boring.

There just was not enough story to merit that length. A family dinner sequence showing the character, Adèle, ravenously eating spaghetti with her parents while all three are watching TV seemed shot in real time. I got the point that they were not members of the French aristocracy when Adèle licked her knife, but did I need to watch her scarf seconds to hammer home that she’s a girl with a voracious appetite?

Length aside, Kechiche took many liberties with Maroh’s story. He has used her characters as a springboard for his own version of who lesbians are, and that offended me so much. At a party sequence that made my skin crawl, men, undoubtedly representing Kechiche’s warped viewpoint about gay women, are opining about lesbianism and female orgasm. If only I had a mute button.

Sitting at left moderator Kent Jones with director Abdellatif Kechiche and actress Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Sitting at left moderator Kent Jones with director Abdellatif Kechiche and actress Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Maroh has expressed her dismay that she was excluded from the filmmaking process, but she has not condemned the film. I suspect she was paid well, so she is not going to kick a gift horse in the teeth. If the Koch Brothers want to buy my book for a chunk of change and turn it into a Tea Party manual, sold! Maroh might be anticipating a backlash from lesbians and anyone else that can see through this sham no matter their gender or which way their pendulums swing.

Maroh has spoken out about the notorious sex scene that occurs about halfway into the film. She has called that scene “unrealistic”. It was the Cirque du Soleil of scissoring and ass slapping set on a mattress. The sighs and groans the characters emitted were ear piercing. I emailed Milton:

Me: I enjoyed it voyeuristically while watching it, but at the same time, I have never in my life had sex like that. A lot of what they were doing was in these strange positions that my partners and I never do.

Milton: I’m glad you said that because, although I found the scene steamy, at times I didn’t know what the hell they were doing. That penetration without penetration thing? What the fuck was that?

As for our audience, men, presumably straight, exceeded the number of women in attendance. Milton said never before did he have to wait in a line of 500 guys to use the bathroom. He is going to monitor how this film does at the box office. It enters general release in the US, but not in Idaho where it is already banned, on October 25th. It is being released uncut and rated NC-17. I am sure that by showing it uncut that will guarantee increased box office revenue. Kechiche has announced that he wants to release a director’s cut that is forty minutes longer, presumably that will be the DVD. More go-to viewing for the undeclared target audience: drooling straight guys. Milton wonders if lesbian orgasms merit ten or fifteen million dollars at the box office over here in the land of the free, home of the bored. I anticipate that it will sell even better.

Lame Adventure 390: New York Film Festival-time

The most wonderful time of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year.

Milton and I have been going to the New York Film Festival. Thus far, we have attended four screenings, but he recently rubbernecked the red carpet arrivals without me. He took this gotcha shot of Robert Redford entering a screening of All is Lost.

"Get that iPhone out of my face."

“Get that iPhone out of my face.”

Our selections span the globe provided you are only traveling to China and France. Milton was very eager to see Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin. For weeks he talked avidly about this film. He urged me not to read anything about it so I would view it with a completely open mind. I heeded his advice. Finally, the night of the screening arrives. Milton mentions for the 127th time that he’s very excited. The program begins. Out steps the moderator, Amy Taubin. Cue downbeat.

Milton (loud whisper): I hate her!

Me (barely audible whisper): No, it’s Annette Michelson that you hate. She’s the one that burped into the microphone that year.

Milton (insistent whisper): I hate her, too, and I hate this one! She was a second rate critic at the Village Voice and now she’s here!

Milton emits a groan of disgust normally reserved for seeing a rat the size of a toaster scampering across the subway platform. Fortunately, the film, four loosely interconnected stories about members of the working class in modern day China who grow increasingly enraged by the economic divide and react memorably, was riveting. Milton was so impressed he intends to see it again. We left craving noodles, but settled for nachos.

Center, Jia Zhangke with his lead actress and his wife, Tao Zhao. Amy Taubin at right.

Center, Jia Zhangke with his lead actress and his wife, Tao Zhao. Amy Taubin at right. Translator at left.

Next, we made our way to France when we saw The Stranger by the Lake, a thriller about gay male cruising that was shot entirely outdoors by a lake. It was written and directed by Alain Guiraudie and had a distinct Hitchcockian feel if Sir Alfred had ever been inclined to shoot a film showing hardcore sex between guys. The NYFF had disclaimers all over the place warning: Please be advised that this film has scenes of a sexually explicit nature. That evening’s Milton-approved moderator, Dennis Lim, again reminded the audience comprised of approximately 98% gay men, about this fact. The guys applauded and cheered the announcement.

Center, Alain Guiraudie, right, Dennis Lim and left, handsome young translator that made 98% of the guys in the audience cheer.

Center, Alain Guiraudie, right, Dennis Lim and left, handsome young translator who rated vocal gay male  audience approval.

Stranger delivered on many levels, and I agree with Dennis Lim that it’s a film about watching. All eyes were glued to the hyper masculine character Michel. Michel reminded me of Mark Spitz. Milton said Michel reminded him of every gay male porn film icon of the Seventies and Eighties. Stranger was highly entertaining until the last twenty minutes when it veered in a direction we wish it had not and no, I’m not saying that Michel announces that he’s straight and has decided to marry his long lost love, Mary Ellen Flaubert. We just wished it had gone in a different direction. A chatty chap sitting behind us kept referring to the protagonist, Franck, as “a ninny”; an opinion Milton found immensely irritating.

Over the weekend, we were joined by our friend, Lola, for a double header. First, we saw the latest from filmmaker, Catherine Breillat, Abuse of Weakness, starring screen legend, Isabelle Huppert. This is a drama based on true events in Breillat’s life after she suffered a severe stroke and when she had a relationship with a notorious conman who milked her for hundreds of thousands of Euros. Again, the moderator was Amy Taubin, but Milton practiced restraint and simply glowered at her. Huppert, now age 60, looks luminescent. She personifies that je ne sais quoi factor French women exude. I whispered to Milton:

Me: I’ve seen Isabelle Huppert in person. I can die happy!

Right, Isabelle Huppert, center Catherine Breillat, left, Amy Taubin.

Left, Isabelle Huppert, center Catherine Breillat, right, Amy Taubin.

Milton smiled warmly; he was thrilled to see her, too. About the film … did it suck! Behold, Milton’s two word review:

Milton: Pure torture.

Milton was livid that Maud, Huppert’s stroke victim character, would be eating prosciutto after a stroke.

Milton: Who the hell does that? That’s like eating straight salt!

The only way Huppert could have saved this story might have been if she uttered the French word for “rewrite”. What impressed Lola about it was a question an irate audience member sitting in the balcony bellowed during the q&a.

Irate Audience Member: Why can’t the French have subtitles in yellow? Why does it always have to be white on white? I can’t read that!

Next we saw an infinitely more engrossing film, a meticulously crafted and very clever thriller directed by Claire Denis appropriately titled Bastards. She unfolded the story in fragments. The audience never knows more than Marco the protagonist who we’re rooting for to solve the mystery about what happened to his niece. This is a film that requires full attention. When the guy sitting next to me suddenly got the hiccups that was briefly distracting, but I maintained focus.

This time the moderator was Kent Jones, the Director of Programming, and a serious Claire Denis cheerleader. Bastards was pure cinema. Milton had no complaints.

Lousy zoomed in iPhone iDistant shot of Claire Denis and Kent Jones.

Lousy zoomed in iPhone iDistant shot of Claire Denis and Kent Jones.

Responding to SOS text, Lola takes this shot of Claire and Kent from her third row seat.

Responding to my SOS text, Lola takes this shot of Claire and Kent from her third row seat.

Lame Adventure 370: People, People Who Need Barbra …

Banner outside Avery Fisher Hall.

Banner outside Avery Fisher Hall.

Are the luckiest people in the world — if they have a friend like Milton. The Film Society of Lincoln Center held their 40th annual Chaplin Award fundraising gala in Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night. This year the honoree was Barbra Streisand. Milton is a HUGE Barbra fan, and I am, too. Both of us have been fans since the 60s when he was a boy in Nebraska and I, a girl in San Francisco, decades before we were destined to join forces in 21st century New York City.

It was a black tie affair with Liza Minnelli, Wynton Marsalis and Tony Bennett performing. The speakers included Michael Douglas, Catherine Deneuve, Pierce Brosnan, Blythe Danner, Ben Stiller and, oh yeah, Bill Clinton was presenting the award to Barbra. With such a superstar honoree and that cast of stellar supporting players, the price of admission cost $200 to $500. Seats at the post-show dinner ranged from $1,500 a ticket to $100,000 a table. On my meager alms, no way could I attend. Milton was resigned to going solo and that bothered him.

A lot.

He is a long-time Film Society member. In March, he purchased his Barbra ticket the second they went on sale to members — members get first crack before the general public. He selected Tier 1, Box 3, seat 5. His seat was close to the stage, directly across from Barbra. The event sold out quickly. It generated $2 million for the Film Society, a million dollars more than any other Chaplin gala honoree. I suggested to Milton:

Me: Maybe they should have held it in Yankee Stadium.

Milton: For those prices, she’d have to sing.

As the honoree, Barbra’s job was to appear, soak up the adulation, accept her award from the 42nd president of the United States and give an acceptance speech. Nice work if you have the resume that rates it.

Last Thursday, something extraordinary happened. The Film Society announced that they were releasing a block of $25 partial view seats in Tier 3. Milton happens to know the layout of Avery Fisher Hall about as well as his own living room. For example, he can point out exactly where he and his mother sat when they saw Sarah Vaughn perform there in 1977. Milton scrutinized the cheap seats and he knew that Tier 3’s, Box 3, seat 15, would not only rock, but it was not partial view. In fact, this was the absolute best nosebleed seat in the house for it was in the box two tiers above his. He pounced and yes, I was there.

The coveted ducat.

The coveted ducat.

Damn fine view.

Damn fine view.

Nerd inside with collector's item Playbill.

Lucky nerd inside with collector’s item Playbill.

I was sitting directly across from Barbra’s box, too. From my bird’s eye view, I could even see where Hillary Clinton was sitting — center orchestra row six on the aisle next to a bald guy that looked a lot like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. I doubted that was who he was. Other celebrities that I thought I recognized were Bill and Melinda Gates. They weren’t sitting in Tier 3. I saw them riding up the escalator as we were people watching in the lobby.

No bland muzak here; guests were serenaded by this fine harpist.

No bland muzak here; guests were entertained by this fine harpist.

The event was bursting with the Swells of New York. Milton being Milton, he did have some qualms with the way some of the attendees were attired, especially the young woman in the short hot pink sheath with tall black boots.

Milton: Hideous!

He did give the two gay guys in matching skinny blue suits with brown dress shoes a pass.

Milton: They’re making a statement.

Me: Like what, they’re both colorblind?

We both agreed that this gent's red patent leather tassled loafers were great.

We agreed that this sockless gent’s red patent leather tasseled loafers were great.

The overall crowd was quite gay or as Milton put it:

Milton: I see a lot of men with their mothers.

There was a significant lesbian turnout, too.

The entertainment, as expected, was top notch. Liza Minnelli took to the stage first. Even though she now has hip problems and was supposed to perform while seated, she forced herself to stand and she belted her heart out.

Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli

Wynton Marsalis serenaded Barbra on his trumpet with Hello Dolly and 87-year-old Alan Bergman, who co-wrote the lyrics to The Way We Were with his wife, Marilyn, sang a very poignant version of that song to her. He wrote some new lyrics celebrating The Way You Are.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Presenters included some of her leading men. Omar Sharif and Robert Redford appeared on a screen in previously taped tributes. Kris Kristofferson, her co-star in A Star is Born was there. He recounted that “the bathtub scene” with her was “a lot of fun”. George Segal who starred opposite her in The Owl and the Pussycat, joked that he did not know what was more improbable in that film; his role as a failed writer or hers as a failed hooker. Amy Irving, who starred with Barbra in her directorial debut, Yentl, recalled that their kissing scene was, “The best girl on girl action a girl could hope for.” Meow!

Ben Stiller, who referred to himself as Barbra’s “cinematic son” — she played Mother Focker to his Greg Focker, in some of the Fockers comedies, introduced Bill Clinton. Clinton declared that every great person is driven, “But if that person has massive talent, big brains and a bigger heart, you want to go along for the ride.”

Barbra at lectern; Bill Clinton sitting behind her.

Barbra at lectern; Bill Clinton sitting behind her.

Barbra delivered an eloquent acceptance speech. She recounted tales from her youth, how she longed to be an actress who would perform the classics, but “no one wanted a 15-year-old Medea.” When she was 16, she had to perform a love scene opposite a guy she felt no attraction to. What she did to make the scene work was place a piece of chocolate cake behind him so she could look longingly at it.  She admitted, “Thank God I was given a good singing voice.”  She knew that her vocal gift was the key that opened the doors to her acting, screenwriting, producing and directing careers or, as she called herself, “a hyphenate.”  As she closed her remarks, she mentioned memories and added, “I feel like I should sing a song or something.” The audience went wild, hoping to hear her rendition of The Way We Were, but she quickly waved away that idea.

Former President Clinton returned to the lectern and delivered one more introduction. This was for Tony Bennett. He closed the event by singing Smile. Charlie Chaplin wrote the music to that song which was first heard in the film, Modern Times. Thanks to Chaplin’s contributions to film, this prestigious honor was started in 1972. He was the first recipient.

Barbra in center on stage at event's close.

Barbra in center on stage at event’s close.

Afterward, I joined Milton outside. We agreed that we had just witnessed 90 minutes of bliss.

Milton: I’m so glad we live in New York!

Me: I’m so glad I know you!

Barbra Streisand, 71 years old today and she still has it. (Invision — Photo by Charles Sykes)

Barbra Streisand, 71 years old today and she still has it going on. (Invision — Photo by Charles Sykes)

Lame Adventure 349: Farewell 2012 New York Film Festival

Sunday night the New York Film Festival closed with several screenings of Flight starring Denzel Washington.  He is one of my favorite actors, but I refuse to shell out $20 for a film opening nationwide November 2nd that I can see at my local multiplex before noon for seven clams.  Milton did snag a ticket, but if he thought that Flight was the greatest movie ever made, he is in no hurry to sing its praises to me.  I am not feeling any suspense as I await his verdict.  It is very likely that when I see him this evening, any discussion of Flight might well be superseded by something as mundane as someone in his office misplacing the precious pizza cutter that he personally guards.

Milton and I did see two more films together – a hit and a miss.  The miss was The Last Time I Saw Macao.  We, along with our fellow audience members attending this sold out screening, chose to see this film because we were so impressed with the Portuguese director, João Pedro Rodrigues’ previous film that played the NYFF in 2009, To Die Like a Man.  That earlier film was a compelling story about a drag queen in Portugal living her life as a woman whose estranged son in the military re-enters the picture.  If this film sounds anything like La Cage aux Folles, that’s unintentional for it’s very different and ends tragically, no heartfelt singing of I Am What I Am here.

For The Last Time I Saw Macao Rodrigues collaborated with João Rui Guerra da Mata, a fellow filmmaker of Portuguese descent that was raised in Macao, a former Portuguese colony in China.

João Rui Guerra da Mata (left), João Pedro Rodrigues, and NYFF moderator Melissa Anderson.

The filmmakers original intent was to shoot a documentary about how much Macao had changed since Guerra de Mata lived there thirty years ago.  Instead, they turned it into a story with film noir-type elements about a man the audience never sees searching for an unseen friend in some sort of trouble with unseen bad guys.  If that last sentence confused you, exalt in the fact that you were not attending that screening.

The dialogue is voiceover of Guerra da Mata reading his memoir about Macao and Rodrigues reading something else I was frankly too bored to recall, but they revealed afterward that they wrote the script after they shot the film.

It showed.  We suffered.

The action is all on the soundtrack while the images are focused on various scenery including numerous stray dogs and cats, building windows, a dead rat in the gutter, a shoe, a cloth-covered bird cage, etc.  While watching these images the viewer hears the action occurring off screen throughout the entirety of the film.  Sometimes the audience hears someone terrified pleading for her life followed with the sound of a loud splash, sometimes the audience hears gunshots, sometimes there’s a fantastically loud rumble as if Armageddon is approaching.  As the ending credits rolled Milton declared:

Milton: I could have made that on my fuckin’ iPhone!

Milton’s iPhone with screensaver featuring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in “Gilda”.

Afterward during the q&a, where much yawning was emanating all around us, one of the audience members volunteered:

Audience Member: I really didn’t understand who was being killed.

The filmmakers explained that they had made “an abstract film noir”:

Filmmakers: Some people get killed.  Some people survive.  Some people turn into animals.

Milton groaned deeply.  Afterward, he told me that the woman sitting next to him didn’t know whether to laugh or sleep.  He found her struggle infinitely more interesting than what was taking place onscreen.  He issued me a dictate:

Milton: If you write about this in your blog, don’t raise it a notch and call it crap!

The next day we saw No, a vastly more entertaining political thriller directed by Pablo Larraín set in Chile in 1988 when the Pinochet government announced they would hold a vote to get the people’s permission to maintain control.  The opposition was allowed 15 minutes of broadcast time each day for four weeks leading to voting day to build a case urging the citizens to vote no.  A clever  ad man played by Gael García Bernal oversees the No campaign.  Larraín intercut many of the actual campaign spots that were broadcast in 1988 within his film which he shot on U-matic videotape, the same format used in that era.  Compared to The Last Time I Saw Macao, No received our vote for the greatest movie ever made.

Pablo Larraín sitting between Antonia Zegers (left) and NYFF moderator Amy Taubin (right).

As Milton and I were leaving Alice Tully Hall for the last time until we return to the New York Film Festival in 2013 he announced:

Milton: This was a lot of fun even though I hated most of the films.

For anyone that would like to know what are Milton’s 100 personal favorite films click here.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Pablo Larraín.

Lame Adventure 347: New York Film Festival 2012

The New York Film Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Milton and I have been there every day since Saturday, even though we’ve only seen three films thus far.  Milton, who has been a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, has not been wild about the location of our seats.  For many screenings we seem to be sitting in the nosebleeds.

Guy playing the piano with his dog outside Alice Tully Hall on Saturday.

The first film we saw was Amour, written and directed by one of our favorite filmmakers working today, Michael Haneke.  He won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for this very unsentimental story set in Paris about Georges and Anne, a longtime married couple coping with the ravages of old age after one suffers a stroke and the other is the caregiver. The octogenarian actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both give extraordinary performances. Veteran actress Isabelle Huppert plays Eva, their middle-aged daughter that resides in London, who feels increasingly frustrated and helpless every time she visits her parents.  Although this film is depressing,  Haneke is such a talented filmmaker, it is riveting and packed with brilliant moments including a chilling nightmare sequence that elicited gasps from the audience.  Of course the real horror is the physical decline that likely awaits many of us as we approach our own mortality.   Yee ha.

Paparazzo Milton sees Michael Haneke milling around the Alice Tully Hall lobby pre-screening of “Amour”.

We noticed that our audience was full of senior citizens including a woman that inched toward her seat with half the energy of a sleeping snail before she settled in front of us.  All the while her friend repeatedly bleated in a thick New York accent, “Fran!  Over here, Fran!  Fran, over here!”  This agitated Milton who kept muttering fluent monosyllabic. There was also quite a lot of loud phlegmy coughing around us prompting him to mutter:

Milton:  God, we’re seeing this in a tuberculosis ward.

Fortunately, the film was excellent, even though we were sitting in row U.

The next day we had tickets to Beyond the Hills, written and directed by the Romanian filmmaker Christian Mungiu.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Christian Mungiu mingling with fans post “Beyond the Hills” screening.

We’re sitting in row T and Milton is fixated on the two and a half hour running time:

Milton:  This better be good.

I reminded Milton about the Bela Tarr screening we attended last year for The Turin Horse, a film about the futility of existence as illustrated through an ill work horse and two peasants eating potatoes. It was 146 minutes long – but we both loved it.

Beyond the Hills, is a story set in the present about two 25-year-old women that were best friends in a Romanian orphanage after they were abandoned at a very young age by their parents.  One woman is essentially an atheist, but the other has joined a monastery.  When they were in the orphanage, the relationship was sexual.  The secular woman, after working as a waitress in Germany, misses her friend terribly, so she visits her in the monastery.  She wants to rekindle what they had before but the religious woman has decided to devote her life to God.  Life in the monastery provides her with security and a sense of home. The besotted secular friend, grows increasingly unhinged.  The members of the monastery, a priest and several nuns, resort to a barbaric religious ritual to control the situation.  It ends miserably.

Milton declared this film:

Milton: Brokeback Mountain meets The Exorcist.

Milton iPhone gotcha shot of Anjelica Huston trying to slip into Alice Tully Hall through a side door.

On Monday night Milton and I had tickets to a film written and directed by Sally Potter called Ginger and Rosa.  We have third row balcony seats, seats he despises because they’re located a time zone away from the screen.

Ginger and Rosa is a pretentious 89-minute film with a terrific classic jazz soundtrack that seemed to run five hours as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  The story is set in 1962 England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when 17-year-old Ginger, a budding radical suffering extreme anxiety about a potential nuclear holocaust, worships her best friend, Rosa, a full fledged slut, who sleeps with Ginger’s cad of a father.  The worship ends, the world continues and Ginger writes a poem where she forgives Rosa.  Milton delivered a one-word review:

Milton: Awful.

I would have almost preferred watching a black screen with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing on the audiotrack.

Afterward he revised it when he assessed the talent of the 63-year-old filmmaker, Sally Potter:

Milton: She’s too old to be making a film this bad.

Then, he revised his assessment a third time; he was impressed with Elle Fanning’s performance as Ginger:

Milton:  I don’t know what’s in the water those Fanning sisters drink, but they all have talent.  Too bad they can’t find a filmmaker that knows what to do with them.

Elle Fanning sitting in the center during post “Ginger and Rosa” screening q&a. Photo taken from third row balcony seat i.e., the moon.

He added authoritatively:

Milton:  This was so bad it made Beyond the Hills seem like Gone with the Wind.

Red carpet.