Tag Archives: martin scorsese

Lame Adventure 239: New York Film Festival Triple Play

Milton and I have recently seen three very diverse films at the New York Film FestivalShame, The Turin Horse and the Special Work In Progress Screening.

What might this film be?

Shame is an erotically charged psychological drama directed by Steve McQueen about Brandon, an affluent, Manhattan-based sex addict in his early-30s, brilliantly played by charismatic, Michael Fassbender, who makes this relentless horndog sympathetic.  Brandon lives a successful double life earning pots of money in his high tech job, while screwing anyone he can buy or bang for free at any hour of the day or night.  When overcome with the urge in the office, he visits the men’s room for a wank.  A quiet evening at home involves pounding a beer and eating take-out Chinese while streaming his favorite porn site.  Riding the subway into work he exchanges such penetrating eye contact with a woman doling out a boatload of come-hither glances back at him, one feels like a voyeur visualizing exactly what he’s imagining he’d like to do to her.

Brandon is content with satisfying his disconnected sexual compulsion until Sissy, his emotionally needy, hot mess of a cabaret singer sister, played perfectly by Carey Mulligan, invades his well-ordered empty life.  When he watches her perform New York, New York dirge-style, he is so overcome with emotion he cannot stop a tear from rolling down his face.  Needy Sissy also invades her brother’s privacy and discovers his secret, prompting him to suffer an existential crisis in response to her cloying need for love and connection.  Following one of their battles, he takes impulsive action to cleanse himself of his habit.  He even tries dating a co-worker with conventional ideas about relationships, but that temporary fix reinforces his natural inclination for the detached and impersonal.  As Sissy craves rescue, Brandon is trapped in his desire for escape, colliding penchants that ultimately exact heavy tolls on both of them.  As the ending credits rolled I was unsure what I wanted to do more, weep or take a shower.  Milton declared:

Milton:  Compared to what we’re seeing next, this was Disney.

Star Fassbender and Director McQueen at the NYFF.

What we saw next was the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s last film, The Turin Horse, a 146 minute black and white opus that was inspired by a horse that Friedrich Nietzsche saw being whipped.  This act of brutality upset Nietzche so much he threw his arms around the animal to protect it and then he pretty much went off his rocker until he died ten years later.  This film is ostensibly about what happened to the horse, but the narrative is so lean, it’s borderline anorexic.

It opens with a grizzled peasant with a paralyzed right arm who looks 70, but is probably 45, driving a wooden cart pulled by his weathered workhorse through a fierce windstorm.  Once home, he is wordlessly met by his adult daughter, who looks 40, but is probably 20.  They go about their routine of unharnessing the horse from her cart, putting her in her stable, and then they enter their stone house where she helps her father undress, and redress, he lies down, and she boils potatoes for their meal.  When the potatoes are cooked, she announces, “It’s ready.”  They eat wordlessly with their hands.  She clears the table and then sits at the window with her back to the camera watching the wind wreak havoc outside until her father orders offscreen, “Go to bed.”

Fetching water.

This segment is followed with the next six days of their lives, basically a repetition of the same routines in their thankless existence — fetching water from the well, dressing, undressing, boiling potatoes, eating potatoes, drinking a shot of palinka (a Hungarian fruit brandy), occasionally dealing with the horse that is looking increasingly ill, getting a visit from a gasbag neighbor, getting a second visit from an unwelcome band of gypsies that leave without incident, the well running dry for a reason that is never explained, an attempt to leave, failing to leave and finally, returning to what could be their doom — all while that windstorm of biblical proportion is blowing.  The storm stops, the lantern no longer lights, without water, the potatoes can only be eaten raw, and the screen fades to black.

How I managed to stay awake, much less find myself completely riveted to the monotonous routines of these two miserable souls essentially living the saying, “Life’s a bitch and then you die,” is a testimony to whatever it is that Béla Tarr does with the camera.  I never looked at my watch once.  In fact, it never even occurred to me to look at my watch.

As the ending credits rolled, Milton eloquently confided:

Milton: I never want to see a potato again if that shit ain’t fried.

Afterward, Dennis Lim, a member of the festival’s selection committee, conducted a q&a with Béla Tarr, who insisted on standing throughout.

Béla Tarr and Dennis Lim on stage at Alice Tully Hall

Béla Tarr succinctly explained it best why this film works so well for the viewer:

BT: The details are more important than the stupid story.

He answered the question about why this is his last film with a question:

BT:  Do you think I can say more?

He added that he felt no reason to repeat himself.  Afterward, Milton shared another confidence with me:

Milton:  I want to screw Michael Fassbender and marry Béla Tarr.

Another man blocking Milton's path to Béla's heart.

Our mystery work-in-progress screening was for Martin Scorsese’s adventure in the world of 3D, Hugo, based on the novel by Brian Selznick titled, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Hugo is a caper about a clever orphan boy who secretly lives in a railway station in Paris with a broken automaton he’s determined to repair.  On a narrative level, the first hour is so leaden with cliché chase scenes and contrived suspense, it made The Turin Horse seem light as a soufflé.  In the second half, it veers into an entirely unpredictable direction when it turns into a compelling film history lesson about filmmaker Georges Méliès, before reverting back to more contrived shenanigans, yet another chase, and the predictable tugging at the heartstrings ending.  I looked at my watch several times while watching this one.  Hugo is scheduled to open November 23rd in time for Thanksgiving.  Pass the turkey.

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Lame Adventure 237: New York Film Festival – George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Milton and I attended the sold-out screening of the HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World at the New York Film Festival.  This 208 minute film directed by Martin Scorsese with the cooperation of Harrison’s widow, Olivia, will be shown in two parts on HBO starting tonight.

We had fantastic seats, seventh row, almost dead center.  The filmmaker, Wes Anderson, was sitting behind us.  We saw Fisher Stevens and we also thought we saw the composer Philip Glass.  I pointed out a guy that I thought could have participated in a John Lithgow look-alike contest.

Milton:  He could have entered but he would have lost.  I can’t believe we have VIP seats!

Me:  Someone probably got fired for making that mistake.

As I was leafing through my program, chatting with Milton, I reached our film’s description page.  The woman sitting next to me, a Bjork-wannabe in the appearance department, floats her finger over George’s face in the photograph and mumbles his name into my left ear.

Floating finger re-enactment.

This unsolicited gesture captures my attention. I don’t want to encourage her but I don’t want to appear rude.

Me:  Yes, that’s George Harrison.

Milton mumbles her name into my right ear.

Milton:  Weirdo.

Olivia Harrison and Martin Scorsese introduce the film.  Then, the lights dim, the screen fills with tulips, and George’s middle-aged face appears in the garden.  He looks at the camera and flashes an ethereal smile.  I instantly feel a lump in my throat, but it just as instantly dissolves because Weirdo unfolds the oversized program guide and starts perusing it using her cellphone as a light source.  She is also leaning over my armrest.  She is so close to me that I can sniff her fragrance, Eau de Gag.

There I am sitting next to a stinky deranged space invader that I’d like to beat with a Rickenbacker guitar while watching what might be the definitive documentary about one of the most spiritual rock stars ever.  Instinct tells me that if I address her, this could get very ugly, very fast.  I inch closer to Milton and stay focused on the film, but I do notice that when I react audibly to whatever is happening on the screen, it  distracts her from her program guide reading and I can feel her staring at me.  If I were  to look at her, I know she’d be looking at me square in the face.  I stay focused on the screen.

Every so often her illuminated phone chimes.  It also fully rang once.  She quickly killed the ring, but the guy sitting next to Milton leaned forward and did address her.

Guy Sitting Next to Milton:  Shut that off!

She followed his order.  At that moment, I could have had that stranger’s child.

The first half of the film, told without narration and deftly edited by David Tedeschi, reveals George’s early life through archive footage and home movies, as well as interviews with the man himself.  This footage is intercut with interviews with key talking heads including the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, record producer George Martin, Harrison’s ex-wife Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Phil Specter (filmed before his world imploded), and many others sharing anecdotes and personal insights about “the quiet Beatle”.  Until Paul McCartney revealed it, I never knew that young George referred to his highly stylized pre-Beatle haircut as “the turban.”

The film conveys George’s frustration as being the lead guitarist to the Beatle’s two domineering writers, John Lennon and McCartney.  In the beginning Harrison’s songwriting talent was undeveloped, but it blossomed over time (being in the company of Lennon and McCartney could not have hurt) but he had a tough time getting his less commercial songs on Beatle albums.  He smashed one hit out of the park with Something.  In the second half of the film, an interviewee suggests that although this classic Harrison composition is about a woman, it could just as easily have been about his close relationship with God.

Part two of the film, the post-Beatle half, devotes much more time to George’s original music as well as to his spirituality.  This was the half where I caught myself nodding out on several occasions.  Yet, whenever he or Ravi Shankar began strumming a sitar, I quickly regained consciousness.

The more controversial areas of George’s life including his philandering and his recreational drug abuse were downplayed.  Olivia skirts the topic of his indiscretions.  It was clearly a painful topic for her, but she answers her own question when she herself asks the secret to a lasting marriage:

Olivia: You don’t get divorced.

A glaring omission was not mentioning that George lost a major copyright infringement suit that lingered for years.  A judge ruled against him when it was deemed that he subconsciously plagiarized the Chiffon’s He’s so Fine when he wrote My Sweet Lord.  Milton and I are both deaf to the similarities.

What we also found baffling was why the filmmakers were so coy about the specific cancer that led to George’s death in 2001.  He was seen smoking cigarettes throughout the film and was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997.  The subject of his cancer from the initial diagnosis through where he traveled for treatment was downplayed. Yet, it is mentioned that his cancer was in remission when an intruder attacked him in his home on New Year’s Eve 1999.  Dhani, George and Olivia’s only child, eludes that the stress of that brutal attack may have expedited his father’s death.  I am sure that that attack did not help George recover, but I am also sure that smoking a few packs for 30 or 40 years may have also contributed significantly to his passing.  Why not be straightforward about that?  I don’t think this film was funded by Philip Morris.

As we left the theater Milton observed:

Milton: I feel like I was lied to but in a very clever way.

Overall, this film is very entertaining, but there are gaps in the narrative.  As for Weirdo, she left her seat at intermission and did not return.  Maybe Krishna or possibly George himself interceded on my behalf.

Forbidden panel discussion iPhone photo that nearly got Milton handed his head on a plate by a watchdog usher. Left to right producer Nigel Sinclair, Olivia Harrison, Martin Scorsese, Margaret Bodde, David Tedeschi, and moderator Scott Foundas. Note woman in foreground wearing Sgt. Pepper-ette collection coat.