Weekend Reel Reads: Brazil, Belief and Outer Space

Features
by Steve Greene
December 9, 2012 12:13 PM
3 Comments
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Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo"
Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at critic@indiewire.com.

Mimes, Monkeys, And The Ghost Of 'Fitzcarraldo': Inside Brazil's Amazonas Film Festival

Movieline's Amy Nicholson delivers a fascinating insight into one of Brazil's most interesting quandaries: its films don't fare well with Brazilian audiences and the most popular screen actors are soap opera stars. It's a fascinating twist on the film festival narrative that we're used to. Rather than have one to perpetuate and sustain an industry and community that already exists, the Amazonas Film Festival is looking to build them up from very little. The result is a lavish, free-to-the-public affair set right in the heart of a region that film productions have largely overlooked.

"The Teatro Amazonas, where the seven-day film festival was held, looks almost the same as it did when Herzog filmed there in 1982, except for the mime dressed like Charlie Chaplin who stalked the red carpet each night and eagerly leaped in front of every camera. At the opening of the Amazonas Film Festival, the old marble walls — imported from Italy back when the rubber barons of Manaus made it the richest city in the world — buzzed with energy. We American journalists were given headsets that translated the introductory speeches from Portuguese to English, not that they helped us make any sense of the moment when a soap star named Igor, a dead-ringer for Benicio del Toro, stormed the stage uninvited and shouted something loosely paraphrased as, 'Thanks for letting me have sex with my girlfriend under a waterfall!' to the Minister of Culture. Then he pulled a pair of sheer black pantyhose over his head like he was about to rob a convenience store, and fled the stage to massive applause. Lost in translation, I suppose."

The Power of Powers of Ten

35 years ago, a team of experimental filmmakers sought to capture the vastness of the universe in less than ten minutes. Led by Charles and Ray Eames, the result was a short that blended some special effects ingenuity and singular scientific principles to create a deceptively simple portrait of known existence. Writing for Slate, James Hughes describes the legacy of "Powers of Ten," the family tree of filmmakers that have benefited from its techniques and, ultimately, the ways in which the film reflects the fluctuating nature of the city of the Chicago. The article also features an embedded video of the original film, which still makes for a hypnotizing viewing experience.

"Endlessly imitated in commercials and Hollywood films (Men in Black and Contact among them) and predating Google Earth (and Google Mars) by decades, the zoom continues to captivate viewers, leaving them either awed or overwhelmed by journey’s end. Paul Schrader, a devout admirer of the original 'rough sketch' Powers of Ten film that predated the final Chicago-based version by a decade, wrote that the interstellar roller-coaster ride allowed the viewer to 'think of himself a citizen of the universe.' Charles Eames wanted the film to appeal to a 10-year-old as well as a physicist and claimed the goal was for viewers to experience a 'gut feeling' about dimensions in time and space. The message was received. In 1998, Powers of Ten earned a spot in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, the same institution that claims over 1 million archival items gathered from the Eames Office after their doors closed in 1989. That same office space in Venice, Calif., was later occupied by Facebook. When the Eameses established a temporary office in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, circa 1950, in a previously unused, Charlie Kaufman-esque top-floor space, even the owner of the building, Sargent Shriver, wasn’t quite sure what they were up to. But the Eameses were once again ahead of the curve. Sixty years later, their makeshift office will soon be home to the Chicago offices for Google."

The Man Who Shot Pi Patel

Those who have seen both "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "Life of Pi" will probably note the obvious third-act parallels between the two. Devin Faraci goes one step further at Badass Digest, claiming that while the two films do deal with how and why we tell stories, there may be something inherently different about the motivations behind the two films' main characters. It's possible that a reader's feelings about "Life of Pi" might color their reaction to Faraci's piece, but the editorial benefits in part from operating under a specific interpretation of the film, rather than trying to deal in vagueries. [Warning: Spoilers are present.]

"Both films deal with big questions about the nature of truth. Both films feature men living with a lie, one that they confess to an interviewer. But one film has mature, intelligent ideas about truth and lies, and the other is Life of Pi."

Hollywood's Year of Heroine Worship

As A.O. Scott concedes in his New York Times Magazine year-end look at the some of the most notable female roles of 2012, women on the public stage often become an immediate focal point of whether or not women as a group are succeeding. This year's film output, while not an unequivocal grand equalizer, did serve to combat some of the male-centric trends that have been system-inherent for decades. Rather than declare victory, Scott does his best to praise the women who have contributed to iconic work in the past calendar year.

"My point is not to hold any of these characters and films up as positive images. Nor is the purpose of this year’s photography portfolio to advance an agenda, score an ideological point or address a historic imbalance. It is, instead, to acknowledge the range and depth of 13 remarkable and very different actresses, and also to convey, through the suggestive medium of pictures and words, an array of intriguing, troubling, inspiring and contradictory possibilities. A partial list of the roles the women in these pages have played this year would include a slave, a sex therapist, a trainer of killer whales, a randy Texas dowager, a 19th-century factory worker driven to prostitution and the two most compelling and morally complicated characters in the semicompelling, morally simplistic 'Dark Knight Rises.' And also, of course, Katniss and Hushpuppy, authentic superheroes with the power to turn the world upside down."

Getting reacquainted with Danny Kaye

Now is the time that "White Christmas" finds a continuous, looping home not only on radio, but on TV screens as well. Danny Kaye, one of the co-stars of the Michael Curtiz holiday classic, has not enjoyed the same level of continued popularity that some of his colleagues have enjoyed. The LA Times' Susan King writes how Kaye's daughter Dena is leading the way on a series of screenings of the actor's film and TV roles/appearances, culminating with a potential centennial retrospective sometime next year. The best things happen while you're dancing (or maybe they just happen in 2013).

"'He didn't have airs,' she added. 'He wasn't a snob. He was a professional to the nth degree. He gave 100%, and he expected other people to do the same, which could earn you the title of being difficult. But if you are giving 100%, why shouldn't everyone else give 100%?' Kaye was actually born Jan. 18, 1911, but he celebrated 1913 as the year of his birth. His daughter never discovered the explanation for the switch. 'He was not conventional,' she noted."

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Finally, MUBI's series of analyses of the work of Tony Scott thoughtfully extends the appreciation of the director that began this past summer with Scott's passing. Eschewing his late-80s, early-90s heyday, the "Tony Scott: A Moving Target" collection focuses largely on his late-career work, including those films that were largely dismissed upon their original releases.

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3 Comments

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  • Mike | December 11, 2012 9:46 PMReply

    Amy Nicholson's review of the Amazonas Film Festival was full of errors, as pointed out by the Folha de São Paulo and the loads of angry comments piling onto her article.

    If you can read Portuguese, and you care, here goes a Brazilian paper's response to her critique:

    http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrada/1199832-site-dos-eua-diz-que-brasil-nao-tem-estrelas-de-cinema-e-compara-manaus-ao-alasca.shtml

  • Amy Nicholson | December 13, 2012 9:15 PM

    Hey, thanks for including my piece on the Amazonas Film Festival in your round-up. Just responding to the comment above, as Folha mistranslated my piece and accused me of bashing Brazil's film industry and insulting Manaus. I've written a letter of correction to the paper that they've yet to publish. Interestingly, if you click on the link above and read the comments on Folha's page through Chrome's automatic Portuguese translator, most of them defend my piece -- misrepresented as it is -- and feel strongly that Brazil's film industry should be doing more with its talent and government funding.

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