It’s been a while! What is it they say about rainy days and Mondays? After the long Toronto/NYFF month, I needed a bit of a mental break from all of the blogging and the festival life in order to re-establish some sense of a thoughtful approach to film. I felt bombarded, so overwhelmed by high quality movies that I wasn’t sure how to think about them in relation to one another, to the previous work of the filmmakers, or even in and of themselves. After nine months of pretty much hit or miss film attendance, September and early October almost felt like too much of a good thing.
I took a few weeks away from going to the movies in order to read, cook, work, and relax. Plus, there is something about the constant rain pouring down on New York City that brings out the nesting urge, that makes me want to grab a book, get under a blanket, and pass the time slowly. This weekend, I made the trip out to the Hamptons Film Festival for the fourth year in a row. The fest was excellent as always, and I was able to find 2 or 3 films that I would really like to program later in the spring. One that stood out for me, that wasn’t much discussed in the press coverage of the festival, was Jaci Judelson’s Tina Barney: Social Studies, which follows at the photographer as she photographs the French aristocracy at home and at play. The film confronts some interesting ideas about privilege and opulence with a compellingly cavalier attitude, while at the same time echoing the long-standing art of aristocratic portraiture by showing some of Barney’s absolutely knockout photographs. Judelson has captured an artist comfortably at work among the ultra-wealthy, and the film gives a voyeurs-eye view into the process of the lifestyles of the rich and private.
I also caught Marc Levin’s powerful Protocols of Zion which I found to be a profoundly depressing statement about the way lies and ‘manufactured information’ become gospel truth in the world. I was impressed with Levin’s courage as a documentarian, constantly pitting his own rationalist worldview against the half-considered hatred and anger of some very sketchy people. As an example, when Levin confronts a white supremacist about Hitler and judaism, he points out that maybe the holocaust was an extension of Hitler's desire to kill his own rumored jewish heritage, to which the supremacist replies “I don’t think Hitler was in any way suicidal…” I will confess, that line made me laugh out loud. In the face of such ignorance, ignorance that is wholly adopted as fact and a way of life, Levin's film makes you fear for the survival of the rational humanist. I asked Levin about the rise in the social acceptability of extremist points of view and what freethinking, humanists can do in the face of empty, irrational ideas and he, and the film, left the question unanswered, which only seems fair. How could anyone presume to answer it? Levin keeps his own, compelling blog which addresses a lot of the film's ideas (be sure to read the comments). I couldn’t recommend the film more highly.
Marc Levin meets the National Alliance in Protocols of Zion
There were other films of note that I was able to catch, including Bob Fosse’s Liza With a ‘Z’ which was a compelling reminder of both Liza Minelli’s awesome power as an entertainer and how much Bob Fosse is missed as a filmmaker; were he alive today, I expect that he would have a lot to share with Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and the like. His camera seemed to be an extension of his dancer’s body, and no one was on the receiving end of more of his absolute adoration that Minelli. The combination of his cinematic understanding of the stage and her emotional connection to popular music makes for a stunning hour of performance. Showtime, who have always been a friend to the film festivals I work with, deserve a lot of praise for helping to rescue and restore this masterful film. The sound has been remixed to an achingly beautiful standard of quality; I have never heard film music sound so good. In addition, the images, shot on film (the first TV Special to be shot on film, according to Minelli) look as if they were tane straight off of Fosse's original camera negative; the sumptuous reds and clean blacks are clear indications of the care taken with the restoration. It was a fitting finale to my brief visit to the festival.
I drove home from the Hamptons on Saturday (how many Stella Artois can a boy drink?), but I felt replenished by taking it easy out there. Kudos to the filmmakers and the festival staff for what seemed to be a successful festival all the way around. As for me, I took my renewed sense of cinematic desire to the theater to see the highly-anticipated (by me anyway) Shopgirl, and tonight I plan on catching up with Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Innocence. Now, if we can just stop the rain…