3.00pm: The Passenger
If she's reading this, apologies to Anna for not managing to meet up with her on Friday night. The Belated Birthday Girl saw her briefly just before the start of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and we waited outside for her after the screening, but there was no sign of her. I only get to see her at Festival time these days, and if we'd met up we'd probably have had our usual conversation about how few good new Italian films there are in this year's LFF. To be honest, the only Italian films on my list this year are both over thirty years old, and co-productions with other countries: and this is the biggest one, a rare screening of a restored version of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1975 classic.
Jack Nicholson plays David Locke, a reporter we first meet doing a series of interviews in Africa. He's obviously at the end of his tether, and the only person he can call a friend out there is a businessman called Robertson (Chuck Mulvehill), who's living in the hotel room next door. When Robertson dies unexpectedly, Locke sees a way out of his current malaise: he fakes his own death and assumes the businessman's identity. Soon he's leading a jetsetting lifestyle, hopping from Africa to Germany to Spain, making useful cash along the way and starting a relationship with a tourist (Maria Schneider). But Locke's past life, as well as Robertson's, will slowly come back to haunt him.
Recently Val Kilmer played the lead role in The Postman Always Rings Twice on the West End stage. (Yes, I know Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was last night, just bear with me here.) It's the same role played by Nicholson in the 1981 film version, and for my money Kilmer made a better job of it. That's because the story of deception and betrayal requires the character of Frank Chambers to be a little bit stupid: and by 1981, 'little bit stupid' was no longer within Jack's acting range. It's somewhat of a revelation to see him in a role like this, where for a change he's not actually the smartest person in the movie. Could this be why Nicholson has been sitting on the rights to The Passenger for twenty years now, preventing screenings until this restoration and re-release?
It's difficult to say. But that's what made the movie work so well for me: it can be taken on a number of levels, but the most entertaining is as a dark farce, where the distance between what Locke thinks is going on and what's really going on makes for uneasy laughs. At several moments in The Passenger you see Locke suddenly grasp that things are going out of his control, and he goes into a quiet internal panic: Nicholson depicts this so well, you wish he'd do it more often. As for the rest of the film, it's very much of its time, with the sparse austere feel of most seventies arthouse cinema: but that's not to deny its beauty and power, particularly in the stunning technical achievement of its justly famous one-shot seven minute climax. So famous, in fact, that the Festival catalogue quotes a lengthy Derek Malcolm review which totally ruined one of the key surprises for me in advance. Grrr.
Set in a similar middle American factory town to yesterday's Lonesome Jim, Bubble looks at the lives of three workers at a doll factory. Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) is the oldest of the three, and gets on well with Kyle (Dustin Ashley): they share lunch, and travel to and from work together. Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) is a recent addition to the crew, brought in to help out during a big order. All three of them live with family members - Martha cares for her father, Kyle sponges off his mother, Rose looks after her young child - and they're struggling to get by on the money they earn, taking on additional work in the evenings.
Steven Soderbergh has been getting a lot of press for the concept behind Bubble - it's the first of a series of films he wants to make on high-definition video, which will be released simultaneously in theatres, on DVD and on pay-per-view. Given the focus on home viewing, the first major surprise is how cinematic Bubble looks. Shot by Soderbergh himself under his regular alias of Peter Andrews, it uses Scope framing very effectively indeed, and apart from a couple of bits of motion blur you'd hardly think it was video. In fact, on a couple of occasions the video image is an improvement on film, particularly in the frequent insert shots of piles of disembodied doll limbs - the colours pop out alarmingly, and subliminally warn you that things aren't as comfortable as they may first appear.
The real danger is that people will concentrate so much on the shooting and distribution processes, they'll forget there's a rather fine low-key drama underneath all that. Writer Coleman Hough (who previously collaborated with Soderbergh on the ultra-snarky Full Frontal) actually cares about the characters here, showing them as three people just trying to live their dead-end lives as best as they can. The drama is left to bubble quietly under the surface of their mundane conversations, and even after a central event changes the relationship between the three, it's still all under the surface - but our own perception of what's happening is very different indeed. It's beautifully played by a cast of non-professionals, not just in the lead roles: there are some delightfully deadpan moments in the support, including one from Martha's father (Omar Cowan) that brings the house down. Definitely worth catching in whatever medium you can.
9.00pm: You're Gonna Miss Me
Where possible, I try to find links between the films I'm seeing at the LFF, but there was an absolute doozy of a link I didn't spot until very late this afternoon. Recently, three major directors collaborated on a portmanteau movie called Eros, a collection of short stories with a vaguely erotic theme. (No sign of a release in the UK yet, but if you're curious you can pick up a Hong Kong DVD of the film dirt cheap.) The three directors involved were Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-Wai. If Wong Kar-Wai had a movie at the Festival this evening, then I'd have the set. (Of course, Wong was at last year's LFF with 2046, so on current form I wouldn't expect him back here again this decade.)
Anyhoo, it's 9pm on a Saturday night, so it must be time for another documentary about a mental pop star. Roky Erickson leapt to fame in the mid-60s as lead vocalist with the 13th Floor Elevators, who blazed the trail for psychedelic rock in the Bay Area around the same time that Pink Floyd were doing something similar in London. Erickson suffered a Syd Barrett-style acid burnout-cum-breakdown at the peak of his fame: but unlike Syd, after a short spell in an institution, he got out and pulled off a comeback. He wasn't totally recovered - the defining theme of his work in the seventies and eighties was his belief that he came from another planet - but as at least one person points out here, he was living comfortably with his psychosis, and channelling it effectively into his music. But in the late eighties it all came to a halt as Roky lost interest in music altogether.
By the time Keven McAlester started making his documentary about Erickson's life, he'd been spending over a decade living as a recluse, with his overbearing mother more or less taking control of his life. And it's the relationship between Roky and his mum Evelyn that's at the core of this film: as other interviewees wonder out loud where Roky's mental troubles came from, we see Evelyn building huge cardboard constructions depicting Roky's life, making creepy movies where she plays the queen of her five sons, and refusing to give Roky the medication he needs. It's the last of these that will eventually force Roky's other brothers into taking a stand.
As with last week's Derailroaded, you find yourself worrying about the levels of exploitation involved in making a man's mental illness the subject of a documentary. But possibly the reason why this film feels less exploitative is that Erickson has always appeared to have some level of control over his life and work, something which Wild Man Fischer seems to lack: any lack of control appears to be down to the influence of Evelyn. McAlester is careful to not take sides in the conflict that gives the film its structure, making sure he doesn't demonise Evelyn but clearly showing that she has her own problems. By the end of the film, you can't say Roky's been cured, but he seems to be back in control of himself again - and, best of all, starting to slowly get back into making music. Maybe, in the end, I'm just a sucker for a happy ending.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Stuart Pearce Fanclub - Following a five day absence rigidly enforced by my evil employer, we are back (that's the Royal we) at the LFF05, edit free and with all spoiler warnings attached.
Pavee Lackeen (traveller girl) is a film about one traveller family in today's prosperous Ireland. Featuring real travelling community members, this runs as neither a story or documentary, but rather a straight observation of the trials and tribulations of the traveller community. Central to this story is ten year old Winnie, suspended from school, who spends her time either wandering around the shops or hanging round the family trailer with her assorted sisters. I don't want to say too much about her, because this is a real person, not a young actress giving a performance. However the ad hoc nature of the film which spends much of the time following her about, gives a strong evocation of both an innocent child and an untameable free spirit.
Another theme within the film is how other communities (West Indian/Chinese/Russian) have moved into today's Ireland and economically prospered, whilst the traveller community have been left behind and dumped on. Thus we see all manner of people: social workers, council officials, traveller activists, promising this and that to family head Rosie; yet in each instance the family end up being even worse off. The best example being the council forcing the family to move their trailer away from a busy road, for the children's own safety, onto what turns out to be not council but harbour land. The upshot of which means the council no longer have a legal obligation to offer them housing.
Now of course it is very easy to be all liberal and patronising about the issues raised here, and feign some mock concern for as long as it takes to leave the cinema. Well I am not going down that road because there are other sides to the issue of travellers, whether here or in Ireland. What interests me is does this stand up well as a film, and I certainly believe it does. I would say if you enjoyed Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher, you will find much to appreciate here.
Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt
The Belated Birthday Girl - I saw Townes Van Zandt live once: it was at The Borderline in London, and I believe it was probably when he played there in 1995 (although his last ever gig, just one month before he died, was also played there). I have two albums of his, which I bought at that gig: his first album, For the Sake of the Song, and No Deeper Blue, which seems to be the last studio album of new songs he made. I also own on DVD Heartworn Highways, a documentary about him and others from the 70s country scene, which I have not yet got around to watching. So when I saw that there was a new documentary about him in the festival, I felt I really had to see it.
I know of Townes Van Zandt more as an influence on the later New Country performers, epitomised for me by The Flatlanders, so it was highly appropriate that the film opens with Joe Ely telling a story of when and how he came across the man and his music. I wasn't aware of anything much about Townes' life, and the film gave a real sense of that: from his privileged upbringing, through his bouts of depression, leading to electroshock and insulin coma therapy, through his life on the road, and drink and drug abuse. There were numerous contributions from all sorts of heroes of the country music scene: briefly from (as well as Joe Ely) Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, Kinky Friedman, and others, and much longer contributions from Guy Clark in particular. These were a mixture of discussing Townes' influence, and telling stories of - often drink- or drug-fuelled - episodes in his life. There were also contributions from family, including all of his wives (he married three times), and his children, and also from others who had worked with him or knew him.
Although there were tales of self-destructive bouts, and no doubt there was a lot of damage done to people along the way, the film itself was very affectionate towards him, and gave the impression that most people who had known him felt that way. The director, in the Q&A after, said that in an earlier cut that with one of the stories he told of himself, she had juxtaposed the version he told, which was funny, with a more true one told by one of his wives, which was harsher, but in the end she only included Townes' version, because she felt that the cruelty in juxtaposition wasn't really how he was, and wasn't right for the film.
I think for anyone who knows the music of Townes Van Zandt, or anyone who enjoys the kind of New Country which he influenced, it is well worth catching this (apparently it will get some sort of cinema release in the US and over here in the UK), and possibly even more worth picking up the DVD, which will include a lot more footage of Townes which didn't make the movie. And for me, I really must watch Heartworn Highways some time.
Stuart Pearce Fanclub - Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil are an affluent and somewhat dull fortysomething couple, who find videos of their home and movements, accompanied by a gory child's drawing, regularly being sent to them. Whoever the stalker is, he is not letting on why he is doing this and what he wants. However as the videos start to reveal a few more clues, Auteuil eventually locates a potential suspect, who links back to a dark moment from his childhood, and a state sponsored atrocity committed against Algerians in Paris in 1961 (on that last bit, I will have to investigate further as to whether that is actually true, because I have never heard of it before).
Now I don't want to overpraise this film (unlike the guy who introduced it), because ultimately nothing really gets resolved here, and I think it would have been a lot stronger if there was a definite conclusion. However given how Spank (reading his LFF front page) seems to dislike this director with a vengeance, I don't want to condemn it either (after all I thought The Piano Teacher was flawed but interesting). So I think I will say that putting the plot to one side, the subtext here is one of middle class, middle aged, disillusionment and paranoia. Perhaps one to catch on BBC3 one night (where I am betting it will end up) rather than shelling out your cash at the box office.
I didn't stick around for the Q&A with Monseuir Auteuil afterwards, as I am getting middle aged, paranoid and disillusioned with the regular Saturday night scrum involved with trying to board a Heathrow train on the Piccadilly line.
|<-Back to Friday 28/10/2005||Return to LFF '05 Index||Forward to Sunday 30/10/2005->|