Friday, December 23, 2011

BANG BANG: Brian Darr

Finally time for me to contribute to this BANG BANG thing we've cooked up. Many many thanks to Ryland for doing the greater part of the organizing legwork. On to my wrap-up...

2011 was a year filled with terrible and wonderful things for me. When it comes to film-watching, there was plenty that fell into the "wonderful" category. My relationship with the cinema, and especially the "new" cinema, is constantly changing, and finding a way to put together a coherent top ten list encapsulation was more of a struggle for me than ever this year. So in true obsessive fashion, I've made a "modular" top ten, exploiting various quirks of eligibility that diehard list-watchers and -makers may recognize, but that everyone else can just read as an excuse for a nice round top 25.

Five magnificent films that had a week-long "commercial" release in San Francisco in 2011. Definitely on my top ten list, no matter how you slice it:

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) From the beautifully slo-mo opening sequence of Manhattanites in ritualized motion, reminiscent of James Benning's early collaborations with Bette Gordon, I suspected I was seeing something special. Drying my eyes during the closing credits, I knew for sure that I had. "You will weep and know why." If you've heard of this sprawling, 150-minute character drama about a teenager (Anna Paquin) struggling with every emotion under the sun in the wake of a traffic accident, you've probably also heard how it was given short shrift by a studio contractually obliged to release it but seemingly determined to take a loss on it. Though frustrations of the legal system is a sub-theme of the movie, (as are poetry, post-9/11 stress, burgeoning sexuality, opera, and a million other concerns) it's a shame that the story of Margaret's belated and shoddy distribution has overshadowed all other discussions about the film. To be expected when prints disappear from theatres after a week or two, and perhaps reversible now that the film is re-opening at a Greenwich Village theatre today; I hope a Frisco Bay venue tries the same gambit soon.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Part Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) Into the cave.
The Tree of Life (Terence Malick, 2011) Into the light. Multiple viewings and much ruminating have made its evident flaws insignificant in the face of its visionary design.

A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) Keira Knightley's polarizing performance in this impeccably composed, perfectly Cronenbergian film, led my way to a new understanding of my long-least favorite genre: the biopic. Historical figures perform specific functions for modern humans; why not allow actors to embody these functions by acting them out on screen? 
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010) It's a bit strange that the San Francisco Film Critics Circle picked a largely English-language film for their 2011 Foreign Language Film award. I'll approve and attribute it to the masterful illusionism practiced by its Iranian director, its French star (Juliette Binoche), and the Tuscan countryside setting. All three create a mesmerizing surface beneath which there is even more to see, and contemplate. English-language films just don't do that, do they? Except for the exceptions.

Five superb films I saw in 2011 that screened in San Francisco for the first time this year. All had so-called "commercial" releases except the first one listed; it played for a week in New York but had only a handful of screenings at the San Francisco International Film Festival here:

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu (Andrei Ujica, 2010) "Look in my eyes; what do you see?...I'm the smiling face on your TV..." The past months have seen the final days of two of the world's most reviled dictators. We can hope, but not really expect, that they won't be replaced by others equally heinous somewhere in the world. But how often does tyranny conform to the images we expect from it? Such a question is at the center of this three-hour compilation of naked newsreel footage taken from the archives of the 1965-1989 Romanian leader's personal photographers. Kim Jong-il's father Kim Il-sung makes an astonishing cameo appearance.
The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman, 2009) Palestinian director Suleiman applies the darkly absurdist, somewhat Tati-esque style he perfected in his previous film Divine Intervention to even more overtly autobiographical material. If its predecessor is any indication, it should only grow in my estimation with repeated viewings in the coming years.
The Arbor (Clio Barnard, 2010) A strange and remarkable work. The documentary tradition in theatre is long but little-known, so bringing some of its techniques for merging non-fiction material with acted performance into a cinematic sphere feels like a real breath of fresh air. It's particularly inspired in the service of its subject: the life and legacy of Yorkshire playwright Andrea Dunbar.

The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar, 2011) I run hot and cold on Pedro's filmography, and had even skipped Broken Embraces after being disappointed by his previous two features. I'm back on board. Here, he forays into horror and science fiction without upsetting his delicate balance of telenovelistic melodrama and cinematic spectacle. To hint at why this film is something only Almodovar might have devised is to give too much of its plot away. I'll just say that maybe Bad Education could've been improved with a hint of Karl Freund's 1935 Mad Love in it.
Inni (Vincent Morisset, 2011) Is this monochromatic, visually experimental shadow box a new way forward for the concert film? If you prefer imagining the Icelandic band's sustains ricocheting against the back of a darkened concert hall rather than off beautiful mountains and lakes (as in 2007's Heima), then this is the Sigur Rós movie for you.

Five beautiful films which I didn't see in 2011, but which were first publicly screened in San Francisco this year and were a big part of my conversations about cinema. Having seen them in 2010, I wish I'd made time to see them again when they played in local cinemas in 2011:

A Useful Life (Federico Veiroj, 2010) I never had to see a Uruguayan film before this one to fall in love with this neorealist-goes-expressionist oratorio for that tiny country's cinema culture and one average man's place in it. And out of it.
The Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz, 2010) A fitting swan song for one of the most mysterious filmmakers I know. The impossible-to-peg Chilean died in August but not before gracing us with a beautiful, sprawling adaptation of a novel by 19th-century Romantic Camilo Castelo Branco. (No, I hadn't heard of hm before either.) Dig those digital split diopter shots!
Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010) The British misanthrope-or-is-he's most Ozu-esque film to date.
Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010) One of the American filmmakers best at portraying the so-called "outsiders" (or should I say the 99%?) of our modern society points her camera into history, showing us the stratifications found among a small community of pioneers heading West circa 1845.
Essential Killing (Jerzy Skolimowski, 2010) Just as exciting as The Fugitive except far more ambiguous and ambivalent about its moral position. Pure cinema.

Five terrific films that I saw at San Francisco festivals or other alternative venues in 2011, that have yet to secure "commercial" distribution in this country, as far as I am aware. In alphabetical, not preferential, order:

28.IV.81 (Descending Figures) (Christopher Harris, 2011) A brightly-colored dual-projector comedy set amidst a Florida amusement park passion play where baseball caps mingle with Centurion helmets.
Chantrapas (Otar Iosseliani, 2010) Films about filmmaking are cinephile catnip, right? Well, this certainly trumps The Artist as an authentically moving tribute to a vanished mode of production left behind for a new life and search for meaning.
Disorder (Weikai Huang, 2009) Around Guangzhao in an hour. Dizzying in design, execution, imagery, editing style, and political audaciousness. Truly the closest thing to Dziga Vertov's vision for his kinoks the 21st Century has seen thus far in a single work.
HaHaHa (Hong Sangsoo, 2010) One of the funniest and most thought-provoking films from one of my favorite working directors. Need I say more?
Lethe (Lewis Klahr, 2009) Klahr's collage films can provide a closer look at vintage comic book art than even the most finicky collector is likely to take unless scrutinizing that line between "very fine" and "near mint". We see the visual DNA of colors and shading magnified, and at the same time we read between the panels, guided by the filmmaker's temporal and spatial dislocations. The standout of a strong set of new-ish work Klahr brought for local premieres this year, Lethe is a remix of a 1960s Doctor Solar story that becomes a noirish drama set to Gustav Mahler.

Five amazing films I saw in 2011 that have yet to screen publicly anywhere in San Francisco. In alphabetical, not preferential, order:

Almayer's Folly (Chantal Akerman, 2011) Entrancingly old-fashioned adaptation of Joseph Conrad's first novel, transposed to stuck-in-time Cambodia.
the Day He Arrives (Hong Sangsoo, 2011) Is Hong's return to black-and-white cinematography, eleven years and as many films after Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, a sign that we should question the veracity of every scene, but this time around without a bifurcated structure to help guide us?
Ghost Dance (Mark Wilson, 2009) Named for the call to apocalyptic change performed by the Modoc (as beautifully described in Rebecca Solnit's book River of Shadows), this brief, but spectacularly ever-expanding animation recalls Eadweard Muybridge's own technological call for for a paradigm shift.
Longhorn Tremelo (Scott Stark, 2010) Begins and ends as a study of black shadows against mobile fields, but goes through a dazzling array of burnt-orange-and-white permutations in between. A version is viewable on vimeo, but I'd love to be able to see the full two-projector version somehow.
The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011) A Nietzche-inspired tour de force from one of the most forceful visions around.

BANG BANG: Ryland Walker Knight

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.


by Ryland Walker Knight

Earlier this week my Indiewire ballot appeared. I still stand by it, I suppose, but even just a week after publication I itch to change things. In fact, the whole enterprise gives me hives to a certain degree. The whole idea of absolutes in general, in any context. If you take a look at that list, you'll see a collection of films, I'd wager, premised on contingency, or some form of mystery or mess or exuberance. Even the more "straight" narratives (Cronenberg's & Jacobs' portrait-films) exhibit an interest in how things do not fit, or ever fix into reliable—much less accepted, normal—forms. Perhaps the best term I can reduce this idea to is a favorite on this blog: navigation. Life's not a maze, but there are hurdles every day, including waking up, not to mention the unexpected tidal wave every so often. We're so used to the narratives we're given or that we give ourselves that eluding the unwanted can wreck a day, a month, a year. (Lucky me: my year saw hiccups and headaches but nothing got wrecked. Truth is, I had a fantastic year. And I'm grateful.) Naturally, I'm attracted to films about finding ways through life.


Finding a way to make movie-going more a part of my movie-watching has been difficult this year, the past couple years. Granted, I got to attend Cannes. But the pleasures of that were certainly "extracurricular" as much as within the salles and theaters. The dinners, the new friends, the jokes over whiskey and rosé with Danny and Adrian after long days. But I still cherish movie-going.

Early last week, in fact, I had the supreme pleasure to take in one of the best double bills in recent memory at the Roxie Theatre (with Brian, yes): the early show was Borzage's Moonrise followed by Renoir's first H'wood venture, the insanely under-seen and apparently under-recognized Swamp Water. Two films about the south made by not-southerners that understand the south and southerners in ways you rarely see anymore. (Of course, I'm not a southerner; I'm a Californian. My Okie roots are roots and my relationship to GA/SC is tertiary at best.) But aside from any obtuse anthropological/ethnological reading I can offer, the films exist and excel simply as films. Borzage's at his Murnau best and Renoir is at his dollies-everywhere (and "people as people") best. And they spoke to one another in delicious ways the way a double bill is supposed to work. Steve Seid usually knows what he's doing but this was a special program. The swamp has different narrative functions in the films, but in both the swamp is a hunting ground, a space of violence, something untamable that few can master or at least negotiate (or inhabit!). Again, this speaks to how I see the world at large. Life takes skills we never anticipate requiring, but nonetheless accrue. True to this optimism I harbor—inside an unavoidable but I hope healthy cynicism w/r/t life's obstacles, including people (above all people?)—both protagonists of these films find ways to join the world by their stories' ends.

Then again, not every path is a success. The film I felt worst about leaving off my "official" top ten was Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day. That movie's all about the disconnect we're forced to confront as we grow through adolescence. It's about a lot more, too, including light, but there's a violence in adolescence that it understands (something Haz and I talk about as he is a teacher). This is true of all the Yang pictures I've seen, but this one is obviously special. Its length affords its narrative the space for us to observe characters rationalize their way through choices good and bad alike (though mostly bad) all the way. This is what critics mean when they call a film novelistic: time affording space for character. Granted, that's a limited view of what "the novel" is or can be, but this film in particular, as with many likewise classified films, is after a Dickensian kind of scope forever grounded in place and details. This, too, is how best to think of something like Breaking Bad, which Jen talked about yesterday.

Television, after all, is serialized much how the early money-making novels were; both are strategized as much as constructed with plot doled out in delimited chunks. But, as Jen noted, one of the pleasures of BB is just how digressive it is, how much air time is given to behavior and go-nowhere episodes of bickering. And it's not like this show's hopeful. It's got a pretty grim take on human desire and nature and intelligence. As I've said before, these characters are idiots. Walter White seems to have figured out a few things watching Gus operate, like the cost of survival in such a dangerous game as the drug racket, but he's still a bald, selfish, myopic stranger to himself and his oh-so-beloved family by the end of this last season. And the person he's closest to has every reason in the world to want to slit his throat.


I've been using my tumblr more than this home base throughout the year. Part of it is simply ease of use. Another is desire. The last is time. I like the scrapbook/notebook feel of the microblog. It feels like a repository of reminders. And it usually takes very little effort. Writing here is more work. (Writing anything is work!) Not sure what the new year will bring, but I'm not quite ready to quit my baby. But I quit making zines to make this blog and I may wind up quitting this blog to wind up making more films. Even if they're just little goofs about the sounds of seagulls or odd poems about light and memory. The future has more answers than me.


One thing I know for sure: though I've made some great friends via emails (cf. this week), there's a lot I'm proud of from this past year outside the walls and tubes of the internet. Thank you to everybody who helped make those realities real. You know who you are.


Ryland Walker Knight is a writer and filmmaker living in San Francisco. He has three names, which you can read above, at left, and all over this blog.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BANG BANG: Durga Chew-Bose

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

by Durga Chew-Bose

I’ve been especially preoccupied with women this year. My desktop is a cluttered mess of young Michelle Pfeiffers and Diane Lanes, a spitfire-y Linda Manz, a pouty Tatum O’Neal, Elaine May, Gilda, Sissy and Shelley, Karen Black (multiple times), Cher with Winona, and screengrabs of Gena as Minnie. The young mother in Andrea Arnold’s short film, Wasp, is giving me the finger, Haydée Politoff, her back, Geraldine Chaplin and Monica Vitti seduce, smoke…seduce, and Bibi Andersson is beside herself. Marie-France Posier—who in an eerie way, congeals into "Laura Palmer"—is slouched in a bathtub, moon-eyed and fully-clothed, hair braided and boots dangling over the edge like a child who’s not quite sure how she got there or if she wants to get out.

I should probably organize all of these pictures. Or at least drag them into a folder. But what’s the fun in that? I enjoy the distraction; their perpetual orbit, the familiarity. The delight of seeing Chiara Mastroianni and remembering the way she says “Ann-Gé-lah Bah-ssette” when ribbing about Emmanuelle Devos’ butt in Desplechin’s Un conte de Noël. Or even now as I write, on the top right corner of my screen, Diane Keaton’s Kay Adams is smiling: red dress and sun hat, she’s listening as Michael tells her to eat her spaghetti while he spins a story about Luca Brasi.

Barbara Loden’s Wanda aired on TCM in the fall. I watched it twice in a row—the first time completely crushed but immediately devoted; the second time, with a pen and my notebook. I jotted down images and words that drew near in the way some movies—the most pressing ones—appear to come from somewhere itchy inside me. I also copied dialogue; harmless in print, vivid, near wicked on screen. Like how credulously Wanda asks at a dive bar if “[She] can borrow a comb,” or how promptly a patron spots her sitting alone with no money and says, “I’ll take care of this.” I scribbled stuff like “washed-up cheerleader ponytail,” “WOOLWORTH’S parking lot,” “Mabel Longhetti, Rayette Dipesto…” “pincushion top bun, hand resting on forehead as cigarette burns,” “sitting in back of empty bus,” “sits with knees up at movie theater,” “follows instructions!!!” Soon after, I wrote about the film and Loden, and her marriage to Elia Kazan for This Recording.

At least twice a month this year I watched the same YouTube clip: a 1974 episode of the Dick Cavett Show with guest Lucille Ball. Cavett’s hair looks two days short of a haircut and Lucille is wrapped in a brown Muppet-trimmed jacket. Her legs are crossed away from him, impassive as if sitting at a coffee shop one table over. She turns her torso only slightly to answer his questions, as if saying, “Why are you talking to me?” It’s incredible. But when Cavett recalls the time a Marx brother appeared on her show, Lucille melts. Her eyes roll back as she says his name—“Haaaaaarpo." Pure piety. As Dick sets up the clip, Lucille falls back into her sad clown state, burrowing in her feathers, only to jump at any chance to honor her friend; a "darling man." Mimicking the famous mirror scene in Duck Soup, Lucy, dressed as Harpo, surprises him and matches his every move. Two Harpos. Two distressed top-hats. Two bulb horns. Out-and-out laughs. My face gets mangled with cheer each time.

Mia Hansen-Løve makes moments on screen that I'd like to elope with. Her 2009 feature, Le père de mes enfants, plucks ornament from the everyday—the way three daughters occupy adult spaces, a father's unexpected helplessness, adolescent agonies, a parent's things—and her follow-up, Un amour de jeunesse, kindly plots the elaborate confusion and spectacle of first love and teenage heartbreak. It screened once at IFC and I made sure to see it.

Teenagers, especially French girls, are terrifically soulful characters. Like Sandrine Bonnaire's Suzanne or Virginie Ledoyen as Christine in L'eau Froide, they are rash, sneaky, jumpy, and dip into dark bouts of misery or big dopey loves. Hansen-Løve (who too, looks eternally adolescent and slightly anonymous like a face in a found passport photo) perfectly maneuvers teenage girl unrest. Tethered to a boy who leaves her, Camille (Lola Creton) undergoes grueling grief—inexplicably endless when we're young. But before that—and what Hansen-Løve does so well—Romance is breathless, braless, a series of grand gestures and promises that bank on time never ticking. In one scene, Camille and Sullivan are in the country experiencing an afternoon cold war; she upstairs in bed moping, he outside, somewhere. He returns with food and cooks dinner for the two of them. Later, Camille stumbles downstairs and slides into her chair. She has one bite before slowly crawling across the table's bench which separates them and nudges her head into his neck. All is forgotten, for now. The audience knows that this brief moment of peace is bittersweet and that we cannot will it to last longer.

And finally, here are bits from a November 1993 PREMIERE piece, She’s Done Everything (except direct) by Rachel Abramowitz, about Polly Platt, a woman I truly admire. When she died on July 27th, I read everything I could find on her life.

"Tonight she seems quite ebullient, charged up by her recent discovery of two young filmmakers from Texas… Bottle Rocket makes her giddy….'If I were young, I’d give up everything -boyfriend, home- and go to Texas and beg these guys to let me work on their movie.'

"Still, when her ex-husband picks up, all her expansiveness vanishes. She seems to contract into an almost fetal position. Her voice becomes tight, careful. The conversation has a ritualistic quality: all the habits of intimacy, but no longer the trust. She treats him as if he were fragile, thanking him for the flowers he sent her, babying him with the good buzz she’s heard about his latest venture. She tells him about Bottle Rocket. 'It’s in Texas and there’s no Larry McMurtry, but it has a bit of the feel of The Last Picture Show, she says. She asks him to talk to PREMIERE about her. He refuses. 'I’ve been talking all these fucking years about you!' she erupts."


"One year later, they packed their meager belongings into a car, along with Platt’s one-eyed dog, Puppy, and set out for L.A., where they soon befriended the auteurs they worshiped. One night, Howard Hawks took the pair out for dinner, along with a beautiful young starlet from Rio Lobo named Sherry Lansing. Toward the end of the meal, Lansing decided to visit the ladies’ room. 'She stood up, and she was gorgeous. And I was not,' says Platt. 'Peter and Howard watched her. She walked to the bathroom, and I remember having Howard on my right and Peter on my left, and their eyes were following her.' As Lansing disappeared from view, Platt recalls, Hawks leaned across her and said, ‘Peter, now that is the kind of girl that you should be with.’ I remember thinking, It’s like I don’t exist.'"

"One summer while the children were with Bogdanovich, Platt drank seventeen cases of beer and wrote Pretty Baby."

"After sending other emissaries, Brooks asked her personally to produce Broadcast News, which she did. Her all-around dedication to the project renewed her legend for telling detail. Brooks had wanted Broadcast News’ key color to be red; now he was shooting the schoolyard scene where the young Aaron is getting beaten up. He looked up and saw the woman who fifteen years ago had removed the E from a TEXACO sign; she was down on her knees, painting a red accent line on a staircase. 'If you were putting together a baseball team, this is the person you’d kill for,' says Albert Brooks, who played the adult Aaron. 'She can play any position. She can hit; she can pitch.'"

"'There are times when I hear Jim talk that I experience something that is so much worse than the jealousy that I felt toward Cybill. I am so envious of his ability to think and express himself that I think I’m going to die. I totally identify with Salieri [in Amadeus], because when he picks up Mozart’s music and starts talking about how brilliant it is, I feel like that’s me. But I don’t have any desire to destroy Jim or Peter or anybody.'"


Durga Chew-Bose is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and tumbls here.

BANG BANG: Jennifer K. Stewart

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

Breaking by Jennifer K Stewart

Even though television serials are the right medium with which to tell immersive character stories, it is still a pretty rare thing to see a show that isn’t primarily plot-driven.  What I mean is that our usual (pedestrian mainstream) experience in front of the screen is to be very quickly clued into certain archetypical/idealized characters, so that we may watch said characters react to a series of events (loosely, ‘plot’).  Nothing explains this better than the Hangover movies, where the whole point is to watch oh-so-subtly differentiated dudes responding to outrageous events.  Note that Hangover’s reverse chronology is just the ideal cinematic contrivance for getting the audience to salivate in anticipation of immanent character reactions.  We want to see that guy being that guy, etc.

And really, I shouldn’t be smug or cynical, because at the very least, all these structural conventions (i.e. beginning the film at its chronological end) are interesting, if only insofar as they get allied to other generic conventions (the dude movie, etc.)  Film itself mentors us into reading character and personality as popular film conventions have conceived them.  A show begins by showing us just enough characterization to clarify precisely what the character will experience and exactly how s/he will and will not change (ex: The Godfather trilogy), so that we may watch a certain stability of who they truly are prevail through all happenstance/fantastical events.  This film shorthand for characterization is itself highly formulaic, though it can still be interesting or even original – think of how There Will Be Blood showed you who Daniel Plainview is through his incredibly tense and impatient dealings with Paul/Eli Sunday.  The innovation being that Plainview was too horrifying to be legibly revealed all at once, and his character so graphically linked with the confusion of blood and oil (insights for another essay never written, alas). 

Motor skills

Anyhow, that this kind of storytelling continues to prevail – namely, 1. introduction of characters  2. embroil characters in plot machine so we can see them being themselves OR turning inevitably into who we suspect they are to be – is easily explained by how much we enjoy watching eccentric, essentialized, and/or idealized personalities undergo life and its passions. 

The past couple years, I’ve been thinking about how the advent of great serial television series has allowed groundbreaks from this tradition.  Pretty simply, serials have the requisite time in which to do so.  Even a film trilogy has such limited space within which to upset the normal character/plot formula.  This is because most of the disruptive work requires defamiliarizing who it was you thought was on screen, and a two-hour film simply hasn’t the time to lay groundwork.  Imagine trying to make a Breaking Bad movie capable of showing any of the central characters (Skyler, Jessie, Gus, Walt Jr, Marie, and Hank, let alone Walter).  Disastrous. 

Breaking Bad is doing something subtle and thrilling.  Think of how cursory the ‘plot’ is – nothing just happens, all events are a precipitated by complex backmoves and antecedents between combinations of characters, and virtually all of these on-the-fly miracles of impulse in the face of struggle and resistance from others.  Even Walt’s vainglorious inability to let Hank mistake Gale for Heisenberg owes to the same uncertainty principle (right?) as rashly swerving into traffic to keep Hank from Gus’ laundry.  If there is anything predictable about Walt, it is that he finds himself – much to his own horror – capable of unpredictability.  It is neither characteristic nor uncharacteristic, and this is what the show has been demonstrating from the start.  Consider Walt’s tortured and circumambulating dispensing of Krazy-8 in the early episodes of Season One.  Attempting to, oh, rationally persuade himself to murder the drug dealer bike-locked by the neck in Jessie’s basement, Walt composes a pro versus con list whilst sitting on the toilet.  But it took a sandwhich, a fall down the stairs, and a shattered plate shard in Walt’s leg; committed decision not being enough, he needed a chance for reactive adrenaline.  

Note how Skyler’s resolve against Walt was at first backed by steadfast principle, only to then just wear away.  She seizes upon the delusion that good (paying for Hank’s rehabilitation) justifies the means.  Welcomes it even, so that the war of attrition is over and she need no longer resist.  On any other show, once established that her character stood for any principled stance, there’d be no need to show any more of her.  Instead, she breaks, just like everyone else on Breaking Bad

By the end of 2011’s fourth season, we can see Walt’s now refined ability to premeditate complex manipulations on equal par with Gus.  Yet recall the heartbreaking scene between Walt and his son in S04E10, “Salud.”  It’s the morning after Walt and Jessie’s physical fight.  Junior’s calling and buzzing as Walt, disorientated, medicated, beaten, pulls back a sheet stuck to his face with dried blood.  The shroud comes away for a few precious minutes and Junior sees his dad unguarded.  At first Walt sticks to the story – “don’t tell your mother, I was gambling, can we just keep this between us?” – but when Junior asks who did you get into a fight with that’s the end of Walt’s posturing.  Walt sees Jessie where Junior is; the possibility of relief, forgiveness.  But as sobriety dawns Walt takes it all back and the layers of blood-caked cover go back on.  Now Walt asks Junior not for connection and forgiveness, but to promise to not take that unshrouded image as defining; the way the “empty spray-paint can” imagine of his rasping father dying of Huntington’s disease, is Walt’s only “real memory” of his father. 

W:  “I don’t want that to be your memory of me when I’m gone.” 
Jr:  “Remembering you that way wouldn’t be so bad.  The bad way to remember you would be the way you’ve been this whole last year.  At least last night, you were real.  Y’know?”

Walt is confusing the revelation of nothing beneath the shroud with emptiness.  RJ Mitte kinda steals this scene, and Walt junior is now the character to watch in Season Five…

p.s. Jessie.  No one’s been broken more than Jessie, in ways he has yet to fully discover.


Jennifer K Stewart is a philosopher and yoga instructor living in Canada. She believes in the body.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BANG BANG: Akiva Gottlieb

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

by Akiva Gottlieb

The movie I most wanted to evangelize for all year—at least before Margaret started kicking down doors—was usually synopsized in embarrassing fashion. Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry, in prose courtesy of IMDb: “A sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class.” Yes, every word of this heartwarming short story is technically accurate, but the implied causality is almost willfully misleading. In actuality, her discovery of the heinous crime is sublimated, her awareness of her Alzheimer’s is either denied or forgotten, and if she finds strength and purpose when enrolling in a poetry class, it’s not the result of anything she learns there.

The perverse irony of this unpredictable, quietly devastating film is Lee’s framing of his protagonist’s terminal illness as less of an impediment than an enabler—it causes her to forget, but just as crucially gives her license to walk away from trauma. Poetry’s most resonant mysteries pivot upon the impossibility of knowing the difference between a selective memory and a faulty one.

Lee’s film is an object lesson in everyday escapism, and if he never indicts the movies as our favorite emotional management tool, he probably expects we’d repress that knowledge anyway. Poetry draws a precise visual map of those other places we hide from what we don’t want to know—behind locked doors, under the covers, in the shower, in a karaoke bar, in a poem—and the negotiations we’re willing to make with ourselves and others to keep an ugly truth from coming to light. This is not a chronicle of disease and triumph, or finding one’s voice, but a testimonial to compartments and evasions. Poetry’s poetry lessons allegorize the process of emotional disengagement as a method of scaling back, limiting one’s scope, concentrating. To repress one memory might just be way of focusing more intensely on another. A debilitating illness is a tragedy, but Poetry discovers a state of grace—or at least a deferral of inevitabilities—in being lost for words.


Akiva Gottlieb writes about film for The Nation, but does not write poetry. He lives in Michigan.

BANG BANG: Eric Freeman

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

Things I Found Interesting in Things I Saw This Year by Eric Freeman

A Brighter Summer Day (dir. Edward Yang): I saw this in January at a mostly empty screening with no intermission in Berkeley, and it’s still probably the best thing I’ve seen all year, old or new. Read Rosenbaum's longer piece if you want more comprehensive breakdown. I’ll just note that what strikes me about ABSD (and Yi Yi, as well) is that the epic scope follows not from stunning natural vistas or loud pronouncements of import, as we’ve come to expect from the medium, but finding an interesting situation and treating the context and its characters with complete respect and as much depth as necessary. It’s an epic because it’s so true to the way people relate to one another.

World on a Wire (dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder): If ABSD is the best movie I saw this year, then this one has proven to have fascinated me the most. It was my first Fassbinder, and since then I’ve steadily run through a good chunk of his career. One thing I love about this one, apart from the “what if we shot through four panes of glass?” aesthetic, is how RWF sets up shots where a pan finishes in a hilariously overdetermined setup. It’s the movie in microcosm: things may appear free-flowing, but everything has been decided already.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin): A disappointment even as I enjoyed it, if only because it’s so easy to see how it could be better. While the structure is indeed very clever, many of the match cuts fall flat because it’s immediately when and where the scenes take place. As the last shot proves, Durkin wants the audience to identify with Martha’s displacement, yet continually keeps her at remove. Which is all a way of saying that the film needs more moments of actual ambiguity, like the several shots of Martha walking through a dark hall, when it’s unclear where she is until she ends up in a room she herself might not have expected to enter.

Certified Copy (dir. Abbas Kiarostami): Ryland thinks this film is fundamentally a work of criticism, and I mostly agree with that statement. But I also think it comes across as more dismissive than it should, because in this case the criticism gets at important points about how relationships change over time, the value of authenticity in everything from art to interactions, and all sorts of other deep philosophical questions that we tend not to consider on a daily basis. So, yes, it’s criticism, but also proof that criticism isn’t really about the thing it directly addresses, but deeper conceptions and feelings about how people relate to the world around them.

Mildred Pierce (dir. Todd Haynes): It’s no surprise that a director who regularly gets great performances from actresses does so well with Kate Winslet, who plays this role as a mix of her usual technical strength and the rare looseness usually lacking in her most awarded work. What’s less expected is that Evan Rachel Wood acquits herself so well. Veda can easily come off as a monster, but Wood instills her with enough relatable pride to seem human. Her best moment (and also the one that will make me seem particularly pervy for noting) comes when, directly after Mildred finds out about the affair with Monty, Veda gets out of bed fully naked, struts over to her vanity, and regards herself in the mirror, all as a sort of victory celebration after embarrassing her mother. It’s a triumphant moment for the character, the point at which she believes to have finally proven herself as a dominant woman. For different reasons, the scene makes the same case for the actress.

Drive (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn): I’m of the camp that takes this movie as a massive spastic fuckup, mostly because NWR has no idea what he was trying to do and not for some difficulty in melding tones and styles. But there are some delightful moments of clarity, especially the opening set-piece and the various music videos (not like music videos) that distill the latent emotions of the piece into perfect pairings of image and sound. For all the talk of Drive as an arthouse action movie, the best parts are almost always the most overtly commercial.

Rango (dir. Gore Verbinski): It’s become standard in some circles to say that the home-viewing experience is almost as good as the theater these days, but Rango is the first movie that ever made me think it could be true. I loved the movie in March, mostly for its gag-a-minute pace, but I don’t think I fully appreciate the visual dazzle until I saw it on the very excellent Blu-Ray transfer on a reasonably-sized TV. Multiplex projection standards are so poor that, for a detail-driven, wide-audience movie like this one, it’s almost preferable to watch it on a couch.

Bridesmaids (dir. Paul Feig): As the thinkpieces all said, an important step forward for the status of women in Hollywood comedies. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a sad commentary on exactly what those Hollywood comedies entail. Almost all the best parts are moments of emotional discord between Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph or throwaway lines from the amazing Melissa McCarthy -- the worst are the zany, insert-setpiece-here laugh-generators that could have been ported in from any Apatowville (or, worse yet, Farrelly Bros) creation. Turn this into a movie about adult friendship with regular laughs, and it might have felt a little more true to its characters. Instead, it’s all too familiar.

Enlightened (created by Mike White and Laura Dern): This HBO series isn’t especially cinematic, but it deserves mention on this list for Laura Dern’s performance as Amy Jellicoe, in my opinion the best acting work of the year. It’s easy to caricature Amy—the pilot arguably does it too often—as a hypocritical woman who believes herself to have found inner peace when she falls victim to the same sort of jealousies and grudges she did before getting a few weeks of new-age counseling. In Dern’s hands, however, Amy is fascinatingly complicated, oblivious enough to peacock a new friend in front of past confidants but introspective enough to acknowledge that pettiness a few hours later. In a TV landscape heavy on melodrama, Enlightened stands out as a series about the everyday difficulties of trying to be a better person in a world that tends to incentivize the opposite behavior. It’s about self-awareness and emotional processes, and those battles register on Dern’s face as often as they manifest in an external conflict.


Eric Freeman writes regularly about sports at The Classical and Ball Don’t Lie, and intermittently elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @freemaneric.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BANG BANG: Matthew Flanagan

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

by Matthew Flanagan

I seem to be roughly a year behind with everything at the moment, so will have to shirk the brief here and recall films I saw in and from 2010 instead. Perhaps that’s best: reflecting on a year too soon tends not to leave enough time for its patterns and convergences to emerge, if they are to. A few neat couplings from 2010: films about the sea and its displacement of capital (trade and gold) — The Forgotten Space, Film socialisme; gentle forest fictions — Yuki & Nina, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; the past and present of American cities — Get Out of the Car!, Cold Weather; sharp, lucid digital films, shot for love and little money — Saskia Gruyaert, Raya Martin, Antoine Thirion’s Tales & Gina Telaroli’s A Little Death; and, loosely, Daïchi Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis & Richard Skelton’s LP Landings. There were other films of note — Thomas Arslan’s In the Shadows, Sharon Lockhart’s Double Tide, Jean-Claude Rousseau’s Festival, Nathaniel Dorsky’s sublime Compline & Aubade — but, in all, two favourites: Liu Jiayin’s 607 and Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins.

Liu’s Oxhide II (2009) is, in its small way, an extraordinary structural film, but I think I like the lesser-known 607 more. It’s an ostensibly minimalist work: a single, 16-minute shot (followed by three brief dissolves) of clear water in a wooden bathtub: a quiet, almost serene, space, just theatrical enough. The actors are Liu’s hands and those of her mother and father, a porcelain fish, a few bobbing mushrooms and the disruptions of the water line. That’s all. The hands tease and hook each other, and it seems most movements exist for their sound: ripples breaking and bubbles tearing the surface. A minor, playful film, and the most pleasurable of recent memory.

Robinson in Ruins was first screened here in the UK at LFF on the 19th and 21st of October, the days immediately before and after what was probably the year’s defining domestic event: the announcement of the CSR, a structural adjustment programme aimed at permanently altering the role of the welfare state in British society. Keiller’s film was shot between January and November of 2008, documenting that year’s financial crisis before the cost of its systemic collapse was transformed into the class project of austerity. Its study of mostly agrarian, bucolic spaces — connected by a network of military bases, oil pipelines and sites of social unrest — questions, laterally, the autonomy of our landscape by way of a biophilic inventory of flowers, plants, trees and a few animals. With this shift in focus, Robinson in Ruins leaves behind the urban and (increasingly invisible) sites of industrial activity in London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997), and that geography is remapped instead in Owen Hatherley’s superb book A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, published concurrently. Hatherley’s book is a more pointed analysis of the abject failure of the neoliberal project, and together with Robinson in Ruins offers a vital base to reflect on the point of transition at which we find ourselves: wondering whether the CSR signals a permanent reentrenchment of neoliberalism amidst crisis (seemingly, its natural state), or whether the strain of underwriting its collapse will prove too much for the vestiges of democratic capitalism to bear. This year, we’ve watched as the locus of what began to unravel in 2008 has shifted from the US, via the UK, to the most intertwined states of Europe, and it’s likely one particular sequence from 2011 could prove prophetic: the end of Christoph Hochhausler’s high-finance art movie The City Below and its hushed final retreat: “…it’s begun.” Hatherley’s book ends its dérive in Liverpool amidst one of the most striking visible corpses of the Blairite redevelopment project: the few lonely cultural and residential substitutes for deindustrialisation at the heart of its docks, the thinnest of economic and social hopes. We visited Liverpool on the second to last day of 2010, and, picking out some lights on the other side of the Mersey, the immediate future looked pretty bleak. This year, it’s bleaker still.


Matthew Flanagan lives in the UK and blogs sometimes at his blog.

BANG BANG: Dave McDougall

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

Selected 2011 discoveries, briefly noted and across various media by Dave McDougall.


Homeland —— the characters on this show run deep; their history and demons are as much a driver as the twists of plot. Which certainly helps Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis and Morena Baccarin act their asses off. Allegiances don't shift as much as they are gradually revealed; even though the audience isn't only in the headspace of Danes' rebellious CIA agent, everything is filtered through the line between the watchers and the suspects, and the further into each world we're given access, the more complicated the line between terrorist and hero. This isn't a war of ideas as much as a war between wounded people who've sided with ideas, and those wounds are what drive both the terrorists and those trying to stop them. This week's showstopping season finale toyed with heavy political and personal dénouement and teased an even greater moral complexity to come. If there's a better show on television right now, I'd like to see it. 

The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry, 2011) —— A masterpiece, a perfect screwball comedy, and a vicious, misanthropic, prickly little thing. What Ignatiy said, and then some.

And two other filmic masterpieces-to-be-named-later that also tackle communication (and shared histories) between men and women, on which I'll have more to say in the Mubi year-end roundup.


Governments toppled, not by social media but by people going to the streets to battle for their due. But the dynamics of open source protest and new media communication flows were a big part of why this was the year that kicked off an #ArabSpring, an indignado movement, a global coalition of #Occupy protests. It's not just coordination of protests but the ability for knowledge flows to reveal the silent political preferences of a people, and to rally supporters to the cause. None of these movements were created by the emergence of social media -- all grew out of previous organization by activists on the ground, over years and decade -- but it's hard to deny that these movements could only coalesce through communication, and that new forms of one-to-many communication smooth the friction of reaching out to wide audiences. 


As the 2008 financial crisis has shifted to become a crisis of solvency and liquidity in the Eurozone, the economic intelligence of the left-ish political blogotwittersphere rises almost as fast as events shift; but the key insight is that, unlike the people-powered movements and revolutions mentioned above, is that the fate of all of our economic lives still hangs in the balance of deals to be cut in back rooms by power brokers. Which, as those same movements will attest, is the opposite of democracy. If the revolutions of Egypt or Libya or Tunisia (or Syria or Bahrain or Yemen, if you're looking for revolutions-in-the-making) were best revealed by the participants themselves in 140 characters (or 140 character updates, compiled), then the stories of our economic dilemmas have been best told by those savvy enough to get to the bottom of capital flows and reveal these inner workings via blogs, articles, and interviews, whose links were embedded in 140-character updates themselves. Information, in all its forms -- pictures, videos, charts, analysis, stories from the front lines -- move and flicker and flow just the ways frames do in the cinema. For me, these were a few of the sources that made the leap to essential in 2011, from the MENA uprisings to the Econopocalyse and the social movements pushing back:


Among all the books and blogs and analysis, an epic cornerstone of how to even begin to think of how we got here — David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years

David McDougall is a writer, filmmaker, and media strategist based in London and Los Angeles. He's got blogs and films and words in various places, some of them on the internet. He twitters here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

BANG BANG: Julian Tran and Cuyler Ballenger

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

Julian Tran and Cuyler Ballenger Present: Crime

Netflix doubled our monthly fee this year. What a crime. Here are the best crime movies we saw on Netflix this year.

1. Carlos (Mini-Series), 2010, Olivier Assayas. Carlos is an interesting movie because the entire six hours is comprised of five repeating scenes: Cars driving up to a place; Johnny Walker Red being consumed; Shooting into a ceiling with an automatic weapon; Deboarding planes; The Cure. Because of, not despite, this simplicity, Carlos is irresistible, like (see picture). Don’t let the six hour running time dissuade you – Assayas burns through scenes with the naïve recklessness of a true Marxist. In a good way.

2. The Robber (Der Räuber), 2010, Benjamin Heissenberg. Further proof that rich people run. Madoff probably ran 5 miles, 5 days a week, before going into the office and robbing half the eastern seaboard. The Robber runs before and after his job. He also amasses a sizeable fortune, although his main asset is physical endurance. Unfortunately, even the best marathon runners tire and shit themselves, which is probably exactly what Madoff is doing these days.

3. Army of Shadows (L'armée des ombres), 1969, Jean-Pierre Melville. Not a crime movie exactly, unless you count Nazis as criminals, which basically nobody does anymore. Vive la Résistance.

4. Body Heat, 1981, Lawrence Kasdan. Body Heat is about a lawyer played by William Hurt who has an affair with the wife of a wealthy businessman. He is quickly ensnared in a plot to kill her husband. See, lawyers are people too. It’s the single largest act of betrayal perpetrated in Miami-Dade county pre-Lebron James. And the sex. Oh, the sex. It’s so inappropriately graphic, it’s like watching your parents do it. Great performances by Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Ted Danson, and Kasdan captures the fetid, damp rot of south Florida perfectly, which is fortunate, as I personally have no desire to visit.

5. Revanche, 2008, Götz Spielmann. We all know one of the dumbest crimes is trying to turn a Ho into a Housewife. Thankfully, Revanche knows this too. By killing off the female lead, the film is allowed to move onto more interesting relationships, like that of an aging father and his wayward son. Alex (played by Johannes Krisch) contemplates revenge numerous times: against his lover’s killer (gun), against his own father (Oedipal), and against many logs of firewood (axe) but manages to find a sort of redemption.

6. VOICEOVER: The Only Thing More Dangerous Than a Bartender Serving You Drinks is One That’s Feeding You LIES. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a 1973 Film by Peter Yates.

[cut to: A MASKED MAN FIRING A SHOTGUN. The screen goes black.]

V.O. (CONT’D): With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies.

[title: NOW PLAYING.]


Julian Tran and Cuyler Ballenger are writers living in New York. But they're friends, just like California. Julian can be found here and Cuyler writes at

BANG BANG: Adam Hartzell

BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.

by Adam Hartzell

I spend most of my time watching movies out of sync with my time and place. Since I prefer cinema from elsewhere, only one U.S. film makes my Top Ten, though it does make the top spot. Work and financial constraints keep me from traveling abroad for film festival premieres, which means I have to wait until they make it here to San Francisco. So my Top Ten lists usually say something about my cosmopolitan dreams that are anchored awake by my restricted finances and mobility. But here are 10 films which were released this year, or made their way to Bay Area festivals in 2011, about which I have found myself still ruminating in a positive way since they shined their light and heat on my eyes.
10. Passion (Khusel Shunal) (Byamba Sakhya, 2010, Mongolia) I knew nothing about Mongolian cinema until this documentary about said cinema, told through a lonely road movie, found its way into the program of this year's San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival. Now I want to know more, which is ironic since the film presents a pessimistic view of Mongolian cinema's future. But it's at least caught the fascination of one viewer even more isolated from this nation's cinema than the Mongolian residents portrayed in the documentary.

9. Aurélie Laflamme's Diary (Christian Laurence, 2010, Canada) A French language film from Quebec that was part of the NY/SF International Children's Film Festival that ran from October 21-23 at Viz Cinema, it ended up winning an audience award. I would have voted for it as well, had I seen it in the theater along with that awarding audience rather than on DVD for an overview I wrote on the festival. It's a teen film that doesn't have to throw an American-Pie in our faces thinking that will entertain the kids and kidults. Marianne Verville is a refreshing presence in the lead role, allowed to be awkward in what is an awkward time of our lives. Plus, although she gets the boy the genre demands, she isn't swan-ed away from her duckling beginnings.

8. The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2011, United Kingdom) I am still laughing about the scene where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are riffing on announcing the inexact time of an ancient battle. Adding to this comedic pleasure was that I got to laugh at this scene along with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time whom I randomly ran into in the lobby of The Bridge theatre before the screening. It was a nice day in the Richmond neighborhood thanks to the run-ins such local establishments afford.

7. Oki's Movie (Hong Sang-soo, 2010, South Korea) I got to see three of my favorite director’s films for the first time this year. (The others were Ha Ha Ha on DVD because I couldn't make the screenings at the San Francisco International Film Festival and The Day He Arrives on screen at the Starz Denver Film Festival in mid-November with the proprietor of the Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee blog, Peter Nellhaus.) Thanks to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, I was able to watch Oki's Movie in the theatre in late June after having already seen it on DVD to prepare a piece for sf360. I'm biased in that I always find something to ruminate on endlessly in a Hong film (even with my least favorite, Woman Is the Future of Man). But Oki's Movie seems to have won over those who haven't been fans of his work. I think a big reason is the auditioning of men in Oki's movie nested within "Oki's Movie" that Andrew Tracy expertly analyzes in the Fall 2010 issue of Cinema Scope magazine.

6. The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (Leanne Pooley, 2009, New Zealand) Finally getting the theatre release it deserved, The Topp Twins graced our local screens outside of the film festivals that started the momentum (Frameline in 2010 and Mostly British in 2011). I own the DVD and saw the film in the theatre three times, once each at those festivals and once in Berkeley at Shattuck Cinemas with my cousin when it was released. Even after all these screenings, I'm still moved by how much major moments of the lives of these yodeling, country singing lesbian twins are tied up with major political successes in New Zealand history. I am still giddy about getting to meet them for an interview for sf360, the most nervous I have ever been for an interview.

5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong, 2010, South Korea) Poetry definitively represents what I have been appreciating lately about South Korean cinema - how much it has opened up cinematic space for its senior actresses. Yun Jung-hee came out of retirement for this virtuoso performance of Lee Chang-dong's as he continues to explore the life of the outsider in South Korea. During my first draft of this brief commentary on Poetry, I went into a rant about how, if there failed to be a Best Actress nom nod to Yun, the Oscars would continue to be irrelevant in my cinematic life. But after writing that draft, I went to talk with Brian Darr of Hell on Frisco Bay blog and he informed me the Los Angeles Critic Circle gave Yun their Best Actress award. As a result, I put my seething rage at the Oscars as a failed institution back into its cage to be unleashed some other day.

4. The Salesman (Sébastian Pilote, 2011, Canada) I am someone upon whom car commercials fail to make the intended impact. I don't desire the products they advertise. And I don't buy into the false sense of freedom the commercials purport to symbolize. (The streets are usually much more crowded than as portrayed in the commercials and buying a car shackles you with debt, high gas prices, and vast acres of asphalt requirements for roads and parking.) That said, I'm primed to appreciate the tragedy in The Salesman, a perfect example of a genre I'm calling 'Post Peak Oil Cinema', where the life of a successful car salesman is turned on its head by the very products he sells so successfully. The Salesman is a sad, sad film that doesn't pummel you but rather slowly piles upon you like the snow that surrounds this little Quebec town.

3. The Life of Fish (Matías Bize, 2010, Chile) My wife and I caught this film during our yearly Caltrain trip to Cinequest in San Jose because it fit with our schedule and it's one of those happy accident, eeny-meeny-miney-mo(e)ments where you select a film with no real sense of what you are getting yourself into and you realize the programmers have made an excellent choice for you. In this film, we travel through a party held in a single house as our main character relives his younger self through his memories and those of others. Simple, poignant, and delightful.

2. Nostalgia for the Light (Patrico Guzmán, 2010, France/Chile/Germany) This was a truly amazing film I saw in the Dolby screening room as part of the press screenings for the San Francisco International Film Festival this year. Guzmán’s pairing of professional astronomers with amateur archaeologists works on so many levels. Even though the archaeologists are searching for the remains of family members killed by their own government, somehow, in spite of all this, Guzmán leaves us with tremendous hope for humanity.

1. Deaf Jam (Judy Lieff, 2011, USA) I have not had the experience with a film for a long time like I had with Lieff’s documentary about high school Deaf poets venturing out into the venues of a (hearing) poetry slam. Cinema transfixed me again at the Mill Valley Film Festival like it did the first time I could not stopping about the impact a film had on me. Lieff captures the vibrancy of American Sign Language through several tactics of translation. Her willingness to mess with the text of subtitling the poems in the opening sequence is mesmerizing. At the same time, she even took the risk not to translate the ASL later in the film and it is just as powerful sans subtitles. Mixed in with this story of the life of young Deaf folk is a story about the struggles of immigrant children whose parents’ citizenship comes after they enter adulthood and a friendship between a young Israeli Jew and Palestinian Muslim. Lieff and the subjects of her documentary show us how ASL is as perfect a language of cinema as any other, leaving you hoping Lieff and the students she films don’t stop here. We need these stories. We need this kind of active, engaged cinema.


Adam Hartzell is totally bummed that is no longer publishing because he had a blast writing for them for three years. He continues to write for Brian Darr's San Francisco film blog, Hell on Frisco Bay, and the premier English language website on South Korean cinema, He began this year as a guest on an episode of the VCinema podcast where he discussed the original version and the recent re-visioning of the South Korean classic The Housemaid (MP3). He has had a few magazine pieces in Kyoto Journal, a chapter on The Power of Kangwon Province for The Cinema of Japan and Korea (Wallflower Press), and next year he will have a bunch of essays in the upcoming publication of World Directory of Cinema: Korea (Intellect, Ltd.).