Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spy in Our Midst

Shadow Dancer (2013) - Marsh
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Shifting loyalties regarding family, cause and country are the basis for Shadow Dancer, a sensitive and affecting new political thriller from director James Marsh (Man on Wire, Red Riding: 1980). It boasts a great ensemble cast that includes Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Domhnall Gleeson and a relative newcomer, Andrea Riseborough in the central role. 

Soon after witnessing a senseless family tragedy in 1973 in the Occupied Northern Ireland, we are transported to 1998 London, where a sullen Republican member, Collette (Riseborough) reluctantly disposes a bomb in the tube station stairways. Then, she is swiftly scooped up by two ready MI5 agents and delivered to an interrogation room. The whole wordless botched bombing attempt and following apprehension sequences are tense and swift. There, Collette is given an ultimatum by an MI5 officer Mac (Clive Owen): become an informant in her own community and her family or lose everything and go to jail for 25 years. Fearing her young son's fate with the prospect of her being locked up, and after Mac's pledge to become a protector of her and her son from any harm, she accepts being a mole in her radical IRA household.

Back home, with the news of The Good Friday Agreement between the elite Republicans and the British Government looming, Collette's brothers, who belong to a more radical faction of the IRA and are frustrated by nimble politicians, plan an assassination of a high level judge. Collette, being under suspicion from the Republican higher-ups and radicals alike after her supposed unscathed escape from British authorities, is once again pushed into taking part in the terror act. Her absolute last minute phone call to Mac results in the death of her brother's colleague and the failure of their plan. The pressure and suspicions mount. Not wanting to harm anyone by her spying activity, Collette wants out, but Mac's boss Fletcher (Gillian Anderson) won't have any of it. Furthermore, she is willing to give Collette to the dogs when push comes to shove. "There are other informants," she coldly declares to concerned Mac.

Even though it's a classic 'pawn in their game' film, with its deliberate pacing and mood, Shadow Dancer never stays too far from its characters. Handsomely shot in grainy, anamorphic widescreen by Rob Hardy (Boy A, Red Riding: 1974, The Forgiveness of Blood, Inni), the camera often lingers on Collette and Mac's anxiety-ridden faces in close-ups. Working from his own novel of the same name, Tom Bradby's script beautifully sketches out sympathetic characters and their dilemmas without ever being sentimental, all the while pointing out the ugly circumstances brought on by years of systematic humiliation.

Not only is Riseborough fantastic as our morally tangled heroine, always dependable Owen also gives a fine tuned performance as an MI5 officer trying to do right by his subject. Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter series) turns gritty as Collette's militant younger brother. Most surprising is Gillian Anderson in a small but meaty role. Her double dealing MI5 commanding officer, Kate Fletcher, is an imposing presence in every frame she's in. Ever since re-relocating to London, Anderson is having a sort of renaissance of her career all across the pond - after her critically acclaimed performances in BBC's Bleak House and Great Expectations, she currently stars in an Irish TV series The Fall and NBC's Hannibal. Anderson's beauty is well utilized by Marsh here as a source of intimidation.

I see this film as a perfect antidote for often faceless, visceral filmmaking that has become the standard for today's action thrillers, which I call the 'Paul Greengrass school of filmmaking.' Shadow Dancer is understated, classy, solid filmmaking with intelligence and soul.

Party Like It's 2001

Millenium Mambo (2001) - HouImage
Gorgeous, just gorgeous. With mangled timelines and sporadic and repetitive voiceovers, the film focuses on a beautiful wayward youth Vicky (Shu Qi). She is in a sadomasochistic bind with controlling Hao Hao (Tuan Chun-Hao), breaking up and going back to him many times. While working as a bar hostess, she meets Jack (Jack Kao), an older gangster type who takes her under his wing. I loved the scenes shot in snowy Hokkaido where Vicky loses herself to her surroundings. Colors, compositions, all amazing. With Hou, it's all touch and go for me. I adored Cafe Lumiere, Goodbye South Goodbye but meh about Flight of the Red Balloon. Mambo really clicked with me. And like with all Hou, the film, the characters are in love with its past. It's a 2001 movie told in 2011 being nostalgic about 2001! A free flowing, beautiful film.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Streaming Lives

Love Streams (1984) - CassavetesImage
Sarah (Gena Rowlands) is going through a horrible divorce. Her husband (Seymour Cassel) and their daughter don't want anything to do with her. She is not stable enough. For her, love never stops, it's a continuous stream. Then there is her brother Robert Harmon (John Cassavetes), a famous writer whose life is soaked with booze and one-nighters. They both are impulsive, nutty mess: they make rash decisions thinking as if they are the most logical solutions which always lead them into disasters. My favorite scenes with Harmon are the ones where hits up with a pretty lounge singer, insists on driving her home in her car while drunk, crashes her car and ends up chatting up with her mother, and where he gives his 8 year old son (of whom he hasn't seen since his birth) beer to drink and leaves him alone all night in a Vegas hotel. Sarah is just as crazy. She thinks her brother needs something to love in his life, something fuzzy and cuddly, so she goes to animal shelter and brings in the whole zoo into his LA house- two miniature horses, a hen and a dozen chicks, ducks, a goat and a dog. Harmon obviously is in no shape himself to take care of his nutty sister, but insists that she stays with him. But she is dead set on reuniting with her estranged family who doesn't love her any longer.

Cassavetes's world of the lives of mental, emotional wrecks is often funny and poignant precisely because of the character's complete lack of self-awareness. Both Rowlands and Cassavetes are amazing in this funny and sad film.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dirty Old Man

Comedia de Deus/God's Comedy (1995) - MonteiroImage
João César Monteiro's God's Comedy is perhaps the epitome of 'a dirty old man movie'. Monteiro himself plays a João de Deus, a well dressed, studious old bachelor who works at an ice cream parlor, making such fabulous concoction as Paraíso and others. He only hires beautiful young girls to work there, emphasizing on maintaining impeccable personal hygiene. As the movie plays out, we get to learn his weird sexual kinks these girls supply him with. He collects girl's pubes with special notes in a handsome bound book named "Book of Thoughts". There is Rosarinho (Raquel Ascensão), a curly haired, luminous beauty, of whom João takes a special interest in. Then there is 14 year old Joaninha (Cláudia Teixeira), a butcher's daughter whom he gives a milk bath, with the intention of making ice cream out of that tub of milk. The thing is, with long, intriguing face, João is not in the least creepy. His actions might cause him repercussions in the form of bodily harm and unemployment, but enough wit and charm, he is no different than Woody Allen. There are many other funny in-jokes in the film- especially the João's hilarious, long winded speech at the possible joint venture celebration with a French businessman (his name is Antoine Doinel and doesn't look anything like Jean-Pierre Léaud and João mentions that).

God's Comedy is an offbeat, often funny film and it showcases the director's unique comedic style. But clocking at almost 3 hours, the film is a slog to go through. It could've easily been a deft 90 minute film.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"I Hate Irresponsible People!"

Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (1987) - Hara Image
Crazy. Kenzo Okuzaki is a dedicated man. He is a 62-year old fiery WWII vet who wouldn't stop for anything to get confessions out of his interviewees in what happened in New Guinea at the end of the war. He is the first one to tell you that he spent 13 years in prison for murdering a former army officer and taking pot shots at Emperor Hirohito. Driving around in a van with anti-war/anti-emperor slogans, armed with loud speakers, Okuzaki is one of those slightly demented, intimidating and certainly dangerous characters who you don't want to confront in real life. He hates irresponsible people and he hates Hirohito who he deems as responsible for thousands of soldier's needless death in the war.

Everyone he interviews has different versions or is holding out on the truth. After much coaxing and physical altercations, he finds out the ugly truth- how starving soldiers were resorted to cannibalism- dark meat (Natives), white meat (American soldiers) but also among themselves (troublemakers and selfish ones). For many, they just want to forget that they were ever involved in that shameful time, 40 years ago. Let the sleeping dogs lie. But for Okuzaki, confronting them and holding them accountable (with violence if necessary) is his mission in life. The postscript says he shot a son of the captain who ordered the execution of the two soldiers who were charged with desertion. Hara just lets his subject talk and act, never interfering with whatever's happening on the screen. Utterly compelling and unforgettable.

Garlic is the Spice of Life

Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980) - BlankImage
I usually keep about a half dozen bulbs of garlic in my kitchen at any given time. After watching this doc, I got curious where Koreans' love of the garlic comes from. According to wiki, Korea is the 3rd largest garlic producing country and they eat more garlic per capita than any other country. I didn't know garlic originated from central Asia.

I made this this morning- learned it from a friend from Majorca. Very satisfying meal.
Spanish Tortilla (as a breakfast or lite snack)
Prep and cooking time: 15 minutes

1 russet potato
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
4 eggs
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Cut potato in half lengthwise, then with flat side down on the cutting board, slice into 1/8" pieces. Slice onion into 1/4" pieces. Crush garlic, slice thinly. Heat a medium round frying pan on the stove in medium heat. With a bit of olive oil, fry all ingredients until potato is cooked but not burnt. In a large bowl, beat 4 eggs, pour in the fried stuff, sprinkle in some salt & pepper and mix well. Reintroduce the mixture to the pan, filling the edges with eggs. Cook about 2 minutes. Cover the pan with a large plate, walk over to the kitchen sink, flip it, then slide the tortilla back in to the pan, cook another minute or so.

Makes 4 servings or 2 depending on how hungry you are. Enjoy it with some Tabasco sauce. They go really well together.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Word Play

My Nights are More Beautiful than Your Days/Mes Nuits sont Plus Belles que Vos Jours (1989) - ZulawskiImage
Lucas (Jacques Dutronc) just invented a new computer language that will revolutionize the world. But at the same time, he is diagnosed with some terminal brain disease that is eating away his brains and leaving him only speaking in non-sensical, free-association word games. He meets a lovely actress Blanche (Sophie Marceau) who is just about to become a star. They bond as they provide narratives for a fighting old couple on the sidewalk- are they in love or drunk? It's a love at first sight. Maybe because of his illness, he clings to her as if she is the sun and she in turn, sees him as a pure soul who might provide a solace from vultures that surround her.

Blanche takes off to seaside Biarritz to perform her clairvoyant act in a glitzy casino hotel and Lucas follows her. They go through tumultuous, surreal days and nights communicating only in word play, connected by childhood trauma (which is the weakest link of the film, btw) and understanding each other in madness.

Sophie Marceau bares it all in another Andrej Zulawski's film about love. Lighter than his other emotionally charged dramas but hardly any less amusing, My Nights showcases Marceau's beauty every chance it gets. She has a difficult duty of reacting off of Dutronc's checked-out-at-the-door performance. He's like a floating target that you can't ever pin down. I've seen My Nights when I was in High School, out of horny teen boy curiosity. Marceau was really big when I was growing up. And I never bothered to look seriously at the subtitles. The version I saw just now had great subs. I wonder how the delicate word games they play in the film come across in Korean. Probably not too well.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Broken Heart

Police (1985) - PialatImage
What makes a good Policiér: a tension filled plot where criminals always get apprehended at the end? Well orchestrated shootout sequences? A stoney faced hero with macho attitude? A good moral lesson? Memorable villains? Pialat's Police has non of that. When it's all said and done, it's about a broken heart. Then why is it infinitely more watchable?

Gerard Depardieu plays a tough veteran detective Mangin in a busy police district in Paris. He apprehends a couple (Simon and Noria) who are suspected in drug trafficking after a tip from a source. After grueling interrogation, Noria (Sophie Marceau) is released but not Simon. Now his brothers are getting antsy. With a pretty superintendent trainee in tow, Mangin, Noria's lawyer and Noria go out dancing. Hey, we are all human beings aren't we? Men, women, attraction...things happen. One day you slap her around and manhandle her, the next day you are making out with her. It seems Noria is taking advantage of everyone- the lawyer, Simon, Mangin, as she steals a suitcase full of money and drugs from Simon's brother who is in the hospital after getting stabbed in the gut multiple times while attempting revenge on the informant.

The best part of the film is Mangin and Noria driving around 'til dawn making out and talking, as if they were 15 year old teenagers in love. After he finds out what she has done, he returns the bag full of money and drugs to the guys to save her. She leaves. No promises are made that they won't track her down, no retaliation or shooting, no dying in your lover's arms or anything. Not even a goodbye kiss. Mangin quotes someone, "Deep down everything is rotten, or wait, was it everything is awful?" It's all realistic but not minimalistic. Devoid of drama yet human connections seem genuine and real. She was a cold bitch but he will no doubt miss her

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Free Like a Bird

Light Years Away (1981) - Tanner 3.5/5
Jonah (Mick Ford), a scrubby 25 year-old bartender in the city has a chance encounter with Yoshka (Trevor Howard), an eccentric old man. He throws a book at the young man and disappears. The old man's name and address are on the book. With some difficulty, Jonah locates Yoshka in the middle of nowhere, living in an auto shop junkyard. Secretive Yoshka works locked in a garage most of the day, while putting Jonah to work on meaningless tasks in exchange for meager meals. Taking the old man as his guide, the wayward Jonah is up for anything. But the old man is real headcase: one day, he emerges from the garage all blooded up, asking Jonah to bury him up to the neck. Three days later, all healed, he is as good as new. After much taunting for not 'getting it' by Yoshka, Jonah finally snaps, sets junkyard ablaze and injures himself. Then the cranky old man finally lets his apprentice in his secret- in his garage, filled with birds, he is building a pair of wings and he will fly away beyond the galaxy. And when he takes off, he will leave everything to the young man.

Yoshka might be a looney but he opened Jonah's eyes to see the spiritual side of things. Light Years Away's free-like-a-bird, society-as-jail message is a bit too esoteric and dated for me, especially it is set in 2000 (I read that Tanner's referencing his 1976 film, Jonah Who will be 25 in the year 2000, about a group of people living in a Swiss commune). But I liked that Jonah is his own man. There are a lot of differences between the two men. Unlike Yoshka, Jonah is still rebellious young man who still wants to emjoy and love life. I loved its melancholic yet warm tone. It also has plenty of hauntingly beautiful images (shot in picturesque coastal Ireland).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Brimming with Life

Loulou (1980) - Pialat
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Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) is a middle-class married woman. She meets a low-life scoundrel Loulou (Gerard Depardieu) at a disco. She knows he's bad and that's what's attractive about him. She leaves her husband André (Guy Marchand) and shack up with Loulou in a hotel room, then into a flat. He doesn't work and has an assortment of friends who go in and out of jail and always end up crashing at their place. Things are not so cut and dry with André, since she still works for him and he still has strong feelings for her. Nelly too, sometimes gets crossed with Loulou's wayward lifestyle. But yes, sex is good and yes it is sometimes thrilling to help out his illegal operations (stealing stereo equipment). She buys him things and pays for the flat. Then again, he constantly gets into trouble- gets stabbed in bar fights, gets tangled with other girls and their jealous husbands and shotgun wielding mental friends. Nelly gets pregnant. Would she keep the baby?

Brimming with life, Loulou features the one of the cutest couple in the cinema history. Pialat's steadicam long takes are perfect for capturing their lively relationship. Huppert is just adorable and Depardieu is natural in his silly, goofy, charming lowlife portrayal.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dark Fairytale for Adults

The Heart is a Dark Forest (2007) - Krebitz
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Model/actress turned director Nicolette Krebitz creates a dark fairytale of sorts for adults in this Tom Tykwer produced movie. She doesn't lack ideas or creativity when it comes to visuals- albeit derivative/homage heavy. (Maya Deren anyone?) What she lacks is consistency and cohesiveness. The film starts with the chicken scratch font titles as our heroine Marie (luminous Nina Hoss), a mother of two, waking up from a deep sleep. We are informed through dialog that she used to be a musician, just like her husband Thomas (always cherubic Devid Striesow), who's gone from classical violinist to playing 'pop things' for living. Their daughter's innocent mischief leads Marie finding out her husband having a double life with whole another family nearby. Devastated, Marie plunges into a slow hallucinatory descent and ends up at a masquerade ball that takes place in the castle in the forest.

Is it all a dream? The tone is all wrong. What does tiny Jesus running away from his cross mean- Is Krebitz doing Fire Walk with Me? Not so subtly Marie tells the Castle caretaker's wife that it's Medea who killed her children and not Maria Callas on TV. Then she goes skinny dipping, takes the gun from Otto Sander's cold dead hand and takes the bus naked to go back home. The hip style in the beginning doesn't add anything to the narrative. Dark Forest is obviously riding on the (bare)back of its star Hoss. But I feel she is too good for the material she is given here.

Global Catastrophy on a Personal Level

Elemental (2012) - Roshan, Vaughan-Lee
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Fresh from garnering two Social Impact Media Award (Special Jury Prize, Best Editing), Gayatri Roshan and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee's Elemental opens May 17 in New York City with subsequent rollout to San Francisco, San Rafael, Washington D.C., Austin, Portland, Bellingham, and more to follow.

The documentary profiles three environmental activists in different parts of the world: Rajendra Singh in India, trying to rehabilitate the Ganges river, Eriel Deranger, an indigenous activist to stop the tar sand pipeline project in her home province of Alberta, and Jay Harman, an inventor and naturalist trying to eradicate air pollution and reduce the energy consumption.

Skillfully interweaving three timelines of these David vs. Goliath battles -- be them against pollution itself, non-responsive government, public perception, or lack of funding -- Elemental rises above the usual rhetoric-heavy, talking-heads doc by bringing the topical subjects down to the nitty-gritty level community based activism.

It's the Indian section of the doc that shows both the most beautiful (nature) and the ugliest (pollution) images. Singh, no-nonsense activist already famous for his successful campaigns against many dam projects in other parts of India, takes on the serious pollution problem of the Ganges, the mother of all rivers that is the livelihood of millions and has deep-rooted cultural and spiritual significance. As the camera lingers on bright-eyed Singh looking at the river filled with bubbling toxic waste and trash, you witness the pain settling into his face in real time.

Deranger's tireless effort to speak out against the devastation of indigenous people and their land and water by the tar sands industry, which is described as the largest man-made project ever (the size of the operation is said to be as vast as England and Wales combined), is balanced out by scenes of her juggling act between the motherhood and activist career. Mother of a teenager and expecting another, the film shows another side of the often controversial, tough-as-a-nail fighter. There is a funny bit on her gussing up to attend high-society gathering where she gets to chat up Robert Kennedy Jr., who doesn't hesitate on giving her some sound advice.

Mild-mannered Harman, who comes across as a dreamer and a sage rather than a mad scientist, takes cues from nature to develop ingenious contraptions that might solve global warming if he had the means to do so. A forever optimist, his segment provides the doc its most philosophical and contemplative moments.

Unlike other eco-docs armed with statistics, charts and harsh rhetoric that are designed to scare you into submission, Elemental succeeds in making the points through the stories of these passionate, personable individuals and while still being hopeful. Beautifully photographed by Emily Topper, the film is an elegantly told, deserving acknowledgement of their small but substantial victories in the long battles not yet won.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hard Boiled Comedy

Coup de Torchon (1981) - Tavernier
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When one thinks about Jim Thompson's pulp fiction adaptations, the word hilarious is not the one that comes to mind. Steeped in noir trappings and amoral protagonist (played wryly here by Philippe Noiret), it's funny as shit. Tavernier exchanges Thompson's American South setting with French colonial Africa where corrupt, racist authorities and swindlers, pimps & whores inhabit side by side, two-peas-in-the-pod, fly-n-shit, laissez-faire existence. Lucien (Noiret) is a sherif in a pop. 1280 town. He has a nagging wife and her creepy brother/lover living with them. He is seeing a married woman (young Isabelle Huppert) with a boorish husband. He gets kicked around by everyone. And there is absolutely no indication of Lucien's murderous intentions for dubious characters surrounding him. If it was a straight-up noir, Coup de Torchon should to be chilling when Lucien plays all the angles and later justifying his actions. But Noiret has such a goofy face and is so nonchalant, you just smile with him. All the supporting characters are superb- Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Marielle and Irène Skobline are all wonderful in their respective roles. Huppert is foxy as hell in this. Come to think of it, the film is quite dark with Lucien and African children scenes bookending the movie. But It is such a fun ride and one of the funniest black comedies I've seen in a long time.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Heroic Misfit: Trent Harris Interview

When I heard that Trent Harris, one of America's premier cult directors, of such films as Rubin and Ed, Plan 10 from Outer Space and The Beaver Trilogy would be in New York for his traveling mini-retro, I couldn't help but feeling giddy like a little kid on his first day of school. I was an awkward kid, both growing up in Korea and later here in the US. So the outsiders, heroic misfits, if you will, in Harris's films, however over the top and ridiculous they are, always have a special place in my heart.

In person, I found Harris easygoing, guileless and incredibly open. The following interview is an excerpt from our hour-long lunch conversation: we talked about everything from his tumultuous career ("career sounds too successful," he laughed), Hollywood, Sean Penn, Mitt Romney and Mormonism, internet, guilt, art, love, to the future of filmmaking over bar food at Molly's on 3rd on a seasonably mild and sunny Saturday afternoon. In this profession, you get to meet your heroes for twenty minutes at a time if you are lucky. And I count myself very lucky to have had an hour with Harris, sharing fried calamari and even got a huge hug from him as we parted. There is nothing more I adore than never ending enthusiasm of a creative mind. Harris definitely has plenty of that.

Trent Harris Traveling show continues its journey to Austin, Denver, Seattle this summer and Chicago this fall. 

I just have to tell you that when I was in college in the 90s, Rubin and Ed was always the most popular choice for me and my friends to put on whenever we got high. So it's a real honor to meet you.

Oh well, thanks. (laughs)

How do you think the screening the other day went? This mini retro of yours is traveling from LA to New York and some other places...

Yeah I thought it really went well. Some places show two movies and some places show three. So it's gonna go, what is it, LA, New York, Austin, Denver, Seattle...

I believe Chicago is in there too.

You know this better than me. It's all Galen (Rosenthal, former film programmer of SAIFF and long time friend/supporter). That guy is amazing. He just sets everything up.

So it was Galen's idea.

It was totally Galen's idea. I would've never done it in a million years. You know,  his attitude is 'everybody thinks you are dead, so let's...' (laughs)

beaver trilogy.jpgI can't interview you without asking you about the Beaver Trilogy. For those who don't know about it, could you tell us how it came about?

I walked out into a parking lot one day, I was walking at a television station in Salt Lake, and I was testing a camera. It was the first time I picked up this brand spanking new thing called 'video camera'. I was just out there and I focused on this kid (Groovin' Gary) wandering around the parking lot. The first time you see him is the actually the first time I saw him. You know he is a funny guy, doing impersonations and stuff. Then he invites me down for a talent show and I come down.

Anyway, that movie, a little documentary, I thought it was great: it was the first time in my life that I was capturing something that was happening spontaneously in front of me.

You do a lot of documentaries though. You've been doing it for living, no?

Yeah I've done a lot. But seldom you get that kind of encounter, even in documentaries. It's usually like you interview people and they tell you about the past. Unless you were interviewing me and I was having a complete mental breakdown at that moment, then it would be a very different interview.


Anyway, he shot himself not long after I've done that original film. Then I moved to Los Angeles and I had the Beaver kid story that was bugging me that I wanted to tell, so I began to remake it. I made it with Sean Penn first and then with Crispin Glover. Each one's a little different yet all very similar. The last time I saw it ,I was thinking: you got the original kid impersonating Olivia Newton John and then you got Sean Penn impersonating the kid impersonating Olivia Newton John then you got Crispin Glover impersonating Sean Penn impersonating... you know. It's like this wild Möbius loop.

That's so meta. How did Sean Penn come into the picture? Did he audition?

I literally just called him on the phone. He was doing Fast Times at Ridgemont High at the time and he wasn't a big star yet. He wanted to work, and he thought it was an interesting idea.

Sean Penn was the choice among all the other actors you saw?

I couldn't find anybody. It was a very difficult role to cast because it comes across as pretty ludicrous if it's not done right. I read a lot of people, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, trying to find somebody that could do it. Sean Penn did it. He didn't want to audition. He told me he would be my cousin from Idaho and follow me around for couple of days in character. So he followed me around and I introduced him to people as my cousin. He did it really well. Couple years later people kept telling me, "wow, your cousin really got famous." And then Crispin came along. I was going to cast Crispin in a smaller part but when going for the third time, I thought of Crispin doing the lead instead.

rubin and ed.jpgI've been a big fan of Crispin throughout his career. You've made The Trilogy and Rubin and Ed with him. How did you find him and are you guys friends?

Well, I think I met him in the casting. After I shot him in The Beaver Trilogy, We'd become good friends for at least 10 or 11 years. Then of course he was perfect for the role of Rubin  in Rubin and Ed. I like to work with the same people over and over again, if I can, you know. There is a notion of working with family: even the crew, it's the same people who are more like family.

So you worked in Hollywood for a while. How was that experience?

It was horrible. It was the worst 13 years I've spent in my whole life. I've never been more unhappy in my entire life. Every cliché you've ever heard about Hollywood is true: the cigar chomping producers, the big breasted bimbos, the back stabbing, dishonesty- being your friend a minute and then not... all of that stuff's true. After 13 years I have one person that I cared enough about to still keeping contact with. You know in Salt Lake I have a lot of friends. But making real friends in LA is impossible.

How is Salt Lake City as a film town?

Well, there isn't a lot going on in there. I mean, Hollywood crews come in there and shoot because of the location. But as far as filmmakers in Salt Lake, no. There is one other guy but  he kind of pulled back. I mean, there are a some filmmakers who come from there and have gone on. Oddly enough, Neil LaButte-

Huh, is he from Salt Lake?

I don't know if he's from Salt Lake, but he went to BYU, the big Mormon University. Isn't that strange? His movies are so tough.

Tell me about you almost running over Mitt Romney with your car.

Your heard about that? (laughs). Yeah it was in downtown Salt Lake not too long ago. He came out of nowhere and I hit the breaks just in time. And there was Romney. My god, the expression on his face was priceless. He obviously didn't know who the hell I was, because you know, he is fucking Mitt Romney.

Does he have a house in Salt Lake?

Where doesn't he have a house? No, I think he has a house up in Deer Valley, a fancy resort town in Utah. He ain't 47 percent of us, that's for sure. It's funny when he was running for president, everyone was asking who the real Mitt Romney was. Always smiling and seeming totally disingenuous. The thing is, that's who he really is. That's how Mormons are!

How does The Mormonism fit into your career as a filmmaker? Obviously you made Plan 10 From Outer Space.

That's about it. I mean, it's not the subject I wanna repeat again. I had an idea and it was great fun to make and I liked the script. I think it might be my favorite one. People always say make Rubin and Ed part 2, make Plan 11. The thing is, I don't like to go back. I'd rather do something different every time I make new films. It's gotta really interest me to take on in the first place, because it takes a long time and energy. So I don't like to go backwards.

It seems the Beaver Trilogy wouldn't die though. It came out in 2000. Now it's coming out again. It doesn't want to let you go .

You know it's always continually playing somewhere. I mean there is no publicity behind it. It's all word of mouth. Yet there is a constant interest in that film.

How come it's not marketed widely?

There's all kind of issues- copyright issues, legal issues are not resolved because when I was shooting that I never thought anything would happen with it. It's not like we've signed bunch of papers or anything.

You didn't get the rights for the Olivia Newton John song? (laugh)

No. I mean it's so expensive. You can't even imagine. There was a DVD company which was going to do it and pick up the music rights then everything fell apart.

Was it because of Sean Penn?

Well, yeah. I couldn't quite figure that out. It's not like he doesn't like the movie. He likes the movie. I think it's because he felt like he is being exploited.

Oh come on!

No I think that's what he felt. You know that tiny piece of music, "The Happiest Girl in the USA"? Just for that section? 20 grand.


Just for that. That's what they are asking.

The first time I heard of The Trilogy was when I listened to This American Life and you being interviewed there by Starlee Kine, then I saw the movie.

Oh really?

So I wasn't going in cold feet. So my experience must've been different then people who just saw the movie. The movie does have that symbiotic relationship with This American Life though. Since I've heard it before seeing it, I can not separate the two. Listening to it has really strengthened the experience at least for me. So I hear your story on how it came about first. And that story is so fascinating. I was wondering if you were making the other two movies as a sort of therapy for yourself.

Yeah. I was trying to work it out in different ways. It's not necessarily a therapy for me. But I really wanted to give the kid a happy ending. And after I did the Sean one,  it still wasn't a happy ending. I basically wanted him to win. So I made the third one and he tells everyone to piss off and drives away.

Right right.

So that was part of it for sure.

If you can tell us what really happened to the real "Gary/Larry (Richard Lavon Griffiths)" after you met him at Sundance- which is also a great story by the way?

Well, he had a massive heart attack. I'm not exactly sure the might have been 2009, 2010. I can't remember now. It was a couple years back. He had a massive heart attack. During that time, he was driving  a truck, carrying pigs to a slaughterhouse. There is a big slaughter house in Beaver. Beaver is known for those big factory agro-businesses. That was his job. There is not a lot to do there.

So he stayed there in Beaver.

He was actually living in the town next to it called Minersville.

Are you friends with his family?

I know his sister and her family but only through email. They seem like a very nice people. He had some close friends. He really touched people. They contacted me for his funeral. But I couldn't go. I didn't want to be seen as this big filmmaker and them paying attention to me. I didn't want his funeral to be about me or the movie.

He was such a charming guy.

I wish I had a picture of his gravestone with me so I can show it to you. It has the engravings of his car on it.

He drove the same car? The big Chevy Impala?

Yeah. Isn't that Something?

plan 10.jpgSomewhere I read that you were the one of the first filmmakers to embrace the internet.

You know I was. I can't say definitively that I was the first but I was one of the very first. Maybe someone was doing it all along then, but I don't know if anyone else did. (laughs) When I premiered Plan 10 from Outer Space at Sundance, I can't remember what year that was...1994? we actually had an internet press conference.


And nobody had computers back then. So there were about 3 people in the world- somebody in Australia, somebody in LA and some geek at MIT or something and we had this little internet world conference for the first time. It was through University of Utah and they had satellite set up....

The way I got into that was because the special effects people who worked on Plan 10. They were the same people who were doing effects for Star Trek the TV show. Because they were my friends, they just did it for me. They called in to show me this new thing called internet. God, it was so slow. They were trying to load Rolling Stones site and it took them ten minutes just to load. (laughs) But these guys were techies. They knew what was coming. So they created a website for Plan 10. But nobody could see them because it was just that new.

I totally understand that this is a small scale traveling show where there are only three of your films playing- The Beaver Trilogy, Rubin and Ed & Plan 10. But I really want to see your other films. They are very hard to find.

There's a couple of them on my website. Delightful Water Universe and I made another one called The Cement Ball of Earth, Heaven and Hell. And I got this another one called Luna Mesa. It's done but I haven't put it out yet. I still...I don't know, I got some really ambivalent feelings about how I feel about the movie. Parts of it are fucking cool and then other parts are like boom!

Todd Brown, the founder of Twitch, the website I write for, saw it at Raindance and really seemed to like it.

Oh really? That makes me feel better, because many people told me, "oh this is a headscratcher, really."

I'm really curious about that movie. You shot it in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Thailand, Mexico, Tanzania... How did this come about?

It's a very strange movie. I mean it's a narrative but also a documentary. There is this girl (Liberty Valentine) that I care, adore, love, am just totally head over the hills, just gaga over. But there is no relationship. I am 25, no, 30 years older than she is, practically. But we get along like crazy. We are interested in the same stuff and she is very talented. So we started making this movie.

What happened was that, I'd sell a story for a documentary in Cambodia and since it's paid by the show that I'm working on, I grab Liberty and go there and shoot their documentary and I get couple of days or weeks to shoot this thing on the side. In a strange way it's about this documentary about this relationship we had but it doesn't look like a documentary as it develops. That's part of the reason that it's hard for me to know what people think because I am so close to it. I am in this because I kind of had to be, because there is no way I can take the crew to all these places. So I fell into the movie more ways than one.

So it's a really personal film.

Oh absolutely. It's actually really painful. I mean, it's an unrequited love sort of movie.

luna mesa 2.jpgMay I ask what happened after the movie, with you and Liberty?

Oh we are still good friends. I don't see her much anymore. Because I just backed away from her. It was sort of hopeless. It's not that I dislike her. I still think she is great and she thinks I'm great. But I just had to get some distance from it. But she is incredibly supportive. She is an incredibly talented world class modern dancer. She worked with Nikolais, Ririe Woodbury and other companies. She injured herself at some point, as dancers often do. But I wanted to use her dancing skills in the movie and it's all there. I'll get you a copy. Just remind me.

I'd love to get one. So what are you working on now?

I'm doing a movie called Welcome to the Rubber Room. Galen is producing it.

Is it about High School teachers?

It's the second time someone asked me that. Starlee mentioned it. No. It's a kind of a strange beatnik nightclub that's full of eccentrics, and it's the last night that this place is open. It's going to be shut down and turned into a yuppified art gallery. So it's about that and their kind of wild efforts to save it.

Sounds great!

Traveling Trent Harris mini-retro continues:

Denver Film Society
Denver, CO June 7-8

Alamo Drafthouse
Austin, TX June 10-11

Grand Illusion Theater
Seattle, WA July 26-Aug 1st

Block Museum of Art
Chicago, IL This Fall

Please visit Harris's website for more information on his films.
Listen to This American Life Episode on The Beaver Trilogy by Starlee Kine here.
My review of The Beaver Trilogy.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Beauty of Youth

A Nous Amours (1983) - Pialat
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Pialat's raw, unblinking portrait of a promiscuous teen girl is one of the best growing pains films I've seen. Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a 15-year old flirt who stays out late every night with different boys. After her stern but adoring father walks out on his family- leaving her hysterical mother and her creepy, underachieving brother to content with by herself, Suzanne goes through a series of men, leaving broken hearts everywhere. She's not the one to love but to be loved. She gets into constant, brutal physical fights with her mom and brother leaving her black and blue. Vibrant Bonnaire is a revelation. Her baby fat still intact, she is the perfect personification of the beauty of youth. Pialat himself memorably plays Suzanne's cynical, frank father who is the only one understands our heroine. Nice to see young Cyril Collard playing good-natured Jean-Pierre, one of the suckers who later gets talked into marrying Suzanne. I love Pialat's unsentimental, objective approach to this 'coming of age' story. Even though it's Suzanne's story, he never lets us forget that she's not the center of the universe. It rings much truer to me.