Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Death Ship (1980)

This is a 1980's video and cable classic. Many was the night that this played on HBO and other pay services that I stayed up late to watch. It was also a perennial renter. Working at a video store this film rented better than many better films. However as time has passed, the screenings have been reduced to odd ball commercial screenings, if its screened at all.People have all but forgotten it. I recently broke down and picked up a really neat UK release on DVD and so got my first look at the film in a decade or so.

Made at the end of the late 1970's horror spurt that was cranked up by Halloween this was one of the last films to really work on mood more than blood and guts. Released the same year as Death Ship was Friday the 13th which super injectioned blood and guts into mainstream horror and made the slasher, and not the rest of the cast, take front and center (a trend started by the Italian gaillo films). Complicating matters and weakening the genre greatly was Nightmare on Elm Street four years later, which took the horror film into being about special effects. Films like Death Ship, which didn't have blood or monsters got lost and the whole idea of creeping out your audience became how can you gross it out. Its a sad thing and may explain why people raised on blood and guts and effects don't particularly like this movie very much.

The plot of the film has a cruise ship collide with a dark shadowy ship somewhere along its trip to nowhere. The few survivors make their way on board the new ship, only to find it empty. Well not really empty, it does have the ghosts of its Nazi crew on board and they begin to pick off the survivors. (okay maybe its not the crew but the twisted spirit of the ship, either way its haunted). Things get more complicated when George Kennedy, the Captain of the cruise ship, falls under the spell of the ship and begins to take out his frustrations on Richard Crenna, the man who was going to replace him.

Not very gory, but with mood to spare this is a film that works on a visceral level. To be certain the film doesn't make a great deal of sense, but at the same time there is enough of a dream logic to carry it along. We can almost buy that this ship has been wandering the seas for decades, even if we're forced to wonder what happened to everyone else who was on the cruise ship.How do people find each other when there is no way they could have heard each other? These things just sort of happen. And then there are the mistakes that work to the films advantage, the ship is suppose to be empty, but more than once we see an arm or some part of a person opening or closing a window, its a fleeting glimpse that some how helps ratchet up the tension.(maybe the dead do walk especially since we see so many corpses). Its the small moments of implication that freak you out, not the showers of blood.

Shot so that you not only have a real sense of place, you are on a ship at sea, but also to express a mood of dread, this is a rotten and decaying place and you don't want to be there. What amazed me was seeing the film in widescreen for the first time I was struck by just how good the compositions are. Watch how the survivors move across an empty deck so that they seem to be in a vast expanse of nothing, or how the increasingly insane George Kennedy storms down a hall way almost completely filling it. Its a text book example of how to shoot a horror film and have it give you a mood before anything ever happens. What I wouldn't give to see a film maker today shoot a film like this where the pictures on the screen are more than razzle dazzle. Honestly this is one of the best looking films I've seen. I'm not saying that lightly, since I realize that with a film beautiful sunsets and picture perfect moments do not result in a scary horror film.

If you can take the film for what it is, a real exploitation horror film with its own logic and made before effects and gallons of blood, then you're going to have a good time. if you want logic and reaon and gore, look elsewhere.

But what ever you do don't watch this alone at night with the lights off

Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004)

Thai comedy can be painfully funny. There is often a sense that anything goes so long as it gets a laugh, the result is wild crazy out of left field quality that is totally endearing. A perfect example of this is this movie.

The plot has a mutation of the Sars virus that turns people into flesh eating zombies getting loose in an apartment complex in Bangkok. The zombies present complications for a kidnapped girl and her rescuer who are trying to flee the building.

Bloody, over the top and very silly this is the sort of knowing comedy that more often than not fails to work in other films. Here the balance between blood and laughs is finely balanced, or at least piled on so thick that there is enough good stuff with the bad that you can't help but find something to laugh at. From references to the George Romero zombie films, Star Wars to martial arts spectaculars and Italian horror films this is a movie that steals from the best and puts it all together into a gumbo of entertaining proportions.

Its not perfect, there's often too much going on, and the filmmakers don't always feel the need to have the film make sense, but its an enjoyable romp for those who can take the blood and body parts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Black Cat (1941)

This old dark house mystery with just the right amount of comedy is a real joy. I'm shocked because I had never seen this film before and I thought I had seen all of the Universal horror films from the period. What a loss that I haven't been able to see this on dark and stormy nights in years past.

The plot has a bunch of heirs arriving at the home of the old family matriarch who has decided to read her will to everyone before she goes. Some are happy and some are not, however the reading in interrupted by a neighbor who wants the old lady to sell the house and move into the city. Unfortunately for the assembled group they didn't hear the whole will so that when one turns to homicide to cash in, they quickly find out that they didn't hear the important part concerning the conditions for collecting. Needless to say more murder and mayhem follows.

This is great fun. Its your typical old dark house story enlivened by some funny business and an excellent cast. The cast is top notch and is headed by Broderick Crawford as the neighbor, Bela Lugosi as the gardener, Bail Rathbone and Alan Ladd as some of the heirs, and Hugh Herbert as the man who wants to buy the estate and the source of much of the humor. Best of all its not really formulaic, so you can't instantly spot the killer.

See this movie, its perfect for a dark and stormy night

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Loves of Pharaoh (1922)

The final German film by Ernst Lubitsch is a huge epic shot in converted empty lots outside Berlin. It was thought lost for decades before being largely restored in the last few years. It was given a new score and fancy presentation by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, my question is, WHY?

The film has a fictional Pharaoh, played by Emil Jannings, building his treasury. Word comes that the Ethiopian king wants to sign a treaty which will be sealed by marriage to his daughter. Things get complicated when, in a chain of circumstances too complicated recount here, the king falls in love with the Greek slave of the Ethiopian princess. He then breaks the treaty, plunges his kingdom into war and causes all sorts of problems for a woman who is actually in love with someone else (the son of the Pharaoh's architect).

High art it's not, silly melodrama it is. (Though several people walking to the subway after the film were going on about the deeper meanings of the silly proceedings)

Screened with a new score that was performed live by composer Joseph C Phillips and Numinous it was also the first use of a new screen that can be used for various projected projects.

I should say at the start  that I had miserable seats  that were too close and after a while I stopped watching the screen and took to watching the film in Phillip's monitor next to his podium. The off center angle and the closeness of the second row have left my next sore from looking up.

The film looks spectacular. there is no getting around the impressiveness of the scale of everything. The film is a visual feast.

Unfortunately the film is a mess and it had much of the audience frequently roaring with laughter (I don't think the women behind me stopped for more than a couple of minutes). Blame the script which is really bad potboiler material. Everyone is reduced down to being love sick kids to the point that you can't believe any of it.

Worse yet are the performances which are just plain bad, even by silent movie standards of the period. This sort of emoting went out of style a decade before, but here we have Jannings looking constantly constipated (this is the greatest actor of his age?), Harry Liedtke as the love object of the slave girl just being bad, Paul Wegener as the Ethiopian king, seeming to be wandering in from another better film.

Even allowing for this film being of a certain time it's still awful.

The restoration is a mixed bag. Yes most of the film is here but if I did my math correctly in my head, about fifth isn't. Much of it seems to be a shot here or there, but several sequences are gone completely and a few others are missing portions. the film uses title cards and in some cases photos to bridge the gaps . They should have stuck with the title cards since the photos don't tell us enough.

The score by Mr Phillips is a mixed bag. Mostly it's serviceable but there are several times when the film riffs on other better scores including some from Bernard Hermann that pull you out of the film. I also didn't particularly like some of the styles chosen, such as the jokey one that Phillips chose to play during the Egyptian army going off to war.

I did not have a good time and had I been able to duck out without having to step over several people and not cross the stage I would have left about a half an hour in.

In the end I'm left to ponder of all of the silent films out there, of all the films being restored why was this one given special treatment? It boggles my mind.

Dark Heritage(1989)

Variation on HP Lovecraft is a neat little film. It plays very much like a Lovecraft story with a great deal of talk and only a little bit of the monsters.

After thirty odd people are found mutilated in a campground an investigative reporter goes to the deserted mansion of the Dansen clan with two other people.Legend says the house has been empty for years and that weird things go on in and around the house, which might be connected to the killings. When in the middle of the night strange noises are heard and the two others go missing the reporter has some tough explaining to do. Put on leave he continues to investigate and begins to uncover the real story behind the killings.

Never having heard of this film I picked it up at the local dollar store for a buck. I had no hopes for the film since most of the stuff I get is beyond awful. When the film actually started I was struck by how the film seemed to be from the late 1970's or early 1980's, it had the unmistakable feel of a low budget drive in movie, even though it was made ten years after the final glory days of the drive-ins.

The tale is clichéd Lovecraft with some one investigating a "horror" of some sort only to find something even more terrifying. While not uniformly scary, there are moments that are rather tense and creepy. I liked that the filmmakers didn't feel the need to show us the monsters until the end, and didn't over play their hands with shots of their faces. And while its not perfect I like that the film tries, and mostly succeeds to set a mood.

Is it perfect? Oh please no. The monsters aren't really scary once we get a good look at them, the twist ending isn't surprising, the film makes the classic Lovecraft adaption mistake of being about 20 minutes too long, and there are a couple of "what the...?" moments, however for the most part it overcomes its limitations and is a very good little thriller.

Recommended for those who miss the low budget drive in films of the 1970's

Sunday, October 28, 2012

SOUND! PICTURE! REVOLUTION: Godspeed You! Black Emperor live and the film manipulations of Karl Lemieux

I’ve long been fascinated with cinematic music. Not only actual soundtrack scores, but music made to its own end, shaped to take on the shifts in mood and building tensions that you would attribute to a well crafted motion picture.

There may be no better example of bands making such kind of music as Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Their unwieldly name references the title of a ‘70s documentary directed by Mitsuo Yanagimachi about a Japanese bosozoku motorcycle gang (Yanagimachi later directed 2005’s ‘Who’s Camus Anyway?’) Born in Montreal, Canada during the early ‘90s era that spawned music dubbed as ‘post rock,’ (but leaving that limiting label in the dust) the often shrouded in mystery unit released a few inscrutable albums before announcing a hiatus in 2003. Tracks, ranging from 10 minutes to half an hour, bore one name but smaller pieces within each had their own titles. Album sleeves included dense texts espousing various political, religious and philosophical agendas, never making a single point of view clear, though with a little digging it is apparent they are challenging the status quo. Amidst samples of speech covering a similar range of outsider perspectives and sound collages, these compositions employed guitars and a variety of bowed and percussive instruments to tell stories of destruction, plight, mourning, and uprising. Without singing a single word. And always throughout the dark depths they mine, there is a glimpse, however distant, of hope.

That word is a constant I have noticed in the two live performances I have been fortunate enough to witness since their return in 2010. It is always flashed onto a screen projection that overshadows the individual performers in sharply etched letters, amidst a palette of black and dark greys. Perhaps more than ever, it is a crucial reminder that hope for a better reality is still within reach, but there is no masking the fact that it must emerge from a very bleak place.

The unique method of film projection incorporated in their live performances should be of particular interest to cinema fans. Collaborator Karl Lemieux employs not one but a bank of four to five 16 mm projectors with reels of film spilling from the elevated tower it is mounted on. The material ranges from stock footage of protests, scenic landscapes, and frames of printed text. These reels are overlapped and undergo other manners of distortion by way of Lemieux’s unique analog manipulations: pushing down on, blurring, at times even burning through the celluloid images.

This most recent performances I attended was a special one. Set in Basilica, Hudson, an art and performance space converted from a 19th century factory, it’s considerable distance from New York City and cavernous atmosphere gave a heightened sense of post-apocalyptic dread. Their performance included a track from their then forthcoming album ‘Alleluja! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (it was officially released worldwide October 16) and an as of yet unrecorded piece, 'Behemoth.' 

As for the latest album, it features some of the group’s most immediate sounding material to date.  With less shifts and more of a slow, steady build up to a cacophonous outpouring,it manages to call forth abstract motifs and a punk aesthetic. ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ creates an ambience reminiscent of Jim Thirwell’s Manorexia project, yet as it draws to its conclusion you might hear the strains of Fucked Up’s step into orchestral sounds with their recent concept album, “David Come’s to Life.”

Below are some of my attempts at capturing glimpses of those unique film displays as the band’s  soundtrack-esque din roared in the background.


Godspeed You! Black Emperor Constellation Records page

Basilica Hudson

Karl Lemieux filmography on INCITE!

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

The Intruder (1997)

Dark disturbing tale that will fry your brain.

The plot has a young women living in Mainland China killing another girl and taking her identity. Once in Hong Kong she takes effectively kidnaps a man and holds him taped up for some dark design involving her husband who is attempting to cross into Hong Kong.

Bleak. Nasty. Violent. This is an ugly ugly movie that will curl your hair. No one and nothing is safe. This woman is every man, woman, child and dog's worst nightmare, there seems to be nothing this woman won't do.

Its frightening to watch as this woman kills anyone or anything that gets in her path. The fact that she seems like a really nice girl makes it tough to believe, worse is that she seems so rational, even though its clear she's not. Her disease is so profound that you can't be sure whats really going on until the final credits role.

I don't know if I liked it or can recommend it- even to people who like this sort of thing. I do know that I probably need a hot shower to get the slime off me.

Dinotasia (2012) (Revised)

There were just four of us in the screening of Dinotasia at the IFC Center this afternoon. Has anyone promoted this out side of the IFC Center?

Apparently not.

Bouncing through prehistoric times with an occasional (maybe five minutes of screen time) narration by Werner Herzog, this is the story of several dinosaurs in various parts of the world. Violent, bloody, gory and frequently damn funny (on purpose) this is a film that makes you go "WTF!" frequently. It's all dinosaurs doing dinosaur things in a humaan sort of way  without any narration after a set up.

The stories all involve some sort of survival. You have a bird that mimics sounds and how that keeps him alive, A dinosaur who eventually gets revenge on the beast that breaks it's jaw, a old dinosaur who leads a child to a new herd, a mother pterodactyl pitching her young from the nest and the story of a mated pair of dinosaurs in the days before the meteor hits. Most of the stories have a bitter sweet tinge to them (The one calledHerd Instinct and the final story especially)

As the film began with a story of "the great die off" I was groaning. This looked to be terrible. Then we get a story of sleeping dinosaurs with an on screen title setting the time at 3am, and suddenly what the film was clicked with me. It was a film that was going to tell short stories but with dinosaurs as main characters, it wasn't science just stories, and I was fine with that.

I have to warn parents and some adults, this is a bloody film. limbs are ripped off, heads severed, animals are impaled and the red stuff flows freely. If you are squeamish stay away.

How is it?

Not bad. Its a good little film, a bit odd in that it's not what anyone expects. I know the film has incredibly low ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, but I wouldn't agree. Sure it's not the best film of the year but you have to give the film points for not following the herd and giving us the same sort of dinosaur documentary yet again. The choppy story structure does work against it (See below for an explanation of what the film's origins are, which explains why it is what it is) but it's nothing fatal.

Truth be told walking out of the film all I could think of was how this film was going to end up as a cult film. Its weird and just off center enough that it's going to find a following once this hits home video.

If you want a dinosaur film that is far from the run of the mill give this a shot. It's certainly far from the best of the year but it's out of the mainstream enough to be worth a look.

Smithsonian Magazine Blog on the film and it's history

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Gospel of Dave McKean: The Apocrypha – That which was cut out

This second part of my interview with director Dave McKean was done at the same time as yesterday’s long talk on The Gospel of Us. Since the interview was being conducted via email I sent of a long list of questions concerning Gospel and I threw in some other questions as well. The way the interview was conducted was Part 1 was Gospel, Part 2 was film related questions and part 3 was just some random questions I just wanted to know. I threw them in simply because I had McKean’s ear and it was stuff I wanted to know. I figured that the worst that could happen was he could choose not to answer them.

In moving the interview over to Unseen I realized that there was a point where the interview was effectively over. We had covered everything I wanted to cover concerning the film and everything after that ceased to be relevant- basically all my additional questions.

As you can see most of it doesn’t really belong in the discussion of The Gospel. It actually belongs in what should be a long discussion of film in general and his other pursuits. It's a discussion that Mr. McKean and I don’t have time to do at this time. Hopefully that interview, particularly concerning film, will happen down the line.

Keep in mind when you read the following excerpt that the questions were thrown together kind of randomly in the hope that the answers would spark or lead to something else (actually they are kind of cringe inducing pat questions which I apologize for)…with the last few questions just stuff I wanted to know.

I probably should just have kept the Q&A off line, but I think that the answers might spark something for someone somewhere so I’m putting it out there.

UF: I was talking to a friend about how you got people to send you their iPhone footage and they said that makes your film one of the few truly found footage films. How do you feel about that designation? Do you have any thoughts on the rapidly growing genre?

DM: The digital revolution has changed the landscape so much already. Many of these new pathways are stepping stones to a much more powerful new medium, I'm certainly interested in these possibilities. I'm interested in creating something specifically to make the most of these new media strengths, I'm not so keen on just adapting one thing (a book or a film) onto another platform just for the sake of being new or making more money.

UF: How do you feel about other films that portray the Passion? Do you have any feeling for any religious films?

DM: Many of them are great, it remains an extraordinarily powerful story. King of Kings and Ben Hur (both silent) are very strong. Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew is one of the most powerful tellings of Christ's life, the sense of place and the faces of his largely amateur cast are still seared into my memory. The Last Temptation, both the book and the film are wonderful, and the final act is simply brilliant. A perfect lesson in how to re-imagine the story - keeping its power but adding a deeply moving new idea to the story in the form of a new psychological reading of Jesus' motives. I know he's a social leper at the moment, but I thought Mel Gibson's film was fantastic, especially the language. to hear the original dialects was really strong, and the telling of the story was powerful. The Romans were a bit pantomimic, but I didn't get an anti-Semitic message from the film. In the end it was the establishment against the individual. Jesus of Montreal is great, I'm also particularly fond of the Christ scenes in Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain.

UF: Gospel is certainly an inspiring film, to that end what films inspire you? What films do you turn to get an emotional uplift? Artistic uplift?

DM: So many, across all eras and styles. I like films for their look, their scripts, their acting, their music, almost anything. I do get very inspired by silent films, only because it's so wonderful to see the language of film being created. I also get very excited by contemporary films that are using digital tools to tell stories in interesting ways. They get inside our minds and show what we are thinking. This feels like a new silent era.

UF: Cinematically whose work inspires you? I know you like many classic films, but are there any newer filmmakers who are doing things that make you sit up and take notice?

DM: Again, so many. In terms of contemporary filmmakers, I like the Kaufman group, that's Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman himself, I'll always go and see the new Sokurov, Quay Brothers, Svankmajer. I like Innaritu and Cuarón. And I remain a devoted Woody Allen fan despite slim pickings since Deconstructing Harry.

UF: Do you have any films that you think people should see but which no one seems to know anything about?

DM: I was very excited to discover the films of Konstantin Lopushansky, especially Dead Man's Letters and The Ugly Swans.

UF: Is there anything you can say about the stalled project that you mentioned in the commentary track of Gospel?

DM: Luna limps onwards, we are about 2/3rds through the animation and I hope to start the music soon. We will finish next year.

UF: When I met you in New York when you were signing in Borders Book in connection with the Broadway show Lestat you talked about doing an animated cat film, what ever happened to it?

DM: That was Varjak Paw, adapted from the book I illustrated for SF Said. We did four drafts of the screenplay and got it to a very strong place, Sony jumped on board, developed it with us for a month or so and then promptly dropped it. It's currently dead as is my interest in ever working in Hollywood.

UF: What did you think of Lestat? (Yes I saw it, yes I liked it, even though it was bit of a mess)

DM:Actually I thought it was awful. So many talented people contributed to it, and Bernie Taupin was so committed to getting it done, but it was misconceived and poorly directed. It needed a creative at the centre who could take our visual ideas and turn them into theatre, and it needed a writer to extract a simple powerful narrative from maybe just a part of one book. It had neither.

UF: Lastly you mentioned that you had scored the rough cut with some of your favorite pieces of music, could I ask what they are? You mentioned the composers, I'm curious what the pieces are (I am extremely interested in music's use with image since I find the more and more what works in many movies are the music and image moments away from the narrative).

DM: I had a piece from Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt, a couple of sequences from Philip Glass Violin Concerto. A piece from one of Karaindrou's scores for Angelopoulos' films. Michael made a CD of mood music at the very beginning of the process, and it also included Pärt, Glass as well as Peter Gabriel, John Williams, Lisa Gerrard and the Manic Street Preachers. These also influenced the final score

Again thank you to Dave McKean for his time and his photographs.

The Hand (1960)

Lurid little thriller tells the story of the police search for the story behind a drunk having his hand cut off. Later as the police investigate the drunk is murdered and the hunt for the killer is on. The story begins in Burma during the Second World War when three commandos are captured by the Japanese and interrogated. The Japanese solution to get the answers is to cut off some hands. The repercussions of what happened so many years ago is what drives this little movie.

This is a neat little film that never fully makes 100% sense. We follow as the police try to unravel what has happened and why but in the end I don't think that everything is perfectly clear. Not that it matters since the movie is so dark and lurid at times you can't help but get drawn into the action. The violence is brutal and the language is course (at least by 1960 standards). Its a movie that doesn't behave like your typical by the numbers crime drama and is better for it.

I liked this movie a great deal. Its far from perfect, but it does hold your attention.

Definitely worth seeing if you run across it.

Valley of Saints (2012) SAIFF 2012

The final review of Unseen's coverage of the South Asian International Film festival is also it's closing night film (it plays Tuesday night at 8PM).

In Kashmir two friends set out to find a better life. Heading out across the that they live on they run head long into political violence and a curfew on the far side of the lake that has stopped all transportation (including the bus that they hope to take. Stuck in the community for a few days they come in contact with a young woman studying the water in the lake. A relationship forms between one of the men and the woman that will alter how he sees the world.

The first thing you'll notice is that this is a beautiful film. Each image is the sort of thing that would look lovely on any wall. That's not a knock, rather this is the sort of film that I'd want to put on just so I could see beautiful pictures. The ability to see the images on a theater size screen is reason enough to see this film.

The film beyond the images is best described as a meditation on ecology, politics and the places we call home. It's a heady mix of ideas that never fully comes together with a bit too much talk of ecology, or rather the wrong sort of talk with the script frequently breaking the sense of this being a dramatic narrative and instead climbing up on a soap box to preach. The high handedness isn't fatal but it makes an otherwise excellent film just a good one instead.

On the other hand I suspect that anyone seeing this on a big movie screen, as it should be seen, is not going to feel as I did watching the film on a TV screen since the sheer beauty of the landscape will put things back into balance.

The film is playing only once Tuesday at the SVA theater on 23rd Street and it's worth plunking down the extra couple of bucks to see this at the SAIFF Closing Night Gala.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Gospel of Dave McKean or talking about The Gospel of Us

 Michael Sheen and Dave McKean during rehearsals of The Gospel of Us

Dave McKean is a man of many talents. He’s probably best known as an artist with pencil, ink, paint, and whatever materials he chooses to incorporate into his canvases and pages, but his talents stretch in all directions since he’s also written books, worked on Broadway and directed films. It’s his film work that has made him the object of several posts here at Unseen Films. Way back in April of 2010 Ken reviewed the out-of-print collection of his short films Keanoshow and his not-out-of-print feature film Mirrormask. Yesterday I reviewed his most recent feature film The Gospel of Us.

The Gospel of Us was shot with the intention of being a film record of a massive three day secular version of the Passion play put together by actor Michael Sheen in his Welsh hometown of Port Talbot. It was a play that was THREE DAYS LONG and stretched all through the city and surrounding area. The idea was to celebrate the town and its lost heritage in a manner that isn’t really done any more.

The film that resulted from the show is not so much the show as performed but something else entirely. It’s a reimagining of the play into a story that resembles the source material but is really something truly unique. What McKean has done by adding some linking bits, music, and manipulating the visuals, is to create one of the most special films of the year. It’s a film that blindsides you on the first go through and then grows richer with each subsequent viewing. If you want a greater understanding of what a monumental achievement this is, listen to his commentary track on the UK DVD where he goes through the filming in great detail)

When I saw The Gospel of Us last week I was completely floored by what I was seeing. Here was a film that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I was so overwhelmed by the film that I immediately watched it a second time, this time with the commentary track. Even more impressed by the film I started to make calls to see if there was any way I could contact McKean and ask him about his marvelous picture. Thanks to the directions of the aforementioned Ken I was lucky enough to contact Mr. McKean and he graciously agreed to answer some questions concerning his film.

I should mention at the outset almost all of the questions I asked were related to film in general, and most specifically to The Gospel of Us. I intentionally kept the questions focused on his current movie and related subjects simply because to do otherwise would result in an interview that ran many times longer than the present one.

I would like to thank Dave McKean, not only for his time, but also for providing all of the stills that accompany both this interview as well as the review of The Gospel of Us which appeared yesterday.

This interview was conducted via email.
God looks over his creation

Dave McKean (DM): Glad you liked the film, it's proved to be a Marmite film, with lovers and haters and not much in the middle, and I'm rather glad it's proved so divisive.

Unseen Films (UF): This may sound like a dumb question but do you like the film and are you happy with it?

DM: A simple question but a complex answer. I'm very happy that I did it, that I was part of something so extraordinary, and in many ways life, and community, changing.  I learned a huge amount about film making and about myself while cutting it. I made some great friends, and all in all, though the edit went on for a long time, it was almost pure pleasure for the whole year.

There are passages in the film, especially the beginning, and from the trials onward that I'm completely happy with.

Inevitably in such a strange and chaotic project, there are elements that got away from me, but really, that was always going to be the nature of the beast. At a time when I'm becoming less and less interested in mainstream films, because they are so similar, so streamlined and smoothed out, so templated and safe, I'm glad this one has its rough edges intact.

UF: Since much of the film was outside your control, if you did it again what would you change or do differently?

DM: One the most important things about it is that it is a complete one off. It couldn't happen again really, and I'm not sure I would want to do anything exactly this way again. But the idea of performing a film over a set period of time and capturing it on the fly is interesting.

I would need more say over what happens in front of the camera and more control over how it was shot. But I'd certainly be interested in exploring this area, somewhere between performance, documentary and fiction, again.

UF: Is Michael Sheen and the rest of the people involved with the play happy with the film?

DM: I think everyone has their own feelings about every manifestation of this event. I think everyone had an incredibly strong emotional reaction to the play itself, in large part because of the huge amount of support and commitment from the locals and the audience. Despite the play's bumpy bits, everyone just remembered the electricity in the air, there was a real sense of communal power at work. Michael has told me and others that he is very happy with the film, but there was also a BBC documentary, a novelisation by Owen Sheers, and an anniversary exhibition by the people of Port Talbot in the town, so the piece has a life of its own. I'm sure all the people involved in the play and film have their own feelings pro and con about the film, it is after all, my own very personal take on what happened, it is my 'gospel'.

UF: I know you came in late into the game with the show but did you have any say in how the show was staged? In the commentary you mention that you were allowed to film so long as you didn't interfere, but at any point, other than say the night on the mountain, where they made accommodations for what you were doing? (and was there anytime where unrelated to to filming you came up with something they used in the show?)

DM: I had absolutely no say on what happened in the play. I did make sure certain props (guns, the door on the beach etc.) were going to work on camera as well as in the context of the play, but that's about all. I sketched out a way that the play could be reshaped as a film, and I was pretty sure that scenes would have to be folded into each other to save time, and that I wanted to add a couple of short moments away from the crowds to have more of a cinematic sense of my key characters, Michael's Teacher, the young girl who threads through the whole story and represents his daughter, and the roofer, his father, who also represents God. So I made arrangements during the rehearsals to shoot some of these little scenes, and then during the show, to meet up with Michael at the end of each day to capture a few more moments. Michael was very happy to do these unscripted and unrehearsed and responding just to how he was feeling at the time.

UF: Related, you're listed as providing additional material, is this simply the bookended material and stuff shot in studio or as pick-ups, or did you have further input?

DM: No, this would be just the scenes where Michael, the girl and the father are alone, the Stranger's story on the beach that was animated, and the Stranger's narrated story that threads together the disparate scenes of day two before we get the last supper. I had to write some connective tissue as I was trying to edit down fourteen solid hours of drama to two hours of film.

UF: Has anyone other than you and any one involved in the editing watched all 14 hours of material that you recorded? Other than the deleted scenes on the DVD did any of it end up anywhere, say in the BBC documentary?

DM: No I don't think so. Even the guys who took care of data wrangling during the shoot and setting up the edit documents didn't watch it all. My producer worked out a trade off deal with the BBC, so we had access to their footage as well, and they had access to our sound (they had none of their own). Also, I was able to help the BBC crew occasionally as I'd seen all the rehearsals and they hadn't. So the documentaries and the film share a few shots. For the film I treated and coloured the images heavily, and also did a fair amount of digital painting, touching out details that I thought detracted from the action, or muddied the shot.

UF: Was there ever a walk through of the entire production in one go in rehearsal, even to say time it all out?

DM: No. All the scenes were tech rehearsed on location, but these were stop/start affairs where many problems were ironed out as they came up. I got a strong sense of where the action would take place from these run throughs, so I could brief my team, but the audience of between 500 and 20,000 (depending on the scene) were a force of nature not covered by the rehearsals. The crucifixion couldn't be rehearsed at all. Bits of the action - going up and down on the cross - could be rehearsed in a studio, but the whole finale was really done on a wing and a prayer. There were actually huge tech failures on the night, the water screen computers crashed, the lights failed on part of the set, and the sound wouldn't work, so my sound recordist was drafted in as a strange pink shirted, cowboy hatted 13th disciple to hold a long mic towards Michael so that at least some of the dialogue could be heard through the PA and recorded for the film.

UF: Did anyone involved in the play have any input as to how you put the film together? Did the producers require you to turn in anything with the film, give you any requirements, or could you turn the story into anything you wanted? (I know you said that they were surprised by the bird creature)

DM: No-one involved in the play insisted on input on the film, but they were all keen to see cuts, and were very helpful in giving me honest feedback on how they were reading the film at its various stages. I was very much left alone to shape it in the way I wanted. My producer Eryl Phillips proved to be a great resource for ideas of where to cut and how to attack certain scenes. It takes a while to develop a relationship with someone that involves that degree of trust, where you're working on something that is all consuming and incredibly personal. You have to have a sounding board, another pair of eyes who you respect, understand and trust, and Eryl did a great job fulfilling this role. The producers at Soda Pictures and Welsh Film Agency also helped enormously, always happy to make suggestions and talk through ideas, but never turning those suggestions into demands. Michael also was very clear sighted about certain aspects of the development of the film, as he knew the material so well.

In the end, I think the moments that are very much 'mine' were surprising to Michael and the whole crew, but that was always the idea, for it to be my interpretation of 'the truth'.

UF: Was anyone unhappy that the film was not a straight forward record of the play? Was the idea of a straight forward record of the production ever considered? (Looking at the production I don't think it would have been possible)

DM: I'm sure some people were, although the BBC did a 2-part documentary covering the making of, and then the performance of the play, so that was covered really. Personally, I was disappointed with the documentary's coverage of the action, I thought it was very poor, and the narration was irritating. Where the docs really scored were in their interviews with the people of the town, as they were helping to realise their parts of the play in community groups and clubs, and during the performance as the event happened around them.

UF: Was one of the documentaries that is on the DVD one of the BBC ones you mentioned?

DM: Yes, Eryl, my producer, cut one of the hour long documentaries down to 20 minutes. Personally I think he did a great job, tightening it up and deleting most of the narration.

UF: I know you and the film crew could follow the entire production because you were part of it and knew where everything was happening, but do you know if anyone, outside of the production, managed to see the whole thing?

DM: I'm positive that many people saw the whole piece, but part of the idea of doing a Passion play, such a well known story, was so that people could just see parts of it, but still know where they were in the arc of the story.

Of course the private moments on the mountaintop and in the prison cell, no-one saw, so a common comment after the premiere was that the story was a lot clearer as a narrative in the film.

UF: Do you think that comments that the narrative was clearer in the film was the result of the play being so massive that it was too difficult, or complicated to take in, or do you think that in paring the story down for the film you chose to highlight certain things and highlighted the important things? (I know that several large scale stage productions in London and here in the US, such as Tantalus, were said to work better when pared down and were refocused)

DM: Well, I don't think many people saw all the scenes (only 300 saw the baptism at the beginning). Also, there were a lot of stories within stories, especially on Saturday, as most of that day was taken up with Michael finding his disciples and exploring the town and it's history. There were a lot of flash mob details from youth and theatre group in the town, and a lot of bands playing live music. So it created an environment and an atmosphere in the town, especially with the paramilitary presence everywhere, but it was all a little hard to string along in a narrative. But since everyone knows the main beats of the Passion story, I don't think that mattered.

UF: Did you have any legal problems for shooting people or anything you shot or recorded or was it just assumed that if you are there you will get filmed?

DM: No, we put up notices in all the locations saying that we would be shooting during the show, and that anyone attending tacitly understands that they may be seen in picture. We took photos of all these notices to make sure we had proof that people were told. Standard practise.

UF: Had you not known Michael Sheen and fallen into the project, would you have ever tried to do anything like this on your own? Would you have ever tried to stage something as massive as this play on your own?

DM: I don't think I would. It took someone as charismatic and enthusiastic as Michael to make the whole thing happen, and to convince me that I should offer to help by shooting it as a film, not as a documentary.

UF: With all the talk of a documentary approach to recording the show, I was wondering if you think that the show would have translated to a straight forward way of presenting it on film?

DM: No, I don't. If I'd had cranes and track and all the usual kit, I don't think the film would have really worked at all. The scenes are too theatrical, so the hybrid form it ended up being, I think, is the best way to deal with the material.

UF: I know the show is supposed to be about community, but was there any sort of religious or spiritual act in producing and performing the show and the role for Michael Sheen? Did he see it as his own act of penance or worship much as the towns and villages who put on the original passion or miracle plays did?

DM: You'd have to ask Michael about this, but it was my impression that this was not his motive for doing it.

Port Talbot is his home town, and when he was a child there were Passion plays performed, so that was a seed.

He really did NOT want to be perceived as the famous film star coming back to the town to do them a favour, or tell them what to do, and was very concerned that his 'Jesus' did NOT preach at them. So he toyed with the idea of just directing the play and having someone else play the part. In the end he decided he could play it if he was coming back to the town both in character and as himself, just to listen to the town, to hear their stories, to remember the town's history, to allow people to talk about their memories and their current situations. This was the act of healing that was required, not making the blind see or the lame walk, but simply listening to people who are all too often ignored. This was the great theme, and it has proved to be hugely empowering for the people of Port Talbot.

Michael and I are both atheists, and we may have slightly different views on the world, I'm not sure. But we both felt that what people really need that the church used to supply, and that many relate to in terms of 'spirit', is a sense of community, or shared experience.

UF: Is it possible to re-enact the Passion and remove any of the religious overtones? Could the show/film have worked if there was no cross?

DM: Possibly, I wouldn't say that any story couldn't be rethought thoroughly and still hold onto its power. But for Michael, I think the Christian iconography is bound into the story, and so it had to be there. But I think it is possible to see the story as mythologised STORY not as historical fact, and in fact, that's the only way I can make sense of it. I know that, if Jesus the man existed at all, and in all probability he did, he did not return from the dead because that's impossible. I know this in the same way I know that my pen will not fall up, and that there is no Santa Claus. Resurrection can be seen poetically as well as literally, and the fact that his story continues to inspire so many people is resurrection enough for me. And I'd go further and say that for the Jesus story to live, it must be rethought and reshaped and re-understood, rather than simply be ossified in stone as an unchanging fact, I think it becomes a dead thing at that point.

UF: What ever happened to Michael Sheen's book about his three important roles, is it still in the works?

DM: We may still get to it. I'd still be keen. Actually I'd be happy to do almost anything with Michael, you don't meet many people who are so focused on doing such extraordinary work, and that actually have the ability to deliver.

UF: Other than a passing reference in the commentary about you not being particularly religious or a believer, do you think your personal beliefs shaped how you put everything together?

DM: Yes. I could only relate to the story as a story. As myth. I had to see it all through the eyes, ultimately, of a child, overlaying the Christ story onto a real event in the town, blending them into a third thing, a myth. I even added a newspaper headline in the penultimate scene in the care home, that recontextualises everything we've just seen by suggesting what that actual event in the town probably was.

UF: While the play is supposed to be about Port Talbot, do you see the film as being about the Talbot or something greater?

DM: It's definitely about that town and those people. But like any strong story, I hope it has plenty to say to people anywhere. As we were making the film, the Arab Spring sparked into being, and the idea of a single person igniting revolution became magnificently prescient. Jesus, like the Teacher, like any revolutionary, is going to be a hugely divisive character as well as an inspiring one. That's a lot of potential energy to load into one person.

UF: Do you think that your film is more spiritual/mystical than the play?

DM:They had different energies. There was no way to capture what it felt like to be there over the weekend. The energy in the streets, in the community was extraordinary. People had very visceral reactions to events, and I think it caught everyone off guard, so they allowed themselves to really become part of it. When emotions ran high, there was a great deal of tension in the air, and it was a credit to Wildworks, and Bill Mitchell, that they knew how far they could take a mob of people down a very emotional path and still keep control of the situation.

The film had to try and create an equivalent for this energy by harnessing all the things that film has in its toolbox; sound, music especially, cutting, animation, titling, colour grading and whatever else. I think music more than anything touches us directly, it cuts straight to our emotions and bypasses logic and reason, so maybe in this combination of images and music you could say it had more of a mystical feeling than the play. It has more of a sense of being a dream - an idea that takes its cue from Michael's original intention for the piece, for it to be a town dreaming its own story.

UF: Several times during the commentary you mentioned how during the editing you had to find a way into a sequence. Did this uncertainty come from the project not originating with you? Would you have had an easier time putting things together if it had been your project from start to finish?

DM: Yes. I would never, and could never, have written the film in this way. I had to look at what I had in the rushes, acres of rushes, and decide for myself what was important, what feeling the scene should have, how it should be treated. I found music to be the key to unlocking all the scenes. I watched the pictures without the sound, and tried to imagine a music soundtrack that seemed to accompany and enhance the pictures. I found a temporary score that matched as close as possible to what I heard in my head, and cut the film accordingly. Of course it would have been easier had it been a traditional script with a running time of 2 hours, but then it would have been a completely different film. Some may have liked it a lot more, but I guarantee it would not have been as unique.

UF: Did you consider when you were editing it that the film was going to be seen to be something different by the various audiences? Anyone in the play would see it different than someone who saw the play and that would be different than some one like myself who came in blind. Did you simply edit the film to make the best film possible?

DM: I simply tried to get the most out of each scene. I did hope that the film would stand on its own two feet entirely, and that any viewer would never need to know that it started as a play. It became obvious that this was never going to happen, and so I added the board at the beginning telling viewers about the films origin, as this information seemed to be so much a part of the whole story.

UF: What were your original cuts for the film like? How long were the various cuts?

DM: They were just much longer. And also, the film used to begin very much in our world with local BBC reports of a missing man living on the mountain. This tone grated against the dreamy poetics of the baptism and the Stranger's stories in a very confusing way. Viewers of the early cuts would feel very uncomfortable through these mixed messages, often not able to articulate why they didn't think it worked. I eventually decided that I had to choose one direction over the other, and went with the poetry rather than the explanatory set up. The first cut was 3 hours. Second cut 2 and a half, and cuts 3-5 continued trimming until we got under 2 hours. I'm sure many interested parties still wish other bits were trimmed, but you can't please everyone, and ultimately I was very grateful for all the input which I considered very carefully BECAUSE I had been given this extraordinarily privileged position of having the final word on the cut. I felt a huge responsibility to use that privilege with discretion.

UF: You talk in the commentary about how you put certain pieces of music to the rough cut sequences and then had to change it. Which do you prefer, the music now in the film, or what you had originally used for your rough cuts? By any chance did you keep a version of the film for yourself with the music you prefer?

DM: Although my temporary score included some of my favourite pieces of music in the world - Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli, Phillip Glass, Shostokovish, Mahler, Eleni Karaindrou - I'm now happier with the final score. I had an amazing four days with Ashley Slater recording and mixing the final music, with several fantastic musicians visiting my studio and playing beautiful, often improvised, parts. I was very worried about the music right up until the eleventh hour, but it all came together in the most extraordinary way.

UF: When you make a film do you go in with music in mind or do you wait to see how the film turns out? ( I would think with something like the Django Reinhardt music in The Week Before, you had that in mind all along)

DM: I usually have music in mind. I write scripts to music, and imagine scenes inspired purely by music. Ironically, the Django Reinhardt music that directly inspired the scenes in The Week Before cannot be cleared, so I'm now facing the unenviable task of writing and recording a whole new soundtrack for it. This one may defeat me

UF: Are there any plans for a US release? (I saw this on an import DVD)

DM: Yes, though no clear plans yet. It looks like we finally have a sales agent on board, so I hope a plan will emerge.

UF: Tann-y-groes is a lovely short film. Was this something that you just sort of put together from stuff you just shot at Port Talbot?

DM: I shot so much location material for the film in the weeks I was in Port Talbot, I was sad that so little of it got into the final film. There was so much demand on the film to be shorter, I had to lose one of my ambitions for the film which was to create a real portrait of the town. So I found a home for this material in this little DVD extra.

UF: Do you have any thoughts on how some of your fans are completely bewildered by what they see as an atypical project for you? I know the vast majority of your fans in the US have not seen the film and are making up their minds blind. Do you ever consider what your fans, or anyone for that matter thinks, or do you simply choose a project simply because it interests you?

DM: I realise artists and authors have different relationships with their fans, and make different judgements on what those expectations are. For myself, I only have one obligation to the folk who like and maybe follow my work, and that's to do the very best work I can on the thing I'm feeling most passionate about. In the last few years I've done a cookbook with Heston Blumenthal, a science and sceptical thinking book for young readers with Richard Dawkins, a wordless erotic graphic (very) novel, a couple of narrative exhibitions and this film. If you don't like any one of these, hang around, and you may like the next one. It would bore me rigid, and by extension I think it would eventually bore my audience, if I did basically the same thing every time.

My choices in film are very limited. I can't make a film happen in the same way that I can make a book happen. There are not too many opportunities that come along. I know I don't have the temperament or skin thick enough for mainstream film-making. So I'm happy to continue a life in books and galleries, and choose the odd film project for personal reasons - how much I can learn from it, how much of an experience out of my comfort zone it will be, how much I connect with the material.

UF: Would you do more films like this, things that don't seem to fit with in the fantastical nature of your art?

DM: Well, yes, but I do think that this film fits into my world very well. I'm not interested in fairies and goblins and superheroes. I am interested in real people in real lives and how their minds work. How we can understand each other through the distorting lens of our imaginative lives.

The Stranger rests

Come back tomorrow afternoon for a few final questions on things other than The Gospel of Us.

Great Indian Marriage Bazaar (2011) SAIFF 2012

I am not the sort of person to enjoy a film about weddings. Okay yes give me something like Father of the Bride and I'm happy, but a documentary about the marriage India?  Under normal circumstances I would be running for the hills, however having just seen The Great Indian Marriage Bazaar I will agree that there are times when one shouldn't run for the hills.

Beginning at the wedding of one of filmmaker Ruchika Muchhala, where she is asked by her aunts when she is getting married, the film follows Ruchika as she tries to get get a handle on Indian marriage madness by trying to find her self a mate and by following the wedding plans of two other women.

I had a blast watching this film. As I said at the top this is not my type of film, but Ruchika is such an inquisitive young woman who looks into all aspects of what it means to get married that one can't help but get dragged along. There's astrology, online dating services, hymen reconstruction, match makers, and on and on. Its crazy what it takes to find a mate and settle down in India.

But it's not just the physical acts involved, Ruchika also looks into the philosophy behind arranged marriages and all of the madness. Keep in mind, I believe, around 90% of all marriages are arranged and to some one like me who thinks its all about love, the ideas behind things being arranged may have something to them.

I really liked this film a great deal. I liked that it it covers so much material in just an hour. In it's way it a perfect primer on the Indian way of marriage. (The director is appearing at SAIFF when the screens Sunday to do a Q&A so this is sure to run for at least another hour of lively talk.)

If you're in New York on Sunday night I highly recommends you get down to the Chelsea Cinemas and pick up a ticket, not only will you be informed, but you will be entertained which is the best combination one could ask for.

The Zen of Bennett

After hearing some rumblings of this film from Chocko who reported live and direct when it first screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and seeing some of his red carpet photos from the event, he sent out warning arrows to the tribe that The Zen of Bennett was playing at IFC with Tony Bennett scheduled to be in attendance for the October 24th screenings! So off we went to IFC to investigate and extrapolate! Below is a cross-post from our native haunts at Planet Chocko!

(Tony Bennett and son - Danny Bennett: photo by mr c)

The documentary, The Zen of Bennett takes us on a behind the scenes look at Tony Bennett and what makes this legend tick even up to his gingerly age of 85 years young. From the onset of the film, Bennett preaches what he practices – that everything about yourself – your aura, your looks, your every move, your work should be about quality. No time should be wasted or vacated by anything less than being your best. So there begins the pace that the legendary singer sets as we follow him to various studios (NJ,London,Italy) for a recording session with some well known and talented musicians/vocalist in their own right including Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, Natalie Cole, John Mayer, Lady Gaga, Michael Buble, Carrie Underwood, and legends like Willie Nelson, Andrea Boccelli, and Aretha Franklin. We get to see the amazing interaction between Bennett and the current artists of today – how he nurtures, compliments, and basically passes the torch from a lion like himself to the young pride! You would imagine Bennett and Aretha Franklin’s duet performance would of been the most explosive in terms of energy but it seemed like the Bennett – Lady Gaga combination was pretty darn earth shattering! It was also great to see Tony work his gentle demeanor and playfulness with Michael Buble and Amy Winehouse to ease the anxiety pains in the studio. It was very touching to see how Bennett was truly concerned for Winehouse and her battle with the demons. You can catch Tony’s Zen like magic (not in a religious way) as he coddles Amy Winehouse to make her feel more comfortable with her fidgety self in the recording session. Winehouse and Bennett teamed up for a smoky, down and dirty version of “Body and Soul”. Unfortunately thereafter, the tragic death of Amy would cause a ripple of sadness within Bennett.

Not everything is all peaches and cream & Zen like with Tony as we see some examples of being stubborn and cranky at times but hell – who’s perfect? Michael Buble’s interview with the media causes concern for Bennett as he misinterprets the message as being old. Another incident in Italy at Andrea Boccelli’s home/studio will question someones work ethic. Don’t even talk about rearranging the tempo and flow of the songs!

We also had the privilege to see the singing legend’s other passion – drawing and painting! It was fun watching Tony do a quick sketch of Willie Nelson in the studio. The Zen of Bennett, not to be confused with the religious aspects of Buddhism portrayed a quiet, compassionate, and tender side of our subject as he kept all things classy! I can easily see how this man remains young at heart, humble, & successful. It’s all because of family dynamics and the tight bond between them.

Tony Bennett fan or not, The Zen of Bennett will give you a different perspective with living/appreciating life to the fullest and will perhaps touch your tender button. At the very least it will bring the sexy back to wearing ties and with making sure that those shoes get polished correctly!

The Zen of Bennett continues to screen at IFC Theaters in NYC until 10/30!

Those that are fiending for Tony Bennett and the above mentioned artists & others collaborate, do yourself some justice and buy the DUETS II album!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gospel of Us: The Passion of Port Talbot (2012)

The Gospel of Us: The Passion of Port Talbot is a film that is bewildering fans of its cinematic director Dave McKean. It is not a fantastical film of his own creation and therefore, for some of his fans, seems to be not worth taking notice of. The reality is the film is a one of a kind cinematic confection that is really unlike any other film I’ve run across.

The film is nominally a record of a new styled Passion Play that was put together by actor Michael Sheen in his home town over Easter weekend, 2011. The play lasted over three days and wandered all over the town. It told the story of a teacher who disappeared into the wilderness for 40 days, and then returned to town. He then got under the skin of a fascist corporation and its puppet police force before ending up crucified. In actuality the film is mash up of documentary, fantasy, narrative, allegory, and several other genres, into something wholly unique.

The film was the result of McKean and Sheen talking about a book project that would highlight Sheen’s three most important roles: Hamlet, Edgar Allen Poe, and the teacher in this play. As they discussed the play, McKean asked who was going to record it. When he was told no one, he suddenly found himself pressed into service.

McKean was given more or less total access to the rehearsals and the performance with one proviso: he could never be out in front or interfere with the performance in any way. (The one time it did happen the cameraman was admonished, which worked to the production's advantage since it drove the paparazzi into the also makes for a truly magical moment on screen). Due to the vast expanse of the show (it literally covered the entire town), and a tight budget, he was limited in the number of cameras he could use, and didn’t get everything he wanted. However, thanks to the BBC, who was making a documentary, and the copious use of iPhones by the audience, he was able to supplement his footage with the work of others.
This wonderfully weird mix of documentary and narrative is very clearly not a straight forward recording of the event as it happened. As anyone who sees the film will quickly notice, it's full of altered images and changes. At one point one of the characters is morphed into a McKean designed bird creature. At other times McKean has erased the vast crowds that were watching events, or he has frozen them in time while mystical things happen. He has added some sequences with a godlike builder, others with a small girl (who may be dreaming the whole thing), plus there are some pick-up shots. The passion play as performed has been altered for McKean’s own purposes- and we are so much the better for it.

How is it?

To be completely honest, I don’t know entirely. I'm very much leaning towards saying it's one of the best films of the year, but I'm not completely sure...though each time I watch it, it is certainly one of my most treasured viewing experiences. I’ve seen it three times now (twice as the film alone and once with the commentary), and I’m still slightly vexed by the picture. It is most assuredly a stunning achievement. It’s a film that refuses to be anything but what it is. Due to the fact that the film is so incredibly unique, despite on the face of it seeming to be typical, one’s instinct is to fight it. I suspect that the film’s incredibly low rating at IMDB is the result of this battle between expectations and reality.

To be certain, the film isn’t perfect...then again it never could be. The imperfections are the result of a combination of the original event, how the film was shot, and budgetary considerations. There are bumps and missteps here and there. Some of the language can be a tad arch for a film (but perfect for a play), at other times it's spot on perfect and moving.
No matter what you think of it, you have to remember that except for a fluke or pure chance, this film would never have existed. It’s a film that came together because someone had suggested recording what was a one time only event.

I love the film a great deal. I know I admire it much more than that, though each time I see it my opinion goes up greatly. This is a film that tries, and succeeds, in being something special.

It’s also a film that requires multiple viewings. Never mind that one should listen to the commentary on the DVD with the director so you can marvel at how he put the film together. It simply requires multiple viewings just so that one can really see it and appreciate its own rhythms. As I've said, I've seen it three times, and each time I'm more and more amazed at the wonders contained inside it.

As for fans of McKean, you all should be making an effort to see it, for while the film is a reimaging of a passion play, he has fused it with his own visual style. There is not only the aforementioned bird creature, but also image manipulation that could only have been created by the artist himself. Anyone saying this isn't a McKean film hasn't seen it.

Easily one of the finds of the year...and one of the best as well.

See this film.

And come back tomorrow when I talk to director Dave McKean about the film..

Soongava:Dance of the Orchids (2012) SAIFF 2012

Diya, young woman who wishes to become a dancer enters into an arranged marriage. As she spirals closer to her wedding day she realizes that she has no feelings for her betrothed but  is in love with her best friend, Kiran. They begin an affair but soon are found out...

The pleasures of this film come entirely from the relationship between the two women. When the pair get caught in the rain about a quarter of the way into the film and they end up crashing into each other, the film finally gains traction it really didn't have up to that point. There is something about seeing the pair interact that is truly special. The magic of the film carries over into several moments where music is used to convey the emotions between the women such as a song that is heard when Diya is out with her fiance and Kiran is at her friend's home talking to her parents. The music bridges their distance wonderfully.

The problem is that outside of the relationship of the two women- which would be great in a film from anywhere- the film is saddled with your typical scenes of parents trying to keep their girl on the straight and narrow and the typical complications of a disapproving society. The scenes are so cliche as to be almost stilted.  It's not the performances, it's the script which literally gives the actors nothing to do but say the very expected things.The film might have been able to over come the cliche-ness if this had been filmed a bit more imaginatively than it is. The film kind of suffers from a sense of it being shot for TV.

Please don't let me infer that Soongava is a bad movie, it's not but instead of making a great film from top to bottom the film settles for making a statement with the result the film is just good despite some truly very real moments. Forgive me but I hate it when a film's biggest selling point is that it has it's heart in the right place and it's full of good intentions. Soongava certainly has it's heart in the right place, I just wish it had things other than the few scenes between the women to make the film truly special.

The film plays Sunday the 28th at 5pm. For more information click here.

Memento Mori (1999) is screening in a special Halloween showing of the Free Korean Movie Night series

This is a special Halloween screening of Memento Mori a  Korean horror classic. The film is actually one in a series of horror films that began with Whispering Corridors and continued on with Wishing Stairs, Voice and A Blood Pledge. The film is considered to be the best of the bunch, and one of the best K-horror films period,  The series all are set in an all girls school, and all are unrelated.

The plot of the film unfolds in non-linear fashion. It tells the tale of two girls who are romantically involved. However one of the girls can't handle the pressure and is driven to suicide. After that weird things begin to happen and it rapidly becomes clear that more was going on than first thought.

You'll forgive me for not going into a deeper discussion of the film but it's been years since I last saw the film. I do remember liking it, but I also remember it getting mixed in the other films in the series which I watched in a marathon session. I liked the film and it's related films enough that they still resonate with me even when many other films have faded from my brain, for that reason alone I recommend attending the films six nights hence if you're not going to go trick or treating yourself.

As always doors at 630 and film at 7 at the Tribeca Cinemas just off Cnal Street