Saturday, March 31, 2012


Charles Gustafson's 1981 film Cuts depicts lives lived in a northwest saw mill producing cedar shingles.  Filmed using cinéma vérité strategies, the 38-minute piece is a raw look at the hard-working, hard-living "shingle weavers" as they mesh themselves with the rhythms of their saw blades, transforming massive logs of cedar into roofing product.  No one in the factory romanticizes the difficult and dangerous work, the best some can muster is a half-bitter, half-boastful pride about their ability to do it well.

Several of Gustafson's subjects talk about the sting of the blade as it hits flesh and many bear the scars of a deep cut; on average, this crowd has fewer fingers per hand than what you'll see in most films.  One shingle weaver confesses that the fear after being cut is almost more difficult than the injury itself.  Another man, on permanent disability, drinks heavily as he speaks of the loss of his hand.  The statement that sums it all up has gotta be, "it comes down to this: you've got cedar, you've got shingles, you've got fingers.  That blade just don't stop."

Cuts plays in a double feature with Ron Finne's Natural Timber Country at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Mon., April 2nd at 7pm.  Finne will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. 

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Friday, March 30, 2012


Absence plays a strong role in the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (L'enfant, The Son), one could even describe the condition of loss as a recurring character within their celebrated body of work.  Often, as in their latest film, The Kid With a Bike, what's missing is within arm's reach, an unrealized desire made worse by proximity to what the character craves.

In The Kid With a Bike, it's the abandonment of a young boy named Cyril (Thomas Doret) by his father, Guy (Jérémie Renier), that drives the story forward.  As the film opens, Cyril begins to realize that his temporary stay at a home for boys is a far more permanent arrangement than his father had promised.  What's more, Guy has moved out of his apartment without leaving a forwarding address, selling Cyril's bicycle to a neighbor boy in the process.

Cyril retrieves his bike in a rough and tumble manner, presaging further violence down the line, and sets off to track down his father.  Returning to his father's last known place of residence, he comes under the notice of Samantha (Cécile De France), a hairdresser living in Guy's old apartment building.  Taking pity on the boy, Samantha aids Cyril in his search for his father but is unable to protect him from the harsh truths that await him.

The Kid With a Bike arrives with a built in audience.  The Dardennes are certified critical darlings and art-house favorites.  They're among a very small crowd of directors to have won the prestigious Palme d'Or multiple times at the Cannes Film Festival (this newest work took second place--the Grand Prix--at the 2011 fest).  Few directors working today operate with as unified of a vision as the Dardenne brothers; their extremely effective strategies rarely shift from film to film.

If you've seen one Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne film, you know what to expect here.  Handheld cameras track Cyril's every movement, watching him struggle against the circumstances he's been handed.  The worldview on display is bleak but doesn't rule out the possibility of redemption.  Moments of kindness temper the more tragic aspects of the story but, as in everything else in their filmography, the brothers persistently resist the urge to deal in sentimentality. 

Given that their best film, Rosetta, has fallen out of print on dvd in the U.S., newcomers to the Dardennes could do a lot worse than to become acquainted to their essential work via The Kid With a Bike.  Those already initiated in the Belgian masters' oeuvre will find much to celebrate here, too.

The Kid With a Bike begins its run at the Living Room Theaters on Fri., March 30th.  More info available here

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Thursday, March 29, 2012


Illness abounds in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 masterpiece Red Desert, the director's first foray into (Techni)color filmmaking.  Antonioni regular Monica Vitti returns as Giuliana, a woman recently discharged from the hospital after an accident related to her flawed mental state.  But it's not just Giuliani who is ill; the entire backdrop that constitutes the world in Red Desert is an industrial nightmare, wheezing and coughing up various colors of smoke and haze, birthing an environment that mirrors our protagonist's cluttered and fragmented vision of a terrible reality.

Against this image of a ravaged landscape, Giuliana travels from place to place as if experiencing a vision, one where only she can see the natural being supplanted by the man-made.  Yes, there are signs that the environmental spaces depicted are objective: both her husband, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), and his business associate, Corrado (Richard Harris, looking here at times like a young Marlon Brando), witness a monumental amount of built up exhaust being released from the factory that Ugo manages, while her young son, Valerio (Valerio Bartoleschi), asks why the smoke funneling out of the factory is yellow.

Giuliana's crisis, however, seems to derive from her inability to see these signs of the modern age as the progress that Corrado interprets them as being.  She may also be experiencing an existentially felt sense of responsibility for the wreckage she witnesses; after all, her husband supports their bourgeois lifestyles with his job at the plant.  No one else in the film seems at odds with their surroundings, while Giuliana struggles ceaselessly against them.

Much like in his 1975 film, The Passenger, Antonioni departs from the main narrative in the third act for a short tale relayed by one character to another.  In both films, the story is allegorical, aiding in the viewer's understanding of the exceedingly elliptical, primary storyline.  Giuliana tells her son of a girl who lives in isolation on an island that is quite the opposite of the polluted spaces seen in the rest of the film.  Paralleling Giuliani's predicament, the island girl stumbles upon an essential truth pertaining to her surroundings. 

A helpful bit of context when viewing the film:  Red Desert appeared within two years of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a text often credited with kick-starting the modern environmental movement.  Whether or not Antonioni's film was directly influenced by Carson's book, it's really difficult to talk about Red Desert without at least acknowledging the impact that the environmental movement has on one's understanding of the film.  It's possible to imagine Red Desert as a poetic lens through which to view the urgency of environmental concern or, conversely, a conceptual piece driven by the zeitgeist of the early-to-mid 60s environmental consciousness.

Red Desert plays at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Thurs., March 29th through Sun., April 1st at 7pm. 

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012


As far as short films go, this one's pretty lengthy, clocking in at almost 45 minutes in running time.  But I'd argue that it's as essential a film as Werner Herzog ever made (okay, a close second after Lessons of Darkness), containing deep ruminations on the mystical and Freudian impulses (the death drive, specifically) often present in his work without being bogged down on a surface level by overly ponderous pronouncements on those subjects.

One can truly enjoy the piece for its base elements: awe-inspiring, slow-motion 16mm cinematography of the greatest (circa the early 1970s) ski-jumper in the world, Walter Steiner, performing his trade, coming within inches of extreme peril each time he competes, as well as complimentary ethereal music by Popol Vuh, and the film's outside-the-box approach to the sports documentary genre.

It's the visual element that's most stunning here.  Cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein camera work erases all trace of gravity from Steiner's record breaking jumps.  I've yet to see anything else captured on film that isolates its subject from standard worldly experiences as effectively as The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner; it's like watching the moon landing, if the astronauts' bodies were substituted for their spacecraft.

Regarding the risk inherent in Steiner's sport: his frustration around the imposed boundaries for his jumps (which he regularly oversteps) mirrors that of the late Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, the subject of last year's must-see documentary Senna.  As Steiner jumps further and further, there is little accommodation made by the sporting officials for his safety, placing him in extreme danger if he continues to compete at the full extent of his powers.  It's a tension that is transferred to the viewer as Steiner hurtles through space repeatedly throughout the film.

A magnificent documentary that truly pushes the form forward.  Sit back and enjoy The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner:

A note: if you're having trouble turning on the subtitles, you may have to view the video directly on YouTube.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012


Dan Halsted's Grindhouse Film Festival brings out the big guns next Tuesday, March 27th with a 35mm presentation of Italian-horror maestro Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell (aka City of the Living Dead).  

Gates of Hell's got more than its share of memorably macabre sequences, including a séance powerful enough to kill (or so it seems), a live burial, an army of maggots on the attack, and, perhaps most famously, an encounter between a drill bit and one man's skull.  And, lest we forget, the dead are returning, thanks to some kinda hoodoo-voodoo involving a priest, suicide and the gates of hell.

Here's what to expect, courtesy of Grindhouse Film Festival's press release:

GATES OF HELL (1980) A surreal Italian gutmuncher from gore-maestro Lucio Fulci!  A priest commits suicide and unwittingly opens the gateway to hell.  The rotting dead rise from their graves to feed on the living in gruesome fashion, while a psychic and a journalist attempt to stop the rancid carnage.  This is Lucio Fulci at his finest, so prepare yourself for zombie killing, head drilling, intestine spilling mayhem!  Powered by Fabio Frizzi's creepy soundtrack and top notch special effects.

35mm horror trailers before the movie.

Related links:
Grindhouse Film Festival presents Vigilante (1983)

Gates of Hell will screen at the Hollywood Theatre for one night only: Tuesday, March 27th at 7:30pm.  Advanced tix + more info available here.

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Friday, March 23, 2012


One of the best of Alfred Hitchcock's British suspense thrillers hits the big screen once more at the Hollywood Theatre this weekend.  From 1938, The Lady Vanishes is many a Hitch fan's favorite of his pre-Hollywood work (mine is The 39 Steps), featuring Margaret Lockwood (Night Train to Munich), Michael Redgrave (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) and, in the titular role, Dame May Whitty (Night Must Fall).

Some might argue, though, that the real star of the film is the train; its motions and movement drive the story forward throughout the picture.  Hitchcock certainly loved using rail travel as a device in his films, borrowing their kinetic energy and confined spaces for numerous films throughout his career.

In The Lady Vanishes, the tension is focused around what befell poor Miss Froy (Whitty), where she possibly could have vanished to, given the limited options aboard the train, and--again, due to the confined space--how the threat might extend to the leads of the film.

It's a cracking, suspense-driven voyage and it's only playing twice this weekend, so don't miss out!

Lady Vanishes plays at the Hollywood Theatre on March 24th & 25th at 2pm.  More info available here.

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There's the temptation when watching Sound of Noise, the rhythm-heavy, feature debut by directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, to liken it to a full-length version of the final episode of The Flight of the Conchords, where the Conchords play ordinary objects (drinking glasses, a lamp, etc.) , producing a ridiculously fun musical arrangement out of them.  Turns out, Simonsson and Nilsson first played with this rhythmic conceit back in their 2001 short, Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, featuring the same percussion ensemble that also stars in Sound of Noise.

The story centers around Amadeus (Bengt Nilsson), a cop from an exceptionally musical family.  His parents were both classically trained musicians and his brother appears to be the most famous conductor in Sweden.  Amadeus, however, has a tin ear, visibly suffering whenever he encounters music in any form, setting him up for the challenge that lies ahead.

A group of drummers, led by expelled music conservatory student, Sanna (Sanna Persson), and a composer, Magnus (Magnus Börjeson), begin perpetrating a series of illegal musical performances/acts of terrorism around the city, ranging from rhythmic attacks resembling a bank robbery to, most hilariously, the hijacking of a hospital operating theater. 

The film playfully manipulates the conventions of the crime film genre.  Amadeus is, of course, the only person capable of deciphering the crimes, thanks to his inability to bear musicality in any form.  It even has a bit of fun with the oft-exploited dynamic between the hunter and the hunted, where an affinity is formed by virtue of the chase itself. 

All in all, Sound of Noise an infectiously fun comedy infused with truly weird and wonderful musical performances.  Just try and resist smiling, for instance, during the sequence involving construction equipment.

Sound of Noise will begin its run at the Living Room Theaters on Fri., March 23rd.  More info available here.

As a bonus, here's Simonsson and Nilsson's short film, Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers.  If you like the short, you'll love Sound of Noise:

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Thursday, March 22, 2012


A key moment in Luchino Visconti's (The Leopard) 1960 epic Rocco and His Brothers comes near the end when Rocco (Alain Delon) declares to his family that he dreams of one day returning to their land in Northern Italy.  The film tells the story of five brothers who, along with their recently widowed mother, Rosaria (Katina Paxinou), make the transition from a rural setting to the urban environs of Milan.  Although Visconti equally divides the film into a chapter per brother, the heart of the picture concerns the destructive rift that develops between Rocco and his brother Simone (Renato Salvatori), a downward spiral that Rocco (and the film itself) seems to believe has come about as a result of the move to Milan.

Rocco and Simone are torn asunder by their competition for Nadia (Annie Girardot), a prostitute who cynically hangs about Simone until he is no longer useful to her, only to be transformed by the affections of Rocco.  Just when it seems possible that Rocco and Nadia's bond could neutralize their individual sorrows, Simone's violent jealousy rears its ugly head, prompting Rocco to make one of several bitter sacrifices for his callously unappreciative brother.

Visconti's film is said to have been a strong influence on the work of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.  Both directors have made films revolving around themes similar to those present in Rocco; the destruction of familial bonds, often featuring characters with mercurial temperaments.  Scorsese notes in his documentary on Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy, that the outsized emotions on display in films like Visconti's were a revelation upon first viewing.

It's easy to draw comparisons between the quickly shifting character dynamics at play in Rocco and His Brothers and those present in Mean Streets or Goodfellas.  Likewise, Coppola seems to have taken note of Visconti's drama heightening use of Nino Rota's score, borrowing the composer for his Godfather trilogy; a choice perfectly suiting the analogous tragedy befalling the Corleone family.

It's worth mentioning how difficult it is to see Rocco and His Brothers as Visconti intended it.  The current U.S. dvd edition is non-anamorphic widescreen, meaning that, if you own a modern 16X9 television display, the disc will force a compromise in quality to fill the screen with the image and, even then, the film was transferred in the wrong aspect ratio.  Worse yet, it's the truncated cut of the film, missing twelve minutes of footage that were excised when the film opened in the U.S. in 1961.

Fortunately, the version playing at the NW Film Center this weekend restores Rocco and His Brothers to its original 180-minute running time.  It's a rare chance to see the film as it was meant to be seen, on a large theater screen with its full story intact.

The newly restored, original 180min. cut of Rocco and His Brothers will screen at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Fri., March 23rd & Sat., March 24th at 7pm and again on Sun., March 25th at 4pm. 

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012


As the title of this posting indicates, we've hit a modest milestone here at The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown.  One hundred posts in just over a year's time and it only feels like the blog is beginning to pick up steam.

What better way to celebrate than with the news that local treasure Cinema 21 is following up their week long birthday party for two classic films with a series they've dubbed Noirville!

Back when I lived in the SF Bay Area, it seemed like there were several film noir fests programmed per year. It's been a good long while since a theater in PDX programmed a series dedicated to the genre (was this the last time?), so this is truly exciting news!

The press release states:
"Cinema 21 proudly presents… NoirVille!

One entire week of Film Noir’s Greatest Hits! 

Twelve films in all. And for you über film geeks, nine of them are on sumptuous 35mm!

The films speak for themselves; they’re classics all. But what should be stressed is that this is a very rare opportunity to see on the big screen, as they were intended, twelve quintessential examples of a style, a feeling, a mood of American films the French aptly named Noir. To borrow a phrase from Raymond Chandler, 'The streets were dark with something more than night.' And now so is Cinema 21!"

Featured at Cinema 21's Noirville:

Orson Welles' 1958 film Touch of Evil:

Charles Laughton's 1955 film The Night of the Hunter (tied with Days of Heaven as my favorite film):

Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946):

Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947):

Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945):

Here's the fantastic poster for the event:

Noirville begins at Cinema 21 on Friday, March 23rd.  More info available here.

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Last year, the non-fiction films Bobby Fischer Against the World and Senna both recognized that obsessive repetition is often the common thread amongst those we label as geniuses.  This crucial concept lies at the heart of David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a portrait of shokunin Jiro Ono, a man whose entire life has been given without limits to the betterment of his craft.

Ono practices his magic at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a small, 10-seat eatery snugly nestled in the corner of Tokyo's underground rail station.  Belying the unexceptional location, the restaurant is the only sushi-based dining establishment in the world to have received a three-star Michelin rating, an honor extended to Jiro and his staff for five years running now.  Fundamentally, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an introduction to the world's greatest sushi chef, for those not already in the know.

The film emphasizes the focused repetition that drives Jiro's art.  There's nary an interview subject in the piece who doesn't marvel at the chef's unyielding pursuit of perfection.  Gelb uses food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto's extensive knowledge of and gushing enthusiasm for Jiro's work as an entry point into the intimate spaces of Sukiyabashi Jiro's kitchen and dining area.

From there, we meet Jiro's eldest son, Yoshikazu, who is expected to take over the reigns when Jiro finally steps down; a monumental task in the face of his father's legacy.  As a veteran of Jiro's kitchen puts it, Yoshikazu will have to "make sushi twice as good as his father" to be seen as his equal, such is the esteem with which Jiro is held in the culinary world.

Everything about Jiro's philosophy is bent towards continual improvement.  We're told that he asks that his apprentices make a ten year commitment, though only the truly dedicated survive long in his kitchen.  Gelb's camera ventures outside the confines of the restaurant to meet the fish and rice vendors who supply Jiro with the quality of ingredients he demands.

Each vendor comes off as idiosyncratic and detail-oriented as Jiro himself; there's an entertaining discussion between a rice merchant and Jiro about who deserves (and is capable of cooking) the variety of rice he sells.  The trip is a revelation, pointing to the collaboration that makes Jiro's work possible, something that Jiro himself broaches later in the film when discussing the support he receives from his staff.

There's an expectation that cinema tied to food will inspire hunger.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi certainly fulfills that assumption while being surprisingly emotionally substantial as well.  Gelb presents Jiro as a man with self-denying commitment to his passion.  And his passion is contagious.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi opens at the Hollywood Theatre and Living Room Theaters on Friday, March 23rd.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012


Fans of Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Baraka (1992) should take note of the groundbreaking, Academy award-winning short film Organism (1975).  Made over the course of fifteen years by experimental film director Hilary Harris, the short work pioneered many of the techniques at play in the aforementioned feature-length films.

Harris was given credit for additional cinematography on Koyaanisqatsi and Organism's influence on the post-production stage of that film, as well as the work of just about anyone working with time-lapsed and/or tilt-shifted imagery, looms large.

The film's title refers to its relational meditation based in scale between living organisms and the metropolis that is New York City.  Harris intercuts microscopic footage of biological systems at work with moving images of the city as traffic flows through it, electric light replaces natural light and structures are destroyed and replaced, comparing and contrasting the movements in a manner that uncannily unites them.

Here's a short interview about Organism from Hilary Harris' 1979 appearance on "Screening Room" with Robert Gardner:

And, finally, here is Organism in its entirety (you'll need to log into Fandor via Facebook in order to view the entire film--unfortunately the only way it's available on the web):


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A dvd compilation of Hilary Harris' films, including Organism, is available for purchase here.

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Friday, March 16, 2012


A couple years ago, a good friend and I were driving back to my place after having caught a screening of Spike Jonze' Where the Wild Things Are.  Both of us were really impressed with Jonze' sorrowfully beautiful film--probably the best film I can think of about childhood depression--and our conversation quickly drifted towards recollections of other children's films that don't talk down to kids, treating them instead as they are: intelligent, emotional creatures capable of dealing with the kind of difficult subjects that most films made for kids tend to avoid.

I offered up Carroll Ballard's exceptional 1979 adaptation of The Black Stallion as an example of a sophisticated and respectfully made film for children; I saw the movie on the big screen as a young child and immediately latched on to its story of survival, triumph and sadness, probably more than any live action film before it.  My buddy met my fond movie memory with his own: The Neverending Story.  In that film the hero is told that "the Nothingness" is coming and there's nothing heavier than that idea--of everything being replaced by nothing.  We both recalled having our minds blown by that one.

This Saturday afternoon, families can head on over to The Hollywood Theatre for a rare chance to catch that latter film on the big screen.  Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the 1984 kids' classic screens only once, so don't miss out!  It sure beats getting dragged by your kids to the mall for a second or third go at The Lorax, right?

The Neverending Story has a single screening this weekend at the Hollywood Theatre on Saturday, March 17th at 2pm.  More info available here.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012


There's a very specific audience that's going to connect with Brandon and Jason Trost's film The FP.  Diehard fans of dance-off genre films like Breakin' should have an entry into the world that the Trost Bros. have created here.  B-movie geeks, especially those who have embraced Walter Hill's cult classic The Warriors certainly will find something to celebrate, too.  Everyone else?  Well, it's hard to say how much an uninitiated viewer will enjoy The FP; my expectation is very little.

The film is as much an homage to the aforementioned titles as it is a parody, although the jokes are often muted by the treatment of The FP's world (that's Frazier Park, yo!) as utterly real, even as the characters are (over)burdened by cartoon-ish dialogue and behaviors.  There are some truly funny moments scattered throughout the film but one has to be patient and willing to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy them.  We're not talking about a work of cinematic art here; this is a faux gang picture set in a preposterous ghetto populated by warriors who settle their arguments with tournaments of "Beat-Beat Revelation," a knock-off of the once popular dance video game "Dance Dance Revolution."

Look for plot references to popular 80s films like the sequels to Rocky (specifically Rocky IV--there's a death to be avenged in an ultimate BBR match) and The Karate Kid as well as from lesser films of the decade.  The FP owes a special debt to a particular flavor of dubious cinema, inspiring lines of dialogue as vapid as, "we roll together, we die together," a phrase exchanged several times during the film. 

For a film that's just over 80 minutes in length, The FP feels much longer.   Based on a short film from 2007, it suffers from more than a small amount of filler to reach that expanded running time.  Clearly, the Trost Bros. love the films they're lampooning in The FP.  The question is: does anyone else adore those films enough to endure a full-length movie that attempts to insert itself into the pantheon of good/bad cinema.

The FP opens at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, March 16th.  More info available here.  

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Janet McIntyre's latest film Faded might be the saddest locally-produced documentary in recent memory.  It also feels terribly important, shedding light on a serious social problem in a complex yet approachable way.  Sporting the subtitle Girls + Binge Drinking, the accessibility of the piece is a large part of its success, offering hope that it can be used as a pedagogical tool for opening up conversations with the very demographic that it documents.

Faded takes a long, sobering look at four young women, ranging in age from their late teen years to their early twenties, long after they've established unhealthy patterns around alcohol consumption.

Cassidy, a young artistically-driven girl, tells McIntyre that she began drinking at age 13 in the company of her overly permissive parents.  Sharon, an Indonesian immigrant whose family relocated to Oregon when she was 15, blames the unwelcome move for her descent into alcoholism and temporary homelessness.  Alyssa, a high-school student living with her father, pinpoints her mom's desertion of her as one reason why she drinks.  And Holley, a former member of Portland's Rose City Rollers, speaks of the social and media-driven pressures that women experience, casting those forces (as well as the pain experienced during roller derby matches) as justifications for her excesses.

At first, McIntyre allows her subjects the momentary luxury of offering up their reasons before having those defenses contextualized as mere rationalization by Jonathan Lurie, a clinical psychologist specializing in adolescent psychology.  From that point on, Faded rejects any arguments the girls offer up for their sustained abuse, choosing instead to watch as their lives unfold, some making better choices while others continue to drink.

In many ways, Faded reminds one of Lauren Greenfield's exceptionally important and disturbing documentary, Thin, a movie about eating disorders that's hard to shake off, even years after seeing it.  McIntyre's film at least offers more hope for some of its subjects than that 2006 film.  And yet, it's the wider view offered up by Faded that chills the most; the statistical information and cultural attitudes (the latter offered up via a panoply of quotes derived from art, literature and celebrities) cited confirm that there's more than a kernel of truth to Holley's claim that the culture demands more than what actual girls can deliver, who suffer the worst indignities when either buying into those roles or choosing to check out via the route of self-abuse.

Faded is not the easiest film to watch.  McIntyre amply displays how each girl's potential has been either sabotaged or delayed by their self-destructive impulses.  But, as a piece aimed towards spreading awareness on a seldom-broached topic, its value is immediately felt.

Faded: Girls + Binge Drinking will screen at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on March 15th at 7pm.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Though the man has been making films for more than fifteen years now, it was in 2011 that Nicolas Winding Refn truly arrived with Drive; a cool distillation of 1980s Hollywood action and thriller tropes remixed by a cultural outsider.  Many have already pointed out how Drive pulls from works associated with that decade by Michael Mann, Paul SchraderWalter Hill and Brian De Palma and, yes, there's absolutely something valid about those observations.  But it's a bit of a stretch to describe the film as just an homage to films like Thief, HardcoreThe Driver and Dressed to Kill.  

Refn may be pulling from identifiable sources here but he cuts those materials with a post-modern detachment that's truly unique in its assemblage; Ryan Gosling's nameless character (as well as most of the characters in the film) is less an individual than he is a representation of codified behaviors and attitudes in the type of films being cited here.

The significant difference between the characters in Drive and those in, say, the most recent flick from someone like McG is that Refn peels back any pretense that his characters are anything but signifiers...of impenetrable cool, violence; whatever.

Note the way in which Gosling's "The Driver" and Irene (Carey Mulligan) interact in the film.  There's more repressed sizzle between these characters than in any other film I've seen since The Remains of the Day (okay, scratch that, since In the Mood for Love).  And still, Irene is, akin to all the female characters in the cinema of Michael Mann, a barely fleshed-out, wafer-thin excuse for what constitutes a person.  In Mann's films, the way he represents women is an insurmountable barrier to some viewers (count me among them), making his films difficult to fully enjoy. 

But, in Drive, Gosling's protagonist is every bit as underdeveloped emotionally and in his back story as the woman to whom he is attracted, striking an odd balance of sorts that heightens the viewer's projections of desire for their coupling, delivering a vicarious thrill based in proximity and distance.  This excitement springs from our understanding of how relationships like these in films like this are supposed to unfold; an expectation that Refn fully exploits while simultaneously denying the viewer a resolution to the tension that he orchestrates in the scenes between Gosling and Mulligan.

The result: an atmosphere of intensely-felt longing motivates almost every action in the film, from the crimes at the heart of the plot to the extreme acts of violence that have stuck with all who have seen it.  Drive functions less as a proper thriller than as an immersive cinematic experience based in projection.  Its success is located in the fact that, even when Refn's manipulations are made transparent, the film continues to vibrate with a curiously slippery energy that shocks every bit as much as it teases.

Drive will screen at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on March 17th & 18th at 7pm.  The film is part of the retrospective series, Driven: The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn.

Related links:
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands 
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Fear X

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Okay, looks like Cinema 21's upcoming triple feature (written about here) has been cut down to a double feature, as What Ever Happend to Baby Jane? has been postponed until fall.

Thanks to Jeff Vanvickle (who writes the Through Taped Lenses blog) for pointing this out to me.

Here's the updated schedule for Cinema 21's classic double feature:

To Kill a Mockingbird (@4:15pm & 9:15) and The Manchurian Candidate (@7pm) runs March 16th thru 22nd at Cinema 21.  Admission for each film is $5.  A double feature will only set you back $8.  Don't miss out!

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UPDATE: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has been postponed until fall.  More info here.

 Hot on the heels of Cinema 21's Double Indemnity/Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed double feature,  Tom Ranieri and his staff have lined up yet another cinematic treat for Portland film fans.  This time around, it's a triple feature of films from 1962.  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Manchurian Candidate and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are all turning 50 this year and Cinema 21's throwing them a week-long birthday party.

A still from To Kill a Mockingbird

Nominated for 7 Academy awards (and the winner of 3, for best actor, screenplay and art direction), To Kill a Mockingbird is the most lauded of the films.  Robert Mulligan's adaptation of Harper Lee's novel used to be compulsory viewing back when I was in elementary school (is it still?).  If there's a kid-friendly film among the trio being celebrated this week, this is it.  Featuring a stellar debut performance by a very young Robert Duvall as the iconic Boo Radley.

A still from The Manchurian Candidate

Remade in 2004 by Jonathan Demme as a Denzel Washington vehicle, the original 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate holds up remarkably well today, rejecting any notions that this tense thriller needed updating.  Boasting a stellar cast (Angela Landsbury's name may not be featured on the poster but her menacing, Oscar-nominated performance is the best in the film), tight direction by John Frankenheimer and tension-infused cinematography by Lionel Lindon, the film transforms noir tropes from the prior generation, repurposing them to potent effect, and is arguably the template for many of the best paranoia-induced thrillers of the 70s (think: The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor).

A still from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is by far the creepiest (and, perhaps, the most fun) of the bunch.  Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play aging sisters who have always been at odds due to a jealousy stemming from childhood.  Both stars milk their roles for all they're worth here; Davis was nominated for best actress for her portrayal of Baby Jane Hudson, a character that is one of Hollywood's most sinister explorations of the psychologically damaging effects of child stardom.

If I could only make it to one of these films, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? would be the one.

To Kill a Mockingbird (@4:15pm), The Manchurian Candidate (@7pm) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (@9:15) runs March 16th thru 22nd at Cinema 21.  Admission for each film is $5.  A double feature will only set you back $8.  Don't miss out!

Remember to find and "like" us on our Facebook page.
Subscribe to the blog's feed here.
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