Abbas Kiarostami. 1940 – 2016

Another day, it seems that another world cinema auteur passes on. Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami succumbed to Cancer at 76.

If you spent any time on the A-list festival circuit in the past 20 years, you will have encountered many of Abbas Kiarostami’s films. He put Iranian cinema on the world stage with his Palm D’Or win of A Taste of Cherry and was one of the defining voices in the Iranian New Wave. His no-nonsense, documentary-like visual style was mixed with long wide panoramic shots that brought a quiet poetry to the rural living subjects and children.

The director however, worked in all parts of the world flirted with mainstream success recently with the exquisite Tuscany-set Certified Copy examining relationships and communication in an esoteric and intellectual fashion with Juliette Binoche and William Shimell; cinema gamesmanship.

After a lengthy career in advertising and working in all aspects behind the camera (from designing credit sequences to posters) as well as writing children’s books and poetry, Kiarostami made his first feature in 1977, and worked prolifically until his death at 76. His last film, the quite stylized (oh that opening shot!) Like Someone In Love was shot in Japan.

The Guardian has more.

Who Will Be The Next Kubrick?

There was only one Stanley Kubrick, a filmmaker who combined philosophy, virtuouso filmmaking and an icy, precise look at humanity and its foibles. Zoom-ins, steadicam shots work, and operatic use of music were the tools of his auteur brand of cinema. While there are certainly a few modern films out there films are referred to as Kubrickian, it is a significantly smaller number than those described as Hitchcockian or Spielbergian. Simply put, Kubrick was hard to even imitate, let alone emulate, or push forward his particular style and type of filmmaking. But cinema evolves by younger filmmakers taking large chunks (wholesale) from filmmaking legends; like any art or science (and film seems to be a curious hybrid of both.) If Quentin Tarantino is the neo-Scorcese, Brian DePalma was the neo-Hitchcock (wither DePalma lately?), and Guy Ritchie was (up until he went all block-buster-y with the more generic Sherlock Holmes) a sort of neo-Tarantino., then here are five directors who have made a film that can easily be described as Kubrickian, enough to position them (in my mind anyway) as neo-Kubrick hopefuls.

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Auteur Directors Directing The Superbowl


In a pre-youtube age, Ethan Mather made a series of smile-worthy and observative mini-films called simply “Sodapop.” For each under-a-minute-in-length film, the gag was that of someone opening a can of soda in the auteur stylings of multiple different directors (Woody Allen, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese). Taking the same concept, more than a decade later, and applying to the Superbowl broadcast, is this winner of a video from director Andrew Bouvé, featuring Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Jean-Luc Godard, and Werner Herzog.

Hattip to MovieCityIndie. Video is tucked under the seat.

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Almodóvar Marathon: “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!” (1990)


STARRING: Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Loles León, Julieta Serrano

The first film from Almodóvar I’ve come across that is straight up comedy – at least the first one I remember laughing out loud with so often. As I continue through this leisurely marathon, I expect that I’ll find another comedy somewhere within his filmography, but I’m skeptical that I’ll find one with such darkness, bizzarity or brazenness in its contempt for its characters and almost subversive pondering of male/female sexual politics.

A simpler and easier to follow story from the collected works of Mr. Almodóvar I’ve not seen (yet). It follows the struggle and ordeal of really only two characters and sticks with them (and nearly only them) as their situation complicates and unfolds. A beautiful, young porno star named Maria is attempting to make her way into mainstream film making. Hampering her endeavors is an addiction to drugs and a “holier than thou” attitude. The film within the film, “Midnight Phantom”, is put on indefinite hold when Marina disappears for days on end during production. She has been taken hostage in her own home by an escaped mental patient (Banderas) who has developed an unhealthy obsession with Marina. He busts into her apartment, forcibly and violently restraining her and keeping her tied to a bed and gagged; explaining to her that once she gets to know him, he will be a good husband to her and a wonderful father to their children. As the drama unfolds, the balance of power between the two teeters back and forth before slowly shifting to her side and eventually the entire dynamic of their “relationship” is altered in a way that must be seen to be believed.
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Cinecast Episode 142 – Aging Oddly

Episode 142:
With the strange release dates in different cities this time of year it’s difficult to come together and actually have seen the same recent films. Yet we somehow always find a way. Today’s show is just Kurt and Andrew back together for a classic shoot the shit discussion on everything we’ve seen theatrically over the past few weeks – from remastered Halloween classics to the latest Almodóvar and Todd Solondz. We also get into a little early Oscar talk (including the new hosts just announced) and of course weekly DVD choices. Hope you enjoy this little back and forth and feel free to leave your thoughts on anything you wish in the comment section below and
!Thanks for listening!

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Auteurs and Cheeseburgers

wesanderson3Consider the great directors of cinema and what are the qualities that spring to mind? A distinctive personal imprint. Profundity and imagination expressed on every level. Stylistic innovation. But when you think back on the work of the so-called greats, don’t you feel, deep in your soul, that something intangible is missing? Well, now the wily young maverick Wes Anderson has revealed exactly what was absent from Tarkovsky, Bresson, Welles and the rest: a merchandising tie-in with McDonald’s. True art, it seems, can co-exist after all with moist, defeated cheeseburgers and limp, glossy French fries. I do hope Cahiers du Cinema got the memo.”

The Guardian takes Wes Anderson to task

“None of which would be noteworthy in the slightest if the film in question were some DreamWorks piece of junk, or a knock-off directed by a hack. But even those of us who lost faith with Wes Anderson several films ago would agree that the director – and, one presumes, the studios with whom he works and the publicists who operate on his instructions – presents himself to the world as an auteur.”

Celebrating a Master on His 100th Birthday: Manoel de Oliveira

Manoel de OliveiraEarlier this year, the Cannes Film Festival, one of the world’s most recognized and respected festivals, awarded Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira with the Palme d’Or for his body of work.

During his 77 years as a filmmaker, Oliveira has made no less than 47 films and garnered great praise in Europe. Yet in North America, his work remained largely unseen until earlier this year when, after his Cannes win, he was honored with extensive retrospectives at both the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Cinématek and UCLA. Oddly enough, his work is also largely overlooked in his home country where his films are often run for short periods of time – if they are shown at all.

The Harvard Film Archive
has toted Oliveira as “one of the most imaginative and innovative filmmakers the cinema has ever known” and perhaps that goes a long way to explain the, until recently, severe lack of attention he has received. His films are something of an acquired taste, like a fine wine that improves with age. While casual viewers may dismiss his works as “long and boring”, cinephiles revel in the languid pacing of the films, their remarkable beauty and the filmmaker’s unwillingness to give the viewer anything for free. Oliveira’s films challenge the viewer in ways few others do, forcing us to interact with the film and actively question the motives of the characters and the underlying themes, turning otherwise simple stories into philosophical meditations on everything from death to something as intangible as memory.

As a true auteur, Oliveira has developed a unique style which distinguishes him from any other director working today. His films often feature philosophical discussions grafted onto morality or cautionary tales. He casts his films from a troupe of actors he has become accustomed to working with and he employs a wholly unique style of acting which is often theatrical and melodramatic. Perhaps most importantly, all of his films feature Portugal, particularly Porto, in all of its glory. On a deeper level, his films speak to the heart, soul and culture of Portuguese people with a few, including Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo and Cristóvão Colombo – O Enigma, speaking directly to our history as travellers and immigrants.

Today, on the day of his centennial, Oliveira is working on two films that will be released in 2009. He is the oldest actively working director in the world, a genious of his craft and a national treasure that has, for decades, gone overlooked. It is a shame that it has taken so long for the world to note this master filmmaker’s talent but thankfully, it happened while Oliveira is alive to enjoy it. I only hope we have the opportunity to enjoy many more of his works.

Happy Birthday.

The Lost Tarantino Mixtape

Death Proof

[This is the first in what I hope will be a series of mixtapes that evoke the spirit of auteur filmmakers. I welcome suggestions for future selections. Next will be Wong Kar-Wai. The MP3s available here are for sampling purposes only. Please support the artists by buying their albums and going to their shows. If you are the artist or label rep and don’t want an MP3 featured, please email me]

The following mixtape is all about the art of repurposing, taking songs which have been overlooked by popular soundtracks but which nonetheless possess an allure of the cinematic about them waiting to be explored. These are the same familiar songs we hear playing in the background of a party or a department store, but all of sudden, situated within an overt cinematic context, something clicks and the songs bear new resonance. This playlist is my love letter to the soundtracks of pop cinema, the stand-alone masterpieces of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Sophia Copolla, just to name a few. It takes a musical savant like a Quentin Tarantino to provide that special fusion of old familiar sounds in new exciting contexts, side by side with symphonic vista-creating set-pieces of music which come to define the cinematic experiences they are a part of. It also takes a particular kind of music to play cinematically, and even more so, for it to be iconic. I admit there is a geek factor to this display of arcane knowledge in that a part of the joy of this sort of soundtrack comes from the clever deployment of the familiar (one of my favorite examples is ‘He Loves Me’, the Olive Oil croon song from Altman’s Popeye, that hit just the right note in the montage of Punch Drunk Love). Perhaps nobody is better at this then Tarantino whose films are all about repurposing popular culture, and his musical cues are no different. Think of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ from the ear-slicing scene of Reservoir Dogs, or more recently, the rip-roaring riff that is played during one of the bloodiest scenes in Death Proof, ‘Hold Tight’ by The Who side project, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.

Some of my other favorites include: ‘Jessie’s Girl’ in Boogie Nights, ‘Mad World’ in Donnie Darko, Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ in Trainspotting, Cowboy Junkies’ ‘Sweet Jane’ in Natural Born Killers, Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’ in Lost in Translation

So this is my very own Tarantinoesque mixtape. The challenge was to keep the ethos of obscure but solid ditties which possess the cinematic in their repurposing. It became necessary not to covet from pre-existing soundtracks and avoid the more obvious choices, to get to some sort of pure vision of sound as it manifests onscreen. Sometimes I was thinking about the opening music, other times, envisioned set-pieces. Quite by accident my playlist has taken on a two-part structure which evokes Kill Bill, and superficially the soundtrack as well, except in my version the first part remains loyal to a Western vision, the second part succumbing to a teenage delight in pop music.

I should add in closing that I am aware that two of the songs on this compilation were originally used on soundtracks, but I think those sources are so incredibly obscure that I can get away with this, and if you can tell me which ones and from where then you are truly a star.

A single streamed version of the mixtape can be listened to here Individual tracks are beneath the seat.

Fade to black.
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Culminating Into Brilliance

My Winnipeg Movie StillWalking out of Guy Maddin’s genius My Winnipeg last night, I had flashbacks to another film I saw earlier this week. Though Paranoid Park is a completely different film (different story, mood and visual texture) the two have something in common: they are the result of years of experimentation. Years of working outside the system, of trying new things, years of minor successes and stumbles, falls and restarts. In their own ways, they are the perfect marriages of personal style (auteurship) and narration, both working on a level that makes me think that even if the rest of my film-going year proves to be a complete disaster, 2008 will have been a success because I saw two of the best films I’ve seen over the last few years.

Also earlier this week, the night before My Winnipeg to be exact, I managed to catch one of Maddin’s earlier films. Archangel is risky filmmaking. The narrative is muddled and confusing as are the visuals, the sounds, the setting. Maddin’s surrealistic take on events which take place in Russia at the height of WWI is an interesting work of multi-media art. I love the man’s work but this film, only his second full length feature following the equally bizarre Tales from the Gimli Hospital, makes little sense. Over the years, his style has developed a little further; the visuals are still those of early film making but the narratives are, for the most part, easier to follow but My Winnipeg is a gleeful combination of style and story. The flashes of text add an urgency and even authenticity to scenes while the images and music are a beautiful marriage of Winnipeg old and new. The narration is both funny and biting and regardless of whether the various stories actually happened the way Maddin describes them or whether their mystical figments of his imagination matters not. The experience is the selling point. And the joy. I want a film like this one about Vancouver. A film by a man (or woman if that be the case) who has so much love for his dreamy city that he’s willing to, and freely does, bend reality into absurdity letting the audience decipher what they want and can.

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