Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Interview with Vagabond, director of "Machetero"

Machetero, which screens this Thursday, Oct. 29 at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, is a film whose guerrilla production matches both the film's visual aesthetic and its narrative. It tells two stories concurrently: one in which imprisoned revolutionary Pedro Taino (Not4Prophet) is interviewed by a journalist (Jarmush regular Isaach De Bankolé, pictured), and the other about the political awakening of a young man (Kelvin Fernandez) on the streets of New York. As directed and written by Vagabond, Machetero's radical politics extend to the film's non-linear narrative, and its use of on-screen titles, foregrounding the revolutionary literature passed amongst the characters, as well as lyrics from the soundtrack by the NYC-based band Ricanstruction (of which Not4Prophet is the lead singer). Recently, I spoke to Vagabond about the film's intersections of art and politics.

Could you say a little about the word "Machetero," where it comes from, and why you chose it as your title?
The direct Spanish translation of the word "machetero" is someone who works with a machete. However, there is a cultural definition to the word that is unique to Puerto Rico. The "Macheteros" were sugarcane field workers who fought against Spanish colonial rule, and when the US invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American war, they fought against the Americans as well. In the late 1960s, Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios started a clandestine armed organization called "Ejercito Popular Boricua" ("Popular Puerto Rican Army"). Puerto Ricans throughout the Diaspora called them "Macheteros".

The title of the film comes from a saying the Macheteros had, "¡Todo Boricua Machetero!" ("All Puerto Ricans Are Machetero!") which connected Puerto Ricans to their revolutionary past. When I thought more about that saying, it seemed to me that what the EPB was trying to do was to create this idea of the Machetero as warrior and protector of the Puerto Rican people in much the same way that the Samurai is in Japan.

Read the full interview here at The L Magazine.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Black Rain (1989)

It seems grossly obvious to lump adjectives like "haunting" and "harrowing" onto Imamura's narrative about Hiroshima survivors dealing with bodily and psychological strain in the aftermath, particularly when the film is most affecting when it is least direct. The opening sequence of the bomb dropping is undeniably powerful, but the simple shot of black rain landing on a young girl's face is even more so. Restraining even reticence, Imamura cuts the shot short, limiting the possibility of catharsis through the symbolic image. What is shown on the surface is never so important as what is not, Imamura suggests throughout the movie, and that the most devastating wounds are those beyond visibility...

Read my full review of Black Rain here at The L Magazine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Daniel and Abraham (2009)

Typically, when we speak of film as a collaborative art form we mean that the production process involves so many people (be it dozens or hundreds) that, at some level, assigning individual credit is insufficient and misleading. No one element in a completed film exists on its own: always it is interacting with other sights, sounds, and processes. Daniel and Abraham takes this notion of collaboration to an ambitious, minimalist extreme. The entire crew of this feature film consists of three people: director Ryan Eslinger, and the film’s sole actors David Williams and Gary Lamadore. All three shared writing duties, as well as all the other behind-the-scenes responsibilities. However, this stripped-down, DIY production style makes for more than just an interesting back-story to relate in interviews and post-screening Q&As. Instead, it’s an ironic counterpoint to the film’s narrative of deep-seated mistrust and human disconnection. The intense participation and investment of the makers comes through loud and clear on-screen.

Read my full review of Daniel and Abraham here at Hammer to Nail.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Interview with Charles Silver

Last month, the Museum of Modern Art embarked on one of its most ambitious and exciting film series in recent years, An Auteurist History of Film. Curated by Charles Silver, the two-year-plus series takes as its organizational principle the Auteur Theory (which posits the director as the primary author of a film), and aims to cover pre-cinema (such as “magic lanterns” and other early visual and photographic technologies) all the way to the present day. The breadth of its programming is highly promising, with opportunities to revisit and reevaluate more canonical works, as well the chance to see long-neglected and often non-commercially available films (such as Benjamin Christensen’s The Mysterious X from 1914). Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Charles Silver about the guiding principles of his latest series, as well changes in the New York City film scene over the past several decades.

The L Magazine: What was the motivation for doing this series now?
Charles Silver: It seems like as good a time as any. I’ve been at The Museum of Modern Art for almost 39 years now, and I’ve been going to the movies for close to 60 (or maybe more) and I thought it would be good to go back and survey our film archive (which begins in the 1890s and goes up to the present day) and try to define the Auteur theory through the collection. There have been, in the past, other film history cycles at the museum, so it is not totally novel, but I thought that approaching it from the Auteur Theory would make the most coherent expression of film history, at least up until the point that the studios broke down, and we had films really by committees and computers. It is hard to argue that a lot of current movies could be the expression of individual artists although I think there are many exceptions.

Read my full interview with Charles Silver at The L Magazine.

Mother (2009)

Bong Joon-ho’s films have been characterized by bizarre humor (Barking Dogs Don’t Bite) tinged with dark political commentary (Memories of Murder) in the guise of cross-genre experiments (The Host). Bong’s fourth feature, Mother, continues this trend, and while its examination of (in)justice bears certainly similarities to his second movie, Memories of Murder, it is by no means a repetition. As his latest film shows, Bong able to hit all the notes that audiences have come to expect in his movies while still developing his narrative techniques and visual aesthetic.

Read my full review of Mother here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Marlene (1984)

Marlene is not your typical non-fiction celebrity portrait—and really, how could it be when your "star" refuses to appear on-camera? Dietrich herself admits that "Documentary is a thing that connects the voices that are talking," so what happens when that seemingly crucial connection is severed? Schell uses this disjunction between sound and image to explore the star persona of "Diectrich" to see what, if anything, it reveals of the "real" Dietrich that she so desperately tried to hide from the camera.

Read my full review of Marlene here at The L Magazine.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Crossroads of Youth (1934)

Viewing Crossroads of Youth in its intended presentation format, the way Korean audiences would have when it originally premiered in 1934, was like encountering an entirely different art form. All that I thought I knew about how to watch silent cinema—forgiving improper frame rates that make the actors’ movement cartoonish, or understanding that live accompaniment may have differed not only from theater to theater, but from performance to performance at the same venue—was not sufficient to prepare me for how to take in the wide array of sights and sounds—yes, sounds—of this special New York Film Festival screening.

Read my full review of Crossroads of Youth here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Munyurangabo (2007)

I first saw Lee Isaac Chung's Munyurangabo (2007) at New Directors/New Films in 2008, and was struck both by the film's reticent morality as well as by Chung's subtle yet perceptive direction. Considering its political context (the cultural memory of genocide in Rwanda), the film could have easily flown off in the direction of heavy-handed earnestness. Instead, Chung managed to reign in "the message" and focus more on a narrative that is hauntingly empathetic in its exploration of cultural clashes, without giving in to easy answers or reductive symbolism. For the work of first-time filmmaker working with non-professional actors and improvising scenes based on a brief scenario in a language he doesn't speak, it's extremely impressive that Munyurangabo is as nuanced and discerning as it is, in both its political content and cinematic sensibility.

Read my full review of Munyurangabo here at The L Magazine.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Literary adaptations for the silent screen pose certain difficulties. Limited to intertitles and images, how then to cinematically “translate” text-based literature onto the screen without turning the movie into an illustrated manuscript? For an author like Edgar Allan Poe, there is the issue of not only plot, but also the cadence of his language, which gives so much flavor and atmosphere to the stories. For his film of The Fall of the House of Usher, Jean Epstein took a bold approach, not so much following Poe’s directly as moving parallel to it, using cinema’s distinct capabilities to create something analogous to what Poe was doing with language. As Jean-AndrĂ© Fieschi wrote of Epstein, “he is less interested in the expressive possibilities of visual writing than in a certain degree of autonomy pertaining to it.”

Read my full review of The Fall of the House of Usher here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Wild Grass (2009)

The ever-playful Resnais continually reinvents his movie throughout the story’s progression (quite literally up until the last frame, with a truly bizarre final shot!) with red herrings, plot reversals, false endings, and other sudden tonal shifts. At age 87, and with over sixty years of directing behind him, Resnais is still one step ahead of the audience, and his filmmaking remains as vigorous and youthful as ever.

Read my full review of Wild Grass here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Police, Adjective (2009)

One of the great ironies of the detective-centered plot is that, more often than not, it is the observer who is being observed. And not just by other characters in the narrative, but primarily by us, whether we are watching a movie or television show, or reading a pulp yarn. From the Continental Op to Veronica Mars, it has been the detectives themselves more than their cases that have commanded our attention. It is this attraction that is under scrutiny in Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective, a movie that bends, as much as it obeys, the genre’s conventions.

Read my full review of Police, Adjective here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.