The 46th Sydney
(These reviews are copyright. You must
not use any part of them without
11 - 23 June 1999
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Friday 11 June
The Dendy Awards for Short Films
Paying for the Piper (director Julia Redwood)
This documentary should have been so much more moving than it was. It's
an awful thing to say, given the scale of the tragedy that the film
with, but to me, it felt self-indulgent. As soon as the focus went off
Piper Alpha oilrig disaster and onto Ed Punchard's quest for whatever
was he was looking for - some kind of what we now call "closure",
I guess. But unfortunately the film began to lose interest at that
Perhaps it was simply that I could think of so many ways that Ed could
gone about trying to get some recognition for the survivors of the
and even some form of "justice." You see, I don't believe it is
achieving anything to simply whinge that corporations "don't care."
Of course they don't. Most of the people wouldn't have even worked
10 years before.
However, there was one moment of extreme clarity, perception and
this was when Ed was watching Peter Weir's film Fearless, and
that this was his story, and that he was so ashamed of feeling marvellous
after he had been a hero in the rescue operation. Quite a stunning
But all those lingering closeups of him crying...it was too much for a
It tipped the balance from sympathy and pity to bathos.
The Reunion (director: Phillipa Newling)
I didn't connect with this one at all. I felt the acing was forced, the
script was predictable, and it felt like "fiction" - it wasn't
grounded in reality. When one of the characters advised his lover,
"Question everything", I wanted to scream out "Why?"!
Seasons of Revenge (director: Janet Bell)
This was an excellent and intriguing investigatory documentary,
somewhat marred by raising just a few more questions than it answered,
by its weak ending. (It fell back on a quote from the South African
which, although apt in sentiment, was not well enough connected to the
of the film).
Your Turn (director: Greg Woodland)
This film felt like it was made by the kids who appeared in it. It had
good punchline, but poor sound and picture. Not good enough for this
Edithvale (director: Clare Madsen)
Not a bad idea, and some nice erotic scenes, with beautifully filmed
However, there were a few unfortunate stereotypes in other characters,
again, the narrative felt a little forced - not grounded in reality.
Flowergirl (director: Cate Shortland)
Absolutely superb fictional film. It has a very strong Wong Kar Wai
but the setting in Bondi made it fresh and original. It had great
style, with Bondi Road looking like the Ginza, and some very cute
Terrific use of locations, sets and music enable the characters to be
quickly and strongly. The script was original, touching and sometimes
I'd give this first prize in as many categories as possible.
Two Girls and a Baby (director: Kelli Simpson)
A pretty good short film, but a couple of the performances (Claudia
& the actor playing Simone) were disappointing. Niky Wendt,
was superb, and hit just the right note of humorous self-deprecation.
speech which she delivers about "What do we do now?" in the pregnancy
was superb, and quite moving. All in all, very polished.
Above the Dust Level (director: Carla Drago)
Funny, hip, interesting characters and a great sense of self-aware
Help Me (director: Louise Fox)
Clever, well-acted a real sense of atmosphere and suspense, and black
at the same time.
Pentuphouse (director: Cate Shortland)
What a talented girl this is! She is a master at establishing character
and setting swiftly and getting on with the interesting stories of
lives. This one was a little thinner than Flowergirl, but still
Opening Night Film - Limbo (director:
John Sayles, USA)
Limbo starts very slowly. The director presents us with an amazing
- Juneau, Alaska - and a formidable group of people. In fact these
are so interesting that you don't know whether the film will zero in on
one story or many. Almost anyone's story here would do.
But after a while we see that it is the story of Donna (Mary Elizabeth
her daughter Noelle (the talented newcomer Vanessa Martinez) and Joe
regular, David Strathairn). They're an intriguing threesome, and we're
to follow them.
Then, after a long stretch of character development and scene setting,
film changes abruptly into a thriller-mystery. The change of pace is
but it is so abrupt that we almost feel we're in a different film.
the slow building-up that Sayles has done in the 1st half begins to pay
off in the 2nd half, when the theme begins to emerge. As one of the
says, you must be able to survive an ordeal emotionally as well as
Mastrantonio's performance is well-judged and gradually carves an
character out of a ditsy hippy singer (she sings very well, but acts
David Strathairn is as gorgeous and deep as ever. Martinez, as Noelle,
a Christina Ricci look-alike at times, and gives a moving performance
some considerable subtlety.
Haskell Wexler's cinematography is brilliant - he makes the landscape
physically and emotionally.
In summary, life is a dangerous and capricious thing, and we can never
what's ahead of us or how we'll cope until we're there. In that regard,
see Claude Lelouch's Chance or Coincidence, below.
Saturday 12 June
Chance or Coincidence (director: Claude Lelouch, France)
Clause Lelouch does Krzysztof Kieslowski by way of Robert Altman
a touch of Wim Wenders and Robert Lepage. But somehow he makes it his
and it is fresh and interesting and daring and romantic. It's lush and
and funny and sad and astounding.
There's a magnetic star in Alessandra Martines, who lights up the
every time she appears (which is most of the time). There's delightful
a clever script dealing with fate, the past and the future. It's a very
apt choice for the last Film Festival of the Millennium. The ideas are
and the locations are fabulous - we see polar bears, whirling
Acapulco divers, Toronto ice hockey stars and Carrara marble. But it
people who keep you interested: they're charming, or, in the case of
(Marc Hollogne) exasperating. But exhilarating too.
Shadows (John Cassavetes retrospective, 1958-59)
It's the first time I've seen this film and though at times it is
and a bit staged, there are moments of great clarity and insight and
real sincerity. For a first film it is absolutely astonishing!
Lelia Goldoni (as Lelia) seemed right over-the-top at first, until you
that her character was over-the-top at first. Her breakthrough
scene was completely honest and absolutely touching. For me, Hugh Hurd
Hugh) and Anthony Ray (as Tony) were the other standouts. And the scene
in the MOMA sculpture gallery could stand as a classic lesson in
Cassavetes moved the camera as if he was born to do it - which he was.
and his camera follow this group of friends across New York and
such a feeling of excitement and vitality as to be worthy of the
in cinema which this film clearly signalled.
Storefront Hitchcock (director: Jonathan Demme, USA)
The first disappointing film of the festival. A shame, because
himself was there to introduce it, but he seemed much more concerned
taking an inventory of his appearance in the film, than the film itself.
But perhaps that's because the film was pretty boring. As a matter of
the boredom was interrupted twice because I'm absolutely convinced that
they played two of the reels in the wrong order. This was signalled by
abrupt jump visually and a complete derailment of Hitchcock's train of
Strangely, this didn't interfere too much with things. Hitchcock's
are so free-associating that they seemed to make almost as much sense
the wrong order. And people didn't seem to notice as day became night
then day again, people appeared and disappeared and sentences that
early in the film, started later in the film!
Hitchcock's songs are clever and mostly quite good musically, but his
and acoustic guitar playing suffered from a few off-key notes. The film
itself was just too long and very static. Demme varied the visuals as
as he could for a setting so plain - a shop window with a few
props and some different forms of lighting. The backing musicians
properly introduced, so it was difficult to appreciate properly what
were contributing, unless you were already a fan. Fans of Hitchcock
like this, but it didn't convert me.
Gods and Monsters (director: Bill Condon, USA)
Not quite the film I was expecting. It builds up expectations in
direction, then leads you to believe something else, and then rips your
heart out. The climax brings all sorts of elements of the film together
and creates something (as Frankenstein himself did) which is quite
The scenes of the director and his actors making Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein are fun, but not quite as effective as I'd
hoped. But another beautiful Carter Burwell score made up for that
quibble. He's becoming a personal favourite of mine.
But this is fundamentally a film about performances. Ian McKellan is as
wonderful as ever, with such a knowing performance. In fact, he
pushes it too far. Lynn Redgrave gives a real audience-pleasing
gets lots of laughs, and again, almost pushes it too far. Or perhaps
is in keeping with the mood of some of Whale's films - especially, of
Bride of Frankenstein . But for me it is Brendan Fraser who
your breath away. He's just about perfect. He really shades his
nicely, plays dumb well, but plays not-as-dumb-as-you-think as well.
his body, his head. It is architectural! All in all, he's a wonder! And
it's ultimately his film.
Sunday 13 June
Kurt Gerron's Karrusell (director: Ilona Ziok, Germany)
This is a fascinating and ultimately moving documentary about Kurt
a cabaret performer and film star (he appeared in The Blue Angel, no
and director from 1920s & 30s Berlin.
Gerron was the original Tiger Brown in Brecht's Threepenny Opera
and introduced "Mack the Knife" to the world. The documentary
follows his life and career from success in Berlin to death in
for Gerron was a Jew in Nazi Germany. In between we see some fantastic
moving performances of Berlin cabaret and some fascinating interviews
survivors of the cabaret scene. We need to know about people like Kurt
We should not forget them
The Wild Party (director: Dorothy Arzner, USA)
It occurred to me that this early talkie is actually a forerunner of
teen-pic so popular at the moment. What we have is a group of fast
college girls, out for a good time and not interested at all in
They're up for any prank or scheme that's going.
Dorothy Arzner, a woman pioneer director in Hollywood, who was also
gives this film a strong Lesbian undertone, but only if you're open to
it. Basically everyone wants to see all that lush young flesh, no
what their preference!
It's a slight film, a morality tale masquerading as sensationalism, but
it is interesting just to see Clara Bow in action. She was a STAR,
no doubt about it! She injects life into every scene. Fredric March is
quite magnetic, even if he has to speak some lines which sound funny to
us these days. It's also interesting to see how cleverly Arzner dealt
the difficulties of sound recording in 1929. She moves the camera very
and the film doesn't feel static at all.
In Dreams (director: Neil Jordan, USA)
This is a strange film in many ways. The script is a bit of a
in that it does lumber us with something that could , in any other
seem very clichéd. Because it is, after all, a "shocker"
in the sense of a thriller which shocks. But Neil Jordan's images, and
Khondji's cinematography keep us enthralled, so that the clichés
seem fresh and alive - almost too alive. Jordan also has a marvellous
performance from Annette Bening as "Claire Cooper" the
clairvoyant woman who seems surrounded by apples (though not usually in
barrels). And up his sleeve he has Robert Downey Junior who plays a
difficult role very well, perhaps too well.
To say any more would be to say too much, so I'll just say that I loved
it, that the music score by Elliot Goldenthal was outstanding - almost
a homage to Bernard Herrmann's music for Psycho as played by
Glass, and that I thank God for Roy Orbison.
Oh, and that I have a slight problem with the ending, but I can't say
here, except perhaps to say that revenge is never as sweet as apples.
Ghengis Blues (director: Roko Belic, USA)
This is the sort of film that I want to see when Festival Time
around. It's a documentary made by 2 young Chicago kids, brothers, who
or other hooked up with a blind blues singer from San Francisco and an
of other crazy assorted people, all of whom were interested in the
music of Tuva, a country north of Mongolia on the border with the
Soviet Union. This same Tuva had been a hobby of the great physicist,
Feynman. The film follows this group of people to Tuva, where the blues
singer, Paul Pena, ends up entering a throatsinging contest. Paul
taught himself to throatsing, and to speak some Tuvan, back in San
What we see is an amazing journey born out of a hare-brained idea, and
meet the extraordinary Tuvan people who accept Paul wholeheartedly.
connects with them in a moving way and his story is inspiring indeed.
Monday 14 June
Faces (director: John Cassavetes, USA)
According to Professor Ray Carney, Faces is an attempt to
the people portrayed (the hard-bitten businessmen he met in Los
lovingly, not mockingly. That really comes through in this film, even
there are some pretty harsh things said and done by these people, and
are shown mostly warts - not just "warts and all".
Some of the things that impressed me:
- the laughing oral sex scene! John Marley is a very good laugher and,
Liv Ullman has said: "laughter is hard".
- the sudden changes of mood ring absolutely true here. John Marley's
Richard Forst suddenly says to his wife, played by Lynn Carlin: "I
want a divorce. Well why don't you laugh - it's funny. Well why don't
- you get the feeling that you are folowing all the characters around
rather than just passively observing them.
- the complexity of the human emotions Cassavettes is dealing with
Everyone is striving so hard to achieve something. What? If only these
could connect with each other.
- the excellent closeups of Lynn Carlin and her sense of absolute
She's cast adrift.
- the tremendous tension in the scenes with the wives at home.
- the wonderful moment of intimacy, punctuated by stupid singing.
- the fantastic moment when Richard comes home to find his wife's lover
(Seymour Cassel) running off over the rooftop. The Flim Festival
gave this a huge laugh, and the comic timing was perfect!
This film seemed to consolidate everything Cassavetes was working
but couldn't quite capture properly, in Shadows. A fascinating
in human emotion and motivation.
Blackmail (director Alfred Hitchcock, UK, 1929)
From the clips I have seen of the sound version of Blackmail
made two versions, and the festival showed the silent one) the silent
seems to be much more effective.
Hitckcock, fresh from his experience with the great German silent film
such as GW Pabst, knew the value and effectiveness of showing
story rather than telling it.
Some of the great visual touches:
- Frank's hand enveloping his girlfriend's glove - it shows he's
- the way the girl puts the knife back on the plate after she kills her
seducer - as if she wants it all to go away, and the knife to revert to
being just a bread-knife again.
- the chilling and faintly ludicrous laughing portrait: is it Hitchcock
- Hitchcock's macabre sense of humour in the scenes at home with yet
- the spectacular chase and fall.
Hitchcock certainly had fun torturing this woman! This time the torture
is never-ending: she's going to have to live with the torture for the
of her life.
Frankenstein (director: James Whale, USA)
What impressed me most about this film, I think, was the way Whale
the camera inventively. Whale's WWI experiences are quite in evidence
There are many scenes that look as if they were shot from the trenches
low camera angles, horizons shot from below ground, dawns and dusks,
And there are skeletons ecerywhere in the first few scenes; skeletons
There's also a wonderful moment when the camera becomes a member of the
crowd, as the monster falls from the mill. It's almost
photography. Actually, he's not called a "monster until latish in the
film. Before that' he's a "creature." So much more polite!
It is a horrible death for poor monster - killed by fire, the very
he's afraid of. This is noicely ironic, too, because there's a
scene early on in the film when the creature first sees light. He
to he love the light, and tried rather touchingly to catch it in his
The other famously touching scene is the one where he plays with the
girl and throws flowers into the river, eventually throwing her in too,
mistaking her for a flower. In the print we saw, this scene had been
cut short by the censors at the time, thus leaving the little girl's
to our imaginations - and that can be much worse!
There's a nice double entendre in the last line of the film, too:
to a son for the House of Frankenstein!"
Punitive Damage (director: Annie Goldson, NZ)
This documentary told a very interesting story, but the telling of
story was a little muddled. Was this the story of the death of a boy,
the war, or of a court case? I think it was supposed to be of the court
case, and yet the details are not clear - nor is the outcome. It's a
and tragic story, but one feels that a lot has been left out.
I wasn't comfortable with the scenes recreating the hearing, and the
that there was no defence really weakened the drama of both the case
There were also some strange choices in whom to interview and whom to
which also raised a few unanswered questions.
Tuesday 15 June
Megacities (director: Michael Glawogger, Austria/
This excellent documentary is a little reminiscent of movies like Baraka
, and also of the films of Frederick Wise. The director/writer doesn't
too much and doesn't narrative or seem to put words in his subjects'
He simply follows them with his cameras and sound and watches what they
do, how they live and lets them tell their story (or do their schtick,
the case may be). Heaven only knows how they found some of these people
and got some of these shots. Twelve stories from 4 "Megacities":
Bombay, Mexico City, Moscow and New York.
This is a must-see documentary - and it contains two scenes that I will
never forget. one is a man in Bombay who makes his living sifting
food dyes: one day he is red, the next, green.
The second scene I will never forget is a Mexican woman, called
who is what I guess you'd call an "exotic dancer." Her "routines",
done before and with a number of men at once, were among the most
I have seen, and yet through it all she maintained a quiet dignity, a
almost a pride in being good at her job, and an eye firmly on the
of her children. Extraordinary film-making.
Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Centre (directors:
Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt with Albert Maysles)
I went to the Getty in December 1998, so I was really looking
to this film, about the design and building of this new Los Angeles
Let me declare my opinion at the outset: I love the Getty
and I think Richard Meier is a genius . The garden and the interiors
a crying shame.
So having said that, you've got to know that I found this documentary
fascinating, and took reams of notes. Essentially this is both the
of the building and the artistic and temperamental struggle between the
architect, Meier, and (mainly) John Walsh, the Museum Director.
Somehow, the filmmakers faithfully chronicle something like 7 years
of the artistic and aesthetic vision of Meier and his firm doing battle
against the very people who hired him for that artistic vision. They
takes sides, they don't make anyone look 'wrong' or 'bad,' and yet they
do seem to tell the true story. And yet they don't appear to sanitise
either. At least, I happen to know that you can buy the video at the
Centre, so I guess no-one was too unhappy with it.
Throughout all these trials, it's a miracle that Meier maintains an
temper and a patient attitude. I'd love to meet him. The closest he
to losing his temper is when the artist whose been hired to design a
decides to lower it 10 feet and thus lose the view of the ocean. Meier
"You're an artist: you can make a square wheel!" and then talks
about the responsibility they have to the public to maintain the view.
the artist, Bob Irwin, eloquently replies.
One section of the film that's an absolute joy (and there are many joys
in this film) is when Meier explains his view of the colour white as
"the clearest expression of all colours, of all forms around it , and
what is natural and what is man-made." He shows a picture of a white
house which he had designed, which was on the edge of a lake. In the
it is blue, reflecting the lake. "For me," he says, "the
whiteness is all colour - it is the abundance of colour, not the
The only criticism I have of this documentary is that it never actually
shows the true beauty of the Getty Centre. They try, and they show
of it, but I've seen it in reality, and it is one of the most beautiful
buildings in the world.
Husbands (director: John Cassavetes, USA)
Seen, loved, but not reviewed at the time. My memories are these: a
great ensemble performance by Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and John
Amazing sequences of improvisation, some of which were quite cruel.
of tenderness juxtaposed with scenes of cruelty. An intense experience
which, against the odds, the characters seem to learn something about
Somehow, cassavettes manages to wrestle with the big issues and fashion
them into a journey and a story.
Wednesday 16 June
Brakhage (director: Jim Shedden, Canada)
A well-done documentary about an experimental filmmaker whom I had
heard of, although he is supposed to be a genius and to have changed
face of cinema.
The film does justify fairly well Brakhage's reputation. It explains
life and work fairly well, with good pacing and enlightening
interspersed with excerpts from his films, which illustrate the points
made and give you a good feeling for the art of the man.
He moved into abstract expressionism, and his wife explained that he'd
abstract expressionism a long way: "He's added light, and he's added
movement," she said, "the light and movement of the brain."
Now he's working with scratches on film ("whittling," he calls
it) and it is simply beautiful.
I still don't understand his films, but I can see the genius in them.
I Stand Alone (director: Gaspar Noé, France)
This is the most Germanic French film I've ever seen! It is an
showy, and reminds me inevitably of Michael Haneke's Funny Games.
It addresses the audience directly, as that film does, and it even has
The protagonist spouts plenty of rubbish, posing as philosophy. It has
kind of mesmerising false-truth to it, and it could be quite seductive,
if you didn't question his logic properly. All this has a nasty ring of
truth to it: the script is very cleverly written.
At one point the film does begin to resemble Scorsese's Taxidriver
a bit too closely, even to the extent of talking threateningly in a
but then again, that also is grounded in truth for the main character.
just at this point the film takes 2 tremendous leaps which seem
There follows an absolutely extraordinary monologue. Totally
We then face another shock, and an unexpected ending.
This is the film which is famous for offering its audience "30 seconds
to leave the cinema". But I think you'd have wanted to leave far
than that if you were so inclined: this man is so creatively
it is astounding. He is horribly violent, and he has such a poisonous
of humanity - and life itself - so as to be thoroughly repulsive. But
is also spellbinding.
This is shocking and compelling filmmaking. Gimmicky, yes, but also
I didn't feel one iota of sorrow for this man, and I'm afraid at one
I caught myself wishing he would just get on and kill himself. That
shocked me! I think Noé made his point.
Set me Free (director: Léa Pool, Canada/
After all the troubles in I Stand Alone, the family in this
seemed to have life pretty sweet, so it was hard for me to recalibrate
appreciate the growing pains of this young girl. Still, it was a lovely
performance by Karine Vanasse as Hanna. In fact the whole cast were
and the characterisation was particularly strong.
The setting is Montréal, in 1963. The story is fairly simple,
the motivations and characters are complex and interesting. The film
a nice arc of development, but I must admit to being a bit shocked when
Hanna's brief attempt at prostitution was not specifically addressed by
any of the adults...but perhaps that's just the point.
Set Me Free was well shot, with excellent music, and effective use of
from Godard's Vivre sa Vie. My only worry is that when Hanna
a movie camera at the end it seems as if this will be her salvation -
that's too pat a resolution by far.
Fucking Åmål (director: Lukas Moodysson,
Two teen-angst films in a row! This could be dangerous!
This film about the coming of age of a few young people in a small
town, Åmål. It seems very true - there's not a
character or line in sight. The overall story is a little predictable,
the details ring astonishingly true - kids and adults alike, struggling
to make sense of the changes that take place when you are 14-17 or so.
intelligent, sensitive and refreshing film on a classic topic
Thursday 17 June
A Child is Waiting (director: John Cassavetes, USA)
Despite being disowned by Cassavetes, this film is pretty bloody
It is instantly obvious that this film was made by Cassavetes within
studio system. Even though one of the first things you notice is the
musical score, and the film has 2 big name starts (Burt Lancaster and
Garland), the Cassavetes stamp remains.
Cassavetes establishes a kind of equality between the retarded kids and
the "normal" adults. he does this partly by camera angles which
give us the chilren's points of view, and partly by camera angles, such
as overhead shots, which bring the adults down-to-size.
Lancaster and Garland are both excellent - Judy plays a suitably
role - is she acting, I wonder? Burt Lancaster was someone Cassavetes
and he plays an unsympathetic role in his usual subtle way. Steven Hill
is a knockout as the father of Reuben, a retarded child (played by
There's a very tough scene in this film when we confront the
retarded adults which the children may become. This scene is
and seems very John Cassavetes. Cassavetes is very careful to treat
child as a valuable individual, and he seems to adopt the viewpoint
the character played by Cassavetes-regular Paul Stewart: "Rose doesn't
know she's a tragedy - so the tragedy must be in ourselves".
Somewhere in the Darkness (director: Paul Fenech,
Oooh, I didn't like this one! Stuck underground with 3
for what seemed like an eternity. And "quirky" mad storylines
to boot. No thanks! Rewrite, please!
Woman Under the Influence (director: John Cassavetes,
A masterpiece. An artist at the height of his considerable powers.
Waterloo Bridge (director: James Whale, USA)
Sooo much better than Mervyn Leroy's 1940 version with Vivien
Both Mae Clark and Kent Douglass (later known as Douglass Montgomery)
superb. And Whale makes a wartorn London absolutely believable: the
Waterloo Bridge opens daringly, with a tracking shot of a line
chorus-girls and pans to individual closeups. Them in the
we see nipples! This was 3 years before the production code.
In this film , just about everybody is on the make, out to get
out of somebody else. Girlfriends ask for gifts, wives require their
and prostitutes wanting to be paid. Even mothers ask favours. It's
in London during the Great War. Only Roy Cronin (Kent Douglass) is
Whale gives us an extremely realistic and frightening Great Wat. The
of dropping bombs is terrifying. But even in pre-production code
films , a prostitute can't live to marry an innocent soldier, and in
final moments of the film, Whale lets the last bomb say it all. It is
Friday 18 June
Opening Night (director: John Cassavetes, USA)
Another tour-de-force performance from Gena Rowlands as Myrtle, an
starring in a play about women and aging. One of the things I've been
about Casavetes is the way that he establishes a sense of place very
Here, there are two main places: the theatre (actually the Pasadena
Playhouse) and Myrtle's penthouse hotel room, which in itself looks
a stage - it is vast and cavernous and timber-floored. And many dramas
played out there.
One of the things Cassavetes does very well here is show the backstage
which are seen from the stage (and to a degree by the audience) as a
of "limbo", where the actors sometimes interact with each other
out-of-character, and sometimes stay in character. It's quite eerie
I've never thought much about it, but here it seems a magical and
So this is a play about a play, and this classic "play within a play"
device is quite an astounding device here, since part of the time you
know which is the reality and which is the play. Some of the best
are when Myrtle, who is having trouble dealing with the text of the
which is a bit too close to the bone for her, and yet not "real"
enough, begins to play with her lines and improvise, and the audience
with her! It's amazing.
Cassavetes appears in this film, playing an actor - and as my friend
Howes observed at the screening "Nobody plays an actor like
Especially whe n he's on-stage, he's quite amazing: much better than
Rowlands as a matter of fact, although she's working on other levels
playing a woman who may or may not be acting. Eventually, John too has
join her in this endeavour, and it's an extraordinary scene when he
I got the feeling that he's almost lost control of the film in those
scenes, but perhaps not. Another viewing is necessary to make sure.
This film is also interesting in that there are 2 scenes when woman
to each other and actually communicate. This seems rare in Cassavetes -
for one thing, 2 women rarely talk. For another, people rarely
But here Myrtle the actress and Sarah the writer understand each other
More Than Yesterday (director: Laurent Achard ,
Most of the action of More Than Yesterday takes on the
and evening of a swimming race on the river near a small country
Against this setting the problems of a family are played out. It's a
like Joshua Logan's Picnic, really, but set in rural France.
A very effective ensemble cast create a very realistic almost-melodrama
about the need to say goodbye to the past and at the same time the
to ignore it completely. These people are so real and each has a story
would be worth telling. The mother of the family, played, I think, by
Boulogne, was particularly good. There's one scene in which she says
to her elder daughter, by sending her preserves and waving from a
which lingers in the mind.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (director: John
There are 2 entirely different versions of this film. One runs 135
and one runs 108 mins. We saw the latter, which is the latter
which Cassavetes cut.
According to Professor Ray Carney of Boston University, this is one of
films which dal with the "walking wounded". The other 2 are Opening
Night and A Woman Under the Influence. In this film Ben
as Cosmo Vitelli is a wounded man, literally and metaphorically.
Cosmo has to have 3 girls on a date, not just one. He picks them up in
chauffer-driven limo and he gives them all corsages (even his favourite
girl's mother is invited on the date!). He wears a button-hole and
tie, even to an LA casino.
He owns a nightclub that puts on cheesy strip shows - but they have a
specially written songs, a musical director, and a weirdly camp
performing in character (called, ludicrously, "Mr Sophistication").
Everyone is caught up in this show of "professionalism" - his
employees, the girls, and even the waitress from the café down
street who puts on makeup, and gets into costume to "audition"
But Cosmo has a gambling debt and he has gangsters after him. He's
to kill the "Chinese Bookie", and the story goes on in unexpected
directions from there. But he never loses his "professionalism".
Even when he is badly wounded he's calling his club, making sure the
goes on. And even when he's about to die, he's "workshopping"
his ludicrous show, and giving the "actors" a pep talk!
This film seems to be about a man who is fated to die and proceeds to
his debts, both literally and metaphorically. He goes about this in a
way, taking great care over each member of his staff (which are all he
to have of family). But he never connects emotionally. He says "The
only people who are happy are those who are comfortable." This is as
much as he expects. Then he says "I'm only happy when I can be what
people want me to be rather than be myself. That takes hard work".
Later, Mr Sophistication echoes this when he tells the audience, as
is leaving (probably never to return) that Cosmo's aim was to be
It's a hollow epitaph indeed.
Saturday 19 June
Wild in the Streets (director: Barry Shear, USA)
What a marvellously fresh piece of social and political satire this
turned out to be, 30 years on! And not as far-fetched as it might have
when it was made.
Buena Vista Social Club (director: Wim Wenders,
What a fabulous juxtaposition: a film about the cult of youth is
by a film dedicated to the glory of the elderly! Wim Wenders produces a
wonderful documentary about these talented old Cuban musicians and the
they make. Their music is uplifting, and so is the film. Ry Cooder
to receed into the background so as to leave the film to the Cubans,
they are more than equal to the task. They are stars, and Wenders
their own personalities to dominate.
Some judicious editing gives the film a great dramatic arc - in reality
the end of the tale was anticlimactic, but Wenders downplays that
and gives us the triumph of true talent and persistence instead.
camera is so intimate and alert that it manages to capture private
of incredible beauty and tenderness.
ExistenZ (director: David Cronenberg, Canada)
This is an extremely satisfying and revolting film, which seems to
together all of David Cronenberg's obsessions.
There are so many levels to this film that you just have to sit back
let it all wash over you. You just can't anticipate or extrapolate
you're watching. All you can do is surrender yourself to the
just as you must in the game itself. Very clever and very stylish.
Sunday 20 June
Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood (director:
Not a lot of new ground is covered by this otherwise well-made
Focus on John Cassavetes (with Professor Ray
The 19th Ian McPherson Lecture - David Marr
"How did we get into this mess and how do we get out again?"
Not a lot of new ground is covered by this otherwise well-made
Mikey and Nicky (director: Elaine May , USA)
The Old Dark House (director: James Whale, USA)
Monday 21 June
John Huston's War Stories (director: Midge Mackenzie,
Somewhat disappointing and more than a little boring. Not at all
I expected. The story was presented in a confusing fragmented fashion.
most interesting sections were the interviews with Huston himnself
by the director and Richard Leacock).
A Voice from Heaven (director: Giuseppi Asaro, USA)
Another music documentary, on a fascinating subject. It painted
a creditable portrait of the now-deceased Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and
us quite a good context for his Qawwalhi music, but it was more of a
that a balanced piece. It gave us almost nothing of the controversy
surrounded Nusrat's popularisation of Sufi music and his concentration
love songs rather than the more religious songs which the true faithful
consider to be a truer representation of the genre. It did manage to
to Nusrat's habit of letting people use his music rather
(such as allowing it to be used on the soundtrack for Natural Born
and told us that some peple had accused him of "crass commercialism",
but the film gave the impression that this might have been due to the
that Qawwalhi music is basically a music for evangelising, and
any means that gets the music to new audiences could be seen as
Also it was almost completely silent on the subject of Nusrat's poor
for many years. Also, there were some very unenlightening interviews
DJs and music producers who didn't relally seem to know what they were
with. So ultimately it was an unsatisfying documentary - although I'm
it gave us so much of Nusrat's music and also introduced us to Nusrat's
nephew, Rahat, who looks set to take over Nusrat's ample mantle. Both
have different timbre , but both voices are "other-wordly." The
fascinating question that this documentary didn't ask was: "Can
you separate the srt from the man?"
It all Starts Today (director:
Bertrand Tavernier, France)
From the moment this film starts it has the ring of authenticity
it. All the details are so real, all the people are true to life, every
word everyone speaks is realistic. It is obvious that this story is
from life, and that those who lived the life have been closely involved
in the making of the film.
And all that's true. Tavernier made this film after meeting the
school-teacher, his daughter's poet boyfriend (played by
(of the Comedie Français). He proceeded to get involved with the
school, and then to make a film about it. Tavernier appeared in person
introduce the film, and he quoted Samuel Fuller who said "When you
get angry - make a film". Tavernier got angry, and got results: the
film has already apparently already resulted in some social change in
area, thank heavens.
As a film, this is engrossing. It tells a number of home-truths, and it
is brutal in some respects. An alarming amount of the film is directly
to Australia today. The Mayor describes his problem: "I need a job
Mr Mayor," people say, "I need a flat. But if they don't get one,
they vote Far Right".
But it's not all bleak. Tavernier said he wanted to show how beautiful
countryside was, even if there was all this pain within it. So he shot
cinemascope. And there are moments of hope: when the teacher asks one
the poorer parents to bring in his truck to show the kindy kids, the
doesn't quite comprehend why the teacher would want him to do this. but
when he does it - what a moment! He explains with growing confidence
pride how his truck - actually an enormous crane - works, and the kids
transfixed. He's a hero.
The script was co-written by the teacher-poet Dominique Sampiro,
and Tavernier's daughter Tiffany. The poetry comes through strongly,
exquisitely at times. But strangely, given all these elements, the film
did not move me as I thought it would. There's something faintly
here... but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
Love Streams (director: John Cassavetes, USA)
This was the least satisfactory film in the Cassavetes
It is said to be loosely based around Shakespeare's The Tempest,
but for me the connection was tenuous at best. There is a storm, a sort
of Caliban figure appears in the shape of a dog, and there are couples
in and out who end up with each other, leaving Cassavetes, the great
alone at the end. But there's not a lot of point to the connection as
as I'm concerned. And much of the film is incoherent rambling. There's
operetta in the middle, which doesn't quite come off, although it's
to know that Gena Rowlands can sing!
Tuesday 22 June
The Invisible Man (director: James Whale , USA)
What a frightening idea for a film! And how brilliantly realised,
Another Day in Paradise (director : Larry Clark, USA)
A much cleverer film than it at first appears. Larry Clark is a
savvy film maker indeed. Absolutely marvellous performances all round,
James Woods pipping Melanie Griffiths for top acting honours. Larry
stylishly out-Tarantinos Tarantino and then turns it all into an
critique of the genre. I think this is my favourite feature film of the
Death Race 2000 (director: Paul Bartel , USA)
This film was part of the "Future Shock" retrospective which
gave us the fabulous Wild in the Streets. But unfortunately Wild
in the Streets this ain't!
This starred David Carradine, who could well be considered the James
of the 70s.
Renzo Piano: Piece by Piece (director: Christopher
This was a different kind of documentary - it tried to give you an
impression of Piano by showing us his work and relying on what he says
it and about himself, rather than by relying on a multitude of
with commentators. The director descibed this as trying to "document"
Piano and his buildings - in the sense of recording them for posterity.
In fact, this documentary took the unusual course of not even
its inteviewees by name until the end credits. I asked the director
this. In essence, his answer was that he didn't want to elevate those
above the level of Piano, and send the viewer on a separate train of
about the expert. He said the convention was that a voiceover in a
was usually identifiable as an "expert", without the need for
further explanation, and that was where he preferred to leave it.
I found this technique distaracting. For me, it had the opposite
"Whose voice was that?" I kept thinking, and "was that Phillip
Johnson? [itwas!]. Should I believe that expert?"
The director admitted that he'd only been able to get about 8 hours
Renzo Piano - which is a minuscule amount of time compared to the usual
access documentary-makers seek - and get. But Piano is uncommonly busy,
and the filmmakers have done a phenomenal job within such a limitation.
Wednesday 23 June
Unfortunately (especially given the once-only screenings of Soft
Fruit and Two Hands) I couldn't attend today due to the
What an annoying way to end the festival!
The Festival Theme
As handicapped as I feel by missing the all-important last day of the
I'd like to nominate "Fear of the Future", particularly as it
relates to kids coming of age, as the 1999 Festival Theme.
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