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Mud, Blood and Flood

Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film, by Alan K. Rode — Ask an average, eighteen-year old American to name a movie director and he or she might think of Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Tarantino or Tim Burton. That person's parents could name Coppola, Eastwood, Scorsese and Woody Allen. Their grandparents would surely remember Hitchcock and Welles, perhaps Ford, and Kubrick. Film school attendees are conversant with the with the work of David Lynch, Spike Lee, Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow, the Coen brothers and the two Andersons, Paul Thomas and Wes. After a couple of semesters, they'll know all about Hawks and Huston, Lean and Lang, Wilder and Wyler, Fellini and Fincher, Chaplin and Cukor, Ida Lupino and Agnes Varda. There is one director, … [Read more...]

Wormwood

‘But still I was ordered to believe, even where the ideas did not correspond with, even when they contradicted, the rational theories established by mathematics and my own eyes' – Augustine, Confessions 5:3 [6] 'For secret assassination the contrived accident is the most effective technique. When successfully executed, it causes little excitement and is only casually investigated' – A Study of Assassination, a CIA Manual According to Augustine, his break with Manichaeism came when he was ordered to see truth in descriptions of the stars and sky that defied all rational inquiry. In one of the most influential personal decisions ever made, he turned from a world of imagined ideas—gnostic metaphors for the eternal conflict of light and … [Read more...]

Perpetration

Casting JonBenet (2017), Netflix, Directed by Kitty Green — ‘Can you know what your prayers have set in motion?’– CT Dreyer ‘Ordet’ ‘A real whore should be able to attract by what she’s reduced to being’ – Jean Genet ‘The Screens’ It was a crime that re-defined perfect. On Christmas night 1996, the most sacrosanct American values—home, family, children’s innocence—even Christmas—were all violated in a single obscene act. Not since Hickock and Smith had the country at large felt so unsure of itself as a free and trusting society. And like England in the era of Brady and Hindley, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey led many Americans to imagine something unimaginable to them: an impulse so selfish that a child’s life could be … [Read more...]

Pull It Sir

The Pulitzer At 100, Released by First Run Features, Directed by Kirk Simon — For the past century, some of the very best American artists—writers of plays, novels and poems, newspaper journalists and their editors, photographers, composers and even cartoonists--have been awarded the prestigious annual Pulitzer Prize. It is a notable achievement to win a Pulitzer, a recognized public tribute for outstanding work; judges for this honor have been criticized when finalists deemed worthy were overlooked. It's too bad that TV news readers, who usually mention a couple of each April's winners, cannot learn to correctly pronounce the name of the prize. It is not "PEW-lit-zer." The man whose very generous bequest created the award suggested … [Read more...]

The Human Side of Drone Warfare

National Bird (2016), Produced and Directed by Sonia Kennebeck— What happens to humanity when you take the humanity out of warfare? The documentary, National Bird, which opens in theaters in New York and around the country on Veterans Day, November 11, addresses this question head on. The official argument would have us believe, that at least in the US, humanity benefits. Our servicemen and women conduct war safely, here at home, playing with cool technology that negates injury and losses. But, as with any adoption of a new technology, the planned effects may differ drastically from the actual outcome. National Bird offers us an opportunity to see this war through the eyes of both the operators and their victims. The film … [Read more...]

Crypto Nazi vs Queer

Best of Enemies, (2015), Directed by Morgan Neville Robert Gordo, Magnolia Pictures — One of the most consequential U.S. elections is only days away. Finally. The past eighteen months have seen constant bickering and insults from the two front-runners, "oppo research" and dirty tricks orchestrated by their campaign teams and an endless stream of threats, leaks, ugly invective and sexual allegations. Instead of a polite exchange of ideas and policies, non-stop "mud-slinging" has clogged cable news networks; as voting day draws near, only the candidates' foibles and flaws are highlighted. People around the world remain perplexed by America's staggering expenditure in electing a president—a billion dollars, per race, … [Read more...]

Heavy Traffic on The Royal Road

The Royal Road (2016), Written and Directed by Jeni Olson, Wolf Video — The Royal Road is a curious sort of documentary by filmmaker Jenni Olson.  She gives us a lot to see and think about--perhaps two or three elements too many—in just over an hour. Her smart art film is a loving look at San Francisco and Los Angeles with a smattering of U.S. and California history. There are musings about remembered times and places, unrequited romances, a meditation on nostalgia and the internal monologues of a modern Lesbian woman longing for love. Olson is the writer, producer and director as well as voice-over narrator of this ambitious work. But equal credit should be given to her cinematographer, Sophie … [Read more...]

The Godfather of the Media Hoax

Joey Skaggs, Art of the Prank, directed by Andrea Marini — Credit: Relight Films LLC At the NYC premiere screening of the movie Art of the Prank, media satirist Joey Skaggs, the movie's subject and protagonist, pulled a prank. The movie screen went blank and the projectionist claimed that the disc was blank. Nobody fell for it. Unlike the mainstream media and much of the rest of the world, too many us in the 500+ audience at the SVA Theatre were already fans of the man who brought us the Cathouse for Dogs, Dog Meat Soup, Comacocoon vacations, The Fat Squad diet commandos, Baba Wa Simba, the roar therapist and Maqdananda the psychic attorney; all news stories, none true. A rarity in any day and age, Joey Skaggs has succeeded in … [Read more...]

3 Cards on a Box Top and the Politics of the Repellent

Shame in the New Gilded Age Part 2 — At Boston Court in June of 2015, Steven Leigh Morris of the LA Weekly, along with his colleague Luis Reyes and theater artist Mark Seldis suffered through a long afternoon of tech challenges in order to arrange, by satellite simulcast, the reading of new American theater texts by actors in Poland, and the reading of new Polish texts by American actors on the Pasadena stage. It was a while ago now and the technical aspects of the event dominate my memory, but I do recall being struck again and again by an interesting point of contrast between the Polish and the American actors. The gifted director Nancy Keystone, who staged one of the texts that day, captured that difference in a simple … [Read more...]

The Master Framer

A Week with Wim Wenders, March 2015 —   MoMA’s recent career retrospective of Wim Wenders—the iconic, modest, humorous, down-to-earth filmmaker with an uncanny knack for bringing magic to the ordinary aspects of life—screened 20 restored films and numerous shorts in sixteen days this March. The retrospective kicked off just weeks after Wenders was given the lifetime achievement award at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. In New York City for the screenings, speaking before and after each showing, the retrospective gave an eclectic set of followers the chance to see Wim Wenders' films in their rightful format, as well as hear from the man himself. I found myself surrounded nightly by a familiar set of faces, and … [Read more...]