New York in the Fifties (2001)

Steve Allen, interviewed Jack Kerouac during the 1950 and asked him he meaning of "Beat." Kerouac replied..."sympathetic. The beat movement began in New York during that romantic moment in time when non-conformity meant something.

Betsey Blankenbaker's film is based on a 1999 book by Dan Wakefield, a nice older man I met while attending a yoga retreat in the Bahamas in 1992. I sat with him over several vegetarian meals that week. We were both New Yorkers traveling alone. He mentioned that he was a writer and working on a book about New York in the 1950s. I was not overly impressed at the time since I was sure that my 1980s New York topped that. We re-lived the 1950s during that era.
Now, I truly appreciate knowing the real details of the time and events. It was all so fresh--a time of jazz music, jazz writers and jazzz painters. It was a time before JFK was shot and before The Beatles--a time of innocence with a deep questioning of the status quo.

Feminism had not quite happened yet so women were left out a bit, but literature, journalism and poetry were on fire. Dan Wakefield was a young writer from the midwest who was in the middle of the whole thing. The film is full of interviews with him and other central figures of the day--Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Ted Steeg, Gay Talese. Wakefield dedicates the film "For James." Author James Baldwin advised him that a writer should aim to write and publish a shelf of books. Wakefield has done that, along with many of the other writers interviewed for the film.

Wakefield wrote a less-than-complimentary article about Jack Kerouac for The Commentator and Kerouac was quick to make the connection when the two met at Allen Ginsberg's apartment for an evening of drug exerperimentation with Harvard professor Timothy Leary (Wakefield had opted to remain the sober observer of it all).

This film is a historical must-see for anyone who loves New York.

Pull My Daisy (1959)


“Early morning in the universe” begins the this rare film I found on YouTube in three parts. It's fun to watch when you have a little background info on the cast of characters. Shot in his Manhattan loft at 4th Avenue and 12th Street, painter Alfred Leslie directed and the footage was filmed by documentary photographer, Robert Frank. His book of photographs, The Americans was already famous and included an introduction by Jack Kerouac...To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.

The film is based on the third act of Jack Kerouac’s unpublished play The Beat Generation, based on true events of 1955 when he and Allen Ginsberg were invited to Neal Cassady's home in Los Gatos, California for a meeting with Bishop Romano. Cassady greatly admired the man for his openness of thought. Cassady peppered the Bishop with questions about Zen, but the gathering deteriorated, eventually driving away the Bishop and his entourage.

The Neal Cassady character, Milo, is played by the painter Larry Rivers. Actress Delphine Seyrig plays his wife. Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso were signed on to play versions of themselves. Art dealer Richard Bellamy plays the Bishop. Painter Alice Neel is the Bishop’s mother.

Allen, Peter, and Gregory thought it was wonderful to be paid eighteen dollars a day to clown around. While Kerouac was banned from the set for fear he would stir up chaos, Leslie later took the film to him and played it three times. Each time, Kerouac improvised a narration. In the late forties Ginsberg and Kerouac had composed a poem together and called it “Pull My Daisy," a slang term for the act of removing a stripper’s g-string.


The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (1994)

I recently heard a live reading of Ginsberg's famous poem, Howl. Then I watched a movie called Heartbeat, a dramatization based on a story by Carolyn Cassady (Neal's 2nd wife), about Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the two wild and crazy writers loved by Ginsberg. That led me to Carolyn Cassady's other book, Off The Road. Each piece adds a bit more to the large story of an artist among a family of artists who left a big mark.

This film by Jerry Aaronson documents the life of Allen Ginsberg who was born just before the Great Depression in Patterson, New Jersey. He pioneered the rebel poets of the 1940s and 50s that inspired the label "beaknik." The Beat Generation were non-conformist, anarchist youth who favored jazz and led the way for the larger youth culture movement of the 1960s. Commentator of the day, William F. Buckley is featured in the film calling Ginsberg "the hippie's hippie." Leader of peaceful activism during the anti-war protests of the 1960s, he was always in the vanguard, someone who wore his hair long until everyone else did--then cut his off.

The film opens with the famous line: "The weight of the world is love." His immigrant parents instilled values of justice, freedom and equality. Father Louis was a poet and teacher. Mother Naomi was in and out of mental institutions. He was often left to care for her, a task that bred deep empathy and the soul of a poet according to interviews with his brother, Eugene, and stepmother, Edith. He inherited her poetic paranoia and he too went on to spend some time inside a mental hospital.

Ginsberg met William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady while attending Columbia University during the mid 1940s. Still in the grips of corformity, his association with Burroughs soon loosened that knot. Burroughs took on the role as analyst for both Ginsberg and Kerouac by offering them daily sessions on the couch unraveling their personal problems. This growing group of supplementary family would heal Ginsberg's feeling of benig unloved. A group of poets and artists met nightly at Foster's Cafeteria in Times Square.

Poet Michael McClure describes the Eisenhower years as the beginning of the industrial corporate state and missile consciousess as the threat of nuclear weapons was front and center as a polarization of two groups emerged. Most people bought into the hope of an American Dream. A smaller group of artists and dreamers felt a growing alienation and pain.

Ginsberg came out as a gay man and met his life partner, Peter Orlovsky. They left New York for California and Ginsberg read his now-famous poem, Howl (for Carl Solomon) at the SanFrancisco Six Gallery in 1955 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVGoY9gom50). Ginsberg later defined this moment as "a united front of pure angelic poetry." Michael McClure, Gary Snyder and several others also read that night. Carl Solomon was another psychiatric patient Ginsberg met while hospitalized. The reading caused a stir that resulted in his arrest for obscene language. The court trial is the subject of a 2010 film called Howl.

Timothy Leary claims that a visit by Ginsberg and Orlovsky at Harvard during his 1960s LSD experiments changed his life. Up until that time, he was an "uptight" professor. After experiencing the liberation of Ginsberg's being, Leary changed his ways to become the psychadelic hipster he was later known as. Interviews with Dick Cavett, Ed Sanders, Ken Kesey, Abby Hoffman and many others add to telling of Ginsberg's story.

Cassady died in 1968. Kerouac died in 1969. Ginsberg mourns his passing: "While I'm here I'll do the work--and what is the work? Drunken Dumbshow."

The 1970s began a chapter of increased spiritual development and buddhist meditation after a chance encounter on a New York street corner when he met Chogyam Trungpa who told him that in order for his buddhist meditators to be able to speak about liberation of mind to America, they would need to develop the golden mouth of a poet--thought patterns become elegant as spontaneous mind is cultivated. Trungpa invited Ginsberg to teach poetry. The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Insitute was founded.

Ginsberg's home was always New York. He maintained his east village apartment (down the street from where I lived 1979-1992) until his death. During 1985 he was given a show of his photographs at the Holly Solomon Gallery. He had begun his hobby during 1952 when he purchased a Kodak Retina camera for $13 and began snapping shots of his friends and had them developed at the drug store across from Tompkins Square Park. During the next thirty years, his snapshots of friends had become a collection of famous people.

There are other documentaries about the Beats, but this one is a lovely tribute to an artist who was also a significant force of history. Ginsberg lived until 1997. Peter Orlovsky just died in 2010.


The Lodger (2009)

This David Ondaatje film follows closely the 1913 book of the same name. Alfred Hitchcock also made a 1927 silent film called The Lodger. Those stories were set in London. This one takes place in West Hollywood after prostitutes on The Sunset Strip are being killed in a Jack The Ripper style. "Everyone is suspect," reads he movie tag line.

Detective Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina) is unraveling the case as housewife Ellen Bunting (Hope Davis) rents her guesthouse to handsome writer Malcolm (Simon Baker). He tells her "I'm looking for something new--something to inspire me." He captures the imagination of Ellen, who is home alone raising her young child while her unpleasant husband is off working and drinking.

I found this film while researching Hope Davis, who is featured as Mia in Season Two of the HBO series, In Treatment. She is wonderful to watch. Molina has appeared on Law & Order and Baker stars in the successful show, The Mentalist. The thriller is full of mystery. The extra features include an in-depth interview with Ondaatje about his influences. The dark and unusually told tale is a thriller that is suspenseful rather than horrifying. He explains the difference between seeing terrible things happening versus fearing what terrible things may happen.There is plenty of implied violence, but not a lot of blood.

The colors are muted and interesting cinematic elements tell an internal story. This movie is an homage to Hitchcock and this is a lot of fun to watch as it all the pieces unfold. Manning has a troubled wife (Mel Harris from Thirty-Something and Brothers and Sisters). Ellen Bunting becomes more and more strange in her ways. This is not a movie to watch while you wash the dishes. This is as much about what you do not see as what is shown. The big old house is a wonderful eclectic place that mirrors the landscape of Ellen's mental deterioration.

The John Frizzell musical score carries the mood of the story. I don't want to give anything away. The clues lead us in many directions until the satisfying final conclusion.


Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010)

Tamra Davis was a friend of JMB and filmmaker in downtown New York City during the 1980s. She and Becky Johnson interviewed him at L'Hermitage Hotel in Hollywood durng 1985. He was just 25 and at the top of his career as a painter. Two years later he died. Tamra put away all the film footage for twenty years.

Her "racialiscious" film (says the webpage) is full significant interviews with artworld folks, friend and lovers. It paints a picture of late 1970s and early 1980s Manhattan when it was still affordable for young art students, runaways and lost personalities to assemble. Part Puerto Rican, part Haitian, Jean-Michel arrived in the city with no money and a lot of creative spirit to mark the artworld. The film implies that there were about 500 people in the downtown art scene of the time. Jean-Michel was a grafitti artist who tagged walls around SoHo with content-laden/poetic messages signed by SAMO (same old shit--clearly directed to the art world).

"He was one of the people I was truly envious of, but he was too fragile for this world," says Madonna. He had a band called GRAY, including one Vincent Gallo, now an actor/film director (Buffalo 66). Jean Michel made collage cards and paint splattered t-shirts that he sold on the street. One commentator mentioned a characteristic of a good artist is a sure strong hand, something that JMB had plenty of.

Glenn O'Brien was involved with the making of the film Downtown 81, about the scene below Canal Street...starring JMB as the ambitious young artist. It was during that time that he was encouraged to take his grafitti off the streets onto a canvas. Debbie Harry of Blondie was his first big sale. She bought one of the canvases for $200.

JMB participted in The Times Square Show, the first radical show of the 1980s, with more than a hundred artists showing their work. Jean-Michel's good pals, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf also showed in the TSS. Following that was the No-Wave Show at PS1 in 1981. Diego Cortez curated it, tired of seeing white walls, white people and white wine.

Annina Nosei discovered Jean-Michel's work at this exhibition and was taken by it's sophistication, despite the primitive appearance. She offered him the use of her Prince Street Gallery's basement as a studio and encouraged him to make large canvases for a show. He listened to Ravel's "Bolero" over and over, though his music tastes were eclectic and he also had a passion for Jazz. It drove Annina a little crazy, but JM was prolific and productive. Her gallery show made him an instant art star.

Fame came fast and JM found refuge with Andy Warhol, who bacame a paternal influence and mentor. JM kept working in unexpected ways. He created his own versions of famous paintings and had an ongoing desire to compete with living legends such as Julian Schnabel. Andy Warhol befriended him, leading to a close paternal/mentor relationship relationship. When Andy died unexpectedly after gall baldder surgery, Jean Michel was distraught and began a downward spiral of drug use.

Annina Nosei considered his last works to be masterpieces...spacious and loose. His sudden death at age 27 was a great loss to the art world, but he had already produced 1000 paintings and 1000 drawings. His work was selling for 14.5 million. This film tell a wonderful story of artistic genius during a special time in the history of New York art.


The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)

Somehow I missed the phenomena of Daniel Johnston, who gained fame in the Austin alternative music scene during the mid-1980s and beyond. I stumbled upon a preview of this film and immediately requested the DVD. As an artist, art therapist and lover of outsider art, I became quickly became consumed by this story of madness, creativity and love.

Jeff Feurzeig’s documentary weaves film footage collected by Johnston and his family—with interviews and commentary by the many people who were touched by him. He was forty-five at the time of the film's release. We see footage of him a few years earlier performing at the 2001 Austin Music Awards Show, when he won Best Songwriter of the Year. He had become quite heavy and aged by the mental illness that fueled his creativity. Wildly popular in Austin, the attention he received was also quite controversial. The bipolar genius singer/songwriter/artist expressed his talent in ways that were often more spectacle than art.

Johnston’s elderly parents, Bill and Mabel, are featured extensively as they demonstrate unending care and support for their son, the youngest of five children who was always different. They lived an ordinary family life in West Virginia during the 60s and 70s. An expressive and confident child--by junior high school, his illness began to come out in ways that made him more difficult to live with. He rarely slept durih ng his constant occupation with drawing, recording and filming in his basement "art factory." He shunned the fundamentalist Christian views of his family, but as his illness worsened, religious delusions increased (ie: the devil). During high school he began drawing eyeballs—the image became his trademark. Daniel fell in love with a girl named Laurie who broke his heart when she took up with a new boy and got married. Many of his songs were about how he pined for her.

He tried college for awhile, but the parents took him out when it was apparent that he was not succeeding there. A couple of his siblings invited him into their homes at various times to attempt to provide a stable environment and “normal” life. He thrived while living with his sister and working at the local amusement park—until the day he bought a moped and went on the road with a carnival for several months. The family was sick with worry until they found him in Austin, working at MacDonald’s while making his way into the growing music scene.

Hi How Are You? Is Johnston’s first album in the genre of Meet The Beatles. He adored them and believed he would one day be just as famous. He discovered a local band called Glass Eye and felt some kind of cosmic connection with them because of his eyeball fascination and was invited to open for the band. Lead singer, Katy McCarty took a liking to him and soon Johnston considered her his new girlfriend. She went along for awhile until he began referring to her as his fiancĂ©e. She had to put an end it, another heart-breaking event that Johnston would pine over for years to come, adding material to his heartfelt songwriting.

He was featured on MTV, the realization of one of his dreams. Jeff Tartakov was a fan turned advocate who formed Stress Records to help Johnston market the licensing of his songs to other musicians. He also began using LSD and experiencing further mental breakdown leading to a violent attack to his manager. By this time, Johnston had been in and out of psychiatric facilities and on and off various medications. After recovering from one of his low points, Johnston was invited by Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth to record at Noise Studio in the late 1980s. While in New York, he got arrested for drawing hundreds of christian fish symbols at the Statue of Liberty.

The film is full of dramatic stories about Johnston’s out-of-control life, including an incident told about by Johnston senior--while piloting a small aircraft to take Dan home after The Austin Music Awards, Dan pulled the key from the ignition and tossed it out the window of the plane and wrestled the controls away from Bill. The two were heading for a crash when Bill was able to regain control for a safe landing into a group of trees.

The Johnstons moved to Walley, Texas during the early 90s. Dan was championed by Curt Cobain of Nirvana during that decade. He religiously wore the t-shirt design for Dan's first album. This attention brought Johnston unprecedented notoriety. He actually sparked a bidding war as a $100,000 contract was negotiated from the visitors area of the state mental hospital. Atlantic Records actually constructed the most beneficial plan for Johnston, fully incorporating the demands of his illness with clauses for the special provisions. By this time in Johnston’s career, Jeff Tartakov had stepped in as manager. He lived for the good of Dan Johnston. Sadly, Johnston turned on him just as his Atlantic Records contract was signed when he fired Tartakov and hired a new manager.

Johnston’s “FUN” was released in 1994 an the label dropped him soon after. Bill and Mabel never give up on their son. At the end of the film, he was living in their basement as he had as a teenager with another version of his art factory. They manage a bit of peace and quiet during the morning hours, but once Dan arises, he demands to be cooked for and taken places. He played with a band living down the street—Nightmare House.

More than 150 bands have recorded his songs. This is a fascinating story and tribute to the creative life.


Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005)

Sydney Pollack began working on this documentary about his friend, Frank Gehry, after visiting the 1997 opening of the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (http://www.guggenheim.org/bilbao) that left him stunned and amazed..."like Don Quixote got stoned and made a building."

Ed Ruscha describes him..."Gehry mixes the freewheelingness of art with something concrete and unforgiving--the laws of physics." He takes enormous risks to create structures that do not blend into the landscape as does much of architecture.

"That is so stupid-looking that it's great," Gehry comments while he creates a model with one of his design partners. The collaborative process begins with Gehry talks suggesting forms as the partner cuts pieces from sheets of heavy metallic paper and use tape to position the pieces to match Gehry's ideas--they jut out, fold and curve. These early models are reworked in various scales and materials and digitized to allow the engineering plans to evolve.

Gehry has been aligned with artists since the 1960s. Other architects laughed at him. He began some of his early experiments by building around his own small bungalow to create an amazing array of levels, textures, light and shadow. Early on, he created more traditional designs to earn a living until a friend coaxed him into giving all that up to create only the artistic work he was best at. When Gehry was a kid, a rabbai told his mother that he had golden hands, as his drawings were so special. Another hand-writing analyst said he would one day be a famous architect. Most of his work begins with pen and ink sketches. He began with art classes in college and eventually found his way into the architecture department. He received an A, but the professor tried to desuade him from the path.

The film is full of interviews with people he had worked with, including Milton Wexler, his therapist for 35 years and Dennis Hopper to commissioned a home design from Gehry. Pollack is behind the camera, but occasionally comes out to share something relevant to the discussion. Pollack mentions one of his favorite lines heard from one of his teachers..."Talent is liquified trouble." Personal frustration often leads to great art. Gehry quotes his favorite line heard once from Pollack and has made it his motto..."There is a sliver of space in the commercial world where you can make a difference."

The Bilbao project is gasp-worthy. "It's foreign to the other buildings around it--has a scale of ancient Egypt," says Julian Schnabel. The shimmering surface lends an otherworldly quality to the experience of witnessing this structure from the humble surrounding town. Locals have experienced a new sense of community self-esteem since the museum's opening--as if they take credit for creating it themselves. Art and Archeology professor, Hal Foster, is a naysayer who feels Gehry gives his clients too much of what they want. Foster says the structures function too much as a spectacle. Schnabel defends Bilbao critics who claim the building competes too much with the art and asks "Maybe the art isn't good enough?" Gehry admits to a lot of mixed feelings about all the controversy and says he was somewhat embarrassed by the completed project at Bilbao. There are certain elments that can only be seen in the final project so there are always areas he wished were different.

Gehry's work is actually that of a contemporary cubist sculptor focused on materials as a way to make beauty with junk...always keeping in mind the mantra of modernism. "Decoration is a sin." In the 1980s when designers were re-doing history, Gehry went way back to the anthromorphic fish form. He created fish lamps and an amazing hotel in Barcelona, Spain. His work is very much a team effort and talks about accepting projects based on whether he likes the people involved.

He is not a painter, but he holds reverence for the artform and his buildings come across as painterly. He says "I'm fascinated with the moment of truth--there's the canvas and the brush and the palette of colors. What do you do? What's that first move? I love that dangerous place."


Pieces of April (2003)

Peter Hedges' film is the perfect alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving stories. Before Tom and Surie, Katie Holmes was a young starlett who is cast as April, a kind of girl who flocks to the big city from conventional suburban America. She has invited her family to drive a couple hours to visit her for Thanksgiving dinner.

Part of the film is Dad (Oliver Platt), Mom (Patricia Clarkson) and the two other children on the road to New York City. We learn that Mom has cancer and the family gathering was instigated by Dad as a last-ditch effort to reunite the estranged daughter with her mother since this may be her last Thanksgiving. The other part of the film is April at home in her small sparsely-furnished apartment doing her best to put together this affair. The pressure is on as she faces one obstacle after another, starting with an oven that does not work. We learn more about the family's view of her and her view of herself. "I'm the first pancake," she tells one of her neighbors, "the one you're supposed to throw out"

She learns a little more about cooking from each neighbor she approaches as she tries to find an oven for the bird. Mom has the attitude of a person facing imminent danger and has no faith that April will come through. Dad has complete optimism and faith--he needs to see her succeed. April decorates the hallway of the tenament with crepe paper and balloons. The boyfriend is extremely supportive and encourages her to make the day go well. He shows up in a suit with vintage turkey salt and pepper shakers--the kind that any baby boomer would recognize from Thanksgivings past. I know my grandmother had the very same shakers in her collection.

While this film is somewhat a comedy of errors, it is also a serious look at a fairly typical non-perfect family trying to carry on while dealing with loss. The soundtrack is mostly songs by The Magnetic Fields that add a lot to the entertaining and touching story.


Into The Wild (2007)

This film begins with a Lord Byron poem...
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods:
There is a rapture on the lonely shore:
There is socity where none intrudes.
By the deep sea and muic in its roar,
I love the man not less, but Nature more.

Sean Penn's film is about a young man's search for adventure. Based on the novel, Into the Wild, by John Krakauer--the true story of Christopher McCannliss is told from the point of view of his sister's diaries during the two years after he disappeared without telling the family.

Chris had been a top student who graduated from college and planned to attend law school. His parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) are portrayed as a tightly-wound pair with high expectations for their son's future. Sister Carin is the family observer. We see the family gathered for a celebratory dinner when they announce to Chris that they were giving him a brand new car. He dismissed this gesture. "Why would I want a new car?" They mean well, but we see a pattern of conflict between parents and son. He returns to the college town where he planned to to remain throughout the summer.

The parents faithfully mail letters to him for several months. When they hear nothing back from him they contact the landlord who reports that Chris left at the start of the summer and mentions a stack of unopened letters he has kept in a drawer. Chris had headed west and abandoned his car in the Arizona desert--gave away his $24,000 savings to charity. He takes on the name Alexander Supertramp as he sheds his privileged life to work and travel. He meets a cast of interesting characters along the way. Hippies, Jan (Catherine Keener) and Rainey (Brian Dierkler) live in a trailer and are the complete opposite of his own parents. Underhanded farmer, Wayne (Vince Vaughn), shows him the rancher's life. Lonely widower, Ron (Hal Holbrook), takes him under his wing, but fails to desuade him from making the dangerous trip into the Alaskan wilderness.

Alexander reaches his destination where he finds a deserted bus for shelter. He kills animals and forages for plants. We see him living in harmony with the forces of nature for four months while he discovers the limits of resources and knowledge. Meanwhile, the family hires a private investigator to find him. Carin was closer to her brother than anyone else in life. In her diaries she is able to go along with him on the journey as she tells a universal story of misguided youth and the individual's need to seek and find truth.


Objectified (2009)

Gary Hustwit's documentary about the role of objects in our lives begins with a tale dating back the first century when the Emperor of China standardized arrows so that warrior archers could exchange arrows between one another. He goes on to talk about the stories embedded in various objects as told by designers who search for new forms for mass-produced goods.

The issue of sustainability is a major focus since the shelf life of a hi-tech object is less than eleven months, as items have become increasingly disposable. Style plays on human emotions...form and function are just a part of design. There are more than a hundred definitions of design, but one designer narrowed her favorite to be: "Good design takes innovation and brings it into making useful things." Nobody needs a new phone every six months, but they may want it enough to toss away the old one to spend money on a new one. There is talk of human-centered design and integrated design. In the end, it is about what people want and need, aesthetic appeal and willingness to buy.


Art & Copy (2009)

Doug Pray's film highlights the evolution of the advertising industry in the last fifty years. Since the MadMen series has brought the early world of ads to our collective attention in the last couple years, it's hard to deny the impact of these these words and pictures on the culture. When I was a college art major in the early 1970s, "commercial art" was viewed as low art...a world apart from fine arts and crafts. Art for the purpose of selling was suspect. I enjoyed learning more about this a few ago by watching the documenary about graphic artist, Milton Glaser (http://prettygoodmovie.blogspot.com/2010/02/milton-glaser-art-is-work-2009.html).

Our 21st century world is filtered through a web of marketing that we have come to accept as the air we breathe. The average America child is exposed to about 20,000 television commercials each year. This film opens as a young man named Chad, goes to work for his family business of "Rotators." The work entails rotating and installing new billboard ads. He claims that three generations of his family have thrived doing this work and there is never a shortage of work to be done with 450,000 billboards in the US.

During the 1960s ad agency Doyle, Dane, Bernbach began allowing the art director and copy writer to join forces to create the ads that were previously conceived by the less creative business types. The film features all the memorable commercials through the decades. Phyllis Robinson was DDB's copywriter responsible for recognizing the "Me Generation" and creating Clairol's tagline "It lets me be me." A gray-haired woman at the time of the film interview, she admits that she never once colored her own hair.

George Lois, a tough-talking guy from the Bronx is all sales and known for his in-your-face celebrity campaigns, such as "I want my Maypo," spoken by Mickey Mantle and other sports figures. Lois claims that "advertising should be subversive." He later converted the Maypo formula to "I want my MTV" using Mick Jagger and other rock stars. He was also responsible for numerous engaging Esquire Magazine covers, such as a face with parts of Malcolm X, John Kennedy, Bob Dylan and Fidel Castro. A visionary who convinced unknown clothing designer, Tommy Hilfiger that he could make him famous overnight with a billboard that listed the top four desgners for men--Ralph Lauren, Pierre Cardin, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger. Despite Hilfiger's embarrassment and worry that it could kill the future fo his business, agreed and he did become wildly successful almost overnight.

Mary Wells, of Wells, Rich, Greene is interviewed in her envionment of tasteful rows of flower vases and pottery. We notice a note on the desk that reads "Why not have a bigger life?" She explains how her theatrical bent gave her just the right attitude to create memorable ad campaigns, such as the one for Braniff International Airlines, featuring planes painted all different colors and stewardess uniforms designed by Pucci to match the color-scheme of each plane.

Hal Riney claims to have been a quiet kid who longed for a different kind of family. He is known for a series of television ads during the 80s that relied on heartfelt scenes of family life and the american dream with authoritative narrative. He launched Perrier and created the Presidential campaign ad for Ronald Reagan "It's morning again in America."

Goodby, Silverstein & Partner aim for "brutal simplicity" with a motto "art serving capitalism." With Haiku-like slogans such as the "Got Milk" campaign, they often created a kind of mass happening appeal, an inclusive approach to the audience. "We're trying to entertain society using client's products," says Goodby.

Lee Clow is a surfer with a rebel spirit who believes the creative people should be in charge. At TBWA/ChiatDay he helped create the "Think Different" 1984 superbowl commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh computer and later introduced the dancing black sillouette iPod ads that remains one of my personal favorites. "When done well, an ad can be part of culture instead of pollution," Clow says. "All brands will become media--everyone can become their own network."

Wieden & Kennedy used the words of a man about to die on death row--"Let's do it"--and transformed the words to Nike's famous slogan of the late 1980s. "Just do it" is attributed to offering people a life-changing message that may have sparked divorces, weight-loss, better fitness, career change and other acts of self-improvement. Another Nike campaign--"if you let me play sports"--suggests a host of better life outcomes for girls who play sports.

Many more campaigns are featured in this film that delves into the hearts and minds of the people who create them. Advertising is here to stay. It has become an artform of our culture worth appreciating.


Winter Passing (2005)

Adam Rapp's film tells the story of Reese (Zooey Deshanel), a 20-something actress living in New York. She has broken off ties to her eccentric bohemian parents. Dad, Don Holder (Ed harris), is an author somewhat like a J.D. Salinger, who has dropped out of sight and has not published lately--has become reclusive and retired from his teaching post. Mom, also an author, recently commit suicide.

Reese did not return for the funeral, but while working as a bartender is approached by a book editor (AmyMadigan) who tells her that her mother has left her a bundle of love letters exchanged between the parents while they were courting. She offers $100,000 to publish the letters. This offer is too appealing to pass up so Reese heads to Michigan on a bus. She finds Dad depressed and quite alcoholic--has moved into the garage and all the bedroom furniture out into the back yard. Don uses the former bedroom as an indoor golf course and has made a habit of hittinga few balls before dinner with Corbet. Former students, Corbet (Will Farrell) and Shelly (Amelia Warner) reside in the main house to care for and manage the life of Don.

Reese arrives unexpected and finds a chaotic situation to navigate as she tries to reconnect with her father and find the letters. Reese holds on to her belief that Mom and Dad were not good parents to her. Don knows this to be true. Still, there was a lot of love in the family of artists, along with a lot of moodiness and complication. I always enjoy seeing films featuring Ed Harris and his real-life wife, Amy Madigan. Her role is minor, but Ed is wonderful as the elderly burntout heartsick author. Quirky Zooey Deshanel is perfect as the daughter of bohemian outsiders.


Please Give (2010)

The film opens with a mammogram technician at work--breasts flopping about on glass plates as Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) conducts business--then goes home to her mundane life. She lives with Mary (Amanda Peet), her esthetician sister, and Grandma Andra (Ann Guilbert). They live on the upper west side of Manhattan next door to Kate (Catherine Keener), Alex (Oliver Platt) and their daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele). Director Nicole Holfleurer previously made Friends With Money and Lovely and Amazing, both featuring Catherine Keener, who happens to be one of my favorite actors.

Kate and Alex operate a mid-20th Century furniture store. "We buy furniture from dead people's children," says Kate, a bleeding-heart liberal who feels slightly guilty about her business and is constantly handing money out to homeless people. They have purchased the apartment of their elderly neighbor in advance of her passing. They wait for the moment when their dream to renovate and enlarge their modest New York apartment is realized. Meanwhile, they befriend Andra, a tough and feisty New Yorker, and the granddaughters who live with and care for her.

Their daughter, Abby is full of wise-cracks and plagued with a skin condition. Alex has an affair with Mary. Abby bonds with Mary. Kate bonds with Rebecca. A patient at the clinic fixes up Rebecca with her cute, short son. The unfolding of all these dynamics is fun and real in a very down-to-earth way. Catherine Keener chooses small stories with lots of heart and realism. I loved this movie!


James Dean (2001)

I have been eager to see some of James Franco's early movies since I saw him in 127 Hours at Telluride and look forward to Howl arriving in Buffalo. This made-for-television film by Mark Rydell tells the story actor, James Dean (James Franco). The movie opens with a song written in 1954 by beat poet, Allen Ginsberg...
Yes yes
that's what
I wanted.
I always wanted.
I always wanted.
to return
to the body
where I was born.

Dean lived a fairly normal early childhood in Santa Monica until his mother, Mildred, died in 1939 when he was 8 and his father put him on a train to live with his aunt on a farm in Indiana and Winton (Michael Moriarty) ignored him. He suffered quite a bit during these years and spent his teen years alone brooding and riding a motorcycle through the cornfields. He returned to California after high school to attend business college and live with Winton and his new wife. When Dean begins talking about dropping school to get into acting, Winton lets him know he is on his own if he chooses that path. Dean is soon out the door with a ratty old suitcase tied with string heading for New York to follow in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and Montgomery Cliff.

Dean finds other actors auditions and method acting classes. He soon lands a paid job in a made-for-tv play, The Immoralist. The directors and casting agents recognize something special in him and put up with his quirky ways. He continually tries to get the attention of his father with his accomplishments, but Winton just pushes him away. His restlessness takes him out to Hollywood where a big shot tells him" You're never gonna get rich until you look rich." Warner Brothers Studio also tells him to get rid of the motorcycle that they view as a liability. He trades the bike for a flashy red sports car and falls in love with Italian actress, Pier Angeli. They have a brief time of happiness until she left him broken-hearted.

We see Dean on the sets of East of Eden and Giant as his ego grew and personal difficulties spilled out all over. After years of trying to reach his father, he finally does have a moment to better understand the problem. Winton tells him that he learned from Mildred on her deathbed that James was not his biological son. They make peace and there is some settling of Dean's angst.

On the set of his last film, Rebel Without a Cause, with Natalie Wood, he trades in the red hotrod for an even sexier silver Porsch Spyder with "Little Bastard" painted on the back. We all know how it ends...a careless moment on a dirt road. Just one other car turning in front of him, but he would not slow down. Dean was killed...not even 25 yet. Rebel was released in 1955.

Franco does an amazing job of capturing the special qualities of the actor who was not around long enough to lose favor in the public eye. He'll always be a big star. Franco seems to be modeling himself along the same lines. He has a couple other interesting projects. A book of his short stories will be soon available and he talks about the writing with one of his teachers, Michael Cunningham...


Franco also took a role on daytime soap, General Hospital as an artist/serial killer named Franco...



Grizzly Man (2005)

Werner Herzog's documentary weaves interviews with family and friends and film footage taken by Timothy Treadwell during his summers observing and befriending the grizzly bears of Alaska. Herzog narrates a fascinating look at a young man's evolution from a typical American youth during the 1960s Long Island through his bright start in college on a swimming scholarship. When he loses the scholarship after a back injury, Treadwell flees to California for surfing and acting. He developed a drug and alcohol problem along the way, but struggles to straighten himself out in rehab. Afterwards, he carries on a new life by reinventing his identity and dedicating himself to environmentalism. He began traveling to Alaska each summer to spend time with grizzly bears as he filmed hours of footage of himself and the bears. A self-proclaimed protector of the grizzlies, Treadwell returned to visit for thirteen summers.

Each summer a pilot delivered Treadwell and his supplies for the solitary months with the bears and returned a few months later to retrieve him. The pilot arrived in late summer of 2003 to discover the remains of Treadwell's campsite. His critics predicted such an end and Treadwell himself frequently commented on his challenge in such a dangerous place. He seemed to know that sooner or later the bears would seize him, but he seemed at peace with that. As we watch the film footage, we see the zany and unstoppable qualities that drove him to push the limits of safety. He characterized the creatures with human qualities, naming them Freckles, Quincy, Tabatha, Melissa, Rowdy--his pets--children. He showed a great deal of emotion for them and his ongoing saga seemed to be one long therapy session.

As winter snows melt, the Grizzlies populate the "Grizzly Maze" in the national forest area where Treadwell visits. The silvertip brown grizzly is 300 to 1200 pounds. They are solitary creatures who prefer coastal regions with streams, lakes, rivers where salmon flourish. They are omnivores who consume 80% of their diet from live vegetation, but also prey on deer, moose, sheep, elk and bison. Grizzly bears consume dead animals that they find along the way and are known to kill humans. Treadwell thrived on the notion that he had special abilities to tame the wild beast. Herzog, the realist, continues to point out the harsh indifference of nature, as Treadwell carries on his often misguided mission. As the summer wears on and the food supplies diminish, the Grizzly will often eat her own cubs to survive. The bear seeks food, not companionship.

Treadwell brought along a girlfriend for the last two summers of this journey. Amy is rarely seen in the film footage and diary entries reveal her deep fear of the bears. We learn that she had grown frustrated with Treadwell's thrill-seeking and she planned to leave him after that last summer to begin a new job in another town. We see them happily goofing around as they wrap up before heading back home.

Sadly, Amy died along with Timothy Treadwell. I was thoroughly engaged watching this compelling true tale unfold. Herzog is a masterful storyteller and observer of the natural world. This tribute to Timothy Treadwell is full of the drama of human ambition, passion and survival.


Buffalo International Film Festival (2010)

October 1-10, 2010

The 4th annual festival begins at Market Arcade Film & Arts Center with a 7:00pm benefit screening of Temple Grandin for the Western New York Autism Community.

Films will also be shown at...
The Screening Room
HD Video Cafe
North Park Theater

See complete listings at http://www.buffalofilmfest.com

Skin Stories (2010)

Pacific Islanders in Communications produced this documentary directed by Emiko Omori. Shown on PBS, the anthology of stories exploring the transformative power of tattoo art to honor the past, explore the inner self and preserve culture. The film opens in 1999 with the first tattoo convention in Apia, Samoa where people gathered to celebrate the Polynesian art of tatau. As recent as the late 19th century only chiefs and their sons had tatau.

The skills have been passed down for two thousand years with the wisdom to "observe and ponder." The boar's tooth tool that was used since the beginning is still used today. The person receiving the tatau requires physical and spiritual assistance. The skin is bathed with cleansing sea water to begin the healing process. Imagery of nature, sea creatures, plants and daily life are incorporated into the art and becomes proof of one's worthiness to serve the community. An individual who is given tatau is able to conduct ceremonies, prepare food, give a speech. The tatau honors healthful living. The traditional tatau is considered the "regal cloth of Samoan spirit."

The art form moved throughout the islands to Aotearoa (New Zealand) with their version called Maori moku. Characterized by covering the entire face with design. Heads of Maori killed in war during the early 1800s were collected, a trend that caused the moku tradition for men to fade out by the 1960s. Women continued for another decade or so receiving the dark blue moku on their lips and patterns on the chin area of the face, a characteristic that was viewed quite desirable. The Maori mastery of carving stories into stone and wood is strongly connected to the moku patterning. Moku on hips and legs is tied to the art of movement with weaponry. Men frequently display a spiral pattern on the buttock. A trend to rekindle the lost artforms of moku has grown in New Zealand as women have found personal spiritual rebirth that ties them to their ancient culture and allows them to pass along to their grandchildren lost values about people and living together in community.

The culture of kakau was awakened during the 1970s Hawaii in the 1970s as young people renewed their connection to the culture that their grandparents broke away from. The kakau are not given without a person learning about their family heritage and native language. These patterns are placed over the entire body, asymmetrically. The patterning is larger and bolder than the tatau and moku, often inspired by feathers, weaves, growth, tool markings.

The first U.S. tattoo shop was opened in New York City in 1840 by a German immigrant. Tattoos flourished on the fringes of society, especially during wartimes. Sailors and soldiers commonly chose sailor girls, eagles, devils, hearts and names. A tattoo was often thought of as an identifying marker in case of death.

Today "the regal cloth of Polynesia has become a patchwork quilt." The ancient art of Samoa has entered the mainstream as dream symbols, family symbols and transformative imagery of all kinds become tattoo art. These guiding images give purpose and meaning on the life journey. I gained a new appreciation that almost makes me want one of my own.


Johnny Bull (1986)

Local playwright Kathleen Betsko Yale (http://www.filmreference.com/film/99/Kathleen-Betsko-Yale.html) presented a screening of the film version of her play at The CG Jung Center in Buffalo. It was directed by Claudia Weill, who made my favorite late-1970s movie, Girlfriends.

Johnny Bull is based on the writer's experience as a young woman immigrating to America in 1959 to join her American husband who she had met in Great Britain while he served the military during the Suez Crisis.

The story opens as fresh-faced eighteen-year-old Iris (Susanne Hamilton) arrives all dressed up to meet good-looking Joe (Peter MacNicol), hopeful to find the America of Elvis Presley and Doris Day movies. Fans of a twenty-first television show might refer to this era as the Madmen years. Civil rights and women's rights are heating up in urban areas across the nation, but smalltown America is still a place of sexism and racism. This is where Iris lands to live at Joe's family home in coal mining country of western Pennsylvania.

They reside with Stephen Kovacs (Jason Robards) and his wife Marie (Colleen Dewhurst), a weathered pair of hard-working proud hungarian immigrants. Younger sister, Kathy (Kathy Bates), is a simple-minded young woman who unhappily gives up her bedroom to the young couple. Stephen does not hide his disdain for the "Johnny Bull" (British) dressed in Doris Day clothing. He has just lost his mining job and the burden of more mouths to feed is disheartening.

Iris faces a rude awakening when the America of her fantasies is nowhere near the dismal place she has landed. Carefree and artistic, she obsessively draws shoe designs after a stint working at a shoe factory back home sparked a new ambition. Her aspirations to greet modern life have her dreaming of California, but her new home is a place where the women spend their days baking bread and washing away coal soot. The newlywed romance turns to simple dependence on a husband who does not share her dreams. He becomes more and more like his angry abusive father as her pregnancy grows and daily pressures mount.

Marie has no time for disappointment or whimsey, but we see her softening up around Iris's cheery ways. "You bring the juice back into life" she exclaims. We glimpse a hidden corner of Marie when she tells about a touch of excitement she found briefly during a coal mine strike that sent her to New York City for a housekeeper job where her employee rewarded her with lovely dresses and cash that she hoarded away for the future. The story is laced with enough humor and lightness to balance the intensity of this family struggle through a rough existence and a dark family secret.

Iris toughens under Marie's guidance. She gives birth to her baby and begins to take charge of her own life. This is a beautiful story of two women doing the best they can with difficult circumstances. The film was made for television broadcast, but the viewing experience is like seeing a play unfold. I enjoyed getting to know these characters and the themes remain relevant today.


The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Another Peter Weir film from the last century. This one is set in Jakarta during the mid-1960s when President Sukarno was the voice of the third world. Linda Hunt is cast as Billy, a diminutive male photographer who befriends newcomer Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson). Their band of journalists wait and watch for breaking news as heartbreaking poverty has brought the country to the verge of civil war.

Hamilton encounters competition in Pete (Michael Murphy) and intrigue with Jill (Sigourney Weaver). This group of well-meaning foreigners embrace the culture of Java, drink gin and tonics, and position themselves for the next best story. Billy streams wise words throughout. "If you want to understand the Java, you have to understand the puppet shadow play--the right is in constant struggle with the left--there are no final conclusions."

Billy orchestrates a romance between Guy, who she affectionately calls Old Man, and Jill who he refers to as My Jilly. They are "special friends" and Billy claims to have proposed marriage to her (unsuccessfully). Guy faces a moral decision as the atmosphere heats up. Crisis follows. The Peter Weir soundtracks have a mystical quality. This one by Maurice Jarr drew me into a story I may have had difficulty watching otherwise.


The Last Wave (1977)

I was curious to see this early film by Peter Weir after attending the Tribute to him at the Telluride Film Festival. The supernatural thriller opens with with torrential rains and the first ever incidence of hail crashing down on Sydney, Australia. The theme of downpouring water continues throughout the story as lawyer, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), begins a new case to uncover the truth about the murder of an aborigine man named Billy during a bar fight.

The tribal mysteries of the aborigine people of Australia date back 50,000 years, but Burton attempts to find some understanding. Apocalyptic visions of water and haunting dreams plague him, including one about Billy holding a symbolic stone. Burton becomes involved with aborigine witness, Chris (David Gulpilil) and his associate, Charlie (Nandjiwarru Amagula). He asks them why Billy died and is told "He sees things." Whites in Sydney commonly believe that the aborigines in the city are not tribal, but Burton begins to suspect Billy may have been killed for violating a tribal taboo.

Chris explains the importance of dreamtime, the infinite spiritual cycle that determines law. "A dream is a shadow of something real." Premonitory dreams occur at the end of a cycle prior to apocolypse and lead to rebirth. Charlie asserts that law is more important than the man. Burton's investigation leads him to discover his own connection to Mokural, a race of spirits from the rising suns that act through human beings by offering sacred objects.

His stepfather reminds him that as a child he had premonitory dreams leading up to the death of his mother and he begins to see how his recent dreams are linked to the murder. The mood of the film is grim, soggy and dark. The sounds are primal and slightly terrifying. At one point, Burton is face-to-face with Charlie asking "Who are you?" Charlie turns the question back on him over and over, humming as the energy builds. We learn that Charlie is a shape-shifter who becomes an owl. Burton becomes quite lost in a sea of secrets that reveal the world to be quite different than he once believed it to be.


127 Hours (2010)

Seeing this on the last night of Telluride Film Festival was a spectacular end to being in that beautiful place. I had listened to Danny Boyle James Franco and Aron Ralston speak on a panel discussion about the role of nature in film. Director Boyle does not consider this movie to be a nature film, even though it all takes place in the Blue John Canyon of Utah, not too many miles away from Telluride.

Based on Aron Ralston's book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, this is a tale about survival after a hiking accident. Ralston is portrayed by James Franco, who carries the film with monologue and action--full of drama, silence, loud sound, comedy, self-reflection. While the book goes into detail about people back home trying to locate Ralston, Boyle chose to make the film entirely about Ralson's experience in the canyon during those 127 hours back in 2003. He was a pleasure-seeking young man who worked as an engineer. An adrenaline junkie and outdoorsman, he may have been a bit arrogant and careless, but he was no novice in the wild. He took off on his bike one sunny day equipped with loud music through his headphones, a movie camera strapped to his handlebars, snacks and water. We see him speed through the dry terrain of the west, doing what he loved until a mishap with a large boulder leaves him pinned under rocks. Caught in the menacing, ominous, threatening, indifference of nature, he finds a bit of poetry as he records himself on camera, often sober in an attempt to leave a dignified impression for those who may discover it later on. He embraces mortality, knowing his predicament appears to be unsolvable, but his psyche and soul unravel--leading him to a way out.

The film is essentially about one man's destiny with a rock and the existential transformation that occurs as he resorts to desperate measures to survive...eventually liberates himself by sawing off his arm with a dull pocket knife. The film takes the viewer on a sensory and emotional roller coaster with Ralston via James Franco's ability to convey the hero's journey. Ralson is the first to admit that the big mistake this event was his failure to tell anyone where he was going. The film is careful to not let the audience leave without making a statement about the important issues of outdoor safety.


Fifteen Venues--Fifty Films (2010)

Most of the films have been shown within few short blocks in the historic town of Telluride. The local schools have high-end screening auditoriums. The center of town features an outdoor screening area One large theater is up the mountain by gondola. During the hours of 8am and 12am the film schedule rolls onward for an endless possibility of viewing.

Despite the beauty and fun of it all, walking about the hilly streets in the dry high altitudes is not for the weary. There are plenty of generic gearless bicycles around for those who prefer riding...no locks required. Some people around town have artfully painted versions with color and pattern. I did notice locks on some of those.

The daily schedule is key. Multiple films of interest have overlapping times. Arriving early to line up for seating is the pesky part of the scheduling process, but people are friendly and chatting in line is part of the experience. After waiting nearly an hour to get into the tribute show last night in an auditorium big eough for 650 people, we just made it and ended up high in the balcony. Other theaters seat only fifty so those show fill up quickly.

This is a celebration of the dark theater of memory (Dennis Jakob). There will be plenty of time later for the peaceful home-viewing or the ease of my local hometown theaters--never a line--just walk into any top independent film on a wednesday evening and find just a few other people.

The beauty of this experience is having the director and many of the actors present, Q & A sessions, chance encounters. The two tribute shows reminded me of so many films that I would like to see again. The director of Cameraman sat next to Kerry and I at a cafe and we learned about his study of a cameraman who worked in the industry for more than seventy years. I listened to Mark Cousins explain how his early childhood in Belfast during the war "tenderized" him to become a filmmaker delivering imagination and art to children in a small village in Iraq.
Aron Ralston was an ordinary young man whose hiking adventure several years ago became the subject of Danny Boyle's recent film, 127 Hours, starring James Franco. All three were present for an outdoor panel to speak about how the tragic story was transformed into a film about survival and hope. I plan to see it this evening. During the first three days, I have seen...
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
A Tribute to Peter Weir
The Way Back (Peter Weir)
The Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff (Craig McCall)
Bieutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu with Javier Bardem)
Seminar: Human/Nature with Danny Boyle, James Franco, Peter Weir, Werner Herzog
Dennis Jakob Unplugged (Errol Morris)
The First Movie (Mark Cousins)
Tribute to Colin Firth
The King's Speech (Tom Hooper with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush)

Last day here...more movies and more details to follow.


Mountains, Millionaires, Movies (2010)

I have arrived.

Telluride is cozily nestled in the lap of the surrounding peaks...welcoming. I am ready for this smalltown celebration of art and cinema...eager to discover what will unfold. Today the flood of people arriving. Kerry and I arrived yesterday as things began percolating.

Seventy-five percent of the movies I see are DVDs on a twenty-five inch television screen...rarely on a laptop, an experience that is severely lacking in aesthetic. What a treat it can be to share the viewing experience on the big screen in an audience of enthusiastic watchers. I volunteered to work at the Denver Film Festival in 2002. I assembled guest gift bags, wrote Kevin Bacon's name on a label, and recall none of the wonderful films I saw there. Also attended one screening at the less-than-glamorous Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival last spring. The Telluride Film Festival promises to be the ultimate candy store experience. How many movies can a person watch in a day and how will we choose what to see? We have not even seen the schedule yet...suspense.

Traveling yesterday was smooth...on-time flights...made both transfers. There was just one glitch...my suitcase did not arrive. Hope to see it in a few hours, but right now it is a crisp and chilly morning...all I have to wear are the clothes chosen on a ninety degree Buffalo morning. Curiously, before the airline began charging the price of a small dinner for one checked bag, I flew here and there for thirty years without one lost bag incident.


37th Annual Event (2010)

Soon reporting LIVE from Telluride Film Festival...


"There are two kinds of film festival: there are the mega-hyped, hoopla-infested selling circuses, and there is Telluride. It is extraordinarily exciting, in this age of the triumph of capitalism, to discover an event dedicated not to commerce, but to love. And if that sounds old fashioned and starry-eyed, so be it. The cinema was always in the business of gazing at stars."

– Salman Rushdie

Blow Up (1966)

Michelangelo Antonioni captures the energy of swinging 1960s London through the life of photographer, David Bailey (David Hemings). The film opens with a car overflowing with anarchic youth racing through the streets...they stream out of the auto to greet hipster Bailey in his black convertible. He resides in the mod world of models, pop music, marijuana and easy sex with a jazzy pop soundtrack scored by Herbie Hancock and Yardbirds.

"Smoke slowly against the beat," he tells his young models as he hands them a joint. Always the cool artiste, dressed in white jeans and dark jacket--camera hanging from his neck--he shoots fashion models wearing graphic print shifts and colorful tights...refers to the girls as "birds." Model, Veruschka (Veruschka von Lehndorff) performs one of the sexiest film moments as she twists and turns for his lens. The film shows us blatant masculinity, sexism, and the possibility that females control much of male power.

Bailey is working on a book of art photos. He heads to the park to find some final shots to complete his work. He stands behind a fence to take shots of a couple of playful lovers until they disappear from sight. The woman walks out from behind bushes and spots Bailey with his camera. Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) approaches him to demand the film. This intrigues Bailey...he flirts and promises her the photos later.

Before photoshop and the 24/7 presence of the camera lens of post-modern life, a photo was actually a glimpse into reality. When Bailey blows up the shots of Jane and her lover, he begins to suspect a murder may have occurred. We watch him puzzle over this. The young brunette Vanessa Redgrave is a joy to see. Not much is resolved, but curious happenings unfold and there is much to look at and wonder about the world as it was forty-four years ago.


William Eggleston in the Real World (2005)

Documentary filmmaker, Michael Almereyda, captured the photographer who gained notoriety in 1976 when he was just thirty-seven and his photographs were included in MOMAs first show of color photography.

He had already completed his ambitious 1974 Los Alamos Project, a collection of more than two thousand photos--ordinary shots of cars, women and objects in brilliant color infused with his dye transfer process. Influenced by Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Eggleston's images at first glance are not too different from those in family photo albums. At second glance, they are spectacular, given the era and equipment that he used. He approached the work as if a fragment can reflect the greater whole. He was inspired by the writings of Cartier-Bresson in The Decisive Moment. Some say his stills resemble those of filmmaker David Lynch. He was finally able to showcase more of those shots in a show at The J. Paul Getty Museum during 2000.

John Szarkowski's essay of Eggleston's work remains one of the more definative commentaries on the photographer. The essay points out that "the world now contains more photographs than bricks." Eggleston made photos featuring the richness of the visible world where everything is worth looking at and photographing. Haunting and hopeful, this society is decaying and becoming, a democracy of objects showing the nature of perception. This was all before digital imagery flooded our world.

His grandfather, a judge, was an amatuer photographer who invited Eggleston to play in his darkroom and gave him a Brownie camera for his tenth birthday. The film suggests that the sudden death of this paternal figure sparked young Eggleston's compulsion to create throughout his life in and around Memphis. He began filming his family as a teen and made some videos during the early 1970s featuring his bohemian crowd--intense, dismal, wreckless--socializing, discussing, drunk and drugged. Though, these films were engaging, Eggleston dropped the video camera and focused on his still photography.

We see Bill drawing his mistress, Lucia Birch, as she made odd drunken comments throughout. A heavy drinker and constant smoker who had bouts of depression, he also had the support of his wife and children to fulfill a career of work that won him Getty Images' Lifetime Achievement Award. He said little upon receiving this, but commented about art...

"You love and appreciate it, but you cannot really talk about it."

After this film was released, the artist was given a retrospective show at The Whitney Museum in 2008.


Summer Lovers (1982)

Eighteen years ago...

I rented this one because I noticed a facebook post by Teresa saying that she had enjoyed the innocence of this nearly-vintage film. Fun and innocent...different from what we see now. It's all whitewashed and brilliant light during a summer in Greece. Cathy (Darryl Hannah) and Michael (Peter Gallagher) arrive in Oia, Santorini for a summer of hedonistic pleasures. They rent a villa by the sea for a mere $100 and week and set off on their adventure.

I should start by mentioning that I have always liked seeing Darryl Hannah in films and I miss her with Jackson Brown. And ever since Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), I have taken notice of Peter Gallagher (and James Spader) with those extremely bushy eyebrows. He turns up in all kinds of television shows and movies, often playing the extremely handsome father figure these days. This 1982 film shows a very slender version of himself dressed in designer jeans, little shorts, and tiny speedo bathing trunks...until he gets with the program on the beaches of Greece and goes naked.

The story is simple. Young and in love, they travel to this exotic place to play house in a foreign land. Cathy is a budding photographer. Michael is just beginning to realize the appeal of beautiful women. He becomes attracted to an earthy slightly older woman, an archeologist named Lina (Valerie Quennessen). The promise of an all-out threesome is in the air. Once Cathy deals with her jealousy, the three become fast friends and she moves in with them.

The movie tagline us "They spent a summer of love--to the sounds of Chicago." Not so much Chicago, but I did hear a lot of Donna Summer and other disco beats. The scene in Greece was free and open with lots of socializing, beach nudity, alcohol, and disco dancing. One scene shows them in a club dancing on mashed grapes! The atmosphere is thick with passion and possibility. At one point Michael explains to Cathy that heat plus fuel plus oxygen yields fire. If one of the elements is missing, the fire goes out. That is about the depth of this movie, but still...we watch them struggle with jealousy, love and freedom as people of a certain age continue to do.

This movie would not be entertaining if the actors were not known to me. Part of the fun of movies is seeing favorite actors growing older along with us. We are all in this together. But in this movie, the characters are new to the world, wide-eyed and dewy. There are moments of dramatic dives and jumps off high cliffs into the sea, running up and down the monumental stucco hillside structures, cartwheels in The Acropolis. It makes one nostalgic for what was and what was not...a perfect summer movie!


Eat Pray Love (2010)

Whenever a book is a bestseller and made into a highly-promoted film with months of advanced promotion and numerous television and radio interviews with the book's author and starring celebrity actress, I want to not like the movie. I resisted this book initially because of it's book club popularity, but my sister gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago and I completely enjoyed reading it.

One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia states the cover page inside Eat Pray Love. This book is not the "chick lit" I expected. I went on to read Elizabeth Gilbert's earlier book The Last American Man. I later picked up and the one that came after the success of EPL--a deep look into relationship and marriage--Committed. She is a researcher who tells the truth of a story with many interesting side stories, quotes, and facts. I find her writing to be quite engaging.

Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip Tuck, Running With Scissors) wrote the screenplay adaptation and directed the film. Brad Pitt is listed as a producer. The opening day audience at the North Park Theater was largely groups of women. This may be the "chick flick" of the summer season, but a few men will also enjoy Gilbert's world of discovery through picturesque travel through three countries. The story opens with a quote from the book that ponders Virginia Woolf...

"Across the broad continent of a women's life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side there lies convention and tradition and order where all is correct. But on the other side of that sword, if you're crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow conventions all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course."

The story takes us along with Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) as she crosses that shadow. Plagued with the feeling that she no longer wishes to have children. She no longer wishes to be married to nice guy husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup). She wants to travel--he does not. She no longer wants to live in the big, lonely dream house. This is her painful truth. Despite commitments and vows, Liz walks away to find herself, but first she crosses paths with a new man, David (James Franco). The actor/yogi becomes the catalyst for her spiritual awakening.

Liz Gilbert loves men of all kinds and the film is full of them--many are young and handsome with lovely accents. Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) is the annoying, but generous man who befriends Liz at an ashram in India. Felipe (Javier Bardem) nearly kills Liz with his truck in Bali--then captures her heart. Ketut (Hadi Subiyanto) is the medicine man who grounds her when confusion intervenes.

Italy serves to awaken in her the romance of pleasure. India offers a taste of devotion, stillness, compassion. Wisdom and love await her in Bali.

Liz attends an Italian language school while in Rome so her chapters there are full of the rhythm and romance of those words. The story is woven together with the thread of a conversation among friends in Italy--the notion that each each place and person has a word. Rome's word is sex. Giovanni's word is half-assed. Luca Spaghetti's word is surrender. She does not know what her word is, but by the end of the film, Liz finally names a word. Attraversiamo--Let's cross over. The story celebrates living on the border between the stability of tradition and the promise and peril of the unknown and making choices to go one way or another.


Southern Comfort (2001)

Kate Davis created this HBO documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Festival. The film tells the story of Robert Eads, a female-to-male transexual dying from ovarian cancer. Pipe-smoking, leather-lined and bearded with a wirey body, he refers to himself as "a hillbilly and proud of it." Robert tells about his life and how he found peace living his trailer on the land in the back hills of Georgia.

We meet various transexual friends, who he considers his "chosen family." As we learn about Robert's journey to become a man, we also hear the stories of people in his community. Much of the filming took place leading up to the transexual community's big convention in Atlanta--Southern Comfort.

Robert was born a woman, gave birth to two sons, and lived the life of a lesbian until beginning gender transition at age thirty-five. The cancer was quite advanced when he began seeking medical help and after being turned away by two dozen doctors, he finally found some treatment, but it was too late. Medical care is difficult to obtain for people in the transgender community...sometimes worse for female-to-males. This story of being stigmatized in numerous ways is a common theme here.

We meet Lola, Robert's tall stylish male-to-female girlfriend who still presents himself as male at work. We also meet Max, a younger female-to-male who Robert had taken under his wing and calls his son. During the filming, Robert's parents visit and we learn how they have grown to accept his situation over time. We also meet one of Robert's sons and his little boy. Robert is especially touched to have this grandson who knows him only as Grandpa. The son admits that he continues to relate to Robert as his mother, despite the transformed appearance.

These complex relationships are fascinating to learn about. Generally, people who feel the need to pursue the gender reassignment are working people who struggle to save money for the surgery and tend to end up in undesirable medical situations, often with no medical follow-up care. Robert mentions one person who lived in a tent and saved all his money for years in order to pursue gender reassignment. Robert speaks candidly about his own surgeries, hormones and psychological aspects of this experience.

While this issue may be difficult for many to grasp and take seriously, the film offers so much compassion and wisdom. People often have enough difficulties finding kindred spirits in life--even in busy urban areas--it is a wonder that in the back woods of the south an entire community has been found by Robert Eads. They care of one another. They have love and friendship. It's a beautiful story. I have been drawn to other such stories...Middlesex, Trans-Sister Radio, TransAmerica, Prodigal Sons.

We watch him in his weakened state thrilled to be dressed up for the convention dinner dance with his lovely Lola. He calls it "the prom that never was." Robert passed away soon after that evening.


I Am Love (2009)

lo sono l'amore...this film is an Italian language film with subtitles.

I was not sure about seeing this Luca Guadagnino film, but the operatic family drama about turn of the millennium Milan and a dynasty of industrial wealth is not boring or predictable. I would see anything with Tilda Swinton, who is cast as Emma, the Russian immigrant to Italy who is married to Tancredi, the son of the Recchi Clothing tycoon. Now the mother of three grown children (Edo, Gianluca, Betta), she is planning a party for the Recchi patriarch as he prepares to name an heir to the family business.

Life in the haute bourgeoisie is full of beauty, lavish foods, fabrics, art. Lovely at middle age in her sheath dresses and mile-high pumps, Emma is the lithe maternal goddess who binds the family together. Self-contained and enigmatic, she seems to enjoy little marital intimacy, despite the stately bedroom she shares with Tancredi. Who is she really? As the young people party outside by the pool, she sits alone high above all the action stitching her needlepoint, content to close herself away with drawn drapes. We do begin to learn more about her as the story unfolds and a younger man captures her attention.

Everyone in this film is attractive. Marisa Berenson is the glistening and glamorous wife of the patriarch, mother to Tancredi. We begin to see that the loveliness and sparkle of this world is not as solid as it seems. What happens to tradition and stability when sweeping changes blow through the Recchi family?

Edo has partnered with a progressive young chef to open a restaurant. Betta has broken up with her boyfriend and moved to London, where she is finding herself in new ways. Gianluca and his wife are expecting their first child. The Recchi clothing business faces a new chapter as we watch that drama unfold in the corporate boardroom. A turbaned businessman speaks eloquently about the necessity of business to change in response to a rapidly growing world population.

Each member of the Recchi family face their own personal transformation as the container shatters. The pace of this film builds slowly as the stage is set for the unexpected events to unfold and by the end, one walks out of the theater feeling the effect of an emotional roller coaster. The story lingers with me.

See archives on sidebar for reviews of other Tilda Swinton films (Julia--Oct. 2009, Limits of Control--Dec. 2009, Broken Flowers--Jan. 2010).

I had recently seen two other films that share common themes of infidelity and inevitability of personal change that comes along with that. I liked both films very much...

The Kids Are Alright features an American middle-class family featuring lesbian mothers with two teenage children.

Cloud 9 is a German language film with subtitles featuring a lower middle-class married couple with a grown daughter and young grandchildren.