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.