Thursday, May 31, 2007

Worst Episode Ever

The only good thing in Madrigal.

I was hoping Waiter would be the worst film I saw at SIFF, but I hoped in vain. Madrigal is worse. How much worse? I wrenched my back a little over a week ago and was in considerable pain for three days. I didn't so much as take an aspirin. Madrigal lasted 112 minutes and about ten minutes in I was screaming for the Vicodan.

Not being familiar with Fernando Perez I had no idea he is one of the most celebrated film directors of Cuba, a fact I never would have guessed from watching this movie. Far from looking like the accomplished work of a veteran director, Madrigal appears to be a first-time feature by a student filmmaker; the depiction of contemporary human behavior and sexual mores being so utterly inept it could have only been written by a kid with zero life experience or a hopelessly out-of-touch old fart.
At this point, I suppose, a diegesis of the plot and characters should be given but, oddly, neither the story nor the protagonists are at fault. At its core, the plot [actor woos and betrays lonely girl at the behest of his conniving girlfriend] has sound elements and solid potential, as does each and every character. The problem, again, is with the treatment.
Perez's writing/direction is so labored, so sodden with bad surrealism, bad poetry and heavily portentous dialogue that the film easily scores an 11 on the pretentious-o-meter. Basically, its an epic Calvin Klein Obsession ad, but without the wit and subtlety. The soundtrack consists mainly of the same piano chord being banged whenever anything vaguely dramatic occurs, leading one to the nagging suspicion that Perez is trying to emulate the Ligeti snippet in Eyes Wide Shut. Further proof of this is provided by an orgy scene so choreographed it makes the one in Kubrick's flick look like a Rocco Siffredi vid.
Aside from some wonderfully lensed shots of the decaying splendor of Havana, the only good thing in Madrigal is Carla S/*nchez as the conniving girlfriend, Eva. Although whether that's due to her performance, which injects the only shot of piquancy into the movie, or the frequency of her nude scenes is hard to say.
Wednesday June 13 6:30pm Neptune
Saturday, June 16 6:45pm Lincoln Square

Worst Episode Ever

The only good thing in Madrigal.

I was hoping Waiter would be the worst film I saw at SIFF, but I hoped in vain. Madrigal is worse. How much worse? I wrenched my back a little over a week ago and was in considerable pain for three days. I didn't so much as take an aspirin. Madrigal lasted 112 minutes and about ten minutes in I was screaming for the Vicodan.

Not being familiar with Fernando Perez I had no idea he is one of the most celebrated film directors of Cuba, a fact I never would have guessed from watching this movie. Far from looking like the accomplished work of a veteran director, Madrigal appears to be a first-time feature by a student filmmaker; the depiction of contemporary human behavior and sexual mores being so utterly inept it could have only been written by a kid with zero life experience or a hopelessly out-of-touch old fart.
At this point, I suppose, a diegesis of the plot and characters should be given but, oddly, neither the story nor the protagonists are at fault. At its core, the plot [actor woos and betrays lonely girl at the behest of his conniving girlfriend] has sound elements and solid potential, as does each and every character. The problem, again, is with the treatment.
Perez's writing/direction is so labored, so sodden with bad surrealism, bad poetry and heavily portentous dialogue that the film easily scores an 11 on the pretentious-o-meter. Basically, its an epic Calvin Klein Obsession ad, but without the wit and subtlety. The soundtrack consists mainly of the same piano chord being banged whenever anything vaguely dramatic occurs, leading one to the nagging suspicion that Perez is trying to emulate the Ligeti snippet in Eyes Wide Shut. Further proof of this is provided by an orgy scene so choreographed it makes the one in Kubrick's flick look like a Rocco Siffredi vid.
Aside from some wonderfully lensed shots of the decaying splendor of Havana, the only good thing in Madrigal is Carla S/*nchez as the conniving girlfriend, Eva. Although whether that's due to her performance, which injects the only shot of piquancy into the movie, or the frequency of her nude scenes is hard to say.
Wednesday June 13 6:30pm Neptune
Saturday, June 16 6:45pm Lincoln Square

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A few quick and dirty ones.

Gordon Gano's biggest fan

Art of Crying
If you've ever wondered what a Todd Solondz picture would look like if it was directed by Ingmar Bergman, this is the movie. Sick, funny, incredibly deadpan and oddly affecting, Art of Crying has to be one of the most tasteful films ever made about a completely fucked-up family.

Wednesday June 6 4:30pm Pacific Place
Monday June 11 6:45 pm Egyptian

Big Rig
If you're expecting a Smokey and The Bandit, Convoy, CW McCall, naked girl mudflap nostalgia-fest, forget it. There are a few C&W oldies on the soundtrack and a respectful nod to chrome, but Big Rig is a contemporary portrait of a diverse group of long-haul truck drivers, most of whom think the country is going to hell. Interestingly, the three most upbeat truckers in the movie are a Polish immigrant and two black guys, one of whom has the tricked-out truck supreme. Although the doc is by no means comprehensive [no mention of NAFTA and no real explanation of how large trucking companies operate] it features lots of wonderful footage of the USA from a windshield perspective. The pic is well lensed with a Panasonic VariCam with crisp, nighttime photography. Score another one for HD!
Friday June 1 9:30pm Egyptian
Saturday June 2 3:15pm Egyptian
Born and Bred
I should have liked this film. It had all the elements I normally dig. A desolate, but beautiful landscape, an observational take on human behavior and a resolution that isn't false or un-earned. And yet the story of a man who loses his family in a car wreck and then broods about it in Patagonia left me cold. While taking a shower, it hit me. Born and Bred has no mystery and with no mystery there can be no discovery. We know everything about Santiago by the time he arrives in exile, so every revelation he unveils only surprises the other characters. The film, in a sense, contains its own spoilers. If they had cut out the beginning and end, you would have had the tension of a man unfolding between two suspensions. Without that existential interest, the film becomes an exercise in photography and acting. A rather good one, but disappointing all the same.
Tuesday May 29 7:00pm Pacific Place
Thursday May 31 4:30pm Pacific Place
How to Cook Your Life
A profile of Edward Espe Brown, author of the Tassajara Bread Book and resident chef at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, this film could have easily been called "How to Live A Contented Existence When You Happen to Be An Incredibly Fortunate Human Being." Actually, that's a bit ungenerous. The San Francisco Zen Center does good work in the community, but anyone who lives a peaceful and secure existence in the Bay Area, let alone Monterey County, would have to be ranked among the luckiest people in the world. Brown comes across as a fairly affable man, who has some valuable things to say about life and knows a heckuva lot about breadbaking, but Tony Bourdain he's not. Watch this if you have the time, otherwise wait for it on PBS.
Friday June 15 7:00pm SIFF Cinema
Sunday June 17 11:00am SIFF Cinema
Life in Loops
Speaking of people who don't have such wonderful lives, this movie is the perfect illustration of something Frank Zappa once said to an audience, "I have an important message to deliver to all the cute people all over the world. If you're out there and you're cute, maybe you're beautiful, I just want to tell you something, there's more of us ugly mother-fuckers than you are... hey!" Starting with some street hustlers in New York, the film bounces around the globe, introducing us to different varieties of horrible. A dye sifter living in a hut in Bombay seems to have the worst life in the world until we meet a group of scavengers salvaging bits of plastic from a filthy river. By the time we come back to a junky in NYC, he doesn't seem to have it so bad. The film sounds like a bummer, but Tino Novotny does a fascinating job of remixing and extending the footage Michael Glawogger shot for Megacities. If you missed this at NWFF, please try to catch it if it comes to town again or get the DVD. It's riveting.
4 Elements
To take an analogy from Woody Allen, If Life in Loops presented the horrible, this film presents the miserable. Actually, you couldn't necessarily say the people in this film are miserable. They just have jobs you or I wouldn't want to do. Observing firefighters in Siberia, deep-sea crabbers in Alaska, coal miners in Germany and cosmonauts training in Kazakhstan, Jiska Rickels presents us with a display of labor in four exhausting fields. One of the best things a film can do is to show us how people live and 4 Elements does this in a completely absorbing manner. Again, catch it if it returns and, if not, get the DVD.
As the lights went down at the Harvard Exit, my friend Bill asked me why I decided to see this movie. I said, "I figured it'll be like an Argentinean Wassup Rockers. You know, underage kids, sex, drugs. That'll be good, right?'" I was joking, but I was right! Glue is very Larry Clark/Harmony Korine, but without the 'hell"n-a-handbasket' feeling. You've got glue huffing teenage boys, naked teenage boys, naked teenage girls, teenage boys jerking off, teenage boys having sex with teenage girls, teenage boys having sex with teenage boys, teenage girls taking showers and the music of the Violent Femmes. Basically, it's American Apparel, the movie. I pity anyone who missed this.
My Best Friend
Upon leaving the theater, an audience member described this as 'harmless'. Let's leave it at that.
King of Kong
This was a fist-pumping 'fuck yeah!' of a film. Steve Wiebe got a standing ovation at the Memorial Day screening and well-deserved it. Seth Gordon probably won't admit it, but King of Kong is a big up-yours to Florida and all the 'USA! USA!' meatheads of the world; and as our representative of Blue State decency, Wiebe and his family come across as the only normal, grounded people in the picture. By contrast, Wiebe's nemesis, Billy Mitchell, is a walking caricature. Seriously, he's about as ironic as Chuck Norris. When they cast King of Kong as a feature, they can stick a mullet on Kevin Bacon and call it a day. If you missed this at SIFF, don't fret. Expect this in theaters everywhere.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Paris, Je t'aime


I was looking forward to this film more than any other this year at SIFF, and it did not dissapoint. Paris, Je t'aime is beautifully composed of 18 different shorts about love in the city of love (18 different neighborhoods throughout Paris), by 18 different directors.

Directors include Olivier Assasayas, Joel & Ethan Cohen, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Gerad Depardieu, Gux Van Sant, and more - and stars include Steve Buschemi, Miranda Richardson, Willen Dafoe, Juliette Binoche, Bob Hoskins, Natalie Portman, Gena Rowlands (whose bittersweet story was one of my favorites) and too many more to mention.

Weaving drama, comedy, musicals, and even horror together, the stories collectively show you all sides of love - not just the fuzzy, romantic, head"n-the-clouds wonderfullness - but also the underneath: the problems, the heartbreak, the REALness of it. The blended together seamlessly, and when it was over, I was wishing there were more.

Paris, Je T'aime shows again at SIFF today (Monday, May 28th) at 11am @ The Harvard Exit, and it opens at The 7 Gables this Friday. Actor Elias McConnell (who starred in the Gus Van Sant story) is scheduled to attend today's screening.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Girls Rock! Benefit

Last night, I saw the excellent documentary Girls Rock! at SIFF, and the director mentioned that today there's a benefit for the Rock and Roll camp the film is about.

Head over to Chop Suey - 1325 E Madison - TODAY. Doors open at 1:30pm, you pay $10, it goes to a good cause, and you get to see some pretty amazing girls....rock.

And if you missed the film last night, you've got another chance. It's playing tomorrow (Sunday May 27th) @ SIFF Cinema. Showtime is 1pm.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Faithful reader Emily emails:


Random question for you. I was also at the festival last night and really enjoyed the film and the gala. My question is: are all the galas as amazing as that one was? Or are they much smaller? What are they like?

Thanks for your time!"

As a non-attendee, I cannot answer this. But those of you who did, won't you please weigh in in the comments?

SIFF Opening Night Gala - Son of Rambow


Last night, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the 2007 SIFF Opening Gala at the new Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Deborah Person, Carl Spence, and Gary Tucker all openly shared their love for the festival, and a general sense of excitement about this year filled the theater (which was packed full). Then the movie started, and I forgot about everything else.

Son of Rambow, directed by Garth Jennings (both Jennings and Producer Nick Goldsmith were in attendance for the screennig), is one of the sweetest coming-of-age comedies I have ever seen. Everything about this film made me happy from beginning to end. As for a capsule, I can't say it any better than it's already been said, so click here to read about it on the SIFF site.
To my delight, the film has tons of 80s references that led me down a nostaglic memory lane - and tied right into the dj theme for the party portion of the evening. Directly after the film, we were herded out through a fancy tented area (VIP only), and down to the Exhibition hall for the party. Decorated in white and lush, deep red - the party area resembled a comfortable, hip lounge. There were couches and beds to sit on with tons of pillows, big red curtains sheilded the walls, the Bombay Gin and Pyramid Ale areas were set up nicely, there were lots of good food vendors (including excellent friend chicken from Ezell's), and there was a big screen (and several smaller ones) playing loops of 80s classics Pretty in Pink and the Breakfast Club.
In other words: My kind of party.
The fact that it was absolutely that should be evident by my departure time (1:30am) and the 5 SIFF Bombay gin drinks, which led to me falling all over Producer Nick Goldsmith later, telling him exactly how and why I thought his movie was magic. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing I couldn't find the Director. Thank god my party companion was sober enough to drive me home!
This year's festival is off to a really good start - I am ready and excited to go see more films. As for Son of Rambow, you may have to wait awhile to see it if you missed opening night (imdb is showing a US release of 2008), but trust me: it will be worth it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

An insurance salesman, a soapmaker and a waiter walk into a bar...

meshugge like a fox

The great philosopher Boris Grushenko once said, "There are worse things in life than death. If you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know what I'm talking about." Yes, but what if you spent the evening with an insurance salesman, a soapmaker and a waiter? What's worse than that, the chicken & biscuit bowl at KFC? Actually, the insurance salesman was erratically engaging, the soap-maker was entertainingly crazy and the waiter? Let's just say he's not getting a tip.

The insurance salesman is Burkhard Wagner, a modern day Flying Dutchman. Instead of roaming the high seas, he cruises the autobahn, unable to go home until he fulfills a seemingly sisyphean sales-quota. Sporting a giggle the Riddler would find annoying, Wagner encounters one financially tenuous soul after another, offering them salvation in the form of a life"nsurance policy to be redeemed by their loved ones. In the process he has sundered his own soul from all that he holds dear; his wife and child. A mysterious woman offers him a lifeline to his own redemption, but will he accept it? Bathing the film in blues and greens, director B/olent Akinci paints a portrait of alienation worthy of Edward Hopper. Burhkard possesses a loneliness so deep, Willy Loman would cry a river for him, but he makes a superb salesman, squeezing every ounce of his remaining sanity into another sales pitch. At times the film mirrors the disassociation of its protagonist, taking us into a realm touching upon the Lynchian, but Running on Empty bears closer kinship to Gilles Marchand's uncanny Red Lights and Who Killed Bambi. This is nowhere more evident than the ending, where Burkhard comes to a resolution which may strike one as deeply unsatisfying but, which upon further reflection, proves to be both beautiful and fulfilling.
Another flavor of mischegas is on display in Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox. Anyone familiar with Dr. Bronner's pure-castile soap has spent time trying to decipher the eyestrainingly bewildering text, arranged on the bottle like some verkakte midrash, exhorting the reader with philosophic gems like:
Whatever unites mankind is better than whatever divides us! Yet, if absolute-unselfish I am not for me, I am nothing but classless, raceless, starving masses, never free nor brave! Only if constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, like Mark Spitz-arctic owls-penguin-pilot-cat-swallow-beaver, bee, can I teach the MORAL ABC'S ALL-ONE-GOD-FAITH, that lightning-like unites the Human race! For we're ALL-ONE OR NONE! ALL-ONE! "LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!" EXCEPTIONS ETERNALLY? ABSOLUTE NONE!

The source of this enlightenment was a German refugee, Dr. Emanuel H. Bronner. Emigrating to the US in 1929, he spent a number of years as a journeyman chemist. An outspoken proponent of the 'All-One-God-Faith' and the 'Moral ABCs', Dr. Bronner had the forceful, airless deliberation of the kind of visionary typically referred to as a 'crackpot' and in person resembled Samuel Fuller doing an impersonation of Mel Brooks's 2000 Year Old Man. For his tireless efforts, he was eventually committed by his sister, but managed to spring the bughouse and, like all enterprising men of vision, headed for California. It was there he established his soap company and flourished. Through a commitment to the Moral ABC's, nude sunbathing and a daily body rub with Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap, Dr. Bronner lived to be a ripe old alter kocker. Using a mix of archival footage and contemporary interviews, Sara Lamm gives us the whole megillah on Dr. Bronner, his family, his company and his philosophy. Indeed, one of the signal achievements of the film is that, once you've seen it, the teeny-tiny rants on the bottle make sense, Mark Spitz and all. ALL ONE! ALL ONE! ALL ONE!
For a somewhat unclean feeling, one can see The Waiter. Utilizing a premise similar to Stranger Than Fiction, but with all the warmth and humanity of Hostel, the film depicts a frustrated screenwriter mercilessly toying with and tormenting his characters until he discards them like Kleenex. Although the point of the film is what a bad writer he is, it suffers from the fact that, as an audience, we have to endure the same cruel, humorless plot as his characters. In this regard, it is reminiscent of 'Mulligan Stew', Gilbert Sorrentino's unreadably bad novel about a character trapped in an unreadably bad novel. At least Sorrentino threw in a terrifically steamy sex scene, something writer/director Alex van Warmerdam declines to do. Arguably, van Warmerdam serves himself a taste of his own medicine as, in addition to writing and directing the film, he plays Edgar, the hapless waiter of the title and the central figure of torment for the writer-within-the-film, Herman. However, unlike van Warmerdam or Edgar, you the SIFFgoer have the choice of eliding this chazarai altogether by not seeing the film.
Running on Empty
June 2, 9:30pm SIFF Cinema
June 4, 4:00pm SIFF Cinema
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox
May 26, 4:00pm SIFF Cinema
May 28, 7:00pm SIFF Cinema
May 26, 11:00am Neptune
June 3, 9:45pm Neptune

Saturday, May 19, 2007

SIFF trailers on line!

I placed a ticket order online this year, and boy howdy was it easy. I picked up my tickets today at Pacific Place with no hassles and no problems - it took a total of about 5 minutes, which made the $3.50 handling charge WELL worth it. Overall, I'm very much impressed with the improvements they've made to the web site. And in my opinion, one of the best features they've added is being able to view trailers for a lot of the films right there!

So if you're in doubt about what you want to see, or having trouble visualizing catalog descriptions and reviews, here's your chance to get a little preview.

Go check it out at the SIFF web site now.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Black White + Gray


Although no longer impressed with his work, I was once a bit of a Mapplethorpe fan. In 1988 I asked an art-collector friend how one got to have a career like his. My friend replied, "You date Sam Wagstaff." The next question, of course, is "Who is Sam Wagstaff?" In Black White + Gray, James Crump gives an answer. The documentary gives a precis of Wagstaff's career, from advertising executive to influential museum curator to photography and silver collector. Although Wagstaff curated important shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Detroit Institute of Arts and was an early champion of such artists as Tony Smith, Ray Johnson and Michael Heizer, it was as a photography collector that he left his lasting mark. Inheriting several million dollars from his mother in 1973, he began buying 19th and early 20th century photographs with a zeal unheard of in the art market. It is at this point that the film runs into a bit of intellectual trouble. Conflating market value with critical reception, the film makes it sound as if nobody had ever really cared about photography until Wagstaff came along. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many people contributed to the establishment of photography as an art form. One of the most significant was John Szarkowski, who curated the MoMA's collection from 1962-1991. During the 60's and 70's he launched the careers of Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and William Eggleston, each one of whom is a more significant artist than Mapplethorpe. By bidding previously unheard of sums, Wagstaff raised the auction price of photography, paving the way for six and seven figure bids for vintage and contemporary photographic work. Oddly, although the film elides this critical/monetary distinction, the press kit more honestly states "Photography had yet to be recognized for it's commodity value and Wagstaff quickly became the most influential collector of the period." That aside, the film presents a decent portrait of Wagstaff's relationship to Mapplethorpe and Mapplethorpe's relationship to Patti Smith, the latter providing much of the commentary. One of the more entertaining aspects of the film is the way it illustrates the symbiotic relationship between Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe and how the influence of each permeated the work and life of the other. As with Fred and Ginger, Sam gave Robert class and Robert gave Sam sex. One cannot look at the images in Wagstaff's photography collection without realizing the impact they had on Mapplethorpe's style and one can't look at the crotch-level self-portraits Wagstaff shot without thinking of the liberalizing effect Mapplethorpe had on his sexuality. However, as Martin Amis's film director character, John Self noted and as Wagstaff proved, money is often the real sex. For a true erotic thrill, one needs to wait till near the end of the film for the pulse-quickening vision of Wagstaff's immaculate, white, Fifth Avenue, penthouse apartment. Now there's a property worth dropping your pants for.

Black White + Gray [76 min.]
June 13, 7:15pm Harvard Exit
June 14, 4:15pm Egyptian


Happily, the image-upload problem appears to be resolved. Carry on about your business!


Yesterday evening I was perusing unpublished comments when I came across a one-word comment - 'Yawn...' - on David's recent Peter Pan preview. Typically, extremely brief comments are left by spambots, but this one had an interesting URL,, which is the website of what looks like an alternative film festival ('Seattle's True Independent Film Festival'), sort of an ATLB-like answer to SIFF.

(ATLB, or 'Alternative to Loud Boats,' is - or was, I guess - the alt-culture response to the annual summer madness around Seafair in Seattle. I was not able to Google up any decent resources on the events in the .5 seconds I devoted to research.)

I emailed Clint Berquist, the comment's author, asking him for a piece on STIFF. I hope I still get one! His plans look pretty interesting, combining film and performance at a variety of venues including the ever-delicious Central Cinema.

He wrote back, sounding interested. I cc'd David at this juncture hoping that he'd be interested in the exchange and oh, possibly, hoping that he might not take Clint's comment personally. Although, come to think of it, blogfights are great traffic-builders. Everybody loves TEH DRAMMA.

Evidently I didn't cut David off at the pass, as he emailed a passionate response to Clint, who then weighed in in the comments with an essay that both David and I concur deserves its' own post.

Without further ado, I'll turn the floor over to Clint Berquist!

There have been a handful of occasions where I found a brilliant film at a festival that I thought an audience in Seattle might really want to get behind only to be turned down by the filmmaker after inviting them because they don't want to risk making the international fest mad. I was glancing through the siff online schedule today to see what ever happened to one of those films and after reading it, one word jumped into my head that pretty much summed up my feelings about the lineup. I typed that comment on the siffblog and went about my day. A couple hours later, I got an email from Mike telling me that my comment was rejected and inviting me to contribute something substantive. Then, several hours later I received another email from David Jeffers informing me that my post was rejected (again). David also made sure to type a page and a half to let me know of his love for Silent Era Cinema and berating me for including him in my waste of time.

Of course, I applaud the fact that the international fest is so rich in resources that not only does it have a person dedicated to approving comments on its blog, it has another person dedicated to approving the initial approver's decision. It should go without saying that I feel compelled to contribute something positive before I find myself wasting the time of the approver of the approver's approver.

This month's Seattle Magazine features a story about the international festival in which Carl Spence says, "There has been some antagonism from local filmmakers who say we should show their films because they were made here. But we're not meant to be a training ground for local directors. We want to show films that belong here on merit alone." There is no doubt in my mind that Carl has felt dissed by local filmmakers, but the real reason is because of a smug attitude exemplified by deciding the movies that "belong" this year are films that have been around for 80 years and can already be viewed by any resourceful person on the planet instead of using his clout to help champion the cause of an incredible LOCAL filmmaker who lost his freakin hand battling cancer. In the same article Carl also said, "We have bent over backward to help local filmmakers". Really? How? By giving a few people whose movies don't belong a few complimentary passes so that the filmmakers from outside Seattle who DO BELONG have an audience for the films that nobody really wants to come watch?

There is no way I could go line by line and negatively comment on every programming decision. I have seen some wonderful movies at siff and it would be a complete lie to say that siff always misses the mark. I honestly know that for every few bad decisions made there will be a redemptive film or two, and most people in the area are very excited about this program. A lot of people are also very excited about the fact that siff now programs the one reel fest as part of Bumbershoot. Its tough to say that siff isn't qualified (the success of the siff machine is evidenced by the fact that it can afford a team of approvers to monitor its blog). But, what some see as a great thing, I can only see as a homogenization of indie film. Film CAN be a medium to educate people and in one of the most educated cities in the United States there is obviously a market for teaching people a lesson when they watch a film. But, what if there are people out there who believe that films should be entertaining? Where are these people supposed to go as everything gets gobbled up by the same exact agenda? What happens to a city when it only has one very loud voice to listen to?

As I said, I have watched a lot of good movies at the international fest (I actually was a volunteer at one point). I know that a lot of people will watch some great films this year too. But, the international fest is also one of the only places I have ever had to leave a movie due to lameness in my entire life (and I have done it on more than one occasion). As movie-goers are out in droves enjoying the lineup, I hope they can keep a single word in mind and if at any time they start to find themselves letting out a big old YAWN, I hope that the international fest lets them out for recess.

Clint Berquist
Director, Seattle's True Independent Film Festival

UPDATE: I should clarify here that SIFFBlog is not affiliated with the Seattle International Film Festival in any way. SIFFBlog is a creaky old Mac connected to the internet with chewing gum, baling wire, and beeswax candle drippins intermingled with bits of my burnt hair and fingernail clippings collected on a moonless midsummer midnight a century ago in rural Louisiana. That, and the writings of the contributors.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Get the picture?

David has alerted me (with some frustration) to a problem associated with the image-resize feature of the upload process. Contributors, for now, please do not use the image-resize / thumbnail feature as you assemble your posts. I think this problem is likely related to the spurious error messages seen on rebuilds but the files are not being processed, unlike the case with the rebuild problem. This particular issue is also related to an aspect of the new fast CGI implementation. I will be looking in to these problems as time allows but do not have a resolution timeframe.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Noir City Meets Rain City


"If you want to study noir's existential deconstruction of the Judeo-Christian patriarchy- good for you. If you're coming to dig the vintage rides and vinegary repartee, to soak up the shadows and wallow in the wanton behavior- take a seat front and center."
Eddie Muller

The rumors are true. SIFF's new senior programmer Anita Monga and Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller are bringing San Francisco's film noir festival, Noir City, to Seattle. SIFF and the Film Noir Foundation are going to be presenting Noir City as an annual event. The inaugural series will be July 6-12, 2007 and be held in the newly constructed SIFF Cinema at the Seattle Center. Ticket prices are $10 per double feature. Eddie Muller will be in attendance to introduce many of the programs. To get a taste of the programming, you can see Mr. Muller present two noir classics during SIFF, The Big Combo, June 11th at 7:00 p.m. and The Damned Don't Cry also on June 11th at 9:15 p.m. For more information go to:

The line up for Seattle's Noir City looks fantastic and provides the opportunity to see several rare noirs that are not available on VHS or DVD, Desert Fury, 99 River Street (my favorite film from Noir City 5), Framed, I Love Trouble (brand new 35mm print struck for Noir City), Pushover and Wicked Woman as well as studio 35mm prints of great, and better known, noirs like Thieves' Highway, Nightmare Alley and Scarlet Street. Best of all, the festival will benefit the Film Noir Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about the uniquely American art form of film noir. The foundation's mission is to locate, restore and preserve films in danger of being permanently damaged or lost completely and to have high quality prints of these films available for theatrical screenings. Screenings of the recently restored prints of Pitfall and Leave Her To Heaven at Noir City, should illustrate why the foundation's work is so vital. For more information on the Film Noir Foundation go to:

Program notes follow, courtesy of Noir City and SIFF:
Friday, July 6
Thieves' Highway
Most of the action in this vastly underrated film takes place in the dead of night, when San Francisco's old Produce Market (think Pike Place, now the high-rise Embarcadero Center) was at its busiest. A vengeful trucker arrives to settle a family score with a crooked produce broker. This rarely screened gem, recently restored by Fox, is every bit as good as director Jules Dassin's classics Naked City and Night and the City. Script by A.I. Bezzerides. With Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb. (1949, 20th Century Fox) 94 min. 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Deadline at Dawn
Snarling, sexy Susan Hayward plays a taxi dancer who has until sunrise to help a sad-sack sailor clear himself of an impending murder charge. A classic Cornell Woolrich premise is given a liberal spin by writer Clifford Odets and Group Theatre founder Harold Clurman, directing the only film of his career. With Bill Williams, Paul Lukas. (1946, RKO) 73 min. 35mm print courtesy of Warner Bros.
Saturday, July 7
2:00, 5:20, 9:00
From the urban grit of Woman on the Run, we spiral into the suburban angst of sunny Southern California, where insurance agent Dick Powell indulges in an extra-marital dalliance with hard-luck model Liz Scott. Who will make him pay the price for his indiscretion? The thuggish private eye (Raymond Burr) who already has designs on Liz? Her jealous boyfriend, about to be sprung from prison? Or Dick's steel-spined wife? Who'll survive this guilt-sodden affair? Directed by André de Toth. (United Artists, 1948) 86 min. Presented in a beautiful, restored print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Woman on the Run
3:45, 7:10
Part thriller, part poignant love story, this rare film had long been thought lost. When, with a bit of detective work, a pristine print was found languishing in the vault at Universal Studios, the idea for the Film Noir Foundation was born! Ann Sheridan is a fearful wife who teams with crusading reporter Dennis O'Keefe to locate her missing husband -- the lone witness to a murder -- before the killer finds him. Director Norman Foster, an Orson Welles collaborator, concocts his own exciting climax at once-thriving Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. (1950, Universal-International) 77 min. 35mm print courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Sunday, July 8
Desert Fury
1:00, 5:05, 9:10
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
We're not sure how to classify this movie, except that it's outrageously gay. Will luscious Lizabeth Scott tear apart the special bond shared by gangsters John Hodiak and Wendell Corey? Is Mary Astor really her Mom? Just how clueless is beefcake Burt Lancaster? Must be seen to be disbelieved! Directed by Lewis Allen with script by A.I. Bezzerides and Robert Rossen. (1947, Paramount) 96 min. 35mm print courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Leave Her to Heaven
3:00, 7:00
Don't let the lush Technicolor gloss fool you -- this big-budged melodrama is black at the core, as perverse and malignant as it got in the 1940s. Novelist Cornell Wilde falls for gorgeous Gene Tierney, but has no idea what horrors lurk behind those gleaming emerald eyes. (1946, 20th Century Fox) 111 min. Presented in a glorious new restoration by 20th Century Fox and the Academy Film Archive together with Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation, print courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Monday, July 9
99 River Street
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
John Payne is a washed-up boxer framed for the murder of his wife. Evelyn Keyes is his sexy gal-pal, using all her wiles to bust the set-up. A damn near perfect 1950s crime saga, perhaps the signature film of director Phil Karlson. Script by Robert Smith. (1953, United Artists) 83 min. 35mm print courtesy MGM/UA.
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
Glenn Ford plays the pugnacious patsy in a whip-crack tale of infidelity and murder set in Northern California. Janis Carter is one long, tall sexy drink of arsenic. Directed by Richard Wallace. Script by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle). With Barry Sullivan, Karen Morley. (1947, Columbia) 82 min. 35mm print courtesy Sony Pictures Repertory.
Tuesday, July 10
I Love Trouble
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
Franchot Tone plays a wisecracking private eye sleuthing his way through a bevy of treacherous dames in this playful homage to Raymond Chandler, written by future TV legend Roy Huggins (77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, The Fugitive) Dir. Sylvan Simon. With Janet Blair, Janis Carter, Adele Jergens, Glenda Farrell, John Ireland, Raymond Burr. (1948, Columbia) 93 min. Brand new 35mm print struck expressly for Noir City, courtesy Sony Pictures Repertory.
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
In this dark thriller, veteran screenwriter Roy Huggins spins the tale of cop (Fred MacMurray) who risks everything when he falls for a gangster's moll -- gorgeous Kim Novak in her movie debut. Directed by Richard Quine. From the novel by Bill Ballinger. With Philip Carey. (1954, Columbia) 88 min. 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Repertory.
Wednesday, July 11
The Spiritualist
John Alton's finest B&W cinematography elevates to exhilarating heights this entertaining story of a phony psychic (Terhan Bey) preying on a wealthy widow (Lynn Bari) and her impressionable daughter (Cathy O'Donnell). One of the most satisfying "B" films of the era. Directed by Bernard Vorhaus. Script by Muriel Bolton & Ian Hunter based on a story by Crane Wilbur. (1948, Eagle-Lion) 78 min. New 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Repertory.
Nightmare Alley
One of the bleakest and most audacious "A" pictures ever to emerge from Hollywood. Tyrone Power has his finest role as a carny roustabout who connives his way to the big-time as a "mentalist." But when he drops his gullible wife and partner (Coleen Gray) for a sinister, scheming shrink (Helen Walker) there's hell to pay. Edmund Goulding directed. (1947, 20th Century Fox) 110 min. 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Thursday, July 12
Scarlet Street
This definitive noir is one of the greatest films Fritz Lang ever made. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea all excel in this tale of a mid-life crisis that goes tragically wrong. Script by Dudley Nichols. (1945, Universal) 103 min. Presented in an absolutely stunning 35mm archival print courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Wicked Woman
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
When a stick of female dynamite (cult favorite Beverly Michaels) steps off the bus in a small town, all hell breaks loose. Richard Egan and Percy Helton are only two of the saps in her thrall. Must be seen to be believed! (1953, United Artists) 77 min. Written and directed by Russell Rouse. 35mm print courtesy of MGM/UA.
Check out my articles on Noir City 5 (San Francisco, February 2007):
For more information on San Francisco's 2007 Noir City programming go to:

Rebuild errors

Attention SIFFBlog contributors:

When you publish an item, the server is throwing an error. I just implemented a server widget that speeds the responsiveness of the MT application; this change is the source of the server error. Do not be alarmed! Your entry is being saved in the database and the posts are being written to the site. I don't have further information at the present time, but please keep posting away as though the error was not occurring.

I apologize for the continuing shakeout.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Greatest Films Noir?

June Vincent and Dan Duryea in Black Angel

A friend recently asked me to compile my list of ten to twenty of the greatest films noir for a project he is working on. I came up with thirteen. I thought it would be fun to share it with the siffblog readers. I would love to hear back from you about titles that you felt should or should not have been included.

For this list I am adhering to a strict definition of film noir- so no color films on this list or sub-genres like noir western, gangster films, heist films or police procedural, and nothing past the 50s. For this list, there must be an actual crime, deep-seated emotional conflicts, dangerous desire and take place in a morally ambiguous universe typically located in a rain soaked city where it always seems to be night. Witty sarcastic dialog preferred. Notable absences on the list: The Third Man, Touch of Evil, The Lady From Shanghai, Sunset Blvd, Night of The Hunter, The Big Sleep-great films but somehow too expensive, or too formal or too indicative of their director's style to belong to this list of tough gritty little noirs. Out of The Past, The Big Heat and The Killers are prototypical, finely made noirs, and while not personal favorites of mine, are still highly recommended viewing.

Films are not ranked but in order of production year.
* Denotes available on home video.
Original production and distribution companies noted.

The Maltese Falcon 1941 Warner Bros. Pictures*
A seminal film noir that set the visual style of noir- deep focus camera work, chiaroscuro lighting, high contrast black and white, urban setting of streets and small rooms ands marked the key story and character elements of noir- the femme fatale, a hard boiled detective/hero, a Byzantine plot that barely makes sense but provides a dark and potentially fatal quest for the protagonist, overriding moral ambiguity, and sexually questionable villains. Incredibly faithful adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's book, one of the most perfect crime novels ever written.

This Gun For Hire 1942 Paramount Pictures*
Reversal of the sexes makes this film stand out. The heroine, Veronica Lake, is the one on the dark journey who encounters a homme fatale. Being a woman she realizes he's a psychopath and is smart enough not to sleep with him and marries the good man who adores her, but she does give the homme fatale part of her heart. Ladd gives his finest performance as the frightening but compelling assassin. Ladd and Lake's chemistry burns up the screen. Definitely a softer story then the original Graham Greene novel.

Ossessione 1943 Industrie Cinematografiche Italiane (ICI)*
It's the only foreign film on this list. I see noir as a strictly American genre, but it's the best adaptation of Cain's classic novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice and is true to the noir conventions. Like Bunuel's 1954 Mexican version of Wuthering Heights; the transference of the story to another culture makes it work better then the versions produced in their native language. Director Visconti captures the wild sexual energy between the two characters much better then the American directors who tried it.

Double Indemnity 1944 Paramount Pictures*
Barbara Stanwyck plays the greatest femme fatale of all time, Phyllis Dietrichson. I always wondered if author James M. Cain named her after Marlene Dietrich. Barbara seems to be just another heartless femme fatale looking for a chump, but then you realize she's mad as a bag of ferrets. Fred MacMurray plays the chump and is surprisingly sexy. Billy Wilder directs. M y favorite dialog from it:
Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening about eight-thirty. He'll be in then.
Walter Neff: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him weren't you?
Walter Neff: Yeah, I was, but I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter Neff: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around ninety.
Walter Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter Neff: Suppose it doesn't take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Walter Neff: That tears it.

Laura 1944 Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation*
This film is so good that if I am flipping channels and it's on, I will watch it, despite the fact that I own a copy. Great script. Great direction. Great cast. Especially fun to see Vincent Price as the charming Southern gentleman who lives off the kindness of women. Clifton Webb's performance as the acid tongued columnist Waldo Lydecker is unbelievably great. Favorite line: "I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."

Mildred Pierce 1945 Warner Bros. Pictures*
Joan Crawford totally deserved her Oscar for her performance as Mildred, a divorcee with two kids who goes from baking pies in her kitchen to owning her own chain of restaurants (what is it with James M. Cain and restaurant owners?) Unfortunately, the daughter that survives childhood is the biggest ingrate in film history. Murder ensues.

Scarlet Street 1945 Diana Pictures Inc. Dist. by Universal Pictures*
Wowszer. This one gets better with every viewing. Edward G Robinson sympathetically plays the hero who finds out first hand that you never really get away with murder. Joan Bennett is wonderfully crude as the cheap little vixen who destroys his life. But the standouts are Fritz Lang's direction, the cinematography and Dan Duryea as the sleazy boyfriend/pimp who uses his sexual prowess to keep Bennett in line and when that doesn't work gives her the greatest backhand in cinema.

Black Angel 1946 Universal Pictures*
This is a good adaptation of one of Cornell Woolrich's "black" novels. It features a great atypical role for the usually bad guy actor Dan Duryea. He plays beautiful loser Martin Blair an alcoholic songwriter still obsessively in love with his recently murdered ex-wife. The wife of the man convicted of the murder enlists his help in finding the real killer. Duryea falls for her and complications ensue. Duryea was so well known for slapping his female co-stars at this point, that Universal, in it's publicity campaign for the film, attributed Duryea's not hitting co-star June Vincent to her recent pregnancy!

Nightmare Alley 1947 Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation*
DARK. DARK. DARK. It's called film noir for a reason. Tyrone Power fought for this part to show he was more then a pretty face and, boy, did he. He gives one of the greatest portrayal in film noir as the ambitious and amoral Stanton Carlisle who goes from carnival roustabout, to a society darling as a medium/spiritualist then falls into alcoholism and degradation. Adapted from an even darker book by William Lindsay Gresham- as with most adaptations of noir classics- they had to tone down the sexuality and the ending.

Night and the City 1950 Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation*
London has never looked as damp, depressing and hopeless as in this Jules Dassin gem. Richard Widmark gives a remarkably unnerving performance as Harry Fabian. He's a conniving little hustler who screws over everyone in his desperate bid for success. He deserves to fail; he deserves everything he gets; yet you still somehow feel sorry for him.

On Dangerous Ground 1952 RKO Radio Pictures*
Robert Ryan gives an emotionally charged performance as a city cop on the verge of a breakdown. After nearly killing a suspect, he's sent out to the country to find the murderer of a young woman. There he encounters Ida Lupino, the blind sister of the main suspect. Can he overcome his personal demons and connect with her? Bonus: John Ford Players Ward Bond and Olive Cary portray the murdered girls parents. Oddly this film reminds me of Japanese director Ozu- I think for its emphasis on character and the overall bittersweet mood.

In A Lonely Place 1955 Santana Pictures Corporation, Dist. by Columbia Pictures*
One of Humphrey Bogart's finest performances, and one of the characters closet to his real self, he plays an alcoholic writer with a serious anger management problem. Gloria Grahame plays the woman who falls for him but ultimately wonders if he's capable of murder. Director Nicholas Ray puts together a great film noir with an unusual amount of emotional truth- incredibly melancholy.

Sweet Smell of Success 1957 Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions Dist: United Artist*
"The next time you want information, don't scratch for it like a dog, ask for it like a man!" says Burt Lancaster, as all powerful newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker to Tony Curtis, ambitious press agent Sidney Falco. I think both actors give the best performances of their careers in this film. This taught thriller keeps twisting and turning through a New York full of morally bankrupt characters. Lancaster terrified me, as Hunsecker- his relationship with his sister is deeply disturbing and threatening. When I watched this film, I kept covering my eyes, not because of on screen physical violence, but a feeling of moral revulsion.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


A seamless upgrade to 1.2Ghz from what was formerly .4Ghz might speed the server up a mite. Phew!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007



This movie truly made me both happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because it's honestly one of the best movies I've seen in well,AePforever. And sad, because director Adrienne Shelly will never be able to make another like it.

Jenna (Keri Rusell) works with friends Becky and Dawn (played by Shelly) at Joe's restaurant, a small diner in the South that specializes in pies - and baking them is the only happiness Jenna ever gets in her life. Her controlling husband, Earl, demands every dollar she earns, won't let her have any freedom, and insists that all her thoughts and actions be dedicated to him and his needs.
When Jenna realizes she's pregnant, (which will make her dreams of escaping Earl almost impossible), she meets Dr. Pomatter (a gentle and awkward Nathan Fillion), and an affair develops that makes Jenna realize that maybe she is worth more than she thinks she is, and that happiness may be possible if you make the right choices. In the words of the cantankerous diner owner, Old Joe (played with perfection by Andy Griffith!), sometimes you have to "start fresh".
At the risk of sounding cliche, this is not your typical romantic comedy. Shelly's script infuses just the right amount of comic laugh-out-loud moments with heart-tugging realism. Her grasp on the characters is expert - when Jenna jumps into fantasies about possible new pie recipes, you go with her, and then back into the story seamlessly. Most notably: there are no perfect characters, no fairy-tale illusions, and certainly no neat ends. What you're left with when the credits roll is an inspiring, touching, very real, and believable story.
For those unaware, director, actor, and writer Adrienne Shelly was murdered before this film was completed. Her family and friends worked hard to make sure her last film was released. Waitress is currently playing in limited theaters, and will hopefully open nation-wide soon.


This entry originates on a new server running a whole bunch of new software. Surely there will be more bumps, but, in theory, comments should be re-enabled. Man, I can't believe what a pain this process has been! My apologies to all!

oh fr crissake, I hafta reassign the authors on the imported entries. If i get one wrong, please let me know.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Upgrade ho!

After a week more of bitter struggle, I was finally able to execute the upgrade I've been working toward. Unfortunately, the resolution of the problem is not apparent. The upgrade wasn't working, and then it did. Another week or so of fiddly bits will follow, I think.