Radical Solutions For Loneliness in Two German Films: “Wild” and “Aloys”

October 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Lilith Stangenberg in "Wild"

Lilith Stangenberg in “Wild”

Georg Friedrich in "Aloys"

Georg Friedrich in “Aloys”

Though there may be some bad German films I’ve never seen one, which is remarkable given the number I’ve watched over the last thirty years. This past week’s German Currents brought to Los Angeles eight recent features and a documentary on Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose huge oeuvre (forty-four films in the eighteen frenetic years before his death, in 1982, at thirty-seven) was my gateway into modern German cinema.

Unfortunately I could attend only the last night’s films. Both were excellent and shared a theme: social isolation in contemporary life.

In “Wild,” by writer/director Nicolette Krebitz, a solitary young IT worker named Ania (Lilith Stangenberg) is galvanized by the discovery of a large wolf in the park near her sterile apartment building. Soon she’s reading up on wolf hunting and constructing a perimeter of flags to trap the animal, which she tranquilizes, drags back to her apartment and, improbably, tames. As the wolf becomes domesticated, Ania becomes more feral, with dramatic consequences for everyone and everything around her. Stangenberg’s performance is astonishing, as is the wolf’s (apparently two animals played the role), and the ending is unforgettable.

Aloys (Georg Friedrich), the lonely protagonist of writer/director Tobias Nölle’s eponymous film, is a private detective whose misanthropy and profession have cut him off from normal human interaction. Filming and taping are Aloys’s means of expression as well as tools of his trade, and he pursues them constantly. At the start of the film, Aloys’s father and business partner has just died, leaving him completely companionless. After drinking himself into a stupor on a bus, the bereaved detective awakes to find his camera and latest videotapes gone. Soon he gets a call for ransom, which involves “telephone walking” with a mysterious woman. Through a conversational game, Aloys is gradually drawn out of his isolation and into a relationship with the thief, who turns out to be his suicidal neighbor.

Though neither “Aloys” nor “Wild” has U.S. theatrical distribution at this point, it’s likely that they will be available online in the near future. I recommend both films highly.

He Directs, She Directs: Two Films From the LA Film Festival

July 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung in "It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong"

Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung in “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong”

The contrasting fortunes of male and female film directors are much in the news these days. Thanks to studies by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media http://seejane.org and Women in Film http://www.wif.org it’s no longer possible for executives to shrug off the fact that male first-time directors often get hired to direct studio films while comparable female directors struggle for independent financing. A bright spot in this wildly unequal equation is TV, especially Netflix and cable channels, whose original programming has provided new opportunities for women directors.

None of this was particularly on my mind when I got tickets to two films, one written and directed by a man and the other written and directed by a woman, at the recent LA Film Festival. But because they were like night and day in quality, I couldn’t help wondering how the two directors would fare in their next projects.

I’m not going to name the male-directed film, but it got a big, well-publicized screening at the festival, complete with a director Q & A, and featured some interesting actors. Also on the plus side, it was shot on film and boasted a number of long shots, which are increasingly rare now that everything is made with television in mind. Unfortunately, neither the director nor the DP really knew how to use film–or cameras, for that matter. The advantages of film weren’t evident on the screen, and there was some whipsawing, nauseating camerawork. There was also a glaring misuse of split-screen. As anyone who has ever seen a Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie knows, a split screen is called for when the characters are talking on the phone to each other or doing parallel activities in different locations. But here the director split the screen for two versions of the same shot: one taken from a great distance and one from relatively close by. It was baffling, and it didn’t work. Then there was the sound, which my viewing companion, a distributor, called terrible.

On to the script. There were long Tarantino-esque speeches without the wit, and bursts of David Lynch-ian mystery and violence without the inventiveness. Oddest of all was the lack of clothing on almost all the actresses, and not just the ones working in strip clubs. One woman not only answered the door to a total stranger while bottomless but proceeded to have a long, half-naked conversation with him. Afterwards I overheard a young woman in the ladies’ room sum up the moviegoing experience: “None of those girls had any pants on!”

Fortunately the second film couldn’t have been more different, both in its scope and execution. First-time director Emily Ting made a self-assured debut with “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” a love story reminiscent of “Before Midnight.” The story concerns two chance meetings between Ruby (Jamie Chung), a Chinese-American visitor to Hong Kong, and Josh (Bryan Greenberg), an American banker and longtime Hong Kong resident. During their first meeting, Josh escorts Ruby, who is lost, to her destination. The two strike up a flirtation as they walk and talk, but nothing comes of it because Josh has a serious girlfriend. The second chance meeting takes place a year later, when the two meet on the Star Ferry. Ruby, now living in Hong Kong, is engaged to be married, while Josh has quit his banking job to be a writer, a career change that has strained his relationship with his girlfriend.

Beyond the pitch-perfect script and the charm of the two leads, I was impressed by the technical aspects of the film, which was shot entirely at night in busy public places in Central and Kowloon. Because I was born in Hong Kong and have visited many times since, I know how challenging it was to shoot and record sound amid the omnipresent crowds. (Strangely, most Hong Kong movies and TV shows feature eerily empty public spaces, cleared of people and probably shot at dawn, to create an aspirational and unreal atmosphere.) Despite the many obstacles, everything was done beautifully, lit by neon and recorded by lavaliere mics. As for the script, Richard Linklater has nothing on Emily Ting. “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” has some distribution in place, and I hope it gets the audience it deserves.

In comparing these two films, I’m not saying that men make big movies and women make small ones–Richard Linklater and Kathryn Bigelow, among other directors, prove that’s not the case. But I believe that if a woman director had made a movie with as many mistakes as the first one, it wouldn’t have been accepted by a major film festival, let alone been given a splashy premiere.

Meet the Director: Yesterday’s Foreign Film Symposium at the American Cinematheque

January 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

Ronit Elkabetz, co-director of "Gett," and Ruben Ostend, director of "Force Majeure" at the American Cinematheque 1/10/15/Hope Anderson Productions

Ronit Elkabetz, co-director of “Gett,” and Ruben Ostend, director of “Force Majeure” at the American Cinematheque 1/10/15/Hope Anderson Productions

Because my days are mostly spent sitting in front of a computer, playing Words With Friends, going to the gym and running errands, I sometimes think Los Angeles is wasted on me, since all those things could be done as well (and in the case of errands, more easily) elsewhere. Then I remember what keeps me here: films. It’s not just the variety and number of movies that come out each week; it’s the fact that many of them will never run anywhere else in the United States but here and New York. Sure, most will eventually turn up on DVD or online, but by then they’ll be competing with a flood of new releases, both theatrical and online. With greater numbers of films released each year, keeping up is nearly impossible.

But in Los Angeles I can see a great new film from Poland or Estonia as soon as it arrives, and on a big screen. It’s something that I’ve never taken for granted, any more than I take for granted the state-of-the-art sound systems and screens at ArcLight Hollywood, my neighborhood theater. In other cities, even ones that pride themselves on their cultural offerings, the situation is quite different: the Bay Area, where I used to live, gets big studio releases one or two weeks later than Los Angeles, the same as most cities across the country, while independent and foreign ones films open even later, if at all.

There are other perks to being here, too. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “Force Majeure,” Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Film.
https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/force-majeure-everything-wild-isnt-and-more/ Yesterday, at the American Cinematheque’s pre-symposium reception for the Golden Globe nominees, I was able to introduce myself to Ruben Ostlund, the director, and tell him how much I loved his film. Although he was gracious, it probably meant nothing to him. But to me it was a vivid reminder of why, twenty-five years after moving to Los Angeles, I’m still here.

The Journey Is Greater Than The Destination

September 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

Copyright Hope Anderson Productions

Copyright Hope Anderson Productions

For years I’ve been working on a novel. It was inspired by a trip I took shortly after finishing my first documentary, “Jim Thompson, Silk King” in 2001, though at the time I had no sense of it as anything more than an adventurous vacation. Soon after I returned from it I flew to New York, where JTSK was in a festival; it showed on September 8th. As fate would have it, I got back to Los Angeles hours before the attacks of September 11th, and for a long time no one wanted to think about documentaries, or entertainment in general. After marketing JTSK as much as I could during that grim time, I made its previously planned companion, “The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection.” By this time it was 2005, and my 2001 trip had receded long enough for me to start writing a novel based on it. As I was finishing the first draft, I moved to Beachwood Canyon, which involved selling one house and buying another that turned out to more of a fixer than expected. When I was finally settled, I began preproduction on my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign, another long-simmering idea. Although I initially thought I was making a little neighborhood documentary, Beachwood’s history turned out to be enormous, and UTHS grew into a major project: thirty interviews, many hours of footage and hundreds of images. The project kept me occupied for the next three years, at which point it was late 2009. In 2010, I finally dug out my novel and starting writing again. Every summer since then, I’ve done another draft; now, four years later, the result is tangible: a 355-page manuscript about a journey, and the embodiment of my own long trek.

Beyond the films and moving house, why did it take me so long? There isn’t any simple answer, but it’s clear that reading novels doesn’t teach one to write them. And writing novels doesn’t equal finishing them: a previous attempt ended in frustration. (Recently I learned that Joyce Carol Oates’s late husband left a novel–his only novel, chipped away at for decades–unfinished when he died. It was not reassuring.) From a practical standpoint, the work would have gone faster if I had revised printed drafts rather than doing it on my computer. Because the novel existed only virtually, a number of gaps and errors went unnoticed for too long. But the biggest setback came during the summer of 2013, when a Time-Warner technician cut the power and crashed my computer. (He had assured me that I could keep working while he ran new cable to the house.) When everything went black, I lost the draft I was working on, including a substantial part of the last section. Although I had saved a previous draft on Dropbox, I was never able to recover what had disappeared. Worse yet, I was afraid to look at the manuscript, much less work on it, for several months.

But eventually I did. This summer I knew I had to finish so I soldiered on, finally getting to the end on Labor Day. This month I’ll send the manuscript out to some friends who have kindly volunteered to be my first readers. After that, I’ll work on selling it. One way or another, it will be published. But let’s face it: we’re not living in the Age of the Novel and no one really cares. So why did I bother? Because, with the exception of my (easily fulfilled) goal of motherhood, all my ambitions have paled in comparison to my desire to write a novel: it’s a dream I’ve had since the age of twelve. Accomplishing it has taught me many things, one of which is to love the process, not just the result. And even if only my friends and family read it, my reward has come already: I’ll soon be starting two new projects, neither of which would have come my way if I hadn’t persevered on this one.

“Salinger” Rejiggered: Less Music and Re-enactments, More Dirt on Girlfriends

September 29, 2013 § 2 Comments

Leave Me Alone!/Photo by Lotte Jacobi via Wikipedia

So Much For RIP/Photo by Lotte Jacobi via Wikipedia

From the Hollywood Reporter comes this fascinating article on the reworking of Shane Salerno’s “Salinger.” Someone’s been reading the godawful reviews!

http://j.mp/15IYBCb#sthash.CBDsfogp

Confidential to Shane and Harvey: the time to make changes is after the festivals, not during the commercial run. This only makes you look desperate.

Related articles:

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/salinger-how-not-to-make-a-biographical-documentary/

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/salinger-not-the-worst-movie-ive-ever-seen-in-my-life/

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/the-salinger-biopic-by-shane-salerno-dont-say-i-didnt-warn-you/

“Salinger”: Not the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life

September 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

Reading and hearing the reviews of Shane Salerno’s misbegotten documentary “Salinger” has been more of a revelation than anything contained in the film. It’s not often you hear critics retching in print, but they do over “Salinger,” and it’s amazing to see. Here’s a roundup of reactions:

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: “…less a work of cinema than a byproduct of its own publicity campaign.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “…make sure you bring a barf bag when you watch this doc’s tacky re-enactments, hear its cheeseball score and endure literary posturings so florid they’d embarrass Baz Luhrmann of The Great Gatsby.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “[Th mystery of J.D. Salinger] is certainly hardy enough to withstand the voyeuristic onslaught of this self-aggrandizing, lurid documentary, which leaves the viewer feeling that we’ve been given a tour of Salinger’s septic tank in hip waders….”

Julia Turner, Slate Culture Gabfest: “The single worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Turner’s remark was particularly striking, not because I think she’s exaggerating but because she obviously hasn’t been to enough film festivals. Festivals specialize in assaultive movies, and it’s not unheard of for viewers to faint or vomit during screenings. More commonly they walk out. Fortunately, the Palais des Festivals, the main theater of the Cannes Film Festival, offers an effective revenge on badly received films and their directors. Whenever someone leaves early, the unusually tight springs on the seat make a loud pop. A mass exodus sounds like gunfire.

I’ve walked out of a lot of bad films at festivals, but the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life is one I saw in a studio screening room in the late 90s. To protect the hapless director, I won’t mention its name but the film was shot on an island and involved a crime of some kind. (I’m foggy on the plot not because it was a long time ago, but because I didn’t understand it at the time.) As I recall, there was a lot of driving and an exploding car on a bridge. After the explosion the film abruptly stopped–not because it was over, but because the producers had run out of money and couldn’t afford an ending. I wanted to laugh but the director was sitting an arm’s length away, still hoping that the necessary funds would be forthcoming. They weren’t, and the film was never released. I don’t know what happened to the director, who had mortgaged his house to finance the project, but last I heard some of the footage was sold for stock.

Compared with this, “Salinger” is not half bad, though it certainly doesn’t deserve its high-octane release. It occurs to me that if the documentary makes money, Salerno might be encouraged to make another feverish literary tell-all, in which case Thomas Pynchon should lawyer up immediately.

Thomas Pynchon

Watch out, Thomas Pynchon

The Importance of Julie Delpy

May 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Julie Delpy

Julie Delpy

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine article on Julie Delpy reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a friend who worked in the film industry (and still does). This was in the mid-nineties, when Delpy was studying film at NYU, a choice that impressed me. “Ugh, I can’t stand her,” he said. Because my friend was a man who loved women in general and actresses in particular, his opinion–and his inability to explain it–puzzled me. Who wouldn’t love Julie Delpy? I should have been clued in by his gushing enthusiasm for Renee Zellweger, whom he had recently met at a film festival and whose squinty charms were lost on me. If ever there was an anti-Zellweger, it’s Julie Delpy.

Flash forward to last January, when Delpy, now a director as well as an actress, appeared at a Q &A at the Aero in conjunction with a screening of two of her films (“Two Days in New York,” and “Two Days in Paris.”) Having never seen her live, I was struck by how different she was from most actresses I’ve encountered. Part of it was physical: unlike the size-0-with-breast-implants standard type, she was a normal sized woman, complete with hips and a few extra pounds. She also hadn’t made any special effort to dress or make up for the appearance, coming onstage in jeans and a sweater, like most of the audience. But more striking than her appearance was her attitude, which though engaging was utterly free of ingratiation. She was, in a word, herself: funny, opinionated, idiosyncratic and completely lacking in Hollywood pretense. I’ve met a variety of actors over the years, and (with the notable exception of Henry Winkler, surely the nicest and most unpretentious famous man in town), they radiate an odd self-consciousness, as if they’re perpetually watching themselves instead of simply being. That night, Delpy was not only comfortable simply being but–as she told stories about being fired by every agency in town and turned down by Vanity Fair’s Oscar Party for not being a big enough star–clearly unconcerned about others’ perceptions of her.

While there are a few actresses who seem indifferent to public adoration–Jennifer Jason Leigh and Debra Winger come to mind–Julie Delpy is another sort. She’s not aloof or implosive or defiant; she’s simply free of whatever impulse makes most other actresses mold themselves to industry specifications. In the Times Magazine article, she says:

In movies, you mostly see people who make an effort….Am I going to spend two hours at the gym? I can’t do it; it’s excruciatingly boring. I feel like I’m losing time.

In the time she hasn’t lost, Delpy has written and directed five films. Her new movie is one she co-wrote as well as acts in: “Before Midnight,” the third installment of the romantic series she’s made with Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater. Upcoming are two French movies she’ll direct, and two American projects. Yet despite being based in Los Angeles, she still can’t get financing here; instead, she cobbles the money from French companies and various investors, in true indie style. Perhaps if she were more of a player–or male–she’d get studio financing. But then she wouldn’t be herself, which makes the matter moot.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/julie-delpy-dreams-of-being-joe-pesci.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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