Editor's Corner: Recent Highlights from Keyframe on Fandor

Terri (dir. Azazel Jacobs) I recently did a count of all the writers who have contributed to Keyframe at Fandor, and was pleased to discover that over 50 different contributors have lent their insights in just the past six months. I'm hoping to expand that number considerably over the rest of the year, with more content of different kinds, from articles to videos to round-table surveys and so on.

As editor, I try to help each piece to become its best and try not to play favorites. But I can't deny that there are certain entries that are especially satisfying to have on Keyframe. So I thought I'd share a few from the past several weeks that I consider to be standouts:

"Four Times Truer Than Life: Four Thoughts on Lillian Gish", by Farran Smith Nehme.  Quoth the Self-Styled Siren:

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that Gish isn’t sexy, considering that she spent her entire silent career playing women (and, in Broken Blossoms, a child) who are desired by men, and often wind up seduced and abandoned. It’s no harder to get past Gish’s thin lips and flowing hair to her beauty, than it is to overlook Garbo’s eyebrows or Clara Bow’soddly drawn mouth.  Do those who find Gish a “silly, sexless antique” (Louise Brooks’ sarcastic phrasing of such criticisms) wonder what the male characters are after? Nowadays, are innocence and purity so despised, or so transient, that no trace of their appeal remains? Surely not. Perhaps in our day, those qualities are so firmly relegated to childhood that modern audiences aren’t comfortable with an erotic attraction to innocence–or, in The Wind, with how a young virgin’s terror of sex can coexist with an equally primal yearning for it.

- Terri is a recent film that I really like, sort of like Wes Anderson without trying to be too twee. We were lucky to have this interview with director Azazel Jacobs, in which tells Nick Dawson what it was like to be schooled in movies as a kid (esp. when your dad is a famous avant garde filmmaker and film school professor). And you can also watch his previous film, Momma's Man, on Fandor.

- Filmmaker (though I like to think of him as a "cinematic instigator") Alejandro Adams has started issuing a monthly column on Keyframe, appropriately named "Noisemaker." In "How You Can Be A Better Filmmaker than Terrence Malick" Alejandro talks about the ways that co-opting movies by audience members can lead to acts of creation more inspired than the original works.

- A month has passed but I'm still thinking fondly of the surge of activity around Fandor's digital premiere of David Holzman's Diary. There was a noticeable uptick in the undervalued status of this classic, highly influential but still underseen film, thanks, I dare wager, to the extensive coverage Keyframe lent to the film.

There were many highlights, but the communal centerpiece was a poll of 25 film critics on the best films about filmmaking, with results that had the right blend of "right" and "surprising" (Sunset Blvd. and 8 1/2 are obvious, but Beware of a Holy Whore and Close-Up? Wow!) Perhaps just as good were the personal passion picks expressed across the full listing of the ballots, where everything from Inland Empire to The Last Action Hero got a vote of confidence (and really, aren't those two films essentially one and the same?)

But there were also a few stand-alone thought pieces on David Holzman, and my favorite was Tom McCormack's essay that tied the film's vision of narcissism posting as art into today's all-encompassing social network echo chamber.

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I also enjoyed Brian Darr's tribute to Douglas Fairbanks, Michael Joshua Rowin's discovery of the first baseball movies, and Dan Callahan's appreciation of the "very horny cinema" of Claude Chabrol's A Double Tour.

More delights are in the works for August. In the meantime, Happy reading, and happy viewing!

"Living the Dream"

19170 and if I want too many things don't you know that I'm a human being

- New York Dolls

So, it's been a while. I was meaning to post a follow-up to the free screening that closed out the Shooting Down Pictures project. But one thing happened after another to forestall my bringing due closure to this grand, 3-year venture in film blogging and canonic completism. First, it took me a couple of days to get over the hangover of that evening caused by an after-party involving several hours of drinking and karaoke singing of album rock standards. Then, I quit my job and spent the summer in a mythical land where Wordpress is blocked (I could only wish that all the spammers who post junk messages on this blog could be sequestered in that country...).  Then I returned Stateside and entered a completely new routine of blogging for a new site, working as an ambassador for Chinese indie cinema and taking what little time remained to edit my own film. And so here we are, two days into the new year. All this time this blog has been lingering in the back of my mind like an old friend I've been meaning to check in with but never get around to, which further compounds the feelings of procrastinatory guilt accumulating over what is surely a simple exercise. So at last... let's do this.

As for that screening, it went well - good turnout of mostly familiar faces, friends and cinephiles who either wanted to celebrate a significant passage in my personal life as a movie lover, or just wanted to see what the delectable images of Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes looked like projected on a big screen off a mediocre DVD. Fearing collective disappointment from the crowd, I started off with a choice passage from Freddy Got Fingered to put things in perspective: at least we weren't watching that (though a couple wiseacres seemed disappointed).

I still haven't done a proper post mortem on what it is that I got from Shooting Down Pictures. One of my biggest supporters in this project, Michael Baute, asked me this question several months ago, and I still feel that I owe him a response (as well as a completed version of the video essay on the exquisite film Under the Bridges that I started with him and Ekkehard Knoerer 20 months ago[!!!]). Michael specifically asked me what it taught me about film canons, to which I don't have a very positive response. As I became more familiar with the breadth and depth of cinema through time, place and genre, the 1000 films on the They Shoot Pictures list seemed increasingly incomplete, insufficient and misrepresentative as a canon. At this point I'm not even sure how good of a starting point it would be for someone wanting to educate themselves about cinema. On the one hand it's good to have a basic, common vocabulary of films that represent cinematic concepts and values everyone should understand. But when one considers all that's missing...

I've expressed my misgivings a few times on this space, pretty much with every update to the TSPDT list, most recently here. At one point I thought it might be worth trying to organize a coordinated effort to reform the TSPDT list, but then I realized that, to see my point through about championing alternative cinemas, it's better to just abandon the canonical framework altogether. And that's pretty much what I've done since film #1000. I was expecting to start delving more intensively into favorite auteurs, as some of my colleagues have done, but I haven't. I've only watched about 100+ films this year, half of which are Chinese independent films unfamiliar to most people (something I'm working to rectify on another site, one of two that have effectively replaced this blog as the location of my online editorial activity). Perhaps it's fitting that my work at dGenerate seeking and promoting great unsung Chinese indies has more or less replaced the time I'd spend hunting down the remaining titles of the TSPDT canon.

It goes without saying that I grew immensely from all the time and energy I put into this blog. Despite my gripes with the canon's limitations, I got to indulge in a fair amount of eclecticism, confronting films I'd never heard of or otherwise would never pursue. (On the other hand, I wonder if it made my tastes too broad so as to be indistinct; I've been thinking a lot lately about the necessity of fixation as a distinguishing factor in developing a personality and a voice.) I developed my critical senses (or are they sensibilities?): concise observation, avoiding summarizing and just getting to the most interesting pockets of activity in a film, and offering context (social/historical/cultural) when illuminating. It got me a brief but rewarding stint with Time Out New York, a gig that intensified the punchiness in my writing at 225 words a pop. But for all my growth as a critic, I'm just another voice in a crowded field of online wordslingers.  So I guess my point of differentiation is in making videos. At least that's what I'm told helped me get my current film critic gig (more on that in a bit), and so I've come around to realize that this may be the métier I need to stick with. At least it's something that redeems all those years toiling as a self-taught filmmaker.

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The dream hasn't died, though. I spent the summer in China working on my own documentary project, retracing my steps as a teacher from 12 years ago and reconnecting with several of my old students to see what they've done with their lives since. You can read all about it here, though it helps if you can read Chinese (or just copy and paste into Google Translate and marvel at the amusing garble that emerges). It was an amazing four months, almost a time out of time. I saw China at its extremes of wealth and poverty, booming cities and desolated farmlands, and my students at various stations in between, all pursuing their dreams just as it was my dream to immortalize their endeavors. I had a terrific host: Jian Yi, whose film Super Girls! is distributed by dGenerate, and who has set up his own center for cultural and social projects in the small, inland city of Ji'an, where I used to teach. This sort of cultural literacy and preservation work is quite rare in China outside of the major cities, and is desperately needed when present generations are consumed with a disposable culture driven by commercialism. His work touches many lives and is inspiring to behold.

My return to the US in September came with the expected culture shock (not least of which was getting re-acquainted to the non-stop barrage of social data on Facebook and Twitter, both blocked in China. I'm still not sure how I feel about what degree these sites should be in my life outside of my professional obligations to engage in them; I'll just say that I'm highly sympathetic to the last 2-3 paragraphs of this kiss-off).  Though it was more of a lifestyle shock that kept me off balance through the rest of the year. You see, prior to leaving for China, I had quit my steady, nondescript, nine-to-five day job of nine years (it still sends a chill through me to read that), and not having that routine to return to opened up considerable pockets of chaos (both temporally and emotionally) that I've had to tame.  dGenerate Films is busier than ever; a big chunk of my October was committed to steering the tour of filmmaker Du Haibin through his first visit to the U.S.; the dGenerate blog, which I manage, has evolved into the leading information resource on Chinese independent cinema; and we acquired more titles than we had projected, which meant more work getting them ready for distribution. For more on all this here's an interview I did for The Beijinger (hattip to Dan Edwards, who's fast becoming an important correspondent on the current film scene in China)

41815_138740802817246_1816_nOn top of this, I now have an editor position at Fandor, a startup online streaming service that hopefully you may have heard of by now (if not have subscribed to). In many ways I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity from which to leave my day job and apply what I learned from Shooting Down Pictures. I get to hand pick a stable of regular contributors for the site's Keyframe blog, the caliber of which I am quite proud (Jonathan Rosenbaum; Michael Atkinson; The Self Styled Siren - need I say more?). I get to produce video essays for the site. I get to establish the presence of what I hope will be an essential source for online content on great films.

Despite all this worthwhile activity, I've found myself chronically depressed throughout the last several weeks of this year. Much of it is due to a lack of progress on editing my footage from the summer, due to being occupied with Fandor and dGenerate. Still, on the balance of where I started the year, I should have every reason to be happy, even grateful, for what I have on my plate. But something happened, starting from when I left that old job I'd been stuck in for so long only to retrace my steps from 12 years ago in another country... well you can imagine the tidal wave of nostalgia over the pleasant naivete of the past, and regrets of opportunities missed, time misspent, dreams deferred. I haven't quite been able to shake these thoughts until just now, writing down all I've done this year, which makes me feel that it was worth the time it took, self-forestallments and all.

At the same time, the career upgrade brought new responsibilities and expectations upon myself, at least in my own mind. It's as if I'm making up for the 9 years of muted expectations in which I entombed myself in that day job; suddenly there's no more room to settle, everything needs to be better, and there's a constant voice in my head assessing what I'm doing right or wrong (mostly wrong), what more could I be doing. You would think that waking up to your own life would be a liberating experience, but it can also be a kind of hell.

Shutter-Island-Leonardo-Di-Caprio1

Little wonder this movie made my top ten.

At my old job, whenever someone asked my ex-boss how he was doing, he'd reply, "Living the Dream" with a sarcastic wistfulness that I can still hear with piercing clarity.  Not sure how many colleagues picked up on it or read much into it, but for me it spoke for my own sense of subjugation to a less than ideal life, the kind of compromise that we're all expected to make sooner or later, and that I had made way too soon in my life, I now realize. And I also realize that, quite unexpectedly, I have escaped that fate. I am now cognizant of how much direction I can give to my own life. I have no one to blame but myself... and blame isn't much use anyway.

It's still left to see how things will play out with all that I have going on. It doesn't help that I have an anxious disposition and get easily distracted. It's at these times that my old friends the movies, especially the truly great ones, can occasionally offer clarity and wisdom. Not so much in what they say, but how. Two most recent examples below, both dwelling (if not luxuriating) in the messy uncertainty of the world, one with resolute playfulness, the other with endless patience, both infinitely attentive to what they're capturing. There's no question they deserve to be watched; we can only hope we are as deserving to learn from them.

copy1

Still-Life-in-Vandas-room

Needless to say, neither film is on the TSPDT 1000.  Greatness strikes where it pleases, and whom. I'm relieved that I don't have to track a canon anymore (though for old time's sake I might post entries on whatever new titles appear in updates to the TSPDT list). But it raises the question of what to do with this blog. God knows I haven't had time to maintain it like I used to, its comments section are now weed patches of spambots. But I do miss the regimen and the discipline of maintaining an ongoing personal blog. I don't if managing the Fandor and dGenerate blogs will leave me time to do much here.  I do know that the alsolikelife website as a whole is due for an overhaul. We'll see how long that will take. In the meantime, you know where to find me: Fandor and dGenerate, respectively.

Thank you for seeing me through to the end of this. I'll see you at the next thing.

Best Week Ever

ebert screengrab I love that Roger Ebert's Twitter wallpaper is the last shot of one of my all time favorite films. But of course, it was his writing that turned me on to it.

I'm grateful for his acknowledgement, and even more grateful for the article that drew his attention, on, of all places, The Wall Street Journal. Thanks Eric Kohn for deeming my efforts newsworthy.

And update on Thursday's screening: half the seats have been reserved, so if you're thinking of coming, you might want to let me know to put you on the list, just in case...

If you happen to be in the Philly/Swarthmore area...

fujianbluesl7_2http://calendar.swarthmore.edu/calendar/EventList.aspx?fromdate=3/24/2010&todate=4/22/2010&display=Month&type=public&eventidn=5891&view=EventDetails&information_id=19176 On Tuesday March 30 at Swarthmore College, Vice President of Programming Kevin B. Lee will speak about issues in contemporary Chinese cinema and his work with dGenerate Films.

Following Mr. Lee’s talk will be a screening of Fujian Blue, a 2007 film by Weng Shouming, that has played in various international film festivals and won the Dragons and Tigers Award at the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival.

The China Film Journal writes that the film is “an absorbing narrative of deeply felt characters, a trenchant social commentary, and a tone poem to a nearly-lost generation.”

Admission Free. Sponsored by SAO as part of the APIA Heritage Month, Film and Media Studies program, FFS, Movie Committee and FOTS.

Location Information: Science Center, Room 101 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA

Announcing the Winner of the Shooting Down Pictures Fansub Challenge

I'm pleased to announce that the Shooting Down Pictures Fansub Challenge has a winner. Peaceful Anarchy answered my call to produce English fansubs for the mile-a-minute dialogue for Luis Garcia Berlanga's Placido, and has thus earned the $150 prize ($10 more than I advertised! I really need to pay more attention to my own blog). You can download the .srt file by right-clicking here. It's also been uploaded to some movie file share sites, which are where you can find the movie itself. Feel free to give feedback on both the movie and the subs - I think this film is an absolute masterpiece and hope that others feel the same.

A Belated report from Berlinale

My, it's been quiet here for some time. What have I been up to? I guess things fell off on this blog about the time I went to Berlin - so maybe I should link to my coverage for The Auteurs. You'll note special attention paid to the films of Yasujiro Shimazu and to the Forum Expanded installations, both of which were the most exciting things I saw in Berlin. Here's a video I shot of the James Benning installation Tulare Road (hope he doesn't mind), which is particularly amusing for one German infant's interactive participation with it:

Cassavetes' LOVE STREAMS next Monday, March 29

Love-Streams-1984-192x300

LOVE STREAMS (dir. John Cassavetes, 1984)

WHEN: 6:45 pm, Monday 29 March 2010 WHERE: Room 471, 20 Cooper Square (Bowery and East 5th) ALL WELCOME.  Refreshments – stiff, copious – provided.

“Making a film has been compared, by many good directors, to a love affair.  What hasn’t been said is that this film, the recipient of the love, is the victim of an organized orgy.” (Cassavetes)

LOVE STREAMS is John Cassavetes’s last film.  He made it as he was dying of cirrhosis of the liver.  Critically disavowed, yanked off screens after just a few weeks, only briefly available on video in the States, it’s the story of the close relationship between Robert, a feckless lush (played by Cassavetes) who’s “writing a book on night life”, and Sarah (Cassavetes’s real-life wife Gena Rowlands), who describes herself as a “very happy person”.  Both are alive, lonely, lost.  Both, in their different ways, are quietly howling with grief.  Then comes the goat.

John Cassavetes’s films, Jim Jarmusch has written, are about “love, about trust and mistrust, about isolation, joy, sadness, ecstasy and stupidity”.  For that reason, their stylistic distinctiveness, and for their fierce and galvanic independence, they’ve long been touchstones for equally fierce, equally galvanic directors such as Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas and Pedro Almodovar.  LOVE STREAMS, in its rawness and desperation, its wild-eyed confrontation with human isolation and need, is hard to watch and equally hard to look away from.

LOVE STREAMS will be presented by Kevin B. Lee, a critic, filmmaker, and programming executive for dGenerate Films, a digital distribution channel for Chinese independent films. He contributes to ‘Time Out New York’, ‘Cineaste’, ‘The Moving Image Source’, and his blog Shooting Down Pictures, among other publications.

Part of the series THE SPEED OF YOUR HAIR: A series on love. Organized by Sukhdev Sandhu and The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture.

The Shooting Down Pictures YouTube Film Festival

To think that it's been over a year since the YouTube shakedown of 2009, when I temporarily lost my account during a particularly zealous effort to manage the content on YouTube containing copyrighted material, such as my video essays.  Well here we are a year later, and if anything there is even more copyrighted stuff to be found on the site - and we're not just talking videos like mine that re-appropriate media, but entire feature films.

I'm no longer sure what mechanisms are in place to regulate copyrighted content, but judging from what I'm finding on the site, whatever guidelines are in place are being enforced rather hazily. Whatever the case, there's a cornucopia of great films to be watched in their entirety on the site, especially rare and hard-to-find films that have mostly been distributed within the domain of file sharing networks.

I've already benefited from YouTube being the source for at least three films I've watched for Shooting Down Pictures: Subarnarekha, Toute une nuit, and My Friend Ivan Lapshin (in the case of the latter, the video I linked to watch the film was taken down, but since then another upload has become available).  And a recent conversation with Fernando Croce yielded links to several other films, including Victor Erice's El Sur, a film that I watched for my project just a couple months ago on an unsubbed import DVD while following a printout of the subtitles. Now you can watch it on YouTube with the English subtitles perfectly synched.

I'm not sure whether I should bring attention to these films for fear of them being taken down.  But I figure that these videos were put up to be watched, and if they are going to be taken down, then might as well encourage people to see them while they can.  Nothing on YouTube stays secret for long anyway.

And so, here's the first (and only?) edition of the Shooting Down Pictures YouTube Film Festival, a handpicked selection of films that are part of the TSPDT 1000 that can be watched in their entirety on YouTube.  Of course there are many more to be found, but I'm hedging my bets by singling out just these five. I consider all of them to be masterpieces.

And since this is a do-it-yourself film festival, I encourage you to share links to films that you've found on YouTube or elsewhere, be they part of the TSPDT 1000 or just cool films you want to share. I've included some of Fernando's recommendations at the bottom of this post.

TSPDT #909: Seventh Heaven (1927, Frank Borzage)

SPD entry

TSPDT #918: Jour de Fete (1949, Jacques Tati)

TSPDT #981: Mothlight (1963, Stan Brakhage)

TSPDT  #972: Chloe in the Afternoon (1972, Eric Rohmer - RIP)

TSPDT#919: Sonatine (1992, Takeshi Kitano) - dubbed in Spanish!

More tips from Fernando, not from the TSPDT 1000 but highly recommended:

Fighting Friends (1933, Yasujiro Ozu): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dShnpf464

Lotna (1959, Andrzej Wajda): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbXkKNjcGyw

Cantata (1963, Miklos Jancso): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpW5Fs33deg

Taipei Story (1985, Edward Yang): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gICENI5aGk

Daughter of the Nile (1987, Hou Hsiao-hsien): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uglzStEM8tM

100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films

<i>Fantasmagorie (1908)</i> by Émile Cohl 100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films:  Background

This list of 100 important directors of animated short films was assembled in late 2008 to serve as a complement to “Brief Encounters,” a proposed list of 250 great short films (both animated and live-action) which was to be developed by the folks at the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? website.  Unfortunately, that 250-film list is in limbo, leaving our list without a home.

The “100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films” list is not intended to be comprehensive.  These are simply 100 directors whom we feel are important and deserving of increased recognition by film lovers.  For each director, we selected three “highly recommended” movies.  In addition, we included a category of “TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts” to highlight any of these directors’ films which were tentatively slated to place on the abandoned Brief Encounters list.

This project was facilitated by Lee Price (lee-109) on the IMDb Classic Film message board.  Project team:  Lee Price, Robert Reynolds (Illtdesq), Jorge Didaco (jdidaco), Bill Kamberger (bkamberger), and Rob Tomshany (RobT-2), with additional input from animation fans on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

aldsashin

100 Important Directors of Animated Short Films:  The List

Mikhail Aldashin 1958 – Born Tuapse, USSR Key production country:  Russia Highly recommended:  The Other Side (1993), Christmas (1997), Bukashki (2002)

Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker Alexander Alexeieff (1901 – 1982);  Claire Parker (1906 – 1981) Alexander Alexeieff born Kazan, Russia;  Claire Parker born Boston, Massachusetts Key production country:  France Highly recommended:  Night on Bald Mountain (1933), En Passant (1943), The Nose (1963)

Tex Avery 1908 – 1980 Born  Taylor, Texas Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Blitz Wolf (1942), Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), King-Size Canary (1947), The Cat That Hated People (1948) Other highly recommended shorts:  Lucky Ducky (1948), Bad Luck Blackie (1949), The Legend of Rockabye Point (1955)

Frédéric Back 1924 – Born Saarbrücken, Germany Key production country:  Canada TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Crac (1981) Other highly recommended shorts:  All Nothing (1980), The Man Who Planted Trees (1987), The Mighty River (1993)

Joseph Barbera and William Hanna Joseph Barbera (1911 – 2006);  William Hanna (1910 – 2001) Joseph Barbera born New York City, New York;  William Hanna born Melrose, New Mexico Key production country: USA Highly recommended:  The Night Before Christmas (1941), Mouse in Manhattan (1945), The Cat Concerto (1947)

Garry Bardin 1941 – Born Chkalov, Soviet Union Key production country:  Soviet Union Highly recommended:  The Coiling Prankster/Fioritures (1988), Grey Wolf & Little Red Riding Hood (1990), Adagio (2000)

Jirí Barta 1948 – Born Prague, Czechoslovakia Key production country:  Czechoslovakia Highly recommended:  The Vanished World of Gloves (1982), The Last Theft (1987), The Club of the Laid Off (1989)

Walerian Borowczyk 1923 – 2006 Born Kwilcz, Poland Key production country:  France TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Les Jeux des Anges (1964), Rosalie (1966), Dom/House (1958), Les Astronautes (1959) Highly recommended:  The Concert of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal (1962), Renaissance (1963), Scherzo Infernal (1984)

Charley Bowers 1877 – 1946 Born Paterson, New Jersey Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Now You Tell One (1926) Highly recommended:  Egged On (1926), There It Is (1928), It's a Bird (1930)

Bruno Bozzetto 1933 – Born Milan, Italy Key production country:  Italy Highly recommended:  Life in a Tin (1967), Baeus (1987), Grasshoppers (1990)

<i>At the Ends of the Earth</i> (1999) directed by Konstantin Bronzit

Konstantin Bronzit 1965 – Born Leningrad, USSR Key production country:  Russia Highly recommended:  At the Ends of the Earth (1999), The Goddess (2003), Lavatory-Lovestory (2007)

Robert Cannon 1909 – 1964 Born Ohio, USA Key production country: USA Highly recommended:  Gerald McBoing Boing (1951), Christopher Crumpet (1953), The Jaywalker (1956)

Ivo Caprino 1920 – 2001 Born Oslo, Norway Key production country:  Norway Highly recommended:  Karius og Baktus (1954), The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1955), The Seventh Father in the House (1966) Robert Clampett 1913 – 1984 Born Detroit, Michigan, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Porky in Wackyland (1938) Highly recommended:  A Corny Concerto (1943), Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943), The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946)

Émile Cohl 1857 – 1938 Born Paris, France Key production country:  France Highly recommended:  Fantasmagorie (1908), The Automatic Moving Company (1910), The Hasher's Delirium (1910)

Richard Condie 1942 – Born Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Getting Started (1979), The Big Snit (1985), The Apprentice (1991)

Arthur Davis 1905 – 2000 Born Yonkers, New York, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  The Little Match Girl (1937), Dough-Ray Meow (1948), Bowery Bugs (1949)

Walt Disney 1901 – 1966 Born Chicago, Illinois, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Steamboat Willie (1928) Highly recommended:  Alice's Wonderland (1923), Plane Crazy (1928), The Skeleton Dance (1929)

Borivoj Dovnikovic 1930 – Born Osijek, Croatia, Yugoslavia Key production country:  Yugoslavia Highly recommended:  Curiosity (1966), Krek (1968), An Exciting Love Story (1989)

Paul Driessen 1940 – Born Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Cat's Cradle (1974), Spotting a Cow (1984), The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg (2000)

Michael Dudok de Wit 1953 – Born Abcoude, Utrecht, Netherlands Key production country:  Netherlands Highly recommended:  The Monk and the Fish (1994), Father and Daughter (2000), The Aroma of Tea (2006)

Piotr Dumala 1956 – Born Warsw, Poland Key production country:  Poland Highly recommended:  Walls (1988), Wolnosc nogi (1989), Franz Kafka (1992)

David Fine and Alison Snowden David Fine (1955 - );  Alison Snowden (1958 - ) Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Second Class Mail (1985), George and Rosemary (1987), Bob's Birthday (1993)

Hans Fischerkosen 1896 – 1973 Born Bad Kösen/Saale, Germany Key production country:  Germany Highly recommended:  Das Blaue Wunder (1935), Weatherbeaten Melody (1943), The Snowman (1944)

Oskar Fischinger 1900 – 1967 Born Gelnhausen, Germany Key production country:  Germany TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Motion Painting No. 1 (1947) Highly recommended:  Studie Nr. 7 (1931), Komposition in Blau (1935), Allegretto (1936)

Dave Fleischer 1894 – 1979 Born New York City, New York, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Out of the Inkwell (1918), Snow-White (1933) Highly recommended:  Ko-Ko's Earth Control (1928), Bimbo's Initiation (1931), Minnie The Moocher (1932)

<i>High Diving Hare</i> (1949) directed by Friz Freleng

Friz Freleng 1905 – 1995 Born Kansas City, Missouri, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Rhapsody In Rivets (1941), Pigs in a Polka (1943), High Diving Hare (1949)

Clyde Geronimi 1901 – 1989 Born Italy Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Lend a Paw (1941), Education For Death (1943), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1958)

Burt Gillett 1891 – 1971 Born Elmira, New York, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Flowers and Trees (1932), Three Little Pigs (1933), Lonesome Ghosts (1937)

Bob Godfrey 1921 – Born West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia Key production country:  UK Highly recommended:  Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961), Kama Sutra Rides Again (1972), Great (1975)

Paul Grimault 1905 – 1994 Born Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France Key production country:  France Highly recommended:  The Scarecrow (1943), The Little Soldier (1947), Le Chien Melomane (1973)

John Halas and Joy Batchelor John Halas (1912 – 1995);  Joy Batchelor (1914 – 1991) John Halas born Budapest, Austria-Hungary;  Joy Batchelor born Watford, Hertfordshire, England, UK Key production country:  UK Highly recommended:  The Owl and the Pussycat (1952)The Christmas Visitor (1959), Automania 2000 (1964)

David Hand 1900 – 1986 Born Plainfield, New Jersey, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935), Three Orphan Kittens (1935), Thru the Mirror (1936)

Jack Hannah 1913 – 1994 Born Arizona, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Lambert The Sheepish Lion (1952), The New Neighbor (1953), In The Bag (1956)

<i>Peace on Earth</i> (1939) directed by Hugh Harman

Hugh Harman 1903 – 1982 Born Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Tale of the Vienna Woods (1934), The Old Mill Pond (1936), Peace on Earth (1939)

Pierre Hébert 1944 – Born Montréal, Québec, Canada Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Op Hop - Hop Op (1966), Around Perception (1968), Memories of War (1983)

Don Hertzfeldt 1976 – Born Fremont, California, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Genre (1996), Rejected (2000), The Meaning of Life (2005)

Co Hoedeman 1940 – Born Netherlands Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Tchou-Tchou (1972), The Sand Castle (1977), Ludovic - The Snow Gift (1998)

<i>Moonbird</i> (1959) directed by John and Faith Hubley

John & Faith Hubley John Hubley (1914 – 1977);  Faith Hubley (1924 – 2001) John Hubley born Marinette, Wisconsin, USA;  Faith Hubley born New York City, New York, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Rooty Toot Toot (1951), The Tender Game (1958), Moonbird (1959)

Rudolf Ising 1903 – 1992 Born Kansas City, Missouri, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  The Calico Dragon (1935), Dance of the Weed (1941), The Bear and the Beavers (1942)

Ivan Ivanov-Vano 1900 – 1987 Born Russia Key production country:  USSR Highly recommended:  Black and White (1932), The Battle of Kerzhenets (co-directed with Yuriy Norshteyn) (1971), Ave Maria (1972)

Ub Iwerks 1901 – 1971 Born Kansas City, Missouri, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Hell's Bells (1929), The Cuckoo Murder Case (1930), Balloon Land (1935)

Wilfred Jackson 1906 – 1988 Born Chicago, Illinois, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  The Band Concert (1935), The Country Cousin (1936), The Old Mill (1937)

Chuck Jones 1912 – 2002 Born Spokane, Washington, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Bully for Bugs (1953), Duck Amuck (1953), One Froggy Evening (1955), What's Opera, Doc? (1957) Highly recommended:  Rabbit of Seville (1950), Feed the Kitty (1952), Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century (1953)

Piotr Kamler 1936 – Born Warsaw, Poland Key production country:  France Le Labyrinthe (1969), Coeur de secours (1973), Le Pas (1975)

<i>Dojoji Temple</i> (1976) directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto

Kihachiro Kawamoto 1925 – Born Tokyo, Japan Key production country:  Japan Highly recommended:  Dojoji Temple (1976), House of Flame (1979), Sleeping Beauty (1990)

William Kentridge 1955 – Born South Africa Key production country:  South Africa Highly recommended:  Felix in Exile (1994), History of the Main Complaint (1996), Automatic Writing (2003)

Fyodor Khitruk 1917 – Born Tver, USSR Key production country:  USSR Highly recommended:  Film, Film, Film (1968), Vinni Pukh (1969), Ostrov/The Island (1973)

Nikolai Khodataev Key production country:  USSR Highly recommended:  Interplanetary Revolution (1924), China In Flames (1925), We'll Keep Our Eyes Peeled (1927)

Andrey Khrzhanovskiy 1939 – Born Moscow, USSR Key production country:  USSR Highly recommended:  The Glass Harmonica (1968), Armoire (1970), Butterfly (1972)

Jack King 1895 – 1958 Born Alabama, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Mr. Duck Steps Out (1940), Truant Officer Donald (1941), Donald's Snow Fight (1942)

Jack Kinney 1908 – 1992 Born Utah, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Der Fuehrer's Face (1942) Highly recommended:  How to Swim (1942), How to Play Football (1944), Goofy Gymnastics (1949)

Igor Kovalyov 1963 – Kiev, Ukraine, USSR Key production country:  Russia Highly recommended:  Investigation is Held by the Koloboks (1986), Hen, His Wife (1990), Andrey Svislotskiy (1992)

Jerzy Kucia 1942 – Born Soltysy, Poland Key production country:  Poland Highly recommended:  Reflections (1979), Across the Field (1992), Tuning the Instruments (2000)

<i>La Demoiselle et le violoncelliste</i> (1965) directed by Jean-François Laguionie

Jean-François Laguionie 1939 – Born Besançon, Doubs, France Key production country:  France La Demoiselle et le violoncelliste (1965), Le Masque du diable (1976), La Traversée de l'Atlantique à la rame (1978)

René Laloux 1929 – 2004 Born Paris, France Key production country:  France Highly recommended:  Les Temps Morts (1964), Les Escargots (1965), How Wang-Fo Was Saved (1987)

Walter Lantz 1899 – 1994 Born New Rochelle, New York, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Knock Knock (1940), The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company "B" (1941), The Hams That Couldn't Be Cured (1942)

John Lasseter 1957 – Hollywood, California, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Knick Knack (1989) Highly recommended:  Luxo, Jr. (1986), Red's Dream (1987), Tin Toy (1988)

Caroline Leaf 1946 – Born Seattle, Washington, USA Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  The Street (1976), The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1977), Two Sisters (1990)

Jan Lenica 1928 – 2001 Born Poznan, Poland Key production country:  Poland Highly recommended:  Nowy Janko Muzykant/New Janko the Musician (1961), Labirynt (1963), 'A' (1965)

Emanuele Luzzati and Giulio Gianini Emanuele Luzzati (1921 – 2007);  Giulio Gianini (1927 - ) Emanuele Luzzati born Genoa, Italy;  Giulio Gianini born Rome, Italy Key production country:  Italy Highly recommended:  The Thieving Magpie (1964), Alì Babà (1970), Pulcinella (1973)

Len Lye 1901 – 1980 Born Christchurch, New Zealand Key production country:  UK TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Rainbow Dance (1936), Trade Tattoo (1937), Free Radicals (1958) Highly recommended:  A Colour Box (1935), Colour Flight (1937), Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1940)

Kenzô Masaoka 1898 – 1988 Born Suita, Osaka, Japan Key production country:  Japan Highly recommended:  Nonsense Story, Volume 1: Monkey Island (1931), A Song of the Chagama Family (1935), The Spider and the Tulip (1943)

Winsor McCay 1871 – 1934 Born Spring Lake, Michigan, USA Key production country:  USA TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) Highly recommended:  Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the NY Herald and His Moving Comics (1911), The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House (1921)

Robert McKimson 1910 – 1977 Born Denver, Colorado, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Walky Talky Hawky (1946), A-Lad-In His Lamp (1948), Hillbilly Hare (1950)

Norman McLaren 1914 – 1987 Born Stirling, Scotland, UK Key production country:  Canada TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Dots (1940), C'est l'aviron (1944), The Young Grey Hen (1947), Begone Dull Care (1949), Neighbours (1952), Pas de deux (1968) Highly recommended:  Blinkity Blank (1955), A Chairy Tale (1957), Le Merle/The Blackbird (1958)

Otto Messmer 1892 – 1983 Born Union City, New Jersey, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Felix In Hollywood (1923), Felix the Cat Dines and Pines (1927), Comicalamities (1928)

Eduard Nazarov 1941 – Born Moscow, USSR Key production country:  USSR Highly recommended:  There Once Was a Dog (1982), Travels of an Ant (1983), Martinko (1987)

<i>Hedgehog in the Fog</i> (1975) directed by Yuriy Norshteyn

Yuriy Norshteyn 1941 – Born Andreyevka, Penza, USSR Key production country:  USSR TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Hedgehog in the Fog (1975), Tale of Tales (1979) Highly recommended:  Seasons (co-directed with Ivan Ivanov-Vano) (1969), The Fox and the Hare (1973), Heron and Crane (1974)

Willis O'Brien 1886 – 1962 Born Oakland, California, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  The Dinosaur and the Missing Link (1915), Prehistoric Poultry (1916), The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918)

George Pal 1908 – 1980 Born Cegled, Austria-Hungary Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Tulips Shall Grow (1942), John Henry and the Inky Poo (1946), Tubby the Tuba (1947)

Nick Park 1958 – Born Preston, Lancashire, England, UK Key production country:  UK TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  The Wrong Trousers (1993) Highly recommended:  Creature Comforts (1989), A Grand Day Out (1989), A Close Shave (1995)

Priit Pärn 1946 – Born Tallinn, Estonia Key production country:  Estonia Highly recommended:  Breakfast on the Grass (1987), Hotell E (1992), 1895 (1995)

<i>The Bead Game</i> (1977) directed by Ishu Patel

Ishu Patel 1942 – Born Gujarat, India Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  The Bead Game (1977), Afterlife (1978), Paradise (1984)

Michaela Pavlátová 1961 – Born Prague, Czechoslovakia Key production country:  Czech Republic Reci, Reci, Reci (1991), Repete (1995), The Carnival of Animals (2006)

Aleksandr Petrov 1957 – Born Prechistoye, Yaroslavl province, USSR Key production country:  USSR Highly recommended:  The Cow (1989), The Old Man and the Sea (1999), My Love (2006)

Bill Plympton 1946 – Born Portland, Oregon, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Your Face (1987), 25 Ways To Quit Smoking (1989), Guard Dog (2004)

Bretislav Pojar 1923 – Born Susice, Czechoslovakia Key production country:  Czechoslovakia Highly recommended:  The Lion and the Song (1959), 'E' (1981), Nightangel (1986)

Barry Purves Key production country:  UK Highly recommended:  Next (1989), Screen Play (1992), Achilles (1995)

Stephen and Timothy Quay Stephen Quay (1947 – );  Timothy Quay (1947 – Stephen and Timothy Quay born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA Key production country:  UK TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Street of Crocodiles (1986) Highly recommended:  Gilgamesh, or This Unnameable Little Broom (1985), Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1988), In Absentia (2000)

Joanna Quinn 1962 – Born Birmingham, England, UK Key production country:  UK Highly recommended:  Girl's Night Out (1987), Britannia (1993), Dreams and Desires (2006)

Lotte Reiniger 1899 – 1981 Born Berlin, Germany Key production country:  Germany TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Papageno (1935) Highly recommended:  Cinderella (1922), The Little Chimney Sweep (1954), Hansel and Gretel (1955)

Wolfgang Reitherman 1909 – 1985 Born Munich, Germany Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  The Truth About Mother Goose (1957), Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968)

Walter Ruttmann 1887 – 1941 Born Frankfurt-on-Main, Germany Key production country:  Germany TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Melody of the World (1929) Highly recommended:  Opus II (1921), Opus III (1924), Opus IV (1925)

Zbigniew Rybczynski 1949 – Born Lodz, Poland Key production country:  Poland Highly recommended:  Soup (1975), Tango (1981), The Fourth Dimension (1988)

Georges Schwizgebel 1944 – Born Bern, Switzerland Key production country: Switzerland Highly recommended:  78 Tours (1985), La Course à l'abîme (1992), L'Homme sans ombre (2004)

Garik Seko 1935 – 1994 Born Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, USSR Key production country:  Czechoslovakia Highly recommended:  Faust's House (1977), Ex Libris (1982), My Kamarad Tika (1987)

<i>Harpya</i> (1979) directed by Raoul Servais

Raoul Servais 1928 – Born Oostende, Belgium Key production country:  Belgium Highly recommended:  Sirene (1968), Harpya (1979), Atraksion (2001)

Ben Sharpsteen 1895 – 1980 Born Sonoma County, California, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Mickey's Service Station (1935), Clock Cleaners (1937), Mickey's Trailer (1938)

Harry Smith 1923 – 1991 Born Portland, Oregon, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Number 5: Circular Tensions: Homage to Oskar Fischinger (1949), Number 7 (1951), Number 10 (1956)

Wladyslaw Starewicz 1882 – 1965 Born Wilno, Poland, Russian Empire Key production country:  France TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  The Cameraman's Revenge (1912), Fétiche (1934) Highly recommended:  The Insect's Christmas (1913), The Frog Who Wanted to be King (1923), The Voice of the Nightingale (1923)

Jan Svankmajer 1934 – Born Prague, Czechoslovakia Key production country:  Czechoslovakia TSPDT 250 Greatest Shorts:  Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), A Quiet Week in the House (1969) Highly recommended:  Darkness/Light/Darkness (1989), Down to the Cellar (1983), Jídlo/Food (1992)

Frank Tashlin 1913 – 1972 Born Weehawken, New Jersey, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Have You Got Any Castles? (1938), Porky Pig's Feat (1943), Swooner Crooner (1944)

Osamu Tezuka 1928 – 1989 Born Toyonaka, Japan Key production country:  Japan Highly recommended:  Mermaid (1964), Jumping (1984), Legend of the Forest (1987)

Wendy Tilby 1960 – Born Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Tables of Contents (1986), Strings (1991), When the Day Breaks (1999)

Jirí Trnka 1912 – 1969 Born Pilsen, Austria-Hungary Key production country:  Czechoslovakia Highly recommended:  The Story of the Bass Cello (1949), The Cybernetic Grandma (1962), Ruka/The Hand (1965)

Will Vinton 1948 – Born McMinnville, Oregon, USA Key production country:  USA Highly recommended:  Closed Mondays (1974), The Creation (1981), The Great Cognito (1982)

Dusan Vukotic 1927 – 1998 Born Bileca, Montenegro Key production country:  Yugoslavia Piccolo (1959), Surogat/Ersatz (1961), Inga/The Game (1962)

<i>Where Is Mama?</i> (1960) directed by Te Wei

Te Wei 1915 – Born Shanghai, China Key production country:  China Highly recommended:  Where Is Mama? (1960), The Cowboy's Flute (1963), Feeling from Mountain and Water (1988)

John Weldon 1945 – Born Belleville, Ontario, Canada Key production country:  Canada Highly recommended:  Special Delivery (1978), To Be (1990), The Lump (1991)

Taking a break from video essays to serve the community

While video essays have been the majority of my creative output for the past couple of years, I still keep a hand in other types of video production, especially when it's for a good cause. I just received word that a video I produced for the Sikh Coalition has been accepted to the Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Toronto, September 25-27. The video, "From the Classroom to the Capitol" was produced for the Sikh Coalition's first annual awards gala earlier in August.  It was posted on the Coalition's YouTube page this week, and apparently the Spinning Wheel Festival caught it and liked it enough to add to their program. I've been involved with the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh community for several years now, most notably through the production of a short documentary "Dastaar: Defending Sikh Identity." I've done a lot of work with the Coalition in building up their capacity to make videos on their own, thanks to a grant from Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The Sikh community remains one of the most misunderstood people in the U.S. and the victim of ongoing bias and hate attacks, often violent ones. The Sikh Coalition has done much since 9/11 to combat prejudice, defend people's civil rights and educate the nation at large about the Sikh identity. I am extremely proud to be involved in these efforts.

Here's the new video "From the Classroom to the Capitol":

Ingmar Bergman: an Annotated Webliography and Top 10 Quotes

It's been exactly a year since Ingmar Bergman passed away at the age of 89, leaving us with dozens of films, many of which are considered among the greatest ever made. On the anniversary of his death, it's my privilege to present a compilation of the most valuable resources on Bergman available online, as well as ten of the most illuminating quotes about him, from filmmakers, scholars, and Bergman himself.

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Check out the wonderful essays, interviews and podcasts at dGenerate Films

I can't believe I haven't posted about these wonderful podcasts and interviews available on the dGenerate Films website, especially given that I've worked so much on preparing, recording and editing them. But yes, I've started a new series of podcast interviews over there called CinemaTalk, an ongoing series of conversations with esteemed scholars of Chinese cinema studies. These conversations are presented on dGenerate in audio podcast and/or text format. They are intended to help the Chinese cinema studies community keep abreast of the latest work being done in the field, as well as to learn what recent Chinese films are catching the attention of others. This series reflects dGenerate's mission to bring valuable resources and foster community around the field of Chinese film studies. The first one we did was with the one and only Chris Berry, Professor of Film and Television Studies in the Department of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London. I spoke with Chris about various topics from his current work and areas of focus, to comparisons between contemporary Chinese cinema and the Fifth Generation filmmakers whom he helped to champion in the 1980s and 1990s, to which recent Chinese films that have excited him the most.

You can go here to listen to or download the podcast audio, as well as read the full transcript.

Next we interviewed Lu Xinyu, Professor and Director of the Radio and TV Department, School of Journalism, Fudan University, Shanghai, China.  Professor Lu is widely regarded as the leading scholar on independent Chinese documentaries.  Her influential book Documenting China: The New Documentary Movement (Beijing, SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2003) was the first book to systematically theorize the New Documentary Movement in China from the beginning of 1990s.  She spent the past academic year as a visiting scholar in the department of cinema studies at New York University.

In this interview conducted by dGenerate’s Yuqian Yan, Lu Xinyu told us about her current work during her visit in New York and how she was attracted to independent Chinese documentary from an aesthetic and humanist background.  Starting from Aristotle’s poetic concept of “tragedy”, she led us to understand the New Documentary Movement as a unique art form that depicts the tragic life of ordinary people in the rapidly changing Chinese society.  The interview was conducted in Chinese.  Click here to listen to the audio and read a full English transcript.

I must also mention the outstanding series of blog articles the site has been getting from Shelly Kraicer, programmer at the Vancouver International Film Festival and passionate expert on Chinese Cinema. He's already posted three essays, each of them both informative, insightful and fun to read. They are titled, "An Independent Scene, Thriving Miles from Main Street," "Does China's Past Have a Future?" and "Between the Cracks of Capitalist China." By all means check them out.

10 Films in 5 Hours: Notes from BamCinematek All Night

Back in the good old days my brother and I would go to the local cineplex on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and watch as many as five movies in a five hour stretch. Typically we'd see one film in its entirety, bracketed by random snatches of other films that we didn't pay to watch but were easy enough to sneak into. It was our way of sampling as many movies as we could for our money; the cinematic equivalent of the all-you-can eat Asian buffets that my value-obsessed mother compulsively takes us to. So when BAM unleashed the latest of what has become an annual tradition, the BamCinematek All Night series, I took it as an opportunity to relive a bit of my moviegoing past - and best of all, I didn't have to break the law. As part of its sprawling CinemaFest still going on now, BAM opened up all four of its theaters from 11:15 to the early dawn, each playing as many as three features back-to-back. The films were programmed to a different theme for each screen: Diana Ross, Scientologist actors, marijuana-inflected narratives and 2000s arthouse cinema, respectively. Fueled by a 16 oz. Red Bull (pictured below) I spent five hours hopping from one theater to another, just to see what kind of impressions and comparisons would come up. Here's how it went down (I only wish I had thought sooner to take photos of the screen to illustrate my points):

11:30 PM - Top Gun (dir. Tony Scott), Cinema 2: Before They Were Scientologists

Arrived 15 minutes into the film, middle of initial action flight sequence. But this film is really easy to jump right into - the 80s rock guitar just juices you for it. Never noticed before that the famous shot of Maverick's F-15 flying upside down above the MIG is a process shot. Crowd snickers at bald guy yelling "Goddamn it Maverick!" - feels like an over-familiar "old guy yelling at young hotshot" cliche. They also howl at "Son, your ego is writing checks your body can't cash"

I remember this film getting a lot of flack for being basically a celluloid video game, but with video games you can actually make sense of what you're seeing - it's one continuous frame of action.  Here there's a great dialectic between the aerial footage and the fixed frame close-ups of the pilots in their cockpit. The aerial footage is all over the place - there's barely a sense of orientation as to where planes are in proximity to each other - they're just flashes of multimillion dollar military equipment flinging through the air. It makes the viewer cling to those close-ups for mercy, and those close-ups pin the viewer into the human side of the experience. For better or worse this is a landmark influence on blockbuster action filmmaking, something about exploiting audience excitement through incomprehension.

Tom Cruise vs. Val Kilmer: the battle of the big teeth. There's a lot of sweat in this film - sweaty faces in cockpits, sweating in locker rooms, sweating while trying to make a move on a girl in a bar.  Bar scene features pastel neons, soft lighting from underneath. Trademark Tony Scott shallow focus shots, depth of frame in interiors further obfuscated by fog machine haze.

The audience is supersensitive to the notoriously perceived homoerotic context of this film - man-to-man glances, one guy's arm casually behind his co-pilot. "Your butt is mine." "I want butts!"

Interseying that the characters all have nicknames - highly reminiscent of Howard Hawks films. But is there really a sense of the Hawksian? It's sort of about a guy learning to work with others, which is a major Hawksian theme, but the point of view is from the maverick outsider, not from within the ensemble, and it ends with the outsider retaining his sense of self - community can be picked up or disposed of any time.

Midnight - Smiley Face (dir. Gregg Araki), Cinema 4: All Night Bong

Haven't seen this film before. The pacing is way slower than Top Gun; you realize how every scene in Top Gun has a specific aim, about as narratively complex as a Power Point presentation. The beats to the dialogue here are syncopated, after getting used to the beats in Top Gun I'm practically falling through the gaping lapses between lines here. The colors are popping bright, practically Technicolor. Shot on digital, there's a slight stutter to the frame rate during fast movements.

Exaggerated sound effects of Anna Faris gulping, but it seems the film isn't ashamed to go for hyperbole. Faris is hilarious - she's not movie star beautiful, here, but looks like someone plucked from a mall: slightly fleshed out cheeks, vapid eyes.

Lots of squares and rectangular frames for some reason - tiles, offices. Possible visual counterpoint to her loose, raggedy performance, her slovenly stance.

Faris' freak out episode - Araki pulls out the stops - shaky handheld, abrupt noises, horror movie behind the back stuff, iris dissolve. It's like the go-for-broke punk eclecticism of his earlier films but less politically abrasive, more in the spirit of pothead free-for-all. It's really disarming in its playfulness.

Faris' big Marxist monologue in the factory - weird cutting to pork products being processed - a deliberate nod to Eisenstein. And then cut to what Faris actually said, and it's a brilliantly delivered fit of fog-headed babble. I need to see this thing in its entirety.

12:20 AM - The Wiz (dir. Sidney Lumet), Cinema 3: Diana Ross Coming Out

Playing in BAM's largest screening room - I wonder if they made that decision after Michael Jackson's death. Walked in midway through Dorothy's encounter with The Good Witch and the Munchkins, in the middle of what looks like a supersized concrete jungle gym painted in blue, shrouded by darkness. Maybe it's the aged print, but this just looks ugly as sin. I guess the idea is for urban revisionism of this children's classic, but the sets look like they were transplanted from a stage production without any thought into how this might translate cinematically. It just looks cluttered and indistinct.

The audience is really into this; I'm grooving on their whooping, applause and singing along more than I am watching the film. Diana Ross is so miscast as Dorothy. Too old, too unconvincing as innocent teenage girl. Her facial expressions so exaggerated; she's going for Judy Garland but she just isn't Judy Garland.

12:32 AM : the crowd goes wild. MJ is on the screen.

"The Crow Anthem" Weird that people are so enthusiastic and cheery about a very cynical and defeatist song about inner city opportunity or the lack thereof. It must be because it's Michael - they're just into playing out the underdog psychodrama that's being projected onto his persona. His character, a sad-sack-of-hay trying to fulfill his potential, definitely has added pathos now that he's gone.

"Ease on down, ease on down the road" - I feel like I'm at Sunday service. The audience is rocking - people are dancing in the side aisles and hosannah-ing at the screen like it's a celluloid choir.

Which makes me feel a bit guilty to be focused on how shitty this film is directed. Even in the musical sequences, Lumet's compositions are fatally static, wide shots with occasional cuts to zoomed-in close ups. No camera movement, no energy. Can't he use a dolly?

1:00 AM - In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar Wai) already over; I had seen it recently anyway.  Back at Top Gun. Finale. More deep oranges (Tony Scott loves the magic hour), more smoke-filled interiors with extreme foreground and background.

1:15 AM - Millennium Mambo (dir. Hou Hsiao Hsien), Cinema 1: BAM Cinematek Favorites

Run into Florence, who programmed this screening room. She says "Enjoy the greatest opening sequence of all time!"  Hsu Chi, looking sideways looking back, letting the moment unfold across a skywalk and cascade down a stairway, subtly undercut by a temporally displaced voiceover narration. Cut to a club scene, a fluorescent mist breathing in moments, and drugged out clubbers breathing in the mist. The stuff Mark Lee Ping Bin does with lighting is something close to miraculous (esp. given that he probably didn't have an extensive crew or set-up). Pockets of light that break the frame into microspaces of activity.

1:40 AM - Look Who's Talking Too (dir. Amy Heckerling), Cinema 2: Before They Were Scientologists

Walk into a truly weird shot of a mechanized automaton baby blinking its eyes and wrigging in an irridescent womb that looks like it was made of taffeta. Scenes are loose, largely improvised, looks like everyone is practically mailing this in after the massive surprise paycheck that was Look Who's Talking. Makes me recognize the remarkably tight design of an apparently aimless film like Smiley Face.

Abrupt cut from toddler to soft focus montage footage: the first fantasy montage sequence by a 2 year old. At least this film is not totally uninnovative. Other weird expressive moments - babies having flashbacks and nightmares. And such spellbinding baby dialogue as "Mr. Toilet Man likes to eat your doo doo and your pee pee."

Kirstie Alley's costuming is a disaster: weird bow on her head and overwrought floral pattern. Weird joke involving crack vial on the ground.  Weird apartment hallway dialogue. And somehow there's a strange feeling of authenticity to these scenes because incidents are so mundane - like we're listening to the screenwriter work through their issues, probably grabbing stuff from her life here and there instead of sitting down to shape all of this into a compelling narrative.

Print is developing severe audio problems. Time to bail.

2:00 AM - Back at The Wiz for the finale. Lena Horne bedecked in a star sequined dress, with blue-suited babies suspended in the backdrop. The set of the wizard's lab is so bare, so stark as to seem abstract. It could be meta, if only Sidney Lumet understood the meaning of the word. It barely works as camp.

2:15 AM - Pineapple Express (dir. David Gordon Green), Cinema 4: All Night Bong Start of climactic drug den shootout sequence. The drug den is a bizarelly spacious set, allowing for more wider and varied compositions than Top Gun or even Millennium Mambo. There's an insistence on wide master shots, medium shots and an emphasis on compositional detail, the lived-in qualities of the setting.

There's a really flippant, plastic attitude towards action movie violence, playing with action movie tropes like how to break out of handcuffs or escaping through a ventilation shaft. Really feels like what a pothead would come up with after watching an action movie, and in so doing it highlights and breaks down a lot of those cliches. But it doesn't do so in a deconstructive way, rather it uses them as springboards to leap into even more absurd displays of violence.

2:40 AM - Back to Millennium Mambo again for the finale. Jack Kao, gun in hand, silently entering his own apartment.  Polar opposite consideration of the action scene than Pineapple Express. Mark Lee Ping-bin's orange glows convey warm humanistic flickering under a shroud of danger.  Followed by another sequence of someone scoping out an interior, Hsu Chi checking into a Japan hotel room. It's amazing how much mileage Hou can get from just watching people take in their surroundings.

Final image of snow drift - palpable yet fleeting. This film is basically a 125 minute journey to arrive at that metaphor for modern existence.

3:00 AM - Staying Alive (dir. Sylvester Stallone), Cinema 2: Before They Were Scientologists

Have pretty low expectations for this - the opening montage of a dance rehearsal is pretty cheeseball, especially with the credits in neon text - but the dynamism of the montage leads to some striking albeit blurry images on the iPhone:

There's a gritty corporeal realism, and an emphasis on physical action that's pretty distinct. Good sense of momentum cutting across matching action from one dance workout to another. This whole sequence is cut to Travolta's movement - and who can blame Stallone for wanting to do that. Few actors are as pleasurable to watch move as Travolta. Ha, one character even comments on this! "I love to watch you walk."

Remarkable cut from the end of the nightclub scene to the other end of a one-night stand. Sex just happened but is disposable and forgotten. The morning after starts with him saying he needs to go. This film is moving, moving moving. I'm inclined to revisit the rest of this some time... 3:15 AM - Friday (dir. F. Gary Gray), Cinema 4: All Night Bong Interior dialogue scene features those nintentionally heavy shadows that plagued much of 90s low budget indie filmmaking. There's a lot of South Central hood tough-talk here, but it's played for laughs - the pitch must have been "Menace II Society as a comedy."

Beautiful staging and blocking Beyween Chris Tucker and Ice Cube - Ice Cube lies down to press weight and the editing practically pirouettes to a point of view shot, using the barbells as an axis.  Then they spin around the front porch to sit down at two deckchairs. Very nice.

3:30 AM - Mahogany (dir. Berry Gordy), Cinema 3: Diana Ross Coming Out

I have a special interest in this film because it might include my very first film memory. When I was three I moved back to live with my parents in California. My first memory with them involves an evening in a one-room studio apartment, the three of us in bed with the TV on. I remember a well-dressed black lady being pushed into a fountain and the song "Do You Know Where You're Going To" playing. Later on I learned that the song was from the film, but to date I have not watched the film to verify if that it was Mahogany. I caught the last 45 minutes of this film at the All Nighter and I'm afraid I didn't see the scene that haunts my early childhood. (If anyone who's seen the film and wants to verify it, feel free - in any case I'm going to get around to rent it).

What I did see was some unprecedented footage involving sex between a black woman and a white man, told mostly from the perspective of the woman (one only has to see Monster's Ball to get a sense of how little we've progressed since then).

The relationships and the acting are brittle. Diana Ross resembles Judy Garland more in this film than she did in The Wiz. Berry Gordy seems hellbent on mashing up Fellini Dolce Vita superficiality with female self-determination a la Barbara Streisand vehicles. It's a cosmopolitan bitchfest tacked to an old fashioned Hollywood ending.

4:20 AM - Demonlover (dir. Olivier Assayas), Cinema 1

I shouldn't have saved this for last. Walked into Gina Gershon getting her throat slashed and head bashed in by Connie Nielsen. I've seen this film before and I know it's going to be all downhill from here in the disturbing events department, and at 4:30 in the morning I really could use a good night's sleep free of nightmares.

But it's been a fun five hours - like channel surfing but with my legs doing the work of my thumb.  Ample doses of cinema of all varieties, and a nascent interest in Sylvester Stallone as auteur. Thanks for the memories, BAM.

What I Watched at the Berlin Film Festival (while others were too busy complaining to be bothered)

Here's my summary report for Spout. The reports elsewhere of the festival's crappiness were somewhat exaggerated, and symptomatic of complacency on the part of several unintrepid critics and journalists. Really, why waste readers' time by saying that the festival was a waste of your time? Like you expect us to feel that much pity about you being flown out, put up and paid to write about your awful experience? And what does that say about you that you, a professional film watcher, can't be bothered to go out and find the good stuff? Personally, it really wasn't that out of the way to discover some great films. Even with the not-so great films, there were interesting things to be said of them. To that point, here are capsules on all 30 films I watched in Berlin, spread over three entries on The Auteurs Notebook, and ranked within each. Vive la cinema!

http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/549 http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/540 http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/531

LAST MINUTE ANNOUNCEMENT (as usual): Special Screening Event in NYC Tonight

Come see what I've spent hundreds of hours working on for the past year!

FROM UNDERGROUND TO INDEPENDENT: New Cinema from China

Discover the New Chinese Indie Film Scene at China Institute SINOMATHÈQUE
Host:
The China Institute and dGenerate Films
 
Date:
Friday, January 30, 2009
Time:
6:30pm - 8:00pm
Location:
China Institute
Street:
125 E 65th St
City/Town:
New York, NY
 
Phone:
2127448181
Email:

Description

Join us for TWO SCREENINGS and a LIVE Q&A with insiders from the burgeoning Chinese indie film scene:

6:30-7:15 PM SAN YUAN LI (45 min, OU Ning, CAO Fei, 2003) 

Equipped with video cameras, twelve artists present a highly-stylized portrait of SAN YUAN LI, a traditional village besieged by China's urban sprawl. Reminiscent of Dziga Vertov's THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (USSR, 1929) and Godfrey Reggio's KOYAANISQATSI (USA, 1982), China's rapid modernization is brilliantly presented, with fast-edited scenes choreographed to music. Commissioned by the Venice Berlinale, SAN YUAN LI explores the modern paradox of China's economic growth and social marginalization.

7:20-7:40 PM DIGITAL UNDERGROUND IN THE PRC (18 min: 6 episodes, 3 min each, Rachel Tejada, 2008) 

On a mission to acquire films and seek out the best and brightest of the Chinese independent film scene, Karin Chien and Suyin So from dGenerate Films visited post-Olympics China in September 2008 Traveling from Shanghai to Nanjing to Beijing with cameras rolling, they found China's OTHER film community. Join them as they visit the largest underground film festival in China, explore the spirit of independence in Beijing, tour film compounds, attend a government-approved film event, and discuss the future of Chinese cinema. Karin Chien and other members of the dGenerate Films team will lead an open discussion. (Videos courtesy of Chunnel.tv and Berlin Cameron United/WPP)

ADMISSION: $5 for China Institute non-members, $3 for members.

This film series is made possible through the generosity of the public and private grantors, and the support of the general public. All proceeds will go to the Education Department at China Institute to support future programming.

FREE popcorn and refreshments will be served and an open discussion will follow the screening. 

Seating is LIMITED. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Please visit www.chinainstitute.org/edu/sinomatheque for tickets.

For further info, contact sinomatheque@chinainstitute.org or 212-744-8181 x150

Ten Old, Ten New, One Awful, Ten for the Decade, and Modest Pinprick for a Red Balloon

I'm heading to Asia for ten days tomorrow, so I thought I'd tie up some loose ends and set a couple things on the table going forward... We're a week into the new year and neck deep in top ten lists cluttering the blogosphere, but I'd might as well put on record on this site that my top ten list for films released in 2008 can be found on IndieWire as part of their annual poll of critics.  I'd also like to mention how proud I am to take part in this annual poll, given the caliber of critics participating, some of the finest voices covering mainstream and specialty cinema in the alternative press and the blogosphere.  I've followed this poll ever since it kicked off in 1999 when it was run by Dennis Lim at the Village Voice. Sadly, the first several editions of the poll are no longer online. Too bad since I was counting on referring to those poll results for another project I have warming up for this year - more on that further below.

In addition to the ballot I submitted to IndieWire, here's an alternative list covering the ten best films I saw in 2008, regardless of their distribution status. Again the criteria I stick to is "how much do I wish I had made this film?"

1 - Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh) - If this world were fair, this movie would be getting the distribution and box office of any given Judd Apatow flick.  It's as funny and funky as anything Apatow has done, but a heck of a lot smarter and genuinely thought-provoking about the role that happiness plays in one's life and its impact on one's social interactions, sometimes as much for the worse as for the better.  And it has a female character and a performance that should shame Hollywood for not coming up with anything as smart, funny,  and loveable for its own immense pool of actresses starving for a good role. 2 - The Class (Laurent Cantet) - I'm disappointed that this film hasn't been getting more attention in the US - I think Sony Pictures Classics is screwing up the campaign for the film, despite it being the French submission to this year's Foreign Film Oscar competition. It's really one of the smartest, most immersive depictions of the process of institutional education. It's funny, it's dynamic, it's amazingly naturalistic, and it has an equanimity towards all of its characters unique beauties and frustrating flaws that would make Jean Renoir proud.  With all due respect, it makes Half Nelson look half-baked. 3 - Wall-E (Andrew Stanton) - I've heard the backlash towards the film: how it supposedly "celebrates the end of culture" (Armond White) and its dumbed down, feel good take on an environmental apocalypse that is very much at risk of becoming reality.  People can be as demanding or implacable as they want, but as far as I'm concerned this film is a breakthrough in terms of articulating a social crisis and a moral ethos in a language that is eloquent, meaningful and yes, simple enough that an 8 year old can understand it.  And a big part of that has to do with how cinematic it is.  One day when I was comparing top ten lists with Richard Brody he commented that our appreciation of cinema shouldn't be confined to films in their whole form, but in moments that sear themselves into our mind forever, which occur in any number of films, not just masterpieces.  Well my favorite movie moment of 2008 is from a masterpiece, and it's the scene where Wall-E and Eva dance among the stars, a breathtaking expression of the lyrical in what's probably the most musically constructed film of the year. 4 - Serbis (Brilliante Mendoza) - Give me this funky, lively, lived-in redefinition of the "flophouse" movie over the airless formalism of Goodbye Dragon Inn anyday. My original review at Slant 5 - The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat) - Breillat's enters into a "mature" phase, and I think she's the better for it. As I wrote in my original review, "Breillat brings her indelible mix of braininess and rawness; mixing verbal and physical sexual exchanges, she aims both high and low where other films settle for a tastefully soft-core middle" 6 - Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain) - Can't believe this still doesn't have a distributor.  Wickedly smart and uncompromising, it takes the Dardennes Brothers' aesthetic to slap them in the face for everything they pretty much stand for, which at this point in their career, they kind of deserve. 7 - Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy) - Despite its jaw-droppingly choreographed long takes, this one kind of crept up on me in terms of its overall impact, but I simply cannot deny its lasting power. I guess if it weren't for Wall-E this film would get my vote for Moment(s) of the Year. 8 - Taking Father Home (Ying Liang) - full disclosure: my company dGenerate Films is the non-theatrical distributor of Taking Father Home. I can't think of a better film to come out of China to describe the spiritual dysfunction afflicting so many of that country's people in the wake of go-go capitalism. One of the decade's best debut films, it's scorchingly raw yet beautifully composed. 9 - Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle) - "It romanticizes poverty and makes it seem fun" the critics say.  Bollywood has been turning poverty into joyous cinema for over 60 years, so you know what, get a clue. This film honors that tradition, taking Bollywood's penchant for fabulous, borderline credible narrative incident as an occasion to hit audience's aching wish fulfillment smack between the eyes, and does as good a job at it as any of the classics.  And frankly it's amazing to have a film that so blatantly depicts the injustices and suffering of an entire people in such wide distribution. For that, those tears of joy at the end are very much earned. 10 - Trouble the Water (Carl Deal, Tia Lessin) - The best doc released in the US this year, the audience-pleasing but fairly pointless Man on Wire be damned. Though I did see at least a couple of even better documentaries from China, as part of my duties as programmer for dGenerate, but I can't disclose what they are at this time. It sucks because I feel that I'm in a position to advocate for their release, and yet due to my position I have to keep mum until my company has resolved its interest in these titles.  Hopefully this year, you'll be hearing a lot about these films, and soon.

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I should also mention that I was tapped this week to select my least favorite film of 2008 by the New York Magazine Vulture blog. And so I obliged - the resulting paragraph was quite cathartic to write, I must say.

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Next, to celebrate the conclusion of another year of the Shooting Down Pictures project, I'd like to highlight my ten favorite films out of the 48 that I watched for the project in 2008.

Wild River - the last Shooting Down Pictures film that I saw in 2008 may very well have been my favorite. Night of the Demon - with an amazing video essay contribution by Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: a Cinema of Nightfall The Art of Vision Murder by Contract El Verdugo Days and Nights in the Forest - with two video essays by filmmaker Preston Miller Two English Girls - with video essay by C. Mason Wells of IFC La Region centrale Grey Gardens - with video essay by Vadim Rizov, the Kevin Durant of film critics The Outlaw Josey Wales - with video essay by the one and only Matt Zoller Seitz

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Finally, I want to announce (somewhat tentatively) that, in anticipation of the inevitable onslaught of "best of the decade" lists towards the end of this year, I'm planning to watch several dozen films from the '00s as I prepare my own list. It will be a combination of catching up with highly lauded titles I haven't seen, revisiting favorites of each year to reassess their value, and reassessing films that were highly lauded but that somehow didn't do it for me (i.e. Inland Empire).

First up are a few films by Taiwanese directors, in commemoration of my upcoming trip to Taiwan.  One is Edward Yang's Yi Yi (which last time I checked was my favorite film of 2000), and then a couple by Hou Hsiao Hsien: Cafe Lumiere, which is probably my favorite Hou film of the decade, and Flight of the Red Balloon, which, as good as it is, feels like a European variant with more expressive acting, but essentially seems to overlap a good deal with its predecessor. That didn't stop the IndieWire critics from voting it the best film of 2008 - and I would wonder if those elements had everything to do the film - Hou's first shot in the West - being the first of his films to claim top prize in a critics poll.  I don't begrudge the film or its supporters (of which I am one - indeed, I was quite shocked when I listed 10 films I liked more than Flight of the Red Balloon; not a bad year for movies at all) anything; the film deserves the praise it's received. I just wonder why an earlier, and to my mind better film of his didn't fare as well.

Maybe it's just the accumulation of Hou's reputation over recent years, vaunted especially by the Hou 101 primer known as Three Times that gave people what I consider to be easy gateway into understanding his aesthetic.   The "problem" - for me at least, is that all this praise lavished on Hou's recent work seems to overshadow his earlier work, which to me is more unique and challenging in terms of how it constructed a new dialect of cinema not found elsewhere, not even in the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu, to which he is often compared.  The recent stuff, especially from Millennium Mambo onward, is still uniformly great, but it strikes me that Hou has taken his aesthetic in a direction that feels more in line with a global art festival aesthetic of masterful choreographed long takes helmed by the virtuoso Mark Li Ping-Bin.  It wasn't always like this - one could argue that the most amazing thing about early Hou wasn't his use of long takes, as beautiful as they were, but his astounding and at times even confounding editing schemes, where the sequence and emphasis of narrative events would be distorted to create a wholly new approach to storytelling that mimcked and shed light on how the human mind constructs memory (and without resorting to the easy tricks found in Christopher Nolan's Memento).  So I hope that in the midst of all the hoopla surrounding Flight of the Red Balloon, viewers might dig back a little and check out films like A Time to Live and a Time to Die, City of Sadness, or The Puppetmaster, which as a trilogy offers many times more depth and genuine sense of time, place and cinema than Three Times.

Despite these protestations, I'm not opposed to reconsidering my position. And so I'll be watching Cafe Lumiere and Flight of the Red Balloon back to back in the next week or so, helping to kick off what I hope will be a year-long rundown of the decade's best (and supposedly) best films.

Closing Out 2008: Kim's Video, RIP

As the new year beckons, it's also time to say goodbye to my favorite video store of all time, Kim's on St. Mark's and 3rd Avenue, which is relocating its retail operations and shutting down its rentals entirely.

While I don't think I've spent more than a few hundred dollars in rentals at Kim's over the years, it's been almost exclusively in accessing titles that I couldn't find anywhere else: not at the New York Public Library, not on Netflix, not online. I suppose the latter two constituents had something to do with the financial insolubility of Kim's Video, not to mention the brick-and-mortar video rental industry as a whole. Perhaps it's an inevitable outcome of video watching in the virtual age, but still it's sad to see a longstanding revered institution go down.

The fate of the collection of rental titles, numbering 55,000, has been a looming question for some time.  For the past few months, proprietor Yongman Kim has been publicly seeking a benefactor to acquire the entire rental collection. One stipulation was that the collection be available to the general public, thus ruling out academic institutions that would probably have the endowment to purchase the collection but would be unwilling to operate a public borrowing or rental operation. Apparently institutions like the New York Public Library and online companies like Netflix didn't figure into the solution.

As the fate of the collection became more uncertain over the past few weeks, I've focused the Shooting Down Pictures project on watching films that I could only find at Kim's, so that I could review them in the event that they should no longer be available for rental. Such titles include: Judex, Before the Revolution, Il Sorpasso, Murder by Contract, Variety, Sandra, Carnival in Flanders, and We All Loved Each Other So Much.  I've also rented other titles that I digitized for upcoming entries. Like a squirrel I've been harvesting cinematic nuts for the bleak winter known as a post-Kim's video world.

Last week I noticed at the checkout counter a blown-up poster-size version of a proposal kit from the city of Salemi, Sicily, offering to house the entire collection in its civic archives.

At first I thought this was some kind of joke, meant to foment enough outrage that a local benefactor would step up with a serious offer to keep the collection in New York City. But it seems that this proposal is for real, and is very much in the process of happening...

But what about Yongman Kim's stipulation that the collection be available to the general public?  I guess when he said that he didn't specify what nationality the public had to be, so New Yorkers are screwed. Oh wait, the Sicilians did take this into consideration. Read the fine print in the second paragraph under "keeping up with Kim's Video members".

Guess I can plan a trip to Sicily sometime to play into what apparently amounts to a small island city's cinephilic tourist stunt.  And I love how it's now to be known as "Kim's Video Collection of New York in Salemi, Sicily."

What to make of all this, I don't know. It's still too surreal to be believed. Just know that New York, as a global stronghold of cinema culture, has lost an invaluable resource (unless Sicily is now to be considered the sixth borough of the city).  As far as whoever is responsible for this development, I hold them in the same regard as the person who left his mark on Asia Argento's forehead in a poster for The Last Mistress that was last seen gracing the stairwell of the video rentals section:

Harold Pinter, RIP

One of my favorite courses in college was on Beckett and Pinter. I actually enjoyed Pinter's plays more than Beckett's - at least they infiltrated my experience of life, as I started to read volumes into the intonations, rhythms and word selection in everyday conversations (not the wisest thing to do in college, when most people are still struggling to be articulate). So the news of Pinter's death is a great loss.  I'm glad he was recognized by the Nobel folks just a few years ago - it's hard to think of another playwright whose understanding of language - its predilections towards politics and power, its unplanned prevarications towards the past - applies not just to his own native tongue, but to everyone's. As a tribute, here's the video essay I did with Dan Callahan earlier this year on The Go-Between. Look at 1:15 for a quintessentially Pinterian moment: