From the recently completed documentary Gunner Palace, about a troop of US soldiers based in one of Uday Hussein's Baghdad palaces, a musical interlude. The cinetrix becomes increasingly convinced that sometimes music is the only way to impose structure on events that surpass comprehension.
No word of a US release date, but perhaps a distributor will try to piggyback on the success of 9/11. Until then, here's an excerpt from filmmaker Michael Tucker's chronicle of making his film.
Jackass Goes to War
This had become their movie, not mine—each person with their own reference. For the older officers and NCOs it was MASH. They brought aloha shirts for poolside BBQs. For others it was Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. You could see it in the way they rode in their HUMVEES. One foot hanging out the door—helicopters with wheels. For the teenagers, it was Jackass Goes to War. As much as they projected cultural icons into their lives, through my viewfinder you could see that they were defining their own experience; a movie different than anything anyone has seen before. One day, while recording freestyles, a young SPC looked at the camera, charged his weapon and said," For y'all this is just a show, but we live in this movie."
Notice there's no mention of Three Kings, which I've argued elsewhere was the first hip-hop combat movie, driven as it was by a quest for bling. [Please see comments for more.] Still, it's chilling that the only way these soldiers can process what's happening to them is through the movies. Because at the end of the day, "it's only a movie" doesn't keep you safe.
You can read more about Gunner Palace in an interview with Michael Tucker conducted by GreenCine's own David Hudson and in the Guardian.
A lot of soldiers told me that they resented people at home, a lot of the cheerleading going on. War has become a kind of entertainment. One soldier says, at the end of the film, when you get off your couch with your microwave popcorn, you're going to forget about this, but we'll never forget.
It would be nice to think that since I was 14, times have changed. Relationships have become more sophisticated. Females less cruel. Skins thicker. Instincts more developed. But there seems to be an element of that afternoon in everything that's happened to me since. All my romantic stories are a scrambled version of that first one.
Tell me about it. The observant among you could do worse than watch one of these fine feature films:
The good people over at GreenCine alert us to this tantalizing news: The latest issue of Granta is devoted to film. Sweet.
Sadly, the cinetrix has pesky day-job tasks taking up nearly all of her time between now and the holiday, so she leaves you with this snippet from Adam Mars-Jones' piece, "Quiet, Please," about a subject near and dear to her heart, and an apology for what is shaping up to be a far from stellar week of posting.
Music in films can be as carefully chosen from sequence to sequence as wines to match the courses of a banquet—or it can be sloshed about as casually as syrup or custard over institutional pudding. Film music can be stained glass or wallpaper. The classic directors in the past who are most associated with appreciating the power of music also had a complementary understanding of silence. Music best retains its power by being rationed.
This afternoon, Manohla Dargis, the free-spirited LAT film reviewer, just told pals she has accepted a NYT offer to replace Elvis Mitchell. Her friends say that, in an unusual step, the NYT is allowing her to remain in Los Angeles. NYT sources say that the paper went after Dargis, a friend of [NYT lead critic] A.O. Scott’s, "not just for her reviews, but even more for her essays about Hollywood."
"What’s depressing about Manohla’s leaving especially is that we treated her fantastically," one LAT source says. "She got to do everything she wanted to do. She’s never been unhappy. But the lure of the NYT was too strong, I guess."
Here's further Dargis buzz, courtesy of Jeffrey Wells' recent "Hollywood Elsewhere" column on what he calls film critic nutters: "I'm speaking of critics whose rave about a certain film makes you think right away, 'Well, I guess I won't see that one' or, at the least, has you saying 'Uh-oh.' Or, conversely, hearing one of them talk about how much they despise this or that film leads you to think, 'Hmmm, this could be interesting or even good. If Blankety-blank hates it, it can't be all bad.'" Dargis swept top honors among the ladies. [Pyrrhic victory, mayhap? After all, how many did/could they consider?]
"I think Manohla Dargis is out of her mind. The 'Ask the Critic' column just irritates the hell out of me. Even when I agree with her, I wish I didn't have to -- she's so in love with her own quirks. I never get the feeling that she just loves movies; she loves writing about them." -- Post-Production Polly
"I would put Manohla right up there with Rosenbaum or Wilmington or Armond White. What they all are are intellectuals who by definition have a strong and particular point of view, and who sometimes go off the board. Except there's really no such thing as off the board...except maybe to say FREDDIE GOT FINGERED or FEMME FATALE are the greatest films of their respective years." -- Los Angeles based Hollywood columnist
"Manohla Dargis, though obviously smart and impassioned, comes pretty close [to nutter status]." -- Oakland-based internet editor/film critic --
"This is completely ridiculous, since Manohla is one of the only interesting daily critics in the country right now. It's so ridiculous that I have to wonder who you're asking for their takes, and I have to really wonder what their reasoning is." -- Los Angeles-based film critic
Wells comment: Dargis is the best thing to happen to the LOS ANGELES TIMES in a long while, and my kind of fruitcake.
We'll see whether she's ours, as well. A good first move, Ms. Dargis, would be to talk with your pal Mr. Scott about his shirts. Also, TMFTML will be monitoring his, and your, ledes.
The good people at First Weekenders Group, who support films directed by women by urging attendance in their oh-so-crucial first weekend of release, sent out this sobering news in their latest email.
We are in a crisis. This week as I sat to write this weekly email I was shocked and horrified that no woman-directed feature is listed from July-August in the coming releases section of many major online listings. This has not ever happened in the entire 4 years I have sent you this list.
This month, three documentaries directed [or codirected] by women are rolling out across the land: Imelda, The Corporation, and Control Room [which the cinetrix has now seen twice and heartily recommends]. Do try to squeeze them in around the 800-lb. gorilla, won't you? Then Mira Nair's Vanity Fair opens--on September 1.
The cinetrix can't even procrastinate like other people. See, she should be working on a longer piece about what the hell Saddam Hussein is doing in South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut and The Big Lebowski [aside from singing, breakdancing, dating Satan, and handing out bowling shoes, that is]. So she ambles over to the Guardian and finds this quiz, which promises to determine whether you're "a Coenhead or a bonehead" [remember, the cinetrix didn't write that groaner].
You scored 10 out of a possible 10
What we have here is a bona fide Coenhead, a fan who knows the movies inside out. Congratulations. Our questions are like bowling pins falling before your ferocious strike.
Fuuuuuuck. Again with the Dude. Guess I'd better get back to work.
The Big Lebowski: Are you employed, sir?
The Dude: Employed?
The Big Lebowski: You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?
The Dude: Is this a... what day is this?
The Big Lebowski: Well, I do work, sir, so if you don't mind.
The Dude: I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.
Screaming from the rooftops, well, one in particular, overlooking the Gowanus Canal this Friday, it's the first Rooftop Films program of 2004 in Brooklyn. The theme is home movies.
Friday, June 25th, 2004
8:30 - Live Music by Tom Warnick
9:00 - Movies remembered and mis-remembered
On the roof of The Old American Can Factory
232 Third Street, in the Gowanus Section of Park Slope, Brooklyn.
In the event of rain the show will be indoors at the same location.
Dress warmly (it's cooler on the roof than in the street).
In the last scene of the film, our heroine races into the stairwell. The final conflict looms, and she has two options: up to the roof or down to the street. She chooses the roof, because the rooftop represents her last refuge, her only hope of escape. And because rooftops are inherently cinematic.
Following her to the roof, we might find a lush garden or tarpaper, a pool or a watertower, a skyscraper party with river views or the heroine alone, climbing through the hatchway of the shortest building around. But we find that life is different on the roof. In a flash we can see distance and detail—look at how the church steeples line up with the bridge towers. We discover an abandoned playground on top of a temple. We're out in the open, but hidden from the life beneath us, both on the ground and inside the buildings. We can hop from house to house for miles perhaps, spying on the world below. We become voyeurs, catburglars, superheroes, suicide cases, pursued victims of horror films. Up here, life becomes a movie.
The cinetrix remembers fondly her rooftop access in Brooklyn years ago. And, until Friday, she's staying across from a roofdeck where a guy is keeping a rooster and chickens. On the Bowery. I know, it sounds like something from a movie. [Thanks to ...something slant for the literal heads-up.]
Every so often in little Spielbergian suburbs there's a sex scandal. You know, the neighbors figure out that the folks across the way are running a dungeon or profiting from some other kink on all-American fun. The cinetrix's personal favorite is the Paddleboro dust-up in Attleboro, MA, a few years back because, I mean, c'mon--Paddleboro? That's pretty great.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, last night the cinetrix and old pal and one-time coworker Slotcar oozed through oppressive humidity to Film Forum and took in a 70-odd [and I do mean odd] minute film Ingmar Bergman made for Swedish television in 1969 called Riten. Oh my.
The plot of this chamber piece is simple: three actors brought up on obscenity charges are interviewed--alone and in pairs--by some bureaucrat about the nature of their transgressive act. And it is just so great. So over-the-top. So inscrutable. As the actors, Ingrid Thulin, Anders Ek, and Gunnar Björnstrand are mesmerizingly solipsistic and startlingly raunchy. But they're in the theatre; of course they're twisted, right?
For the climax--hee--the actors perform the obscene act for the official in his chambers. It was a little anticlimatic, actually, which is not surprising given the build-up, but it features costumes you could just imagine being submitted as evidence in some suburban sex ring bust. Imagine the masquerade from Eyes Wide Shut with the same self-regarding ponderousness but also a frisson of real perversion.
What's it all supposed to mean? Ahh, who can say for sure? The Ritual [or The Rite] is a twisted little flick than leaves one wondering what else could have been on television in Sweden the night it first aired. Must-see TV, indeed.