The Plays of Eugene O’Neill: Beyond the Horizon

Though I did a report on him in high school, I have seen only one Eugene O’Neill play (A Moon for the Misbegotten) and read another (Long Day’s Journey Into Night).  While O’Neill productions are sadly not as numerous as they should be, I have decided to rectify this situation by renting movie or stage versions of O’Neill’s most important plays from Scarecrow Video, in the order in which he wrote them.

First up is Beyond the Horizon (written in 1918, opened on Broadway in 1920), which is O’Neill’s first full-length play and the play which won him his first of four Pulitzers — a feat that has yet to be equaled or surpassed by another American playwright.  Hal Holbrook and Geraldine Fitzgerald introduced the version I saw, the latter saying that when the play premiered, “[it] was hailed as the first true American tragedy.”  It even led one critic to declare, “Before O’Neill, we had theater.  After O’Neill, we have drama.”

It starts with a simple enough story, that of two brothers: Robert and Andy Mayo.  The former is a dreamer who is about to go away on a sea voyage with his uncle; the latter is a pragmatist who feels more at home on the family farm.  Yet Robert doesn’t want to leave just to see what is “beyond the horizon”: he is in love with Ruth Atkins, but believes that she loves his brother.  When she confesses to him that she really loves him, he decides to stay on the farm, while Andy decides to go to sea, in order not to get in their way.  Sadly, Robert is not cut out for farming, having had tuberculosis when younger and so lacking the physical frame or the head for farm business that his brother has.  In the meantime, Ruth decides that she actually loves Andy and tells Robert this, right before Andy is about to come home for a visit.  Andy, however, is no longer infatuated with Ruth, and his visit to the farm is cut short when a ship set for Buenos Aires is about to leave the following morning, where Andy has found some work prospects.  But then, Andy decides to get into speculating and blows most of his money, while Robert is dying of tuberculosis in the house in which his father, mother, and daughter have already died.

The play is split into three acts.  Act II takes place three years after Act I, and Act III five years after Act II (in the version I saw, Act I takes place in 1908, Act II in 1913, and Act III in 1918, which gives each act an even five years between them) .  What is interesting about this play (and its strength) is the complexity of emotions it weaves around its main characters, which involve what each of the characters knows and doesn’t know about the others.  James Mayo, Robert and Andy’s father, is angry at Andy when he decides to take Robert’s place on the ship because he knows his son is doing it because of Ruth, since Robert told them moments earlier that they both love each other and are going to get married.  Andy doesn’t know that Ruth still loves him and so is puzzled when Robert tells him not to mention the events in Act I which led to him leaving, which he now finds silly.  When he tells her not to worry about the silly feelings he used to have for her, he can’t understand her reaction, but we the audience do, and it makes it all the more tragic.  Finally, in Act III, Ruth tells Andy about their fight over him (in which she told Robert that she loved Andy), but she won’t tell Robert that she didn’t mean what she said, since she cannot lie to her husband.

Yes, there’s much melodrama in Act I, and yes, Ruth is not well-developed as a character when she is first introduced in that same act (she grows into one in Acts II and III), but this is still a really good play.  It certainly helped that the version I saw has an excellent cast, which hid faults that might have been more apparent had I the play to read in front of me.  Still, just as Shakespeare’s gift for language is evident even in his lesser plays, so O’Neill’s skill in handling dialogue (particularly vernacular) is apparent even here, as is his poetic way with language.

Next up: Anna Christie, which won O’Neill his second Pulitzer in 1922.  Unlike Beyond the Horizon, which only had one version to choose from, there are three adaptations of this play at Scarecrow: two movie versions with Garbo (one in English, one in German) and a silent film version.

Thoughts on LIFE ITSELF

I have now had a night to sleep on Life Itself.  I remember more of the film as I reflect on it, for much is covered in the film.  This review will not cover everything, just as the film did not cover every aspect of Roger Ebert’s life.  Yet I hope it will retain the essentials, as the film did.

Despite some pauses during the film when my slow-as-crap browser was having trouble streaming it, I have few things to complain about.  Indeed, the film addresses one of my main complaints about the book, which is that there isn’t enough information about Ebert’s relationship with Gene Siskel.  He got one chapter (and a lovely chapter, at that), a few mentions, and that’s it.  With this film, director Steve James is able to interview Marlene Iglitzen, Gene’s widow, as well as others who knew Siskel and Ebert, resulting in a better and more complete portrait of their complicated professional and personal relationship (and includes the clip where Siskel got angry at Ebert for giving Full Metal Jacket a thumbs down in the same program that he gave a thumbs up to Benji the Hunted).  Just as their relationship was the center of their careers, so it forms the center of the movie.   The viewer learns that Siskel was terrified every time their contracts came up for renewal that Ebert wouldn’t renew his, which would put him out of a job (one of the reasons he didn’t tell Buena Vista Television how sick he was when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor is that he didn’t want to be replaced on the show), and how incredibly happy he was when Ebert got married, because that meant he would have a mortgage and bills to pay and so would never leave the show.  Also, since the film can’t interview people who are dead, it spends more time covering those filmmakers whose careers Siskel and Ebert, or Ebert by himself, helped — a list that includes Martin Scorsese (executive producer of this film), Errol Morris, and Ramin Bahrani.  In this way, it makes the film more personal, and cuts out interesting stories in the memoir that gave great portraits of  famous people in Hollywood, but did not strengthen the reader’s understanding of Ebert.

I must mention his eyes.  Robbed of his ability to speak, Ebert speaks with his eyes in this film, where more is expressed than his computer voice, or the notes he scratches on his notepad, can provide.  They are often bright, happy, filled with joy and mirth, but sometimes –as when his throat is suctioned — they close in pain.  This is something the written word can convey only imperfectly, which shows that perhaps, for Ebert, a movie better conveys his life than a book can.  When he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ebert said,  “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.”  In this way, the film helps us empathize with Ebert in a way that a book cannot.

Of course, a movie just shy of two-hours can’t show everything, and so nothing is mentioned of Ebert’s stay in South Africa while in college, or much about his parents, or what happened to Ebert & Roeper after Ebert left (which probably would have added another half hour to the run time).  His childhood is likewise glossed over, though I got a better sense of him as the student editor of The Daily Illini than I did from his memoir, mainly due to the people in the film who remember him from his college days.  So what sense do we get of the man?  That he could be stubborn, but that his stubbornness may have been how he persevered through his multiple battles with cancer.  That marrying Chaz helped him to become a better person.  That he and Siskel were like brothers caught in a perpetual state of adolescence, who discovered only late in their relationship that they really did like each other.

The real question, however, is this: did James manage to show the man, apart from the movie critic?  Yes, in a way that isn’t revealed in the book.  Sure, Ebert bared his soul in his memoirs, but the problem with memoirs is that only one point of view is revealed, and it’s one that only one person shares, whereas in a biography or a documentary, many different viewpoints help flesh out the entire person, and since everyone except you sees you from the outside, these perspectives give a better portrait of who that person actually was, and how they appeared in life.  That is the treatment Ebert gets here, from fellow critics (Richard Corliss, A.O. Scott), directors (Werner Herzog, Gregory Nava, Ava DuVernay, plus the ones mentioned above), coworkers (John McHugh, Thea Flaum),  friends (Bill Nack, Bruce Elliot), and family (Chaz Ebert, Raven Evans), to name just a few.  We find out about his newspaper days, his drinking days, his TV show days, and his final days.  There are excerpts read from his memoir, there are quotes lifted from his reviews, there are clips shown from his TV appearances, and there are photos shared from private collections.  And, at the center of it all, there is Roger Ebert, who answers — one-at-a-time — the questions that James emails to him, until his final illness begins to overtake him, and his replies become short and sad, none more heartbreaking than his simple reply of “i can’t.  Cheers, R”

I cried two times during the film.  The first time was when Raven Evans, his step-granddaughter, tears up when talking about time spent with him.  The second time was at the end of the film, when I cried almost as hard as I did the day he died.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”  This film has revealed someone who lived that way: a man who had flaws and overcame the worst of them, had ambitions and met the greatest of them, had loves and shared the majority of them.

The Best Films I Saw in 2013

Last year, I did something a little different.  I wrote down all of the films that I saw in theaters and at home.  So, when deciding which films to highlight as the best of 2013, I actually have a list to go off of, which can be accessed here:  http://murmursfromthebalcony.wordpress.com/movies-and-series-watched-since-2013/

For the sake of my pics for best films of 2013, I am only including first-run films.  That means that some films from 2012 could make the list, if I saw them in 2013.  It also means that films I saw in 2014, but were released in 2013, won’t make the list.  Confusing enough for you?  Here we go.

15. Much Ado About Nothing (Josh Whedon)

A wonderful retelling of the Shakespearean play, done in modern times but in the original iambic pentameter.  A particularly good Beatrice from Amy Acker.

14. I Am Divine (Jeffrey Schwarz)

An exhaustive documentary about Harris Glenn Milstead, more commonly know as the performer known as Divine.  If there’s anything about Divine’s life that isn’t covered in this film, and isn’t covered with sensitivity, humor, pathos, or a combination of the three, I would be shocked.

13. Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling)

This wonderful documentary is about a married Japanese couple who live in New York City.  While the husband has had the more illustrious (or infamous) career as an avant-guard artist, it is the wife who is the more interesting person.  While she has previously lived for her husband’s work, she is a talented artist in her own right, with a series of paintings centered around Cutie, a fictionalized version of herself and her life with her husband.  They also have a son, and in a discussion I had after seeing this film, we agreed that he is the best artist in the film, combining the strengths of his father’s flashy style with his mother’s more assured technique.  A gem of a film.

12. What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee, David Siegel)

Much of this film’s success hinges on its young star (Onata Aprile); the rest is due to a great screenplay that keeps the movie focused on Maisie’s perspective while also clueing in the audience to connections that Maisie may not be aware of.  It doesn’t hurt that Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore, playing Maisie’s parents, are excellent in their roles, particularly Moore.

11. Blackbird (Jason Buxton)

This movie, about a boy who writes about killing several of his classmates and finds the adults in the community taking the threat more seriously than he intended it, is a good reminder that paranoia is an unhealthy state for society to be in.  And yet, the film is on this list because it doesn’t follow the formulaic route that it could have followed.  Instead, the movie stays true to this teenager’s personality, and the circumstances in which he finds himself, which leads to a much more satisfying, and personal, place than if it had concerned itself with the reaction of the town, rather than the person at the center.

10. Blancanieves (Pablo Berger)

An even better use of silent film techniques than The Artist, this film is a retelling of “Snow White,” except that the title character is the daughter of a once famous bullfighter, who is confined to a wheelchair after a horrible accident in the ring.  The evil queen is her stepmom, who is a bit of a sadomasochist, while the dwarves belong to a troupe of bullfighters.  Poignant, beautiful, and sad.

9. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)

Mads Mikkelsen stars as a man wrongfully accused of sexually molesting a child.  Unlike Blackbird, this film is entirely concerned with how paranoia and a series of wrong-headed decisions can lead to horrible behavior toward an innocent person thought guilty.  While some of his friends believe in his innocence, Mikkelsen’s character is treated as a pariah by most of the town.  Even long after his name should have been cleared, some people still treat him with suspicion.  Mikkelsen is excellent in this film, as is his young accuser, played by Annika Wedderkopp.

8. The Silence (Baran Bo Odar)

A girl is raped and murdered in a field.  The case remains unsolved, though the audience sees who the killer is, and who his accomplice is.  They are both pedophiles, though the accomplice has long suppressed his urges.  After the murder, Timo (the accomplice) freaks out and leaves the town, and Peer (the killer), behind.  23 years later, another girl is found dead in the same field.  Is it the same killer, and if it is, why has he killed again?  Now married with children, Timo secretly returns to the town to see if his “old friend” is responsible.  This great crime thriller shows how these crimes affect the characters involved, including the wife of the first child, the parents of the second child, a police detective who worked on the original case, and even the killers.  And yet the movie is really about people’s relationship with the past, and how it can destroy both those who wish to remember it, and those who wish to forget it.

7. Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

Another of several great documentaries I saw this year, this one deals with Tilikum, an orca whale who has killed three people since being placed into captivity, including an experienced trainer at SeaWorld.  The real story, however, is how the conditions into which these whales are thrust lead to situations which don’t benefit the whales or the humans.

6. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

Polley’s brilliant documentary about her mother starts dropping bombshells 30 minutes in, made all the more powerful by how matter-of-factly they arrive.  My family would never be this open about one of their own, and yet the film wouldn’t work if they weren’t.  Behind these stories is a deeper purpose: how we use stories to make sense of the people in our lives, knowing that these stories can never sum up an entire person’s essence, and realizing that some of them may not even be true.

5. The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt)

The best teen movie I’ve seen since Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything.  The first part of this film is about the burgeoning relationship between Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (the amazing Shailene Woodley); the second part delves into darker (and deeper) territory.  I felt like an emotional train wreck by the end of this film, and I mean that in the best possible way.

4. Horses of God (Nabil Ayouch)

I almost forgot to list this film, since I saw it as a screener, not in theaters.  I’m glad I remembered, for this film about two brothers and their friends growing up in Morocco is truly one of the best films of 2013.  Similar to City of God in its subject matter, but to tell you any more might spoil the film (as does IMDB’s listing of what the film is about).

3. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer)

The best documentary of the year, Joshua Oppenheimer’s film, in which gangsters responsible for a communist purge in Indonesia are asked to tell their story using various film genres, is a study in how ordinary people can justify committing unspeakable acts, until they are faced with the full impact of their actions.  More than any other film this year, this movie shows how powerful films can be, both for us and for its participants.

2. La Grande Bellezza (Paolo Sorrentino)

The Great Beauty (as it’s known in the U.S.) is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time, one in which the camera has complete freedom of movement.  This is as close to an epic film as I’ve seen all year and came within a hair’s breath of being my pick for the best film of 2013.  In style and substance, it reminds me of La Dolce Vita in how it tells its story through the lives of its characters (and through LIFE), but it also encompasses Rome, where these characters live, work, breathe, and party.  Tony Servillo, as the main character, has one of the most wonderfully expressive cinematic faces in history.  Except for some fake-ish looking CGI (used to create certain animals and in flashbacks), this film has no flaws worth mentioning.

1. Wolf Children (Mamoru Hosoda)

Narrated by her daughter, Wolf Children follows a young woman from her initial meeting of her husband through her struggle to raise her two kids (a girl and a boy), who like her husband are half-human, half-wolf.  The film deals with the struggles of adulthood and the growing pains of childhood, while the transformation sequences and movement of the wolves adds beauty and poetry to an already poignant film.  It’s animated, it’s in Japanese, and it’s brilliant.

Special Jury Prizes: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón) , Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)

Why these two films?  The first one for one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in a theater, one that hinges on a woman’s decision to give up and die or fight on and live, rather than hinging on a story; the other for one of the most honest portrayals of a relationship I’ve seen onscreen (minus sex scenes that went on a little too long and felt a bit staged) and the two best and most natural acting performances of the year (from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux).  Plus, both looked brilliant: the former in its use of 3D to heighten the claustrophobic feel of enclosed spaces within and the vastness of space without, the other to register every facial tick that its two main characters displayed.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Philomena, Short Term 12,  The World’s End

SIFF 2013 Wrap-Up

37 feature-length films.

16 shorts.

1 TV pilot.

6 parties.

Multiple Q & A’s.

Such was my experience at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

While SIFF 2013 ended five months ago, the films it showcased (276 features, plus shorts) will continue to trickle out until SIFF 2014 — if they’re lucky.  Others will be relegated to the forgotten scrap-heap of movie history, collecting dust until someone rediscovers them, or until they are buried forever.

In an effort to prevent the worthy films I saw from being relegated to that same scrap-heap, I have written these blog entries, starting with Press Screenings-Week One and ending with the one I am writing now.  In between are all the films I saw, most of the films I heard about, the guests I met, the parties I went to, and the adventures I had.

Now, as mentioned in Press Screenings-Week Two, I received a Fool Serious Ballot this year.  That ballot was turned in on Saturday, when the last official ballots were collected by SIFF for its Golden Space Needle Awards.  That meant that any films shown on the final day of the festival were not voted on.  The only films not eligible for Golden Space Needle Awards are the archival and secret festival films; the only films not eligible for the Fool Serious Ballot are the ones which didn’t play during the festival.  

There’s some strange mathematical formula that decides who wins the Golden Space Needle Awards, based not just on ballots, but on percentages, so that films with small audiences have as good a shot of winning as those with large ones.  There are also juries to decide some of the other awards, with the added bonus that the winner of each of the Shorts Categories are automatically eligible for Oscar consideration.  Here’s who won (I’ve starred the ones I saw during the festival):

Grand Jury Prizes

Best New Director: Emir Baigazin (Harmony Lessons)

Best Documentary: Our Nixon

Best New American Cinema: C.O.G.

Animated Short Film: Woody*

Documentary Short Film: Keep a Modest Head

Live Action Short Film: My Right Eye (The Apple of my Eye)

Youth Jury Award for Best FutureWave Feature: The Spectacular Now*

Youth Jury Award for Best Films4Families Feature: Ernest & Celestine

Wavemaker Award for Excellence in Youth Filmmaking: The Painted Girl

Special Jury Prize

Best Documentary: The Crash Reel

Animated Short Film: Malaria*

Animated Short Film: The Hunter*

Documentary Short Film: Today

Live Action Short Film: Mobile Homes

Live Action Short Film: Penny Dreadful

Live Action Short Film: Decimation

Youth Jury Award for Best FutureWave Feature: Blackbird*

Golden Space Needle Awards

Best Film: Fanie Fourie’s Lobola

Best Documentary: Twenty Feet from Stardom

Best Director: Nabil Ayouch, Horses of God*

Best Actor: James Cromwell, Still Mine

Best Actress: Samantha Morgan, Decoding Annie Parker

Best Short Film: Spooners

FutureWave Shorts Audience Award: Piece of Cake

Reel NW Award (presented by KCTS 9):  Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision (presented by Women in Film/Seattle): The Punk Singer

TheFilmSchool Prodigy Camp Scholarship: A Quest for Peace: Nonviolence Among Religions

For more information about the award winners, click here.

Now, a story about the Fool Serious Ballot: since I didn’t watch any films on Saturday, and since my friend was starving after the Industry Party (remember: they ran out of appetizers early on), we ended up driving to Capitol Hill so that I could turn in my ballot at the Egyptian Theatre (now sadly closed), and she could get something to eat.  There had been at least one person who had been collecting ballots at the Industry Party, but he didn’t announce himself, and I was unable to get his attention before he disappeared.  Showing up at the Egyptian, I ran into some other people with ballots, and one guy who knew where they needed to be dropped off.  With mine, I had included a self-addressed stamped envelope, along with $1, in order to have my personal results mailed to me (which is different from the award results).  The other option was to go to the Fool Serious party the following month and pick up the results there.  As for food, I would highly recommend the Lost Lake Cafe & Lounge, particularly if you’re looking for places whose kitchens are open late (and serve delicious food).

Just as Fool Serious ballots are collected on the final day that Golden Space Needle ballots are collected, Fool Serious Award winners are decided the same day as the Golden Space Needle winners, with the results passed around on Sunday.  So, when I went to see Phase IV, I received a sheet of paper with the results.  The most liked films were (in order) Secret Festival #2, The Hunt, Still Mine, Circles, Two Lives, A Hijacking, The Attack, Muscle Shoals, Key of Life, and In the Shadow.  Of the films listed, I only saw The Hunt, which is a really good film.  I told Beth Barrett (Director of Programming) that, because Secret Festival #2 got the highest number of votes, we would never know what film won that year.  

“Yes,” she laughed, then paused.  “But it was really good.”

The least liked films (from most-least liked to least-least liked) were Eden*, Together, Interior. Leather Bar., Dog Flesh, I Used to Be Darker, Teddy Bears, Last Flight to Abuja, Crystal Fairy, Youth, and Improvement Club.  I saw none of those films.  The top documentaries were The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Stories We Tell, The Last Ocean, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story.  I saw Stories We Tell after festival, which is outstanding.  All the rest (except the Muhammad Ali doc) were films I wanted to see, but missed.  Top archival presentations were Safety Last!, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Richard III, and A Man Vanishes.  I wasn’t as impressed with Safety Last! as I thought I’d be, but I did enjoy it, as I did Richard III and A Man Vanishes.  If Phase IV had been shown any other day of the festival besides Sunday, I’m sure it would have been up there, as well.

In addition to most and least liked films, the Fools voted on films  in the style of the Golden Space Needle Awards.  These results are below (note: the results only listed the movie titles, so I have provided the names of the people involved, where appropriate):

Best Director: Nabil Ayouch, Horses of God

Best Cinematographer: Florent Herry, Jin

Best Script: Laure Gasparotto, Gilles Legrand, Delphine de Vigan, You Will Be My Son

Best Music: Various, Twenty Feet From Stardom

Best Actor: Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt

Best Actress: Martina Gedeck, The Wall

Best “Guilty Pleasure”: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Now then, the Fool Serious Ballot operates on an entirely different scale from the Golden Space Needle ballots.  While the latter involves a 1 to 5 scale, 1 being awful and 5 being awesome, the Fools rate films on a 1 to 9 scale, with 1 being the absolute best film seen at the Festival, and 9 being the least liked.  Here, then, are my rankings:

Least Liked (9): A Teacher

Not the worst film I’ve ever seen, but bad on so many levels, with the biggest fault being a lead character that didn’t lend herself to empathy, but merely disgust.

Way Below Average (8):  N/A

Below Average (7): Ripples of Desire, Two Weddings and a Funeral, Yellow

Yellow is the worst of these, Two Weddings and a Funeral is stereotypical and clichéd, and Ripples of Desire isn’t very original in its characters or situations.

Average (6): Augustine, Dirty Wars, Fatal, The Human Scale

All these films fell just short of being good.

Above Average (5): Capturing Dad, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, The Girl With Nine Wigs, Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Her Aim is True, Imagine, Ludwig II, Safety Last!, Short Stories, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, (Phase IV)

Films of varying quality, with some of the above average films being good, and some being just above average.  I put Phase IV in parentheses because this is the rating I would have given it, if ballots hadn’t been closed by then.  My favorites of this bunch are probably Capturing Dad, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, The Girl With Nine Wigs, Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Her Aim is True, Safety Last!, and Phase IV, but even those films cover a wide range of quality and likability.

Great (4): After Winter, Spring; In the Fog; Inch’Allah; Inequality for All; A Man Vanishes; Much Ado About Nothing; Richard III; Short Term 12; The Summit 

All great films, though some I enjoyed more than others.  A Man Vanishes, for example, took some time to really take off, and In the Fog requires one to be in a certain mood, as the pacing is deliberate.

And now we get to my top films of the festival, starting with –

Truly Great (3): Blackbird, Blackfish, Horses of God, The Hunt, The Spectacular Now, What Maisie Knew

Of the ones listed here, The Spectacular Now would be at the top of the list, with Horses of God not far behind.  After that, take your pick.  These are all truly great films.

Almost Best (2): The Act of Killing

For a while, I wondered if any film I saw at the festival would equal or surpass this one.  A mind-blowing documentary that forces regular men to view their crimes through a movie lens.  Just astonishing.

Absolute Best (1): Wolf Children

The antithesis of The Act of Killing.  Whereas the latter is a live-action documentary about old men, the former is an animated fantasy film about children.  If The Act of Killing is an eye-opener into how evil truly operates, Wolf Children reaffirms the beauty of life.  I admire The Act of Killing, but I love Wolf Children.

Below are my picks for the Fool Serious Awards:

Best Director: Mamoru Hosoda, Wolf Children

It was the best film I saw at the festival, so it made sense that its director would be my pick for best director.  James Ponsoldt, director of The Spectacular Now, would also have been a good choice.

Best Cinematographer: Oleg Mutu, In the Fog

The lighting in this film made me want to move to Eastern Europe, or at least take my camera there.

Best Script: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, What Maisie Knew

Not only did the writers update a Henry James novel to modern times; they kept the same limited perspective on what Maisie notices, and were able to make a cohesive story around it, so that the audience infers more than Maisie does.

Best Music: Wolf Children

I didn’t see Twenty Feet from Stardom until after the festival, and all the other music-centric movies passed me by.  Therefore, I chose this film, which has quite a beautiful soundtrack.

Best Actor: Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt

Mikkelsen is a great actor, and he proves it in this film.  The scene where he breaks down in the church pew is incredible, not least because he’s not acting opposite anyone, but is alone in his grief.

Best Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now

This was a tough category.  I almost went with Onata Aprile (Maisie), since she had to carry the entire movie, but Woodley impressed me in The Descendents, and here she plays a completely different and natural teenage girl.  She’s so good, you never catch her acting.

Best “Guilty Pleasure”: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a joyful film, and the characters are so earnest in their roles that even nods to “Our Great Leader” left me smiling, instead of repulsed.  It’s impossible to hate, even though much of it is ridiculous.

Final Thoughts

This was the second year I worked the festival  (though the first doing press screenings) and my fourth year overall (I volunteered the first two years).  When the festival ends, many of the temporary staff leave for other festivals, but this year we also said goodbye to two long-time staff members.  Deborah Person’s last SIFF as Managing Director was Mary Bacarella’s first, while Holden Payne left the Cinema Manager position to work for Sundance.  Both staff members had been there for years, though I believe Holden wasn’t cinema manager until my second year volunteering.

And now, some personal thank yous are in order:

To Beth Barrett, Director of Programming, for emailing me the entire text of Joshua Oppenheimer’s letter, which Beth read before each screening of The Act of Killing.

To Dan Doody, Programmer, for confirming the name of the Shortsfest Opening Night guest as being Neil Dvorak (for “Overture”).

To Phoebe Hopkins, Special Events Manager, for outdoing herself this year with the quality of the parties.

To my partners-in-crime during the press screenings, including the passholders.  It was a joy to work with/serve you!

To the volunteers, who pulled off what many long-timers have said is the most smoothly run festival they’ve seen.

To everyone else who helped make this festival a success, including everyone working in the SIFF offices, the floor staff, the sponsors, the venues, the guests, and the audiences.

And finally, to the two people most responsible for these blog entries.  I always enjoyed reading Roger Ebert’s coverage of the major film festivals, including Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance.  Some of his Far-Flung Correspondents lived in areas where they could cover other festivals, yet none of them lived in Seattle.  So, when I first came to Seattle and decided to volunteer for the film festival, I  decided to write about my festival experience on my blog.  In addition to Roger’s correspondences from film festivals, I relied on the blog of someone who would later become one of the FFCs, Grace Wang, who had reported on films at the Toronto Film Festival, which is how Roger discovered her, and how I discovered her through him.  In fact, during my first Seattle International Film Festival, I made sure to see City of Life and Death due to her review of the film.

Over four festivals, I’ve changed how I reported on it, deciding on a different template each year.  This year was probably the closest to Roger’s (and his contributors) format, in that I mentioned a short blurb about the films I had seen, while expanding those blurbs for films that I thought were interesting or worthy of being highlighted.  Still, the only thing I directly copied from his influence, and from Grace’s, was in covering a film festival.

As mentioned in my first post about the festival proper, this year’s posts are dedicated to Roger Ebert.  I hope he would have been proud of me.

Until next year!

SIFF 2013: Week Three, Part Two

Thursday, June 6

The last press screenings of the festival were Test, Invader, and Last Flight to Abuja.  Of more interest was the photo taken with the Fools in Theater 1, wearing our Hawaiian shirts (since this was also the last Aloha Thursday of the festival), and the amount of gratitude we received from the press screening attendees, who had been instructed all week to show their appreciation to us on Thursday.  We gave it back to them by applauding as they came out of the last press screening and yelling, “Thank you, guys!” from behind the counter.  Press screenings are definitely the way to go if you’re going to work the festival.

Tonight was a double-header at Pacific Place: the Taiwanese period-costume piece Ripples of Desire and the brutal South Korean film Fatal.  The former film was unique for three reasons: it is the first period drama from Taiwan in fifteen years, this showing marked its North American premiere, and it was introduced by one of the sponsors of the film, rather than by a SIFF staffer (who introduced him).  The sponsor was the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle, and the person who introduced the film was its Director-General, Chin Hsing (who also goes by the name Andy Chin).

Unfortunately, fifteen years was too short of a wait.  Not that Ripples of Desire is a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good one.  The film follows two sisters who entertain as courtesans, until one of them discovers that she has leprosy, and then takes pains to hide it from the matron.  Like in most cases, the problem is with the story (the how, not the why).  I may be too far removed from the film to go into specifics, but I remember nothing particularly memorable about the film, except that it looked pretty (and even then, the cinematography wasn’t stunning).  I also felt that its characters were too archetypal, rather than living, breathing human beings.  Luckily, the film is less than two hours in length, but it felt longer.

Fatal is everything that Ripples of Desire is not.  Its main character is male, it is very low-budget (the director shot it for $3,000 in 10 days), it takes place in the present, and — until its climax — it is a better film.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.  It’s North American Premiere took place during press screenings, making this screening only the third one on the continent. (Warning: STRONG SPOILERS AHEAD, since any discussion of the film must involve discussing its ending.)

The film starts with a gang rape of a girl (who we don’t see) by a group of 18-year-old boys.  We’re not sure if the last boy participates in the rape or not.  He is seen going into the room, but not what happens afterwards.  Of all the boys, only he feels that what they are doing is wrong.

His name is Sung-gong (Nam Yeon-woo), and he grows up to feel overwhelming guilt over what happened.  Ten years after the rape, he ends up joining a church, where he finally feels some sense of peace.  He soon discovers, however, that the victim of that attack attends the same church.  Her name is Jang-mi (Yang Jo-a), and while she doesn’t recognize Sung-gong, he recognizes her.

The first half of the film deals with their becoming friends, as Sung-gong even quits his job so as to work at the coffee shop where Jang-mi works.  From this first half, we can tell that Jang-mi is still scarred by her encounter (she shrivels up when walking past a group of Korean boys, who Sung-gong then “saves” her from).  We also can tell that Sung-gong is a bit simple, which helps explain his transformation in the last half of the film.  Unable to ask for forgiveness from Jang-mi, and worried that she will find out that he was one of the boys involved, we are treated to various fantasy sequences of his, including his former classmates asking for his forgiveness for their crime, and Jang-mi telling him that she knows who he is, but doesn’t care.

The climax occurs when the church members go on a retreat and are asked to reveal their deepest sin.  Even as Sung-gong is hesitant to talk about the rape and how that has affected his behavior toward Jang-mi, Jang-mi talks about the event and how she wanted to die afterwards, and how she wished death on her attackers.  This spurs Sung-gong into action, and it’s where the film turns into a Charles Bronson movie.

The more I’ve thought about Fatal, the more I wonder if my objections are justified.  Based on who Sung-gong is, we can expect nothing but a primal emotional reaction to Jang-mi’s outburst.  Plus, he is not innocent, himself.  After he confronts the ringleader of that band of boys, a flashback reveals that he, too, participated in the rape.  This is why, once he has killed all of the people responsible for the rape, he must kill himself.  Even sadder, Jang-mi never suspects what he did, for while we hear the report on her TV of the horrible murders that he committed, she does not connect them to her gentle friend, who has gone missing.  Therefore, while I would’ve preferred a more complex reaction to Jang-mi’s outburst that revenge, as that solution seems too simple, perhaps Sung-gong was incapable of such a reaction, though it would have made the climax of the film as nuanced as the rest of the movie.

66. The translator, Lee Don-ku, and Arianne share a lighthearted moment outside the theater

Lee Don-ku’s translator, director Lee Don-ku, and SIFF Film Center Education Coordinator Arianne Garden Vazquez in front of a poster for Lee Don-ku’s film

Arianne led the Q & A with director Lee Don-ku, who spoke through a translator (I do wish translators would be given credit for their invaluable contributions on SIFF’s website — maybe their names are included in the press releases?).  While it was shot for $3,000 in ten days (and is Lee’s first film), it took him six months to write.  He only had one camera, one microphone for audio, and a small staff to shoot the film, casting his acting colleague friends in all the roles.  He originally came up with the idea for the film when a rape occurred in South Korea in which the accused was given a light sentence.  To get the look of the film, he watched many other films.  Also, he never thought about making the story happy.  He has another film coming out in October, in which he said the whole family will die.  Not sure if he was saying that tongue-in-cheek or not.

Friday, June 7

I saw two screeners this afternoon: Horses of God and Short Stories.  Horses of God is the better film of the two, and one of the best films of the festival.  It follows three boys, two of whom are brothers, who grow up near Casablanca, Morocco.  To tell you more of the story might ruin it for you, but it reminded me of another great film about young boys growing up in a crime-filled neighborhood: the great City of God.  It had its U.S. Premiere at the festival, so let’s hope it is shown in other markets across the U.S.  A marvelous film from director Nabil Ayouch.

Short Stories is a bizarre film made up of five different stories, taken from a collection of short stories which is rejected at the beginning of the film.  The most memorable of the stories are the first, which involves an event planner who plans a wedding for a couple, then their divorce, and finally their deaths; the fourth, which involves a woman who is called upon to find lost children, quoting lines of Pushkin as she searches for them, but spontaneously combusts when the lost girl in question burns a book by Pushkin to stay warm; and the fifth story, which involves a romance between an older man and a younger woman, who see each other in traffic and begin a torrid romance, eventually undone by the woman’s lack of knowledge of Russia’s past.  This includes a scene in which the man uses his hand and fingers to bring her to orgasm in his car, while she answers questions about Russia’s political history.  She is about to go down on him, when her incorrect answer to a question makes him lose interest.  Not a scene you soon forget.  A decent film, but not as great as the hype surrounding it had led me to believe.  It received its North American premiere at SIFF, and is director Mikhail Segal’s first major film.  You can see the whole thing here (with English subtitles): http://vimeo.com/52569678

68

Dan Doody, director Kieran Darcy-Smith, actress Felicity Price

Since the Lillian Gish vehicle The Wind was on its way to selling out, I decided to see the Australian thriller Wish You Were Here at the Egyptian Theatre.  Dan Doody introduced the film with the help of its director, Kieran Darcy-Smith, and his wife (and actress in the film) Felicity Price.  A film that went on a bit too long before its payoff, it deals with two couples: Alice and Dave Flannery (Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton), and Steph McKinney and Jeremy King (Teresa Palmer, Antony Starr).  Jeremy is Steph’s boyfriend, and Steph is Alice’s sister.  On vacation in Thailand, Jeremy goes missing.  While the Feds are interested in possible drug connections that Jeremy may have had, Dave seems to know more about Jeremy’s disappearance than he lets on.  A decent film, but the suspense could have been ratcheted up more, as there wasn’t always enough drama present to justify a full-length movie on the subject, even if the true subject of the film is relationships (which came up during the Q & A).

After the film was over, Darcy-Smith and Price answered questions from Doody and the audience.  Among the highlights:

  • Inspired by a true story, Price came up with the idea for the film and brought it to her husband’s attention.  In the true story, one of their friends went with his/her partner to Thailand with another couple.  Like in the movie, the man from the other couple disappeared.
  • They made the film because they wanted to explore the life of younger parents — people who are juggling young kids while still wanting to go out and party.
  • It took four years to write the script.  Price had two children in the process.
  • The tenth draft was the one that was shot.  In the original draft, the audience never found out what happened to Jeremy.
  • The film was shot over a period of three weeks in Sydney (with breaks for Christmas), ten days in Cambodia, and then back to Sydney for the rest of the shoot.
  • While it premiered in Cannes in 2012, its opening was held off until Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby opened.

Saturday, June 8

I took the day off from movies today, which allowed me to attend a friend’s birthday party.  I also went to the Industry Party at the W Hotel with one of my friends (who later would accompany me to the Closing Night Gala).  Unfortunately, the appetizers ran out early, and most of the people there were there to schmooze and talk business, though I did have a nice conversation with one of the people who worked on SIFF’s new website.  Plus, there was no dancing.  How can you call it a party when there’s no dancing?!

69. Industry Party at the W 70

Sunday, June 9

On the final day of the festival, my schedule of movies kept changing.  Eventually, I decided to see only one film, in order to conserve my energy for the Closing Night Gala and the Super Secret Staff Party.

That film was an archival print (35 mm!  Woohoo!) of Saul Bass’s only film as a director: Phase IV.  It deals with ants who, due to an astrological event, suddenly begin to evolve.  Two scientists (Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport) go out to the desert to study these ants, who attack a family who lives nearby.  The only survivor of that family, Kendra Eldridge (Lynne Frederick), is rescued by the scientists, but then the ants begin to target them.

The film was introduced by Sean Guthrie (and since I can’t find out any other information on him, I hope I spelled his name right), who talked about the restoration and the original ending, which was never seen in theaters.  That ending was found last summer (Bass’s family donated over 2700 items to the Academy when he died in 1996), and Paramount had the original color elements in their archives.  So, the original movie was shown on film, then there was a short break while the projectors were changed, and then the original ending was shown on DCP.  This gave me the best chance possible to compare film and DCP.  My conclusion is that the film actually looked a little cleaner than the DCP ending, but –when done well — there’s no reason why DCP can’t look as good as film.  And the original ending plays like a famous Saul Bass movie title (very 2001, in that regard).  While the ending that Paramount forced on Bass may make more sense, his original ending is the most Saul Bass thing about the movie, and is more poetic.

The Closing Night Gala was at the MOHAI this year, which opened December of last year in its current location on Lake Union (before that, it was located in Montlake).  It was a beautiful day, if a bit chilly, as these shots show:

72. In front of the MOHAI

In front of the MOHAI

75. Lake Union

Lake Union

76. The footbridge

The footbridge

78. The MOHAI 77. A gaggle of geeseI went with one of my friends and met others there.  We got there early, so we just wandered around before sitting and waiting for other people to show up.  It also meant that we had first dibs on food.

The building itself is gorgeous, and I found the exhibits (which were open, so long as you didn’t bring food or drink in the galleries) to be much more fascinating than I thought they would be.  I’m definitely coming back here for a First Thursday event.

82 79. Closing Night Gala There are two things I’d like to share about the Closing Night Ceremony.  First of all, the DJ was bad.  He seemed to be more interested in how cool his playlist was than in the fact that no one wanted to dance to it.  Only when he played Michael Jackson or other pop songs (mainly from the movie Twenty Feet From Stardom) did large numbers of people get on the dance floor.  Contrast that with the Opening Night DJ, who really got the crowd in a dancing mood.

The second thing I’d like to share was one of the sweetest episodes I’ve encountered at the festival.  One of the women who was dancing to most of the songs had her shoes off for much of that time.  I’m not sure if she was even old enough to drink, but she was having a lot of fun dancing with her friends, and even pulled my friend over to dance with her.  At the end of the night, I saw her and told her she was a good dancer.  She looked at me for a second, and then raised her fingers to her lips and made the sign for “thank you.”  Only then did I realize that she was deaf.  And here’s my point: it didn’t matter.  In that setting, she was just a person having fun at a party.

After the Closing Night Gala, it was once again time to go to the Super Secret Staff Party.  Never again will I take off my badge at that party, for when I went to collect it at the end of the night, along with my other things, I found that it was gone. I then went to the Super Super Secret Staff After Party, which ended up being not as exciting, and which I left soon after arriving (and got a ride home, too).

As for the mystery of my badge?  Well, that wasn’t fully revealed until a week later.  I sent out an email about it as soon as I got home, and I had a response by Tuesday that someone had found it on the street.  Normally that night is when the Kickball Game is played between Ops and Artistic, but I decided not to go, and the person who had it said she probably wouldn’t be there, anyway.

Fast forward to Industry Night on Monday the 17th (not to be confused with the Industry Party).  We at SIFF were saying goodbye to one of our coworkers, when someone I hadn’t met before came in and told me the story of my badge.  Apparently, she had been having such a good time at the Staff Party that she had worn my badge by mistake.  When she realized it wasn’t hers, she took it off and threw it in the street.  Later, when reading my email, she went back to where she had tossed it, and it was still there!  Since I had made a big fuss about also losing my Kyle MacLachlan ticket with it, she gave both of them back to me, in a frame:

85. My festival badge -- found and framedA fitting epilogue, if there ever was one, to another great Seattle International Film Festival.

Next week: SIFF 2013 wrap-up!

SIFF 2013: Week Three, Part One

Monday, June 3

First up, press screenings.  Today’s were Horses of God, The Forgotten Kingdom, and The Plague.  You’ll be hearing more about Horses of God in my next post, for my coworker raved so much about it that I had my manager grab a screener for me (I could have seen it during its festival run, had I known that another show I wanted to see on Friday was going to sell out).

Another film I heard good buzz about was Short Term 12.  The film takes place at a foster care facility for troubled youth.  We start with Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) telling a funny story to his fellow staffers about what happened to him one time he followed a kid who had escaped from the facility.  The staff includes Nate (Rami Malek), a new staff member who is learning the difference between studying about working in this type of facility and actually working there.  Also on staff is Grace (Brie Larson), who Mason is dating, though they are trying to keep it a secret from the foster children.  Among the foster kids, there is Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who is about to age out of the program, and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a troubled youth who has been taken in as a favor to her father.

What is remarkable about this movie is how observant and honest it is about its characters.  What could have come across as character clichés in a lesser movie sprout organically from the characters in this one.  Particularly noteworthy are the two leads, Larson and Dever, though one shouldn’t overlook Gallagher, Jr., whose character must be the anchor for Grace, even when her past experiences make her want to retreat from Mason.  Their relationship is dealt with honestly, as it is neither perfect nor a complete disaster, but somewhere in between — much like real relationships are.  And then we have a rap that Marcus composes as he’s about to leave foster care, which gives another human moment to a film that’s filled with them.  In this and in other ways, this film is an unexpected delight.

52. Clinton with SHORT TERM 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton and actress Kaitlyn Dever

Once the credits began rolling, the house lights came up and SIFF Cinema Programmer Clinton McClung began a Q & A session with director Destin Cretton and actress Kaitlyn Dever.  Cretton actually worked in a facility similar to the one shown in the film and assured us that he said more stupid things there than Nate did.

This film is based on Cretton’s thesis project (also called Short Term 12, but with a run time of 22-minutes).  Up to that point, his films had always been rejected by Sundance.  Not only was his thesis project accepted, it went on to win the Jury Prize in Short Fillmmaking in 2009.   According to Cretton, the part of Jayden was the most difficult role to cast.  The actresses who auditioned for the role had to freak out by themselves in a chair.  For Dever, this was her first role doing drama.  Previously, she had done work in comedies, most recently in the TV show Last Man Standing.

Two questions from the audience are worth mentioning here.  One asked who wrote the rap that Marcus reads.  Cretton said he wrote the first draft, then Stanfield “made it cool.”  The second one was asked by a member of the audience who was pointed out by Cretton as being Andrew Bowser, the director of Worm, which had its world premiere during the festival (and, I was told, is an amazing film).  His question was how much rehearsal did the actors do.  Cretton answered that he had a counselor come in and teach the actors what kinds of restraints to use when dealing with troubled youth.  For Larson, they did read-throughs of Grace’s scenes, which only took one day.  The shoot itself took twenty days, and in an effort to have the cast bond more, everyone stayed in rooms, instead of in trailers.  They also bonded offset, acting more like a family around each other than actors working on a film.

The film has already had its regular run in Seattle, but if the film is playing near where you live, it’s worth checking out: http://shortterm12.com/

53. The reserved signs for An Evening with Kyle MacLachlan

The second event of the night was An Evening with Kyle MacLachlan.  I had bought my ticket for that event the first day of the festival, as it sold out, and — unlike with most films showing at SIFF — I could not use my badge to get in.  Because I was already at the theater, I just had to grab some dinner after Short Term 12 and then jump in line for the main event.  As a result, I scored an excellent seat.

Carl Spence, SIFF’s Artistic Director, introduced MacLachlan, mentioning that he is a native of Yakima County, went to Eisenhower High School, graduated from the University of Washington, and got his first role (the lead in Lynch’s adaptation of Dune) while living in Seattle.  Besides Dune, he has starred in Blue Velvet, The Hidden, Twin Peaks (for which he won a Golden Globe and received 2 Emmy nominations), The Doors, The Flintstones, and Showgirls.  He also directed an episode of Tales from the Crypt.

Then MacLachlan walked down the aisle and got onstage, where friend Eric Dunham gave him the Seattle International Film Festival Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting.

56. Kyle admires his Golden Space Needle Award

The Q & A followed, moderated by David Poland.  Even though the Q & A was nearly as long as the one I attended with Edward Norton, it seemed shorter, as Poland kept the pace moving and the clips coming.  It also helped having it before the Twin Peaks series premiere, as we hadn’t already been sitting for two hours before the interview began, like we had when Leaves of Grass played before Norton’s Q & A.

First, Poland asked about MacLachlan’s student days.  MacLachlan admitted that while UW was a good school, “I was not a good student.”  Luckily, UW is where he took his first acting class, then another.  Eventually, he decided that’s what he wanted to do and joined an acting program with 13 other students.  The first year, he played Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Ashland.

It was while living at his campus apartment at 42nd and Brooklyn that he got a call that David Lynch was looking for someone to play Paul in Dune.  He knew of the director, having watched a midnight showing of Eraserhead at the Neptune Theatre.  After getting the role, and during dinner with Lynch, he was pitched the idea for Blue Velvet.  His mother didn’t like it, but he told her, “Mom, it’ll be okay.”

In both that film, and later in Twin Peaks, he performed a version of David Lynch.  Watch for whenever he clasps his hands and says “Sandy” in Blue Velvet, or when he does the same thing while saying “Sheriff” in Twin Peaks.  Lynch is a Midwesterner (from Montana, to be exact), so there is a folksy quality about him.  When he was directing MacLachlan in Blue Velvet and Jeffrey’s lines contained swears in them (which Lynch had written), Lynch wouldn’t say the swears out loud.  Also, unlike Lynch’s awesome hair, MacLachlan says his hair never works in his films.  The closest it came to working was in Twin Peaks.

Blue Velvet has the distinction of getting the worst cards from critics, back when all movies were screened for them before being released in theaters.  But then Pauline Kael gave it a good review, which helped it attain its eventual cult status.  MacLachlan wasn’t so lucky with some of his other films.  He said that New Line Cinema didn’t know how to sell The Hidden, which is why the movie has remained hidden from most people’s watch lists.

57. Talk with David Poland

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • MacLachlan wanted to be Tom Cruise, but he always got pegged as the odd guy, even though he tried not to be.
  • He tried out for the Charlie Sheen role in Platoon, but he didn’t like what the character does at the end of the film.  At an awards event, he gave Stone an award for the film.  While accepting the award, Stone leaned over and said to him, “And you turned it down.”
  • Ray Manzarek (who MacLachlan played in The Doors) was very kind to him during the making of that movie.  The lights weren’t so kind.  In one scene, they were so hot that they began melting the piano keys, and Val Kilmer was floating up toward them, saying, “Get me down.”
  • MacLachlan was cast in Some Kind of Wonderful, but John Hughes fired everyone but the two leads when he decided to make the script darker.
  • Paul Verhoeven and Joel Eszterhas thought they were making a hard-hitting exposé of Las Vegas when they made Showgirls.  When MacLachlan saw the first screening, however, he kept thinking, “Oh my God.”  Even before he appeared onscreen, he kept thinking, “Oh my God.”  Then he saw the pool screen — “Oh my God.”  Though all the stars were supposed to show up for a Q & A session afterwards, he gave some excuse and blew it off.
  • The “famous pool sex scene” was exhausting to shoot.  MacLachlan had to spend 12 hours in the water and held on to Elizabeth Berkeley super tight so that she wouldn’t fly off his lap (he was sitting on a ladder).
  • David Lynch decided to do network TV because you “have to do this, it’s anarchy.”  Originally, Twin Peaks was a mid-season replacement on ABC.
  • MacLachlan was 29-30 years old when he did the show, with the pilot being shot like an indie film (23-24 day shoot).  Though he was immensely popular as Dale Cooper, he never had to worry about hordes of fans surrounding him — except in Poland.

58. Kyle takes a question from a fan

After Poland finished his talk with MacLachlan, they took questions from the audience.  Here are some interesting tidbits gleaned from those exchanges.

  • Rob Schneider and David Spade wrote the Twin Peaks spoof on SNL, which was performed on Chris Rock and Chris Farley’s debut show.
  • Cast members knew Twin Peaks was in trouble when the cast credits went on for half the show.
  • During the second season, Lynch and Mark Frost wanted to do other projects, and the writers who were brought in during that time didn’t really understand the mood of the show.  Whenever Lynch came back to direct an episode, he would rearrange scenes, tear up parts of the script, and the cast would cheer, saying, “Yeah!  We’re taking it back.”  But then he would leave, and the show’s quality would suffer again.
  • Diane Lane uses sing-song words when directing.  In that sense, she is a bit like Lynch as a director.
  • One person asked how the TV show of Twin Peaks and the movie are different.  “Well, we had David Bowie [for the movie],” MacLachlan answered.
  • MacLachlan is honored to have fan groups, though the person who asked him that question reminded me that the word “fan” is “fanatic.”

Also, the manager who I work with for the press screenings found out where MacLachlan was heading after the tribute and told her friends about it.  They ended up getting their pictures taken with him.

As for the Twin Peaks pilot, it still holds up.  Of course, the really strange, creepy stuff happens later in the series.  In the first episode, the show looked fairly normal, though how they got away with showing Dr. Jacoby fingering his hulu girl doll while talking about Laura Palmer is one mystery the show never solved.

Tuesday, June 4

Press screenings today were Wish You Were Here, Ali, and Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington.  I would end up seeing Wish You Were Here later in the week, but did not see the others.

Tonight I saw my most anticipated film of the festival, which I had first read about on my friend Seongyong Cho’s blogThe Hunt stars Mads Mikkelsen as a man falsely accused of molesting a child.  Because we in the audience knows he is not guilty, the film is a study of the paranoia that can occur when well-meaning people condemn the innocent before they are proven guilty.  Unfortunately, this was the only film in which I had to take a bathroom break during its run-time.  I also had to shush an older man whispering a little too loudly next to me.  I thought I heard him respond by saying, “Fuck you.”  No, I thought, I must have misheard him.  But then he raised his voice again, and I shushed him again, and twice more he said, “Fuck you,” under his breath.  So now, I’m sitting in the theater, my concentration is only half on the movie, and the other half is daring this guy to swear at me again, so that I can show him my staff badge and escort him out of the theater.  Luckily for both of us, he remained silent for the rest of the film, but I was fuming for several minutes afterwards.  Still, the movie is great, and Mikkelsen gives an excellent performance as the persecuted man, as does Annika Wedderkopp as his accuser, who instantly regrets her lie, but finds herself unable to take back the damage it has caused.  A difficult film to watch, as it shows the worst in us, but a cautionary tale we would all do well to heed.

Wednesday, June 5

Again, I did not watch any of the press screenings today, which were Clutter, Comrade President, and Last I Heard.  I did watch one of the more interesting movies at night, which was also the first Japanese film I’ve attended where someone from Japan showed up — in this case, the director, Ryota Nakano.  Capturing Dad is his debut feature film, which was making its North American debut at the festival.  There is a story — that of two girls (Erisa Yanagi, Nanoka Matsubara) sent by their mother (Makiko Watanabe) to take a photo of their dying estranged father (Satoshi Nikaido) so that she can laugh in his face — yet the film is really more interested in its characters than its plot.  A humorous, touching, and altogether original film that I remember more for its gentle touch and unexpected humor than for anything else.  Nakano is certainly a director to watch.

The translator, Ryota Nakano, and Deborah Person

After the film, Deborah Person (outgoing Managing Director) conducted a Q & A with Nakano.  Concerning casting, the younger sister in the film (Nanoka Matsubara) acted in the first film Nakano made (a short), while the other two actresses auditioned for their parts.  Unlike her counterpart in the film, Matsubara actually hates tuna!  The film was shot in Shizuoka, and the title in Japanese (Chi chi o tori ni) is a bit of a play on words, as “chi chi” can mean both “dad” and the sound that a breast makes.  On a serious note, Nakano lost his father when he was six years old.  While the film was invited to the Berlin Film Festival, there are no other showings planned for North American, which is a shame.

62. Gay-La at the Q Lounge

Then it was time for another party, this one the Gay-La.  Last year it was held at The Lobby Bar.  This year, while still in Capitol Hill, it was held at the Q-Lounge, which was a larger space with an actual dance floor.  It also had an O-shaped (or Q-shaped?) bar.

63

Hors d’oeuvres were delicious, the music was pretty good, and several of my coworkers came to it.  I thought it an improvement over the year before, mainly due to the extra space and it having a dance floor.

Next up: the rest of Week Three, including the final weekend of SIFF!

SIFF 2013: Week Two, Part Two

I apologize for the three-month hiatus from writing about SIFF 2013, but I got caught up working on other projects and had to set aside work on these posts for awhile.  Over the next few weeks, I hope to finish up the last of these entries about the festival.

Thursday, May 30

Aloha Thursday started with a press screening of the weepiest film I’ve seen at the festival, the North American premiere of The Girl With Nine Wigs.  This German/Belgium co-production is based on a best-selling novel, itself based on a true story, about a 21-year-old woman named Sophie (Lisa Tomaschewsky) who finds out she has cancer.  After shaving off her remaining hair, she deals with her diagnosis by buying nine different wigs.  Each night, she sneaks out of the hospital wearing one of the wigs, each one with a different name and personality attached to it.  While there’s some element of fantasy involved (the head nurse gives in too easily to unplugging her IV each night so that she can go party), the saddest (and happiest) moments are the ones that ring the truest, such as when Sophie sees her father break down in the hallway after her diagnosis.  A very good film.

The other two press screenings this morning were I Used to Be Darker and Comrade Kim Goes Flying.  The latter film is “the first Western-financed fiction feature made entirely in North Korea” (to quote the SIFF Guide).  Based on what people said after seeing this film (including one of my coworkers), I decided to do a little rearranging so that I could see it on Sunday.  Even better, the director would be in attendance for the festival screenings.

That night, I saw two films at the Uptown: The Summit and Ludwig II.  The first film is a documentary about the 11 climbers who perished while climbing K-2 in 2008, and what might have gone wrong.  With beautiful scenery, interviews with some of the surviving climbers, and video and photos taken during the disastrous climb (as well as some reenactments), the film shows how several small errors in judgment, and some inexperienced climbers, led to such a horrible disaster, with most of the deaths occurring during the descent.  I never had a desire to climb K-2 before, but I definitely do not now.

The North American premiere of Ludwig II, in the same theater, is director Peter Sehr’s last film, who was well-loved on the festival circuit with such films as Kaspar Hauser and The Anarchist’s Wife.  The screening was dedicated to him.  The film tells the story of Ludwig II, the “Mad King of Bavaria,” who financed Wagner’s operas and went on to build huge fairytale castles.  Declared unfit to rule by reason of insanity, he eventually committed suicide (according to the movie, though some people think he may have been murdered).  The film follows him from right before he ascends the throne until the end of his life.  While it looks gorgeous and is sympathetic to the king, seeing him as someone who wanted to bring music and culture to Bavaria in place of war and politics, the film does not find enough drama, either internal or external, to sustain its 143 minute run time.  It’s decent, but it never rises to something special.

Friday, May 31

I saw two films today.  Inch’Allah (which means “God willing”) follows a Quebec doctor who works in Israel’s divided West Bank.  It starts with a scene that the film will finish at the end of the film: a suicide bombing attack in a cafe.  In between, we see the doctor (Evelyne Brochu) go from her home on the Israeli side of the West Bank to her practice on the Palestinian side.  As well as show the absurdity of bureaucracy in the face of fear (one of her patients is not allowed into a hospital because of heightened security, even though she is about to give birth and is losing blood), the film gives a human face to all involved: Israelis, Palestinians, soldiers, and even suicide bombers.  A movie about grey areas, and the people trapped in their shadows.

The second film was a bit more uplifting, even though it deals with a teenager wrongly accused of planning to gun down his classmates at school.  Blackbird is one of the best films I saw at SIFF by not being the kind of film I thought it would be.  The teenager in question, Sean Randall (Connor Jessup), is not a killer, but an outcast.  Used to living in the city with his mother, he now lives with his father in a small town, where his goth clothing and taste in music makes him the target of some bullies at school.  In order to deal with his angst, he writes about killing his classmates with guns his father owns.  This brings the police to his door, and a stint in juvenile detention.  Ordered by the judge to have no contact with any of the people he supposedly targeted, he can’t help himself from seeking out the one person who he really cared about, Deanna Roy (Alexia Fast).  A perceptive, mature film about teenagers, the judicial system, and how misunderstandings between children and adults can lead to detrimental consequences that benefit no one.

Saturday, June 1

Throughout these two weeks, I had thought it impossible for any movie to affect me as deeply as The Act of Killing.  What movie could reach that level of intensity?  And, by reaching that level of intensity, outdo that film’s craftmanship?

The answer, of course, was its antithesis.  A live-action documentary about death and killing became the second best movie of the festival behind an animated fictional film about life and birthing.  Wolf Children is Mamoru Hosoda’s masterpiece, and I say that having not seen Summer Wars.

That is not to say that this film doesn’t have its darker moments, but they are gentle, human moments.  The film (and it was actually on film) filled me with a warm glow for its entire run time.  It starts with a woman meeting a man at her university whom she discovers to be half-wolf, half-man.  It end with their children (daughter Yuki and son Ame) deciding whether to grow up as humans or as wolves.  Narrated by Yuki, this is ultimately a film about family, the sacrifices parents make for their children, and the choices children have to make as they grow older.  And did I mention the animation is gorgeous, and has a hand-drawn quality to much of it?

Following this was a restored DCP of Richard III, which looked like film minus the dirt and scratches.  A great Shakespeare adaptation, minus some occasional overdramatic acting from Sir Laurence Olivier.  Then I rushed with a friend to the Egyptian Theatre, where he and the rest of my friends went to see the Centerpiece Gala film, Twenty Feet from Stardom (which I saw during The Best of Fest and really enjoyed), while I went to the Harvard Exit to see The Wall.  Having had a long and tiring day (Richard III was 2 hours and 41 minutes long), The Wall was probably the worst film I could’ve seen, as the voice-over narration is done by a women with a very soothing voice.  Plus, the film is slow-paced and contemplative.  It’s about a woman who is staying with some friends at their cabin.  Her friends go into town that night for supplies, while she stays behind with their dog.  When they haven’t come back by morning, she goes to investigate, only to discover that an invisible wall has sprung up, trapping her in the cabin and the surrounding woods.  She eventually finds other companions beside the dog, but I felt that this was a more interesting idea on paper than it is on film, particularly concerning the ending, since it should have suggested to the heroine that there must be a break in the wall somewhere, and yet she is still trapped in the cabin at the end of the film.  An interesting concept, and certainly the type of film that should be shown at festivals, but no more than decent in its handling of its theme.

After the film, it was party time at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Hall, which is where the Centerpiece Gala was held.

49. Party's over!

Okay, so this photo was actually taken at the end of the party.

I didn’t get to go to the Centerpiece Gala last year because I had to work (and it ends early), so I was very excited to experience it this time.  There was food, dancing, and drinks — all of which made for a great party-going experience.  Plus, I was there with friends, which made the experience even more memorable.

41. On the lawn 40 39. Centerpiece Gala at DAR Hall 42. Outside tables 43. Second floor dancing 44

Sunday, June 2

50. Poster

If Wolf Children was the best film I saw at SIFF, Comrade Kim Goes Flying was the guiltiest of pleasures. Nicholas Bonner, who was one of three people who directed this Belgium, North Korea, and United Kingdom joint production, was in attendance and told us before the film to try and watch it as a North Korean would, forgetting all our preconceived notions about North Korea.

The film is a fantasy, shot in bright colors and starry a plucky, likeable, and almost always smiling Han Jong Sim as Kim Yong Mi, a coal miner who is transferred from a small town to Pyongyang after her mine reaches its quota ahead-of-schedule.  Having harbored dreams of becoming a trapeze artist, she attempts to achieve her goal in the city, but finds out it’s much more difficult than she expected, especially as she has a fear of heights.  In the process of overcoming her fear, she must convince an arrogant trapeze artist, Pak Jang Phil (Pak Chung Gok), that a coal miner can fly.  Starting with a ridiculous scene in a field that involves a white dove and visuals reminiscent of Super 8 footage, there is nothing political about this film, but there is a lot that is fun, charming, and goofy.  I had a smile on my face the entire time.

After the film was over, Nicholas Bonner made sure to reiterate two things: 1.) this is a fantasy, and 2.) it’s not a propaganda film.  Most North Korea films are blatant propaganda; they don’t make fiction films.  Bonner has made three documentaries on North Korea and North Koreans, and he suggested that we check those out if we want realistic depictions of North Korea.  Plus, I’ve seen many Japanese and South Korean films that are similar to this one, with plucky heroines who are chasing their dreams in the big city and must contend with male rivals.  Can’t North Koreans make and enjoy the same kinds of movies?  And in thinking that nobody is well-off in North Korea reminds me of the blog post by The Squeaky Robot about the fallacy of the single story, which is that one point-of-view, in regards to how people in a certain place and time lived, is never true.  Finally, some scenes that a Westerner might interpret as portraying  communism versus capitalism are seen in North Korea as the working class versus the intellectual class.

Some other highlights from the Q & A:

  • There are actually three directors on this film.   Every two years, there is an international film festival in Pyongyang, which is where Bonner met Anja Daelemans.  I don’t remember how he said he met Kim Gwang Hun.  Anyway, Bonner said we should see this film as the result of three friends who wanted to make a movie together, with one of them just happening to be North Korean.
  • The actress who plays Comrade Kim is actually a trapeze artist, since it was easier to train a trapeze artist to be an actress than it would have been to train an actress to be a trapeze artist.  Unlike many North Koreans, Han Jong Sim has traveled around the world, and yet she was still not sure how the film would be received outside of her home country.  To reiterate this point, Bonner read a letter from her.
  • North Koreans not only love the film, but also love that it’s playing outside their country.  And while filming was done inside North Korea (with archival footage taking the place of wide shot pickups, since a North Korean audience would know where those locations are), post-production was done elsewhere.
  • This is the first North Korean film to use synchronized sound,  and the first North Korean film allowed to be shown outside North Korea.
  • When they showed the film in South Korea, one man stood up afterwards and said it was nice to see that mother-in-laws in North Korea are the same as mother-in-laws in South Korea.

I did make sure to tell Bonner afterwards that I enjoyed the film and didn’t think it was propaganda, but if only I had not adjusted my camera after asking someone to take a photo of me with the director and movie poster!  He said it was too bright, but the picture that came out was a little too dark, and adjusting it allowed some noise to creep in.  Still, it’s a good photo.

51. Director Nicholas Bonner and me after the screening

The final film of the evening was a restored print of A Man Vanishes, a classic film by Shohei Imamura in black-and-white, which starts out by being a documentary about a Japanese man who vanished one day, to the wife’s growing interest in the director, to an exposé on what is and isn’t reality.  It moves slowly in the beginning, as much of it involves interviewing subjects who knew the man, but once the director and crew start to become the subject, the film becomes interesting and stays that way until its end.

Next up: Week Three, including an evening with Kyle MacLachlan!

My Operatic Adventure, Part 2: Das Rheingold and Siegfried at the Seattle Opera, Cycle III

Drawing in front of the entrance to McCaw Hall

Drawing in front of the entrance to McCaw Hall

After seeing the wonderful Die Walküre and solid Götterdämmerung last week, how could I not finish off the cycle this week?  After all, it will be at least 4 years before the cycle arrives in Seattle again.

Alberich steals the Rhine gold, Scene One

Das Rheingold

From the low E-flat that begins the overture to the last note, I was treated to a great Das Rheingold.  The Rhine daughters (Jennifer Zetlan, Celia Hall, and Renée Tatum — the latter two making their Seattle Opera debut) swim in a stage set to look like its underwater, due to a translucent screen in front and the use of lighting in back.  As in Götterdämmerung, they were excellent, though Woglinde started her aria at a slightly different tempo from that of the orchestra.

Alberich (Richard Paul Fink) has a voice closer to Stolze’s Mime than Neidlinger’s Alberich, but his characterization was fantastic.  While he made a very menacing Alberich, I actually felt sorry for him when, tied up by Wotan and Loge, he sang of his shame at having the Nibelungs see him; and then, after the ring is taken from him by Wotan, singing “Der Traurigen traurigster Knecht!” (“Of wretches the wretchedest slave!”)  He also performed an excellent curse (slower than I’ve heard), even if he “hiccuped” one of the notes at the end.

As Wotan, Greer Grimsley was once again very good.  In fact, because his role here is not as complex as it becomes in Walküre, he was excellent (though, as I point out in my Die Walküre review, he is just shy of greatness in that opera).

But for this opera to work, I have discovered that it depends largely on how good the Loge is.  In his Seattle Opera debut (and his debut in this role!), Mark Schowalter is one of the best I’ve heard.  A trickster trying to play all sides, but also aware of the higher stakes in not giving back the Rhine daughters’ gold.

Fasolt (Andrea Silvestrelli) has the more layered role of the two giants, as he sings of his wish to have a wife.  In this brief aria, and others related to Freia, one felt his humanity.  Incredible that Silvestrelli would play a merciless Hunding in the next opera!  Fafner (Daniel Sumegi), on the other hand, has more of a one-note role, but Sumegi played that one-note well.  He seemed craftier than Fasolt, but also more practical.  Nowhere did he seem to have the heart that his brother had.  In Götterdämmerung, he would play a more complex variation of this in Hagen.

As for the other supporting roles, Donner (Markus Brück, also making his Seattle Opera debut and later to play Gunther) and Froh (Ric Furman) were solid as Freia’s brothers.  Donner sang a slow but by no means dragging rendition of the “Heda! Heda! Hedo!” aria at the end of Scene Four (complete with hammer blow), while Froh played a sympathetic brother and god.  Fricka (Stephanie Blythe) was her usual excellent self, while Freia (Wendy Bryn Harmer, also in her Seattle Opera debut) was likewise excellent, as she was as Gutrune (she also plays Gerhilde, one of the Valkyries, in Die Walküre).  Particularly affecting was how she acted toward Fasolt, and the sorrow she displayed after he was killed.  Mime (Dennis Peterson) was a bit of a sniveling whiner, but he was not as whiny or annoying as this role is sometimes sung.

The special sound effects, including the sound of anvils as Wotan and Loge descend to and ascend from Nibelheim, Alberich’s whip cracks, thunder, and Donner’s hammer blow, were all excellent and welcome, while the orchestral interludes (the overture, the descent, scene changes) were likewise excellently played.  Even Alberich’s use of the Tarnhelm was effective, even if the rubber snake could have been a bit more menacing.  The rubber frog, on the other hand, was played for laughs.  Indeed, like Die Walküre, the humor was highlighted, though I did go to a talk on Die Walküre in which I found out that some of the humor during Fricka’s confrontation with Wotan was unintentional, due to the translations.  Here, though, I doubt Wotan covering his eyes with the Tarnhelm was meant to be serious.  An effect that was played seriously was when Erda (Lucille Beer, also making her Seattle Opera debut!) rose out of the ground to warn Wotan to give up the ring.  She played the part like a spirit of the earth, and there was almost a silent film star quality to her portrayal.

The sets were beautiful, from the Rhine River to the glittering view of Valhalla (set in the same woodland scene that Götterdämmerung ends with).  I particularly enjoyed the glittering caves of Nibelheim.  I haven’t mentioned the lighting before, but I should mention now that it has played a huge role in creating the right atmosphere for these operas.  In Das Rheingold, it was most apparent in the Rhine daughters scene, in the Nibelheim scene, and in the final scene, when Donner’s hammer cleared away the fog and the darkness before the gods entered Valhalla (I should note that in this production, Fricka is the last to enter, while Loge remains outside.  Also, all the gods touch the ring as they pass it to the giants — except Loge, who is a demigod).

I was a bit surprised that the section I was seated in was slow to rise to its feet and give the cast a standing ovation.  As it was, I waited as long as I could before rising, which was when everyone was up there together.  Perhaps that is proper.  This is an ensemble opera, and while Alberich and Loge are standout roles, there is not much emotional heft to this opera, which seems to be needed for people to get out of their chairs.  Still, almost everyone was standing and applauding by the end, and while this production confirms for me that Das Rheingold is the weakest of the Ring operas, it also revealed new insights to me, particularly concerning the text, and new connections with the other operas, which is what any good production of a Ring opera should do.

Siegfried forges Notung, Act I

Siegfried

I ended my complete Ring cycle with my favorite of the four operas–when it features a great Siegfried.  I’ve already mentioned in my Götterdämmerung review how this Ring features a Siegfried that can actually sing the part.  Well, Stefan Vinke is even more tremendous in Siegfried.  Act I ends with the best Forging Song I’ve heard this side of Lauritz Melchior.  In fact, an audience member let out a whoop after the final note rang out.  In the role, Vinke is youth incarnate.  He possesses not only a youthful voice, but is also an excellent physical actor.  I was shocked when I saw a picture of him out of costume, as he is a few decades removed from being a teenager, and yet his carriage onstage and his facial expressions instantly transform him into one (with less of a suspension of disbelief than this role often requires).  In Act II, when singing of his father and mother (in the spots where his father was killed and his mother rested on their flight from Hunding, respectively), he still needs to get more inside the character, as I didn’t feel Siegfried’s pain as much as I could have.  Despite this, Vinke made me like Siegfried, and he actually sounded stronger than Brünnhilde in their Act III duet, despite the fact that she hadn’t been singing for the last two acts!   While one or two passages at the end may have sounded like they took some effort for him, I couldn’t tell for sure, making me think that the man may actually be from another planet.

Another great physical actor was the Mime of Dennis Peterson.  I felt sorry for his Mime when Siegfried killed him (and Wadsworth made Siegfried feel sorry for him, too, which is important).  Throughout, the portrayal was of someone who was always one-upped by his brother and now has a chance to be better than Alberich.  Sure, it requires killing Siegfried and using him to kill the dragon, but one can understand why Mime would go to such lengths, and put up for so long with Siegfried’s dislike of him.  Even better, Peterson actually sung the role, unlike Gerhard Stolze on the Solti recording, who adopted a cackling voice for the part.  And unlike Paul Kuen on the Krauss recording, he didn’t whine and snivel his way through the opera.

Though he is in this opera for only a little of Act II, Richard Paul Fink made much of Alberich’s confrontations with the Wanderer (Greer Grimsley) and Mime — the first one serious, the second one comic.  In fact, Siegfried probably contains the most comedy of any of the Ring operas, which was highlighted but not overplayed.  I especially liked Alberich and Mime throwing rocks at each other as they fought over who would get the ring and the Tarnhelm once Fafner was dead.  I do think, however, that the audience laughing at Siegfried’s realization that Brünnhilde is not a man shows that Seattle audiences are sometimes too sophisticated for their own good.  Also returning from Rheingold, Daniel Sumegi was equally creepy and wise as Fafner.  And we actually had a dragon onstage (which you can see in the video below).  I especially enjoyed the fact that Siegfried first sees the tail.  While he is addressing it, Fafner’s head and neck come into view.

Greer Grimsley continued his strong reading of Wotan/the Wanderer, with a beautifully rich bass-baritone voice.  His Farewell was solid, but not inspired.  Otherwise, he was excellent, whether playing at riddles with Mime or his mood shifting from amusement to anger at Siegfried’s rudeness during their confrontation in Act III.  His scene with Erda (Lucille Beer) was strong on his part, but Beer’s voice was not as flexible as his was in bending notes for meaning.  As the Forest Bird, Jennifer Zetlan (who was Woglinde, one of the Rhine daughters, in Das Rheingold) sounded a little strained singing in that range, which sometimes led to scooping between notes and some noticeable loss of volume on the highest notes.

And now we come to Alwyn Mellor, once again playing Brünnhilde.  Again, her top notes were there from the beginning of her awakening (and they are sumptuous and creamy in tone), but some of the other notes did not project as well over the orchestra…until her voice warmed up.  Then, from the legato phrases that immediately precede the “Siegfried Idyll” section until the end, the role posed no problems for her musically or interpretively.  And when both she and Vinke hit that high C at the end of the opera, I could only shake my head in disbelief as chills went down my spine for the third time THAT ACT.  For the second curtain call, Vinke even held up four fingers and mouthed the words “four C’s,” which I’m assuming he either sang in that act or in the opera as a whole.

Since I mentioned how gloriously the opera ended, I should mention how it began.  The curtain opened on Mime sharpening a sword.  Then he stopped, looked out at the audience in a daze, then went back to sharpening the sword.  Only then did the orchestra start playing, as Mime alternately sharpened the sword and stared out in a daze.  While I doubt the anvil was built to Wagner’s specifications, as it was for Solti’s recording of the Ring, the sounds Siegfried made while swinging the hammer came close.

Minus a few flubs that passed quickly, the orchestra was excellent, though I do wish they had built to an even louder crescendo in the high strings at the beginning of Brünnhilde’s awakening.  Also, there were two sections done a little differently from what I’ve heard before.  In the first section, the tempos sped up drastically when Mime started singing near the end of the Forging Song, for no reason I could discern.  In the second section, Siegfried took more time in between making the reed instrument on which he tried to imitate the Forest Bird and playing the notes, meaning that there were long silences as he made the reed shorter and whittled the mouthpiece anew.

I mentioned that Act II of Siegfried used the same scenery as Act II, Scene 3-5 of Die Walküre.  Also, Act I looked a bit like Scene Two of Das Rheingold, but had enough differences to make it a new location, while Act III began at the same place that the Prologue in Götterdämmerung begins (of course, it ends in the same place as Act III of the previous opera).  In the props department, many red motifs showed up.  In addition to the coat that the Notung shards are wrapped in, there were red flowers picked by the Wanderer.  These items join other red motifs that have occurred throughout these operas, the most prominent being the red ribbon in Sieglinde’s hair, which showed up several times in Die Walküre and then again in Götterdämmerung, and Wotan’s robe, which he leaves with Brünnhilde.  Like the recurring locations and the musical motifs, these props serve to tie in the different themes, characters, and moods of the operas together.

With Sunday’s performance of Götterdämmerung, the final Ring Cycle under Speight Jenkins has ended.  Der Ring des Nibelungen will now go back in the vaults for another 4 years.  All I know is, the next time it comes to town, I will be seeing the operas in order.

Texts and translations for all of Richard Wagner’s operas can be found here: http://www.rwagner.net/e-t-opere.html

My Operatic Adventure: Die Walkure and Gotterdammerung at the Seattle Opera, Cycle II

Previous to watching these two operas, I had only see Die Walküre live.  In fact, not only was it the only Ring opera I had seen, it was the only Wagnerian opera.  I’ve heard all of his operas from Der Fliegende Holländer on, and I own two sets of the Ring, but this would be only the second time that I had seen a Wagnerian opera in person, or at all.

Siegmund embraces Sieglinde after pulling the sword from the tree, Act I

Die Walkure

The first Die Walküre I saw was in New York City on April 12, 2004.  Assembled were the dream cast of Placido Domingo as Siegmund, Deborah Voigt as Sieglinde (coming off being fired from a Covent Garden production of Ariadne auf Naxos because she was too large to fit in a cocktail dress), Matti Salminen as Hunding, James Morris as Wotan, and Jane Eaglen as Brünnhilde, not to mention the excellent conducting of James Levine, who by that time was conducting a quicker Ring than he had previously (sadly, I forgot who played Fricka, Wotan’s long-suffering wife).  Afterwards, I got signatures from all of the above, minus James Levine, Placido Domingo, and Matti Salminen (the latter two die at the end of Act II, after all).

This Seattle production had no names I recognized (minus Stephanie Blythe), but I haven’t been paying attention to the world of opera recently.  Anyway, my knowledge would encompass the globe-traveling talent, rather than the homegrown variety.

I noticed that the overture was played slower than I’d ever heard it played before, which lessened its dramatic impact.  “Oh no,” I thought.  “Here comes a glacial reading of the Ring.”  But that never happened, or if it did, I didn’t notice.  Wagner’s music is more about the ebb and flow and smooth transitions between tempo changes.  What I did notice was how glorious the music sounded, how many details I caught that I hadn’t heard before (particularly leitmotifs), how the climaxes didn’t hold back.  It also supported the singers nicely, while detailing the psychological complexity woven into each scene.  I had never heard of conductor Asher Fisch before, but according to the program notes, he first came to Wagner working with Daniel Barenboim on Parsifal.  He certainly learned his craft well while spending time with one of the greatest living Wagnerian conductors.

Which leads me to the orchestra.  Beautiful strings, low through upper range, and a wonderful brass section (especially French horns and tubas).  Plus, the acoustics in McCaw Hall are sensational.

Compared to Domingo, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund had a stronger voice (he held those “Wälse!  Wälse!” notes longer than anyone I’ve ever heard, including Melchior), but his reading wasn’t as complex as Domingo’s  (again, I’m basing this on a remembrance of an almost ten-year-old event).  I do remember that Domingo also took most of Act I to warm up, whereas Skelton was ready from the beginning.

Margaret Jane Wray was also solid as Sieglinde, with a beautiful and powerful voice.  In fact, all the singers had good voices, though occasionally the orchestra would drown them out at the climaxes.  Better that than to hold back the climaxes.  One singer who didn’t have this problem was Andrea Silvestrelli, who has a beautiful (and large) voice as Hunding.  Stephanie Blythe, playing Fricka, also didn’t suffer from this issue, while Alwyn Mellor as Brunnhilde (making her Seattle Opera debut) had the most issues with softness, particularly in supporting notes that had to be taken below forte (though her “Hojotoho” cries were great).  While she may not be Flagstad for sheer vocal power, her interpretation was quite moving.  Her acting was one of the reasons to see this opera, rather than just listen to it.

In fact, the directing throughout was so excellent as to be noticed, to which credit must be given to director Stephen Wadsworth.  I’ve always gotten chills when Wotan promises Brünnhilde that he will make sure that only a hero wakes her (with the orchestra building to a stunning climax), but this was the first time I teared up, and that was because of the directing decision to have Wotan and Brünnhilde look at each other while the music builds, and then have Brünnhilde run and launch herself into her father’s arms when the climax is reached.  I was not so moved in New York, though that might have been because my nose was dripping like a busted water pipe.  In addition, the cast brought out the bits of humor that can be found in Wotan and Fricka’s marital spat and in Brünnhilde’s response that the quarrel must have ended badly for Wotan, since Fricka looked happy.

Two other aspects I enjoyed were the sets (very naturalistic, as they would have been for the Ring‘s premiere) and the special effects, particularly the sound effects.  Wagner calls for them, and they are necessary to create a mood.  This is why the Solti set, for all its musical flaws, always feel like so much more of an event than other recordings of these operas often do.  There’s thunder, lightning, and Wotan stomping his staff on the ground, calling for Loge to encircle the mountain with flame at the end of the opera.

And now we come to Wotan, one of the most complex characters in all of opera.  Greer Grimsley played him with tireless voice (a tall order, when even the great Hans Hotter would tire near the end of Act III), made Wotan’s monologue interesting, and was justifiably angry at Brünnhilde for her betrayal.  At different times in the opera, he was frustrated, angry, sad, and forgiving, but in Act III, when he should be conflicted while singing lines such as “nicht kos’ ich dir mehr den kindischen Mund” (“Never again will I kiss the mouth of my child”), he was merely angry, instead of angry, sad, and disappointed.  Grimsley is a good Wotan, but he is not yet a great one.  Much could be said of the rest of the cast in their respective roles, but when they are put together, with this orchestra, on this stage, in this setting, something wonderful happens, and good becomes great, and moving, and everything that one could wish for from a staging of Wagner’s masterpiece.  It deserved its standing ovation.

Siegfried encounters the Rhine daughters, Act III

Götterdämmerung

Götterdämmerung is one of the most difficult of the Ring operas to pull off.  While Das Rheingold is a narrative, Die Walküre a family drama (or melodrama), and Siegfried a legend, Götterdämmerung is an epic.  It has much stand alone music, an Act I that is only slightly shorter than all of Rheingold, and a plot that results from the collision of nature and civilization, oaths and betrayals, power and love.

It opens with troubled chords first heard during Brünnhilde’s awakening, and then we see the three Norns (Luretta Bybee, Stephanie Blythe, Margaret Jane Wray).  All three singers have played other roles in other operas in the cycle (notably Stephanie Blythe as Fricka and Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde), and all three are excellent here: strong in voice, beautiful in tone, and great in characterization.  When we get to Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s Morning Duet, I figured out what Alwyn Mellor’s issue is: her high notes are strong and full (as she demonstrates with the wicked high note that ends the duet), but her chest notes are less powerful, and so get drowned out by the orchestra.  Her struggles in the duet made me worry that she would be in poor voice for the rest of the opera, but happily, that wasn’t the case.  She sang well in Act II (particularly when she accuses Siegfried of infidelity) and gave a great Immolation Scene in Act III.  Part of this was due to her terrific acting, but her voice also seemed to give her less trouble later in the opera, perhaps because she knew to conserve it earlier on, or maybe because less of the notes were in her troubled range.

As for Siegfried, Stefan Vinke is making his Seattle Opera debut in the role, and what a debut it must have been for audiences watching him during dress rehearsals!  He still needs to dig in deeper with his interpretation, as his Siegfried seemed little more than a carefree youth in this opera, but that voice!  It always carried over the orchestra, and far from tiring, he held a high, long note during Act III’s “Hoihe” response to Hagen and the vassals.  During the Q&A held after the opera by general director Speight Jenkins, the first question asked was what planet he found Stefan Vinke on.  Jenkins agreed that he is great, pointing out that there is a bel canto aria for Siegfried, after he has sworn on the spear in Act II, that heldentenors always crack or scoop the high C on.  Vinke is so good, the orchestra played that aria slower so that he could hold the high C longer.  Jenkins said Vinke is the only Siegfried he’s known of who can do that.  Windgassen was also a great Siegfried, but he had a small voice.  Vinke’s timbre is similar to Windgassen’s in terms of its youthfulness, but with more heft behind it and slighter darker in the lower range, so that in Act I, he could convincingly sing as Gunther, hidden behind a “rock” in the set that was really a screen, while the singer playing Gunther lip sang to Brunnhilde.  Also, his death scene in Act III carried great pathos, especially as he sang the great aria “Brünnhilde, heilige Braut.”  I can’t wait to see him in Siegfried later this week.

Another standout was Stephanie Blythe as Waltraute (yes, that’s three roles she’s had in this cycle).  Her duet with Brünnhilde was fantastic.  She has a stronger voice than Mellor, with matching dramatic chops!  Perhaps her range is too low to be able to sing Brünnhilde, but man, what a fascinating Brünnhilde she would make.

This performance also included a great Hagen (Daniel Sumegi), and Markus Brück and Wendy Bryn Harmer making as much as they could of the roles of Gunther and Gutrune, respectively (particularly the latter).  Again, the directing was top-notch, especially in how each of the singers were blocked onstage.  Alberich (Richard Paul Fink) also showed up in  appropriately creepy fashion in Hagen’s dream.  To top it off, the Rhine daughters (not Rhinemaidens, as the German is often translated to in English) blended their voices well and made much of their brief scene with Siegfried.

The chorus was also excellent.  I’ve heard that opera choruses often shout everything.  Not this one.  They sung as well softly as they did loudly.  It’s too bad that Beth Kirchoff is leaving after this production of the Ring ends.  Hopefully John Keene will keep up the excellent work she’s done with these choruses.

As for the orchestra, I felt it went slack  in a few parts during Act I, and once or twice in Act II (particularly right before the final notes of the act).  There were also a few occasions were I felt that the singers and the orchestra weren’t quite together, particularly in Act I.  Still, the climaxes lost none of their impact, and both Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine and his Funeral March were excellently played, the latter with almost an unbearable amount of tension and power, while the final notes of the opera were played with wonderful tenderness.  Unfortunately, cheering the orchestra loudly before Act III jinxed them, as the French horn flubbed one of the notes in Siegfried’s horn call that starts the act, which made the audience laugh (possibly because Siegfrieds Rheinfart is often called “Siegfried’s Rhine Fart” because of the same mistake commonly happening during his Journey to the Rhine).  Sadly, there were no steerhorns for the calling of the vassals in Act II, nor were Wagner’s instructions to have the horns play from the center, then off-stage left, then off-stage right followed (they all came from the pit, and were all “played” by Hagen).  I guess I’ll just have to listen to the Solti recording if I want my steerhorn fix, as I forgot to ask Jenkins during the Q&A if we would ever see a Götterdämmerung with steerhorns.

Finally, I must mention the lighting and the sets.    They have been fantastic, nowhere more so than at the end of Götterdämmerung, where the hall of the Gibichungs, lit with red light from the fire that is burning next to the Rhine, gave way to the Rhine, where the Rhine daughters swam towards Brünnhilde.  She threw the ring to them, and as Hagen sang at them to get away from the ring, one of the daughters knocked him backward into the water, where he drowned.  Then the scene changed, and we saw the gods in Valhalla, huddled around each other (the backgrounds of this are stunning, which you can somewhat see in the video below).  They were standing on top of a pillar.  Wotan kissed Fricka, and then he nodded to Loge, who had a flame in his hand, from which he will burn Valhalla to the ground.  The scene shifted again, to an outdoor wooded scene.  There were trees from stage left to stage right, and a rocky ledge stage right.  Light streamed through the trees as the final chords were played.  Jenkins mentioned that he wanted this Ring to end hopefully, like the music intends, rather than how it ends in most opera houses, particularly in Europe.  The effect here is that balance has been returned to the world — in particular, the natural world.  I should also mention that, in addition to the beauty of these sets, they have helped link the operas together with visual leitmotifs, as when Siegmund and Siegfried die in exactly the same spot.

At the curtain call, not only were the main singers of the cycle (including Wotan) and conductor Asher Fisch brought out to take a bow, but also director Stephen Wadsworth and Jenkins, whose is retiring after the 2013-2014 season, making Cycle III his last Ring.  After his bows, Jenkins had a microphone brought out to him by Wotan’s (Greer Grimsley’s) real-life daughter.  He thanked several people (including costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, who died last year and to whom these three Ring cycles are dedicated), promised the Ring would continue under his successor, and had the microphone taken away to indulge in a few more curtain calls with the entire cast.

Cycle III, the final cycle this season, starts tomorrow night with Das Rheingold and ends Sunday night with Götterdämmerung.  More information can be found at the Seattle Opera website.

SIFF 2013: Week Two, Part One

Sunday, May 26

I started Week Two with some Harold Lloyd action: a 4K digital restoration of Safety Last!, preceded by an unrestored Harold Lloyd short.  While I enjoyed the feature-length film (and it looks gorgeous, with just a few frames missing here and there), I prefer Chaplin and Keaton, even if this film does feature the famous hanging-from-the-clock scene, and some other charming gags.

Still, hearing kids laughing in the audience and talking about the film excitedly afterwards warmed my heart.  I also got a “thank you” for moving my seat so that I wouldn’t be sitting in front of any kids and blocking their view.

The next movie I almost didn’t get into, as it was on standby and my badge only guarantees me a seat if there’s room.  But then, a half hour before the film began, my friend and fellow blogger Marianne called me to say that she had an extra ticket.  I hurriedly checked the bus schedule and ran to the bus stop, then ran off the bus into the theater, getting there at the stroke of four, which is when the movie started.  Luckily, they were still seating, and I was able to find a seat in the balcony.

The film was the world premiere of Her Aim is True, a documentary about legendary rock photographer Jini Dellaccio.  Never heard of her?  Maybe it’s because she worked out of Seattle, not San Francisco.  Still, her album covers for groups such as The Wailers and the Sonics, often taken outside and in a variety of poses, infused the photos with the essence of the bands much more than the lineup photos taken in studios did.  Plus, she was active in the decade before Annie Lebovitz revolutionized rock photography at Rolling Stone.  The movie itself is enjoyable and is great in capturing Jini’s essence and life story, in addition to showing off many of the photos that made her famous.  Now 96, she is still taking photos.  In fact, once the movie ended, I almost ran into the band members featured in the latter part of the film (the Moondoggies) when I went downstairs to get a better seat for photo taking.

A musician herself (she played saxophone in an all-girls jazz band), Jini started taking photos when her husband Carl became worried about her returning home late for gigs.  One of Carl’s friends helped her pick out her first camera: a Leica M3 (she now uses a Hasselblad).  The store manager gave her the greatest advice I’ve ever heard given to a photographer: in order to learn how to use the camera, he gave her the instruction manual and then told her to sit in front of her house with the camera everyday, waiting until a great shot came along.  Once she had used the camera enough that it felt like it was an extension of her arm, then it was time to load it with film.

Jini Dellaccio was in the back of the auditorium herself and received flowers from Karen Whitehead (the director) before the Q & A officially began.  Since I was only halfway to the stage, I got some decent photos of her:

26. Legendary rock photographer Jini Dellaccio at the world premiere of Her Aim is True27. Jini stands and acknowledges the crowd

Beth Barrett, director of programming, conducted the Q & A with Whitehead and editor Kelli Boyd.  Whitehead decided on the subject when, in 2009, there was a collection of Jini’s work being exhibited.  Also, a viral video of rockers thanking Jini caught the director’s eye. They had much help from John Jeffcoat at the EMP, who said he would help out with the cinematography for one day and ended up doing the whole film.

Perhaps the most significant part of the Q & A was in seeing three women onstage talking about a film whose subject is another woman.  In fact, one of the questions asked was whether having a female director and editor made a difference.  For Boyd, she kept Whitehead focused on Jini, often asking, “What about Jini?” when Whitehead would focus too much on the era in which the documentary takes place.  In addition, Whitehead said that, as a woman, she was more sensitive to having a balance between men and women in the documentary.

I have now seen two films about photographers: Bill Cunningham New York and Her Aim is True.  While Bill Cunningham is the better film (and one of the best I saw that year), both films are worth seeing.  And in case you think that a documentary about a woman in her 40s taking pictures of rock bands is not interesting, the editor did a private screening with young interns, who not only were enthralled with the film, but also wanted to know why they didn’t know about Jini Dellaccio before.  After seeing this film, you will, too.

(One final note: I met up with Marianne after the Q & A in order to thank her for the ticket.  She told me that she had met Jini, and Jini was just as interested in her photos as Marianne was of Jini’s.  So, if you are reading this, Jini Dellaccio, you made my friend’s day.)

I closed the night with Animation 4 Adults, which is a selection of shorts (10 this time) geared for older audiences.  Only two of the films were great, another one was pretty good (and ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short), and the rest were average at best.  The two great films (which both won Special Jury Prizes) were “Malaria” and “The Hunter.”  “Malaria” tells its story through inventive interactivity between paper pictures and the hands of the creator.  For example, when a gun is lowered by one of the characters, this is visualized by one of the hands picking up a picture of a gun, which starts to shaken, and then is lowered barrel-end down.  “The Hunter” is ingenious in a different way, as the whole story (which is actually a story — the one thing that combined my three favorite shorts of the night) is told via charcoal drawings, and narrated by the main character.

After all 10 shorts played, the director of “Machinehead,” Micah Gallagher, did a Q & A with Programmer Stan Shields.

“Machinehead” is done with stop-motion animation, something that Gallagher had to learn how to do over the course of the 2 years it took to make the short.  The film reflects a period in his life where he felt like he was in a box.  In the film, the red ball that Machinehead finds represents a spiritual entity that is trying to communicate with him.  Gallagher’s favorite scene, however, is when the bugs go in the hole in the bed.  His influences for the film include the Quay Brothers and Tool.  His next film will be live action with lots of stop-motion in it.

Monday, May 27

No press screenings today, since it was Memorial Day, but I still worked in the morning (though with a later start time and a slightly earlier end time).  After work, I had a chance to peek in and see part of Kampala, a restored Indian film from 1948.  From the little I saw, it has great dance scenes mixed in with horrible overacting and a silly plot.  Then again, I hear that’s normal for Bollywood films.

My bus to the Harvard Exit was late, and there was already a standby line for The Human Scale, a film about how to make our cities places of human interaction, instead of human isolation–based on the architectural ideas of Danish architect Jan Gehl.  And it was raining.  Luckily, I waited with someone who knew me, and so she was able to hunt down the venue coordinator before the film began to see if any seats were left.  There were, but they were in the front row.  I’m amazed I didn’t suffer neck pain once the movie was over.  Maybe if it had been longer than 83 minutes, I would have.  Unfortunately, the movie is one of those documentaries that is centered around an idea that might fill up an excellent short, or a magazine article, but can’t really sustain the run of a whole movie.  The irony is that it could have, had its makers invested the film with more of a human interest than an architectural one.  I felt as little connected to the talking heads in this film as Gehl claims modern cities perpetuate among its citizens.

Tuesday, May 28

Press screenings returned today, with Teddy Bears, Mutual Friends, and SOMM.  I didn’t see any of them, but I had a choice that night: get to Pacific Place early and get into the recently on-standby Blackfish, or watch Thérèse and The Last Sentence at the Egyptian.  I went with Blackfish and was surprised at how short the passholder line was.  Then I was surprised at how short the ticket line was.  Apparently, this was one that people came in late to, but while it was pretty packed, I don’t think all the seats were taken.

Blackfish is about Tilikum, a male orca whale who killed three people, including Dawn Brancheau, an experienced SeaWorld trainer.  The movie starts with that death and then goes back to where Tilikum and other orcas were rounded up for theme parks. Tilikum originally was kept at Sealand of the Pacific near Vancouver, where he was bullied by the female orcas and shared a small enclosure with them at night.  He killed a trainer there before being relocated to SeaWorld in Orlando.  The film keeps its focus on Tilikum, while also casting the net wider in detailing other attacks on trainers and the difference between orcas that live in the wild (where no attacks on humans have ever been recorded) and in captivity.  By the end of the film, one feels bad for the orcas and angry at any institution that seeks to entertain crowds via captured animals.

A Q & A followed the film, with not just the director, but also with several of the subjects present.  They were: Jeff Ventra, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, and Howard Garrett.  Garrett is the director of the ORCA Network, while Ventra, Berg, and Ray are ex-SeaWorld trainers.

(l-r) Jeff Ventra, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Howard Garrett, Carol Ray, and Samantha Berg

Cowperthwaite said that while current trainers at SeaWorld can’t openly embrace Blackfish, many of them are rooting for it behind-the-scenes.  In fact, the trainers are just as much victims as the orcas are.  Berg added that SeaWorld is “like a cult”: you want to be there, but the more you see, the less you can say.   To give proof to that statement, Cowperthwaite wasn’t able to contact many of the trainers who were attacked by orcas, as if some settlement prevented them from talking.  Much of the footage of the attacks, in fact, were only recovered under a Freedom of Information Act filing, though Cowperthwaite did not include a video of Brancheau’s death, and wouldn’t even if one existed, as it would contain no educational value.  Also, the cast recommended the audience check out Voice of the Orcas to hear other stories from ex-trainers.

Someone asked if the captured orcas could be released back into the wild.  Unfortunately, Garrett said it’s not that easy, as they would have to be gradually rehabilitated before they can be released.

Because of Brancheau’s death and the subsequent suit brought against SeaWorld by OSHA, SeaWorld must place a barrier between its trainers and the whales, but right now the company is arguing what constitutes a barrier.  They are trying to argue that being onstage or on a slideout count as barriers, even though Tilikum attacked Brancheau on a slideout.  SeaWorld’s lawyers are also “very much aware” of the film, as they showed up at Sundance.  Not that there’s much they can do.  Magnolia Pictures will be releasing it nationwide in theaters and on cable in July, and both Ventra and Berg are on Twitter.

After the Q & A, I got better pictures of the guests in the lobby.

Wednesday, May 29

Wednesday brought a surprise.  My boss said earlier this week that she’d be okay if we came in a little later than usual, since the box office hasn’t been busy in the morning, so I chose the always dangerous route of picking a different bus to come in on, before realizing that it was the same bus that a student told me sometimes doesn’t come.  So it was in this case, except that it had a good reason: a truck flipped over on I-5 near the Convention Center and shut down all traffic north of that location.    Therefore, instead of arriving 15-30 minutes later, I arrived an hour late.  Needless to say, passholders were pissed when we still held to our “no-late-seating” policy and locked the doors promptly at 10 am for The Trials of Muhammed Ali.  That was followed by Yesterday Never Ends (which is how it felt for some people) and then Full Circle.

That night, I was off to the Harvard Exit to see Two Weddings and a Funeral from South Korea, the first feature film by director Kimjho Gwan-soo (by himself: IMDB lists him as a co-director on another film).  Surprisingly, Kimjho Gwan-soo is gay.  I say surprisingly because while I applaud Two Weddings and a Funeral for centering its story on gay men and women (a rare thing in Korea), it does so with mostly stereotypical character types.  Only the main characters are given any depth, and even they aren’t given that much.  Still, my main problem with the film concerns the death that leads to the funeral.  It follows such a clichéd and predictable plotline that my suspension of disbelief became disbelief and threatened to permanently detach me from the rest of the film.  Only with reluctance was I able to re-enter the world, and by then, any sort of surface enjoyment I had received from the film was gone.  Up until that point, it’s a harmless, bubbly, formulaic film that will hopefully lead the way to more complex, human portrayals of homosexuals in South Korean cinema.

Next up: the conclusion to Week Two!