Update on Sakura-Con 2017 Posts

Hello everyone!

Apologies to those of you who are looking for photos of your cosplay on this blog: I have over 1,000 photos to sift through, so please be patient. Here’s my plan with regard to Sakura-Con 2017 posts:

  1. Vic Mignogna interview (multiple parts)
  2. Aaron Dismuke interview (multiple parts)
  3. Cosplay (with a link to all my Sakura-Con 2017 cosplay photos on flickr)
  4. Sakura-Con 2017 highlights (with a link to all my Sakura-Con 2017 photos on flickr)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing out the transcripts from Vic’s and Aaron’s interviews. I have about 10 minutes of audio for the former, and about 20 minutes for the latter. Because SIFF begins next month, there may be a gap in what I post when, but I hope to have at least part one of my interview with Vic up by next month. If all goes well, most of the posts should go up in June, while my final post should be up by July.

Thanks for your patience!

SIFF Interruptus

Normally, I would be covering the Seattle International Film Festival next month. Due to professional and personal reasons, however, I’ve decided not to cover it this year. I’ll still be attending its movies, and I’ll still be working at one of its venues, but I won’t be writing about it here, or (as happened last year) on Twitter. The professional reason is that I’ll be working more hours this year than in the past, and so will have less time to write about my festival experiences. The personal reason is private.

I will, however, be covering Sakura-Con this weekend, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I’ve got a couple of interviews lined up, and I’m excited about the panels and events being offered. I also have a new photographer helping me out with photo-taking this year (and, more importantly, being in charge of lugging my camera around). Hopefully I’ll post my entries before the end of April, and may even write a few posts during the Con itself!

Until next time!

P.S. While I’m not covering the festival, I do wish to draw your attention to SIFF’s new layout for its website. It’s pretty!

https://www.siff.net

SIFF 2016: Highlights and Observations

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Opening Night Gala (Thursday, May 19)

IMG_0886For the first time in the seven years I’ve attended the festival, opening night didn’t have great weather. It also didn’t have any guests from the opening night film, which makes me wonder if there was a Q&A after the movie ended (the cast were still enjoying the society in Cannes, possibly at a cafe). If SIFF had held it a week early, the weather would’ve been gorgeous, but on Thursday night, it rained, though since the rain didn’t start until after 7 in North Seattle, I’m hopeful that everyone was inside the venue before it began.

It turned to a light drizzle by the time I arrived for the gala proper, and had dissipated by night’s end. As happens with movies made by people with the last name of Allen or Polanski, controversy followed the selection of Cafe Society as the opening night film (and led to an article here from the executive director of Reel Grrls), but it did open Cannes, and it did put butts in seats. Since the only thing I’m privy to at SIFF is how to make a good latte, I can’t tell you why it was chosen over other films, and speculation is for cable news.

Since I had a big dinner, I didn’t have much of the food at the Opening Night Gala, though it looked delicious. The music was great, too, and since I always find myself directly in front of the speakers, I remembered to bring earplugs this time, which means I could hear the day after. The only mishap involved using a cheap bottle opener to open bottles of sparking water for some lovely ladies, cutting my finger on one of the bottle caps. When the bleeding stopped, I went back to dancing, though I missed the conga line.

Best Films of the Festival (That I Saw)

Best Overall: Our Little Sister (Kore-eda Hirokazu)

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Photo courtesy of SIFF

Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest film employs genius Kanno Yoko’s touching compositions with a story that is lighter and funnier than most of Kore-eda’s other films, but just as profound. In fact, I’d put this one up there with his best (Maborosi, After Life, Nobody Knows,  possibly I Wish). The plot is simple: three grown sisters discover they have a younger step-sister at their father’s funeral and invite her to live with them. Kore-eda deals humanely with each sister, and while the dramas they deal with are small, there is such warmth in the film that only people who confuse darkness with depth will mind.

Best Documentary: Tower (Keith Maitland)

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Photo courtesy of SIFF

This intense film uses actors and actresses to recount the first person experiences of several people affected by the first school shooting in U.S. history, which took place when a sniper climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas in 1966 and began firing on the people below. The filmmakers use the same kind of animation seen in Linklater’s Waking Life, along with actual footage, to give the audience the sense of the extreme heat, heroism, cowardice, and fear that people felt on that day. No explanations are given as to why the sniper did what he did; his name is not even mentioned. This film is about the people who were affected by the gunman, not the gunman himself. And while a late segue into more recent school shootings fumbles a bit in linking together all of these tragedies as stemming from the same cause, it is the only stumble that the film makes. One could argue that the epilogue drags on too long, but I welcomed the breather after the intensity that preceded it.

Best Archival: Dragon Inn (King Hu)

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Photo courtesy of SIFF

While Chimes at Midnight is the better achievement in film, it still has issues with the sound quality, something that may play better on speakers with less punchy bass, where Welles’s lines tend to turn into rumbling gobbledygook. Plus, while I admire Shakespeare and this film, particularly the images that now have a clarity to them lacking in other incarnations, Dragon Inn is more fun to sit through, with an equally excellent picture restoration and flat, monaural soundtrack that doesn’t temper the shrieky highs, but luckily doesn’t have many shrieky highs to contend with. Both are great archival restorations, but Dragon Inn edges out Chimes at Midnight for watchability.

Most Thought-Provoking: A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Iwai Shunji)

photo courtesy of SIFF

Photo courtesy of SIFF

I’m not sure if this film belongs in such exalted company as the films listed above, but it will make you think during its three hours, and no shot is superfluous. My one issue is with an act of cruelty that occurs within the first hour, when a man who is supposed to be the friend of the female protagonist secretly frames her for cheating on her husband and ruins her marriage. No explanation is given for his behavior, unless he thought he was doing her a favor. There are hints that he’s in love with her, but those hints are dropped once the main story begins. Then again, if we are to take the work as satire, he is more deus ex machina than person and doesn’t need to be logical. Part of the fun in the film is seeing where the plot goes, so I won’t spoil it for you here, other that to say that there’s delightful ironies throughout, such as when a group of strangers playing family members act more like family toward each other than actual family members do. But the film stays in the memory, and the ending is perfect.

Director Iwai Shunji with translator (l) and moderator Eddy Dughi (r)

Translator, Iwai Shunji (director), Eddy Dughi (SIFF moderator)

Other great films: The Bacchus Lady, Beware the Slenderman, Chimes at Midnight, Tickled, We Are X

Male Directors, Female Leads

Many of the films I saw this year starred female protagonists in female stories directed by men. In each one of them, I thought how different the film might’ve been if directed by a female. Even Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister, while a sensitive portrait of family life among sisters, includes romantic angles that are less out-of-place due to the conservative nature of Japanese domestic life, but less progressive than what the characters of Take Care of My Cat experience in South Korea. A Bride for Rip Van Winkle has a main character who’s a porn star, Where Have All The Good Men Gone included discussions about boyfriends (briefly) in a film about finding a lost father and escaping an abusive one, The Bacchus Lady is about an elderly prostitute. And yet, the films center on multi-faceted women, most of whom are independent from men or had boyfriends but didn’t rely on them. And neither The Bacchus Lady nor A Bride for Rip Van Winkle are meant to titillate, but focus on society’s ills against women and how women carve out their place in the world, regardless.

Secret Festival

One of the reasons I attended Secret Festival this year was that, a few years back, the Fools picked Secret #2 as the best film of the festival. Not wanting that to happen again this year, I went to each screening, only missing Secret #3, due to illness. When the ballots came out this year, Secret #3 was the Fools pick for best film. *Sigh* All that I can tell you about Secret Festival is that Dan Ireland’s spirit was evoked during it, there were lots of bananas, and we witnessed Richard Gere dancing to a song from Flashdance.

Q&As

Unlike previous years, I decided not to write about the Q&A’s, except to post photos and maybe a few interesting sound bites on Twitter (search @litdreamer #SIFF2016). The tweets didn’t include much information about the guests, however, so here’s a picture from each one I attended, with identifying information included (excluding Iwai Shunji’s, which is above).

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Where Have All the Good Men Gone: SIFF moderator, Rene Frelle Petersen (director), Jette Sondergaard (actress),Marco Lorenzen (producer)

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First Girl I Loved: SIFF moderator, Kerem Sanga (director), Ross Putnam (producer)

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The Eyes of My Mother: SIFF moderator, Nicolas Pesce (director), Jacob Wasserman (producer)

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The Final Master: Xu Haofeng (director), Xia Li (producer), SIFF translator, Dan Doody (SIFF moderator)

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Beware the Slenderman: Sophie Harris (producer), Dan Doody (SIFF moderator)

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Shortsfest Closing Night: Alexander Lewis, Artemis Shaw (directors, “Single Room Occupancy”), Ofir Klemperer (composer, “The Apartment”), Yotam Wax (director, “The Apartment”), Patrick Haggerty (subject, “The Saint of Dry Creek”), Dan Doody (SIFF moderator)

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Tower: Megan Leonard (SIFF moderator), Keith Maitland (director), Sarah Wilson (cinematographer)

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The Bacchus Lady: SIFF moderator, E J-Yong (director), translator

 Remembering Dan Ireland (Sunday, June 12)


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The tribute for Dan Ireland, festival co-founder and director of one of my favorite movie experiences from the 40th Seattle International Film Festival (The Whole Wide World), occurred on the afternoon of June 12, the final day of this year’s festival. While SIFF treated it like its Secret Festival in that it didn’t announce what was playing and would disavow any official account of the program, it did not require signing statements of secrecy, so I’ll tell you what the tribute entailed and then there’ll be no way to verify what I write. 🙂

I entered the theater to a slide-show onscreen, with photos taken throughout Ireland’s life and career, as well as a weepy soundtrack (“We’ll Meet Again” played during the segment that showed slides of Ireland growing up and hanging out with friends). Then Artistic Director Chief Curator and Festival Director Carl Spence said a few words. He first met Ireland when he (Spence) was 23. Reading from a note written by Darryl Macdonald, who co-founded the festival with Ireland, Macdonald mentioned sneaking out with Ireland to see films when they were seven and their first year at the Moore Egyptian Theatre (1975), as well as their first SIFF (the following year). He wrote he’d miss “Dan’s constant positive energy” and his “twisted sense of humor.” In the background showed the banner seen above. Then came a highlight reel (which Ireland put together) showing clips from all of his feature-length movies: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, The Whole Wide World, Living Proof, Passionata, Jolene, and The Velocity of Gary. Then we heard from his sister Judy and younger brother Tim — briefly from the former, at length from the latter.

Tim wondered why Seattle claimed Ireland as “Seattle’s own” when he grew up in Vancouver and also lived in Portland, though he realizes now that Seattle has as much of a right to claim his as the other two places, since he left such a mark here. Also, before his death, he didn’t know the depth of his brother’s relationships. At least ten people told him at the memorial service in L.A. that “Dan Ireland is my best friend.”

“Without a doubt, Dan Ireland really loved people,” he said.

Despite this, he mentioned that Ireland was bullied when younger. One year, he only received two Valentine’s Day cards from his classmates! The story I enjoyed the most, though, was that a young Ireland used to call a movie theater in Vancouver to see if the films being shown there were in Cinemascope or Panavision.

After his siblings spoke, the lights glowed less and the screen filled with clips from some of his favorite movies, including All About Eve and Lair of the White Worm, followed by a “Trailers from Hell” sequence in which he talks about helping to bring John Huston’s The Dead to the screen. It finished with Richard Gere, as King David, dancing to “What a Feelin'” from Flashdance (see Secret Fest above).

We ended with a 35 mm reel of clips shown for the directors guild called “Precious Images” — the first time this reel had been run — and the movie Pillow Talk, which was one of Ireland’s favorite movies, also on 35 mm. To be honest, I didn’t much care for it, though seeing Rock Hudson pretend to be gay during one sequence in the film (when he was actually gay in real life) was interesting, and Doris Day putting on her stalkings was sexier than most woman taking off their clothes. Still, the highlight of the remembrance was hearing his brother speak, and the highlight of all my Ireland experiences remains seeing his personal 35 mm print of The Whole Wide World two years previous.

In Conclusion

I’d hoped to have this post up by the end of June. Here we are in August, and it’s finally up. To be honest, this post was mostly finished, but I kept procrastinating on posting the photos of all the Q&A guests I took, though when it came time to actually post them on the blog, there ended up being not as many as I feared.

Of all the festivals I’ve worked, covered, and volunteered in, this one ran the smoothest, though that may be because I didn’t observe any movies occurring at the new venues that appeared this year, such as Majestic Bay and the Arc Lodge (for brief runs). It could also be because most of the people running the venues have been doing this for years.

Also, this was the first year since I’ve worked at SIFF that I didn’t go to the Closing Night Gala. I did go to the Super Secret Staff Party, but since it’s super secret…

Finally, I thought the festival trailer this year and accompanying song kicked ass:

Until next year!

Sssshhhh! It’s a secret.

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Secret Festival. None dare speak of what goes on within this four-day festival-within-a-festival. Those who mention the creations which screen in shadow are never heard from again. What happens in the dark stays in the dark.

This year I shall be attending this adumbral ritual. I can never disclose the names of the films I see; they are referred to in the guide as Secret 1, Secret 2, Secret 3,  and Secret 4. Within this hidden world I may find a masterpiece, or a film unworthy to be called a film.  No plots revealed, cast lists mentioned, or directors lauded. Just generic praise, or generic cursing. Unless my transmissions cease. Then you shall know I am among the damned.

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Another Year, Another Festival

What is SIFF? A word. What is that word SIFF? Air. A trim reckoning! — Who hath it? He that loves film. (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The 2016 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival begins May 19 and continues through June 12, though press screenings began today. I’ve decided to do mostly tweets this year, so follow me @litdreamer for those (or check out the sidebar on this blog). Most movies I see are worth only 140 characters. Some are worth none. For the few which inspire me to paragraphs, I shall post posts here.

One thing I’m curious about is if there’ll be a tribute for Dan Ireland, one of the founders of the festival, who passed away last month. Two years ago, I saw a print of The Whole Wide World with Ireland in attendance. A beautiful film that I loved so much, I started seeking out Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and other tales. A highlight of the 40th Film Festival, as was his short film, “Hate from a Distance” (you can read about both films here). I’m guessing the death happened too close to the festival to program a separate event, but perhaps something will be put together for Opening Night.

UPDATE: IN THE FREE GUIDE, “REMEMBERING DAN” IS SCHEDULED FOR 1:30 AT THE EGYPTIAN ON THE FINAL DAY OF THE FEST.

I’ll keep you posted, and see you at the movies!

Note: You can find the entire lineup for this year at http://www.siff.net/festival-2016/film-guide.

Photos from the Greenwood gas explosion

Shortly before 1:45 this morning, an explosion echoed through Seattle. My roommate and I were both up when it happened. It sounded like a heavy dresser falling in the room above us, followed by a loud boom.  What actually happened was a natural gas leak ignited several blocks south of us, annihilating one building and damaging surrounding ones. Later that afternoon, I walked down to where the remains of Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros, and Quick Stop Grocery were surrounded by police, caution tape, and utilities personnel. These are some of the photos I took.

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The north blockade started at 87th Street. Business owners who worked in the cordoned off area were escorted to their businesses by a police officer.

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To the east, police blocked off everything west of Phinney Ave, which runs parallel to Greenwood Ave N.

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The police had the sidewalks blocked off on the southern side of 84th Street. Despite their building being damaged by fire, the employees at Greenwood Chocolati Café were busy giving firefighters free coffees, which I witnessed shortly before snapping this photo.

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The fire was out by 10:30 am (source: Q13 Fox News), but firefighters were still pouring water on it when I took this photo at 2:23 pm.DSC_1808

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Notice the interview being conducted across the street, and the giant hole in the road.

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Glass on the ground near Greenwood Chocolati Café.

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The side of Greenwood Chocolati Café. Still open despite damage to the windows. They are on the corner of 84th and Greenwood, just across the street from the blast.

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All that’s left of Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros, and Quick Stop Grocery.

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As I headed west down 84th, I saw other windows broken by the blast.

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There was even debris on the roofs.

For more information on the blast and fundraisers to help those businesses and employees affected by it, go here and here.

The Most Fascinating (Unseen) Films of 2015

I saw many great films in 2015, some of which were released the previous year, yet every critic does a “best-of” list at the end of the year, and what do they tell you? That the same few movies were admired by most critics, with a fistful of variations. If I were doing such a list, I’d include Mad Max, Inside Out, Selma, The End of the Tour, and The Imitation Game. Instead, I’m including movies that may have slipped under your radar — and almost slipped under mine. You also can check out my reports from SIFF 2015, which include movies I haven’t included here.

Best Retrospective: Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien

With the release of The Assassin in U.S. theaters last year, I hope that Hou’s films become more available to American audiences. The festival retrospective I went to included 35 mm prints of six of his films: A Time to Live And a Time to Die; Dust in the Wind; Flowers of Shanghai; Millennium Mambo; and Good Men, Good Women. All movies were screened at the Grand Illusion and the Northwest Film Forum. In addition, Scarecrow Video hosted viewings of The Boys from Fengkuei (Hou’s first “artistic” movie), City of Sadness, The Puppet Master, Goodbye South Goodbye, and Cafe Lumiere in their screening room. Most films were introduced by cinephile and Hou aficionado Sean Gilman, including all the ones I went to (I missed A Time to Live And A Time to Die, Flowers of Shanghai, and all of the Scarecrow screenings, except for The Boys from Fengkuei). The films covered three specific periods of Hou’s filmography: coming-of-age tales, Taiwanese history, and contemporary (in Millennium Mambo, his mostly static camera is replaced with one that “floats” above the action). The prints were in excellent condition, the cinematography gorgeous, the stories meditative. I still need to see City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, consider Hou’s two best films, so here’s hoping the next Hou retrospective includes prints of them, as the versions released over here are not in good condition (according to Gilman, Scarecrow replaced the Region 1 DVD of City of Sadness with a superior transfer for their screening).

Best Archival Presentation on Film: The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky)

For his final film, Tarkovsky employed the talents of Sven Nyvquist, Bergman’s legendary cinematographer. So, yeah, the film looked fantastic. I saw no dirt or scratches, just brilliance on the screen.

Best Archival Presentation Not on Film: The Apu Trilogy (Satyajit Ray), Jaws (Steven Spielberg)

Based on artistic quality, The Apu Trilogy easily wins, but the presentation for both films (DCP for one, laser projection for the other) was stunning. Jaws looked and sounded fantastic (I thought the music muted, but I discovered later that it’s supposed to sound muted). As for The Apu Trilogy, we’re lucky we can see it at all, since most of the original negatives were destroyed in a fire. This forced Criterion to hunt down duplicate negatives and existing prints to recreate the most life-fulfilling films I’ve ever seen.

Best Archival Presentation with Live Accompaniment: A Story of Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu) w/ live music and benshi by Aono Jikken Ensemble

In Japan, silent films were accompanied by benshi: men and women who translated and interpreted the movies on the screen, much as Tayū (chanters) tell the story in bunraku (puppet theater). This version of A Story of Floating Weeds included a modern equivalent, with one female member of Aono Jikken Ensemble performing the role of benshi while the rest of the ensemble played an original score. Since the members in the ensemble met the last living benshi, this is as close as I’ll ever get to experiencing silent films as they were experienced in Japan.

Best WTF Movie: The Astrologer (Craig Denney)

No other movie captured the glory of bad movies like The Astrologer, which played once during the Seattle International Film Festival. Random shots (including inappropriate slow-mo and rotating crane shots), horrible acting, bad cinematography, cheap special effects, cheesy dialog — it’s all there, blended in such a way as to be unintentionally funny. Among the spoken gems, my favorite was, “You’re not an astrologer; you’re an asshole!”

Best Use of Camera Angles: The Devils (Ken Russell)

Ken Russell’s UK cut of The Devils (on 35mm!) shows why most movies today are boring. His camera angles aren’t showy, but they have personality — something often lacking in contemporary films.

Best Vampire Movie: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

I didn’t see What We Do in the Shadows, but that was a spoof, so I’m still going with Amirpour’s Iranian vampire film as the best vampire film of 2015. A vampire that only kills men who sexually prey on and abuse women? Not hard to see what Amirpour’s getting at here. It’s as black and white as the film’s cinematography, but the artistry employed in translating that message to the screen makes this more than a message movie, including as it does shades of Let the Right One In  with its relationship between The Girl (Sheila Vand) and the Arash (Arash Marandi).

Best Cinematography: Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh) — Dick Pope, cinematographer

Leigh isn’t an unknown quantity, but Mr. Turner didn’t get wide release in the US. For fans of J.M.W. Turner, that’s a shame, as the cinematography is as gorgeous as one of his paintings.

And now let’s list to movies you really should’ve seen, and why (in the order I saw them):

1. Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf)

Worth seeing for the two lead actresses, Hannah Herzsprung and Henriette Confurius, who play sisters: one of whom (Confurius) marries the poet Frederick Schiller (Florian Stetter), one of whom takes him as her lover, even though she is married. Herzsprung, in particular, is fantastic to watch as the more strong-willed of the two sisters, who has literary ambitions of her own.

2. An Honest Liar (Tyler Measom, Justin Weinstein)

A documentary about the Amazing Randi, who has spent his life denouncing charlatans, particularly those whom he feel are dangerous to the people they dupe. One of the best documentaries you’ve never seen, for though he’s spent his life denouncing untruths, an untruth lies at the center of his life.

3. Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore)

The best animated movie not by Pixar, with a drawing style very different from Disney.  By the same studio that made Book of Kells, but with a better story. Like that film, based on Irish legends.

4. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

This wonderfully creepy film about an unstoppable force that is transmitted like an STD pays homage to 80s horror films, fills itself with characters we care about, and grounds its horror in the real world. Not quite as good as The Babadook, but scarier, it proves great horror films aren’t dead yet.

5. 1971 (Johanna Hamilton)

The premise of the film sounded interesting; who knew it’d be one of the best documentaries of the year? Re-enacting a break-in that occurred in an FBI office in Pennsylvania in 1971 in which the perpetrators stole files and sent them to major newspapers, the film interviews the participants of that event, who saw their break-in as an act of protest against the government and the Vietnam War. One of the documents led to the discovery of the secret surveillance systems that the FBI has on US citizens, leading to “the first Congressional investigation of an intelligence committee” (Variety 2014 film review: http://variety.com/2014/film/festivals/film-review-1971-1201202631/). Not only were the perpetrators never caught; no one knew who they were — until they revealed themselves in this film.

6. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

One of the strangest films I’ve ever see, and one of the most beautiful. It starts in reality and ends in dream, as Captain Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortenson) searches for his missing daughter (Viilbjørk Malling Agger) after she elopes with a young soldier ((Misael Saavedra).

7. Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner)

In 1811, Heinrich von Kliest — writer of “The Marquise of O,” among others — shot and killed his friend Henriette Vogel on the banks of the Wansee before turning the gun on himself. Though a suicide pact existed between the friends (Vogel was dying of cancer), this films leaves enough ambiguity concerning the prognosis and Vogel’s willingness to die with the young author to make for a fascinating, female-centric retelling of the event, and the days leading up to it. To quote Scout Tafoya’s review on RogerEbert.com: “Vogel’s illness was never questioned as seriously at the time as it is in the film. The official word is that she was going to die either way. The film creates reasonable doubt because its chief interest is in telling the story of a woman at the mercy of circumstances” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/amour-fou-2015).

8. Phoenix (Christian Petzold)

Excellent acting from Nina Hoss as Nelly Lenz, a woman who survives the Holocaust, but whose face undergoes plastic surgery as a result of her wounds. Her husband, not knowing she’s his wife, forces her to impersonate herself, in order to get her inheritance money. The ending is perfect.

9. Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley)

Constructed entirely from tapes that the late Marlon Brando made throughout his life, and edited with photos, movie clips, and TV spots. Admittedly one-sided, but what a fascinating side it is! And the editing job that went into this is astonishing.

10. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller)

Mainly to be seen for Bel Powley’s lead performance, who acts as a young woman — recently introduced to the joys of sex — would behave. And the fact that the film is honest about a young woman’s sexuality, instead of existing mainly for the male gaze.

11. The Diplomat (David Holbrooke)

Released by HBO, this documentary by David Holbrooke follows his father, Richard Holbrooke (mainly known for his role in the Dayton Accords), from the beginning of his career as a diplomat to the end. Honest in its portrayal of the flaws of the man, as well as the flaws of the administrations he worked under, this was one of the best surprises of 2015.

12. The Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson)

Dreams, death, and observations about the world. The imagery is eclectic, as are the subjects covered, and yet Anderson somehow ties it all together.

Changes to My Blog — The 2016 “Movie” Edition

Like on Dreams of Literary Grandeur, I didn’t post much on this site last year. Take away posts from before and during SIFF 2015 and you’re left with two of them.

The changes to this blog, however, have less to do with frequency and more to do with revamping the “Movies Watched” section. I’ll no longer list all the anime and TV series I’ve seen over the course of the year, though I may write posts about them.  Also, I’m only listing new movies watched.  If I see an archival movie on the big screen, I may mention it on Twitter (@litdreamer) or write a post on it here, but I’m not listing it in the sidebar. That includes movies watched at SIFF, though I will include all movies watched in one of my festival posts. That also means that the two pages I’ve dedicated to movies and series watched during the course of the year will soon vanish.

In the past, I’ve sometimes written which format I saw a movie in.  I’ll be doing that for all films now, as well as the title, director (or producer/actor, if they’re more well-know; e.g. Walt Disney, Buster Keaton), run-time, country of origin, and release date.

Like on Dreams of Literary Grandeur, I’m going to tweak the blogroll, but not as severely.  In this case, I’ll remove the names of blogs that have listed no new posts for a year.

Finally, all the posts originally part of Dreams of Literary Grandeur will have that moniker at the bottom of the post, and after checking that everything has been imported correctly to this blog will be removed from the Dreams blog, thereby giving me a more accurate count of how many posts I’ve written between the two.

Cumberbatch’s Hamlet

Courtesy of SIFF Cinema.

Poster courtesy of SIFF Cinema

When I spent a semester abroad in London (fifteen years ago!), I saw William H. Macy in American Buffalo and Ralph Fiennes in Richard II, experienced A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello at the Barbican, and even took a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see a Restoration comedy. Back then, that was the only way to see live theater performances.  Within the past decade, however, audiences worldwide have been able to experience staged performances at their local movie theaters.

Still, while I took advantage of my job at a movie theater to avail myself of this option, the first truly live offering for me only came last month, with a National Theatre Live performance of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the troubled prince of Denmark.  Two performances were scheduled (not including encores): the first one, at 11 am, was a live stream from the Barbican; the second, at 7 pm, was a “same-day live” broadcast.  With intermission, the show ran almost 4 hours.

Luckily, the day the live shows were playing — October 15 — was a Thursday.  And I have Thursdays off.

Even luckier, the earlier performance had seats left.  And — being the cultural snob that I am — I wanted to see the live show.  True, I’d have no chance of getting Cumberbatch’s autograph, or of running into Tom Hiddleston (twice) on the way to the bathroom (as a friend-of-a-friend did), but I would get to see Shakespeare’s greatest character in one of his greatest plays, played by a man who has made a specialty of playing morally complex characters.

Usually, during the intermission, NT Live includes extra features, such as a discussion with the actors or insight into an interpretational choice.  In this case, the extras were shown ahead of the performance.  They consisted of a sit-down interview with Cumberbatch and his visit to a school in England that was also putting on the play, the latter in order to witness their interpretation of the “To be or not to be” speech.  The first part revealed that, after each night, Cumberbatch mostly feels hungry and tired, while the second showed the children choosing to have everyone participate in the monologue (to interpret and highlight the speech as so many voices and influences Hamlet is feeling at that moment).

For the Barbican performance, the first interesting artistic choice occurs at the beginning of the play.  Act I, Scene I –with the guards and the ghost — is jettisoned in favor of Horatio’s entrance in Scene II (minus Marcellus and Bernardo, who enter with Horatio in the proper place in Scene II), which now comes before the beginning of the scene with the king, queen, and court, so that Hamlet mentions his displeasure to Horatio that “the funeral bak’d meats/ Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”* at the start of the play, instead of two scenes in.  I found this a wise decision, as the play now begins and ends with Hamlet, first mourning his father (while clutching a portrait in his lap and listening to a sad recording on vinyl), and then dying in the arms of Horatio.  The tone is set, therefore, not by the dead father, but by the mourning son.  Other great touches include the operatic flourishes that occur when the ghost appears to Hamlet and the scene which occurs right before intermission, in which wind-swept ashes blow through the palace as a doomed-filled note falls from the speakers.  And then there’s the costumes, wherein those outside the strict world of the aristocracy dress in more casual clothing than the rest of the people in the play — clothing which can change in regards to their relation to those in power.  While Horatio is too overdone, with tattoos and casual wear reminiscent of a European backpacker, I found Hamlet’s change from suits to t-shirts (as he feigns madness) convincing, with the opposite transition occurring for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (though they keep their sneakers with their formal attire).

Cumberbatch is an excellent Hamlet, saying the lines with meaning and giving insights into not just the character, but how great a writer Shakespeare is.  When Hamlet dies, I started tearing up.  But while I expected a great Hamlet, I didn’t expect a great Ophelia.  In all the screen and stage adaptations I have seen (the former outnumbering the latter), I never found her madness convincing, but here Sian Brooke shows how vulnerable she is in her love for Hamlet from her first scene, which makes her later mental disintegration believable.  And while Ophelia’s brother Laertes is too one-note in his rage after hearing about the death of his father, and Anastasia Hille’s Gertrude — while also saying her lines with meaning — won’t make me forget Glenn Close, Claudius is a role in which I have yet to see anything less than a good performance — including this one.

All in all, an astonishing Hamlet, one that is as alive today as it must have been when performed over 400 years ago; and the best part is, you don’t have to hop a plane to London to see it.

CAST

Hamlet – Prince of Denmark  …………          Benedict Cumberbatch

Horatio                                       …………          Leo Bill

Polonius                                     …………          Jim Norton

Claudius                                     …………          Ciarán Hinds

Gertrude                                   …………           Anastasia Hille

Ophelia                                      …………          Sian Brooke

Laertes                                      …………          Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Directed by Lyndsey Turner

Produced by Sonia Friedman

Full cast list can be found here.

*Source: The Illustrated Stratford Shakespeare, Chancellor Press, 2000, p. 802

Toyo’s Camera (Junichi Suzuki, 2009, 98 mins)

Born in Japan in 1895, Toyo Miyatake came to the U.S. in 1909.  As an adult, he set up a photo studio in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, and in the 1930s became famous for photographing Michio Ito’s dance troupe.

These beginnings are covered in Toyo’s Camera, the excellent first film in director Junichi Suzuki’s Nisei Trilogy (“Nisei” is a word meaning “second generation Japanese-Americans”).  The main focus of the movie, however, is what happens after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.  Two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the order authorized the forced removal of anyone of Japanese ancestry from their homes and placed them in concentration camps.

Toyo and his family were sent to Manzanar.  Detainees were only allowed to bring what they could carry, and cameras weren’t allowed.  Toyo, however, snuck in materials to build a camera and received film through the guards he befriended.  He risked this because, as he told his son, he felt it was his duty to document camp life.

The film shows these photos, mentions Caucasian Americans who were against the order (including a teacher and a librarian) and interviews people who lived in the camps, as well as experts on that time period — and on the racism that led to the detainment of Japanese-Americans, but not German or Italian-Americans.  Several photographers also objected to the concentration camps, including Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams (the latter of whom mentored Toyo), both of whom took photos in the camps (in 1944, Adams put together a book called Born Free and Equal, which contains photos from Manzanar.  Unlike most of his photography, these photographs focus on individuals instead of landscapes).  Even Ralph Merritt, the director of Manzanar, helped.  Merritt was a photography aficionado and knew Edward Weston, another of Toyo’s mentors.  He eventually allowed Toyo to bring in photographic equipment from his studio, saying, “A photographer without a camera is like a bird without wings.”  At first, a Caucasian person had to push the shutter, but after going through eight assistants, Merritt confided to Toyo, “You know, I’m basically blind out of my left side,” which led Toyo to understand that he could take the photos himself.

While the film focuses on Toyo (mainly through remembrances by his son, Archie, as well as people he photographed around the neighborhood) — while building a more complete societal portrait of those times — there is a detour into a generational issue that arises between the Issei (first generation Japanese-Americans) and the Nisei over questions 27 and 28 of the loyalty questionnaire, which detainees were forced to answer in 1942.  Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?  Question 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization? Never mind that no one else had to answer this questionnaire, or that two-thirds of the 110,000 people held at the camps were American citizens, or that these questions were asked of both men and women, boys and girls, regardless of age or circumstances.  Many of the Nisei agreed to fight, while those who answered “no” to either question were sent to Tule Lake, another concentration camp (and coincidentally, the last incarceration camp operated by the War Relocation Authority to close).  And yet this segue makes sense, after which we find ourselves back in Manzanar with Toyo, during its final days.  When the camps closed, everyone got $25 ($330 in today’s money) and a bus ticket back home, where vandalized houses and missing property greeted its former owners.  Toyo stayed till the end, taking photos almost up until the point where they closed the gates (in fact, he wanted to be the one to close them).

Then we jump to years later, when President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which gave payment and official apologies to the survivors of the camps; and to today, where many people (particularly Japanese people living in Japan) don’t know that Japanese and Japanese-Americans were put in concentration camps during the war.  My only criticism of the film, in fact, is that when people leave the concentration camps, George Takei’s voiceover makes it sound like their troubles ended, a view that former concentration camp incarceree Cho Shimizu corrected during the Q&A which followed the movie.  He was joined by President-Elect Eileen Yamada Lamphere of the Puyallup Valley JACL and Seattle JACL President Paul Tashima, who MC’d.  For Cho’s family, the post-war (and post-concentration camp) years included overcoming homelessness and racism (“we were still considered the enemy”). People threw rocks at him when he went to school, which led to him taking different routes there each day, and he got into many fights.  One time, when he came home with his shirt torn, his mother went into her room, shut the door, and cried.  At that point, he realized how hard camp life and post-camp life had been on his mom, too.

Cho explained that before they were sent to the concentration camps, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were sent to assembly centers.  In Seattle, people were sent to Pullayup to a place called Camp Harmony.  Eileen mentioned that 2017 is the anniversary of its closure.  Cho said that the assembly centers were even worse than the concentration camps: Camp Harmony (for example) had plywood with holes cut into them for toilets, where each person would be touching each other when they sat.  The rumor was that food at the assembly centers (where detainees waited to be relocated to concentration camps) came from World War I.  From there, Cho and his family were sent to Minidoka.

One of his brothers joined the 442nd division, a legendary group of soldiers made up entirely of Nisei (according to Wikipedia, “The 442nd Regiment was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare”).  He remembers finding a German POW camp and noticing it looked exactly like Minidoka.  The other brother joined a platoon that operated in a small village in Tokyo after the war.  He was told by his commanding officer,  “Some of them don’t know the war is over yet, so don’t tell ’em you’re American or you’ll be shot.”  Though things were difficult for Cho after the war, he said his parents and older brothers had it worse, as the Issei at least made sure there was some sort of social structure for the Nisei in the camps.  And yet, while millions of dollars poured into Japan after the war, detainees only got a bus ticket.

After their internment, Cho and his family moved to Renton, which had low-income housing.  Eileen mentioned that another place many Japanese-Americans went was to 14th and Weller, where a Japanese school was located (later dubbed the Hunt Hotel).  Partitions were put up and many families moved in.

Then came time for questions from the audience, the first two written by students.  The first questioner wondered if those detainees who answered “yes” to question 27 and 28 felt more American, while those who had answered “no” felt more Japanese.  Cho mentioned there were other factors behind saying “no” to those two questions, one being “to let the government know [the internment]’s unjust.”  Eileen mentioned that one or two “no”s landed detainees at Tule Lake, but there was another group at Heart Mountain who answered “yes” to both questions, but resisted the draft as long as their families were in the concentration camps.

The second questioner wondered if, in the absence of the relocation to concentration camps, it would’ve been risky for families to stay, due to increased racism. Cho said they “would still do what they did” and mentioned a case where a Caucasian woman, married to a Japanese man, was allowed to stay out of the concentration camps, with neither her Caucasian nor Japanese neighbors feeling resentful about it.  What I am not sure about is if the whole family was allowed to stay, or just the mother.

Then we got a question from the audience.  The film mentioned that Japanese women had an easier time in the camps than they would have at home, since they didn’t have to cook, clean, or keep up social engagements.  The woman asking the question wondered if the camps really offered relief for them.  Cho said it was, in a way, as “wives were basically slaves to their husbands” and might bear them ten kids, aged 2-18.  In this way, camp life was more convenient.  On the other hand, they didn’t know what would happen to the families.  In Japan, the Emperor would exile people by sending them to the desert.  The concentration camps were in the desert.  Wasn’t sending them there like exile?  And while mothers could handle the responsibilities of everyday life, they had a harder time dealing with prejudice and injustice.  Eileen mentioned that there was a breakdown of the family unit in the camps, as the Issei hung out together and the teens hung out together, as opposed to families hanging out together.  Often, the mothers were left to themselves.

One might reasonably ask why they should watch a film about something that happened 70 years ago.  My answer is because fear brings out the worst in how we treat each other, and only by understanding that we’re capable of doing such things can we prevent ourselves from doing them in the future. Plus, it’s a really good film.

442-Live With Honor, Die With Dignity plays on Saturday, June 27 at 6:30 at NVC Memorial Hall. MIS: Human Secret Weapon plays on Sunday, June 28 at noon at SIFF Uptown (click on the locations for ticket information).  Director Junichi Suzuki and his wife are scheduled to attend both performances.