Besides watching great movies you may never see again, one of the main reasons for attending a film festival — rather than seeing movies during their theatrical runs — is to get the chance to hear from people who worked on the film or — in the case of documentaries — its subjects. One of the most memorable moments of SIFF 2011 came from one of these “guests” — except that she wasn’t invited! Scroll down to my review of Tabloid to read more. But first, read my take on The Whisperer in Darkness, one of the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptations I’ve seen. Unlike Tabloid, the guests associated with that screening were invited.
Sunday, June 5th
Volunteer: Line Greeter Neptune Theatre 10am-2pm
I worked with the same house coordinator as yesterday, though I don’t remember if I worked with any of the same volunteers.
The first movie was a Ken Loach film called Route Irish, which deals with a contractor in Iraq whose friend is killed under mysterious circumstances. The film looked great, but it’s one of those movies that must be seen from the beginning. I saw George from Seattle Cinema Club there, as well as Craig, who I met last year while volunteering. Craig asked me what movie I would recommend; I told him he should see The White Meadows.
The next film was Killing Bono. Yes, that Bono. As I was going down the line outside to make sure that everyone had the right tickets, I recognized one of the people in line, also from Seattle Cinema Club. After I talked to her, someone else called out to me, but I didn’t recognize her. And yet….
Then, she said, “It’s Marianne!”
Yes, that’s right; I had finally met the elusive Eastsider @mariannesp. I gave her a big hug once I realized who she was, and then was introduced to her husband.
Once I got to the end of the line, I doubled back to the front entrance, where Marianne asked if I were seeing this film. Unfortunately, it was lunchtime for me (as well as the end of my shift), though I wish I had come back when the movie had finished so that I could hang out with her more. 20/20 hindsight. Anyway, she asked me for the best films I had seen so far, so I told her The White Meadows, Littlerock, and Project Nim.
14. Snow White (France 2010: 90 min) Neptune Theatre 6:30 pm
Snow White (Le Blanche Neige) is a ballet based on the classic fairy tale, which received its US Premiere on Thursday at SIFF. Before it began, I listened to the conversations between the people around me, many of whom seemed to be in the ballet world. In fact, the people who sat to my left looked like VIPs. As to the group of young women in front of me, they were passing around a photo of an ultrasound, as one of them was pregnant, which the others were celebrating. This creates a neat segway into the film, which was introduced by Justine Borden, as the first shot is of Snow White’s mother, pregnant and alone, giving birth to her daughter in the forest.
Then Snow White grows up, disappearing behind a set of panes to reappear as an older version of herself. The familiar elements of the story are here (though the Queen gets two rat henchmen), set to the music of Mahler. The music greatly matches the mood of each scene it portrays, especially music from the 10th (Snow White dances alone at the ball), 8th (the apple sequence), and 5th (the Adagietto, when the Prince grieves over Snow White, dead from the poison apple). The apple sequence, in fact, was a passionate highlight of the film.
Unfortunately, most of the dance numbers lack passion. There is some nice footwork, to be sure, but the dances are too angular (particular in the arms) to convey the full emotional impact of the score (though Céline Galli, who plays Snow White, is excellent). This in spite of the dwarves dressed as miners scaling a wall, and one sequence between Snow White and the Prince, where they first dance without any music, then with music. This brings up another point: the duets are better than the group dances.
One final note: the costumes are good, on the whole (including one of a deer in the forest), but Snow White’s dress at the end of the film is bizarre. 3 out of 5
15. The Whisperer in Darkness (USA 2011: 103 min) Neptune Theatre 9 pm
In what may be the strangest double-feature I’ve done at SIFF, I followed Snow White, a ballet, with The Whisperer in Darkness, a horror movie shot in black-and-white. For this film I had to exit and then re-enter the theater, except that the people in charge of allowing the re-entry pass people in first were not paying attention. Still, I grabbed a good seat, in exactly the same row that I sat in for Snow White, but more toward the center. I had just started reading H.P. Lovecraft at this point, and so had not gotten to this particular short story of his, which is one of the longer ones in my collection.
The film version is a faithful adaptation of the short story, in which a professor at Arkham University begins a correspondence with a man who says that he has seen crab-like creatures on his premises, located near the hills of Vermont. Made to look and feel like an old horror movie from the 30s, it also shares the format’s penchant for building suspense slowly, rather than shocking us with loud noises, CGI monsters, and things that jump out at us. The same group adapted The Call of Cthulhu as a silent horror film, which up until this film’s release was hailed as the best adaptation of a Lovecraft story to date (source: Necronomicron: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft). This one should share in that praise. 5 out of 5
Q&A: For this film, David Robertson (producer, sound & lighting), Andrew Leman (producer), and Sean Branney (director) went onstage during the end credits to talk about the film. There had been a few glitches in the picture with the digital medium, but the guests said they would not be on the DVD release, which would be available in the fall (and indeed is available on Amazon). For their next Lovecraft adaptation, they are looking at either The Thing on the Doorstep or The Shadow Out of Time. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, Nosferatu, The Lady Vanishes, Universal monster movies, and film noir influenced the look of the film, and most of it was shot in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Some interesting tidbits: the antique plane used in the film was found on eBay, where someone had built a 3/4 size model of it in his garage, and the cave sequences were shot in the Batcave. Yes, that Batcave.
After the Q&A ended, I went over to David and asked him, “What’s the key to making a great Lovecraftian film?”
He said no one’s really asked them that question (score one, me!), but mentioned that Lovecraft is a master of mood, so you have to get the mood right. The other trick is to follow the story. Since he had talked earlier about how people weren’t eager to fund a film shot in black-and-white, with no stars, no violence, and no scantily-clad women, at that point Sean joked that they were going to make At the Mountains of Madness in Maui with three girls in bikinis. I said Guillermo del Toro’s not doing it now, so he could, to which he replied, “We’ll steal it from him!”
Tuesday, June 7th
16. My Afternoons with Margueritte (France 2010: 86 min) SIFF Cinema 7 pm
Incredibly, this movie sold out. Maybe not incredibly, for it stars Gerard Dépardieu, who shows that he doesn’t even have to act in order to act. He is the character, and that’s that. Here, he plays a uneducated handyman named Germain who meets an elderly woman, named Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus), on a park bench. The woman reads to him from classic novels and shows him the kindness that his own mother never did. What I love about this film is that all of the characters are well-drawn, including Germain’s girlfriend Francine (who is beautiful and kind, but you believe that she could fall for a man like Germain). While the ending is preposterous, a regular ending would not do. My favorite scene is when Francine thinks that Germain is cheating on her because he has bought flowers, but not for her. When she discovers that they are for a little old woman, however, all is forgiven. 4 out of 5 (though I’d probably give it a 3 now)
Thursday, June 9th
17. Tabloid (USA 2010: 87 min) SIFF Cinema 9:30 pm
Now we come to the funniest film of the festival, with the most bizarre postscript. Claire programmed this movie about a former beauty queen named Joyce McKinney who, along with an accomplice and a fake gun, kidnapped/rescued her husband-to-be from the Mormons in England, and then had sex with/raped him for three days while he was tied/shackled to a bed. The man’s name was Kirk Anderson, and the story broke in the tabloids as “The Manacled Mormon.” The Daily Express told the story from her perspective, the Daily Mirror dug up dirt on her as an adult escort into S&M, including tons of photos of her in bondage gear (which McKinney denies are her). Then, McKinney faded into the background, only to reappear when she had her late dog, Booger, cloned five times by a scientist in South Korea, making the headlines yet again.
The point of this film is to show how the truth is much more complicated that people realize. Everyone in the movie thinks that they know what really happened during those three days. For McKinney, she had liberated her future husband. For Anderson, he had been kidnapped and forced to have sex with McKinney. For the tabloids, she was either a victim of her own misguided attempts at love or a manipulative woman with a thirst for kinky sex. The evidence in the film supports both views. For example, while the Daily Mirror had all of the negatives of the photos, they were lost during a reshuffling, leaving that evidence in doubt. What isn’t in doubt is that McKinney is a natural performer, and Morris has fun with this material, lightly poking fun at all of the participants involved. He even includes a former Mormon minister to explain what McKinney doesn’t know about Mormonism, especially concerning sex and their calling, while religious cartoons play in the background. 4 out of 5
Postscript: After leaving the theater, I noticed that there was a group of people surrounding a woman outside. I looked quickly and thought, “That looks like Joyce McKinney,” but then thought, “It must be someone that looks like her,” before heading off to my bus stop. Still, I kept looking up the street, and seeing that my bus was not going to arrive for a while, I felt it my journalistic (blogeristic?) duty to find out what was going on.
Well, it was Joyce McKinney. As most of you know by now, she followed this film around from festival to festival, opening night to opening night, decrying the way that Morris has portrayed her in the film. At first, I thought this was an Errol Morris joke, and a part of me still thinks that it might have been. After all, where did she get the money to fly to all of these places?
In a rant that went all over the place, she explained why she was suing Mark Lipson (one of the producers of the film) and Errol Morris. Included in her diatribe was that it had to do with a dog that she had to put down that Morris had said he would save, and with baby pictures that Lipson took from her and never gave back. She then grew teary-eyed talking about how her mother was in a coma. In her hand was a box that said, “This film is a hoax,” which you can see in the photo above. She said that she came out to show that she’s a human being, too, but what she mainly showed is that Morris got her right. She put on a bravura performance for us, one filled with words that matched that half-truths spoken in the film, and tears.
I eventually had to catch my bus, but Joyce McKinney continued to perform.
Friday, June 10th
Venue Volunteer: Ticket Ripper, Late Seater Neptune Theatre 3:30-7:30 pm
Lots of traffic on 45th, due to the UW graduation. One of the advantages of walking to work is that this didn’t affect me at all.
For my final volunteering gig of SIFF 2011, I worked with a house manager whom I had never worked with before. The main film, at 4 pm, was called PressPausePlay, and dealt with how new technology has changed the medium in music, books, and film. While the subject was interesting, and some of its interview subjects (like Moby and Lena Dunham) made some interesting points, the execution was not good. Random images were shown in between each topic, and the film seemed as scatter-brained as social networking sites are supposed to make you.
The second film was Gandu at 7 pm. I have no idea what that film is about, and I don’t feel like looking it up. So instead, I’ll talk about the people I saw while I was volunteering. First, I saw my housemate and his girlfriend walk by, his girlfriend having just graduated from the pharmacy program at UW. I also saw Craig (again) and two Platinum Plus holders whom I had recommended Detective Dee to. They had seen it and liked it. Finally, my encyclopedic knowledge of film got me recognition from one of the volunteers, who thought I should be on one of the juries since I’m “an expert on film.” (her words)
Saturday, June 11th
18. Norwegian Wood (Japan 2010: 133 min) Egyptian Theatre 6 pm
The last film I saw at SIFF was the U.S. premier of Norwegian Wood, based on the book by the same name by Haruki Murakami (or Murakami Haruki, if you want to be properly Japanese). Not surprisingly, it was sold out. Carl Spence, the artistic director at SIFF, introduced the film. Fortissimo Films, the company that–I’m assuming–distributed the film, gave SIFF permission to host the first U.S. screening. Better yet, my parents were visiting, so I got to see it with them, along with several people from the Japanese Meetup Group.
This was one of the most highly anticipated films for me, despite its mixed reaction at the Toronto Film Festival from people whose blogs and tweets I follow, and my own mixed reaction upon reading the book. In particular, I was curious to see how the film would match the brilliance of the book’s opening, which uses language so skillfully in creating the mood one feels when a painful memory enters one’s consciousness. Perhaps realizing that he couldn’t, Tran Ahn Hung, the director and screenwriter, decided to start by showing us when Naoko, Kizuki, and (Watanabe) Toru used to hang out with each other. Then, Kizuki kills himself. Toru and Naoko reconnect before Toru goes to college, and he ends up having sex with her on her birthday. Naoko, who was never able to get wet with Kizuki, even though she loved him, goes to live at a retreat in the countryside, in an attempt to heal her fragile psyche. Toru goes to school in Tokyo, during the student protests. There, he meets Midori, a sexually aware woman. The year is 1969.
The first half hour of this film is a bit of a jumble, as minor characters are introduced and then vanish, such as Toru’s roommate. Even Nagasawa, who becomes an important character for one of the subplots in the book, has a rushed entrance. Then the film settles down, and one notices the great acting, lighting, and cinematography. Kikuchi Rinko, so great in Babel, plays Naoko, while Natsuyama Kenichi plays Toru. The minor parts, such as Nagasawa, Hatsumi (Nagasawa’s girlfriend), and Reiko (Naoko’s friend at the retreat) are all well-taken. Besides the changed beginning, the other main changes are the exclusion of Reiko’s back story and [SPOILER ALERT TILL THE END OF THE PARAGRAPH] the lines that come after the voiceover concerning Hatsumi’s future suicide, one of the most beautiful and moving parts of the novel. On the other hand, I felt Naoko’s loss more here than I did when reading the novel. As she explains to Toru, she and Kizuki had a special bond. One cannot live without the other.
One more thing I should mention: while Kikuchi is fantastic, and Natsuyama plays Toru well, the one to watch here is Mizuhara Kiko, who plays Midori. She illuminates every scene she’s in. Naoko may look like the tougher role to play, but Midori is just as difficult. I put her down as my choice for Best Supporting Actress. 4 out of 5