Category Archives: Film

Battle royal: Books v. movies

Should we allow movies to pulverize the soft images in our brains of the books we’ve read, poor defenseless images that they are? A Guardian blogger thinks it’s time to fight back, and Scatter rummages around for a few thoughts.

So, for the past few weeks we’ve talked about movies and we’ve talked about books, specifically books we were embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t read and then a little later movies that moved us to the max. Reading David Barnett’s book blog in the Guardian yesterday, I realized that some of the books I hadn’t read, books I might feel I should read under ordinary circumstances, didn’t occur to me. I’d seen the movie. This would involve the collected works of Jane Austen, for example. I just love those movies; never picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and probably never will. Though never is a long time. Strangely.

Barnett argues that ANY film version of a book, perhaps even including brilliant film versions, is an affront to the reader of the book, who has invested many hours of imaginative time over days or weeks or (gulp) months recreating the text in her/his head. Barnett’s key sentence:

Can there be anything worse than lovingly engaging with a couple of hundred thousand words of prose over perhaps two or three weeks, drinking in the author’s dialogue and descriptions, creating your own vision of the work in the privacy of your head, only to have every man and his dog (special offer on Tuesdays at your local Odeon) blast your intellectual ownership of the book out of the water after spending 90 minutes slobbing out in front of a cinema screen?

Here at Art Scatter we don’t believe in this sort of “intellectual ownership,” but we do think reading is a pretty sweet thing. And in comparing the way I approach movies to the way I approach books, I find that I am far more casual, generally, about the movie. I didn’t spend nearly as much time with Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, to cite a very recent example as I did with Peter Nadas’s essays, but felt no reservation about plunking a post down about it for your reading enjoyment. I’d read and re-read those three Nadas essays many times, assembled notes, thought and thought, before I ventured to the keyboard. Would that movie withstand that sort of scrutiny? That’s another question. But some movies do.
Continue reading Battle royal: Books v. movies

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” — Woody goes breezy

I stopped trying to be a Woody Allen expert a long time ago. Too many movies, too much the same, lingering on the surface, hoping perhaps to be more than they were, but mostly content to just be there, or so it seemed, hoping to capture the zeitgeist the way Annie Hall did. Not that I don’t still go to some of Woody’s movies. Or watch them on video. He’s still an American antidote to Hollywood, a different sensibility, scale, ambition. And his work ethic is something of an inspiration.

That’s a long preamble to a short take on his newest movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which opened last night, and at least at the Lloyd, where it was almost chilly, played to an almost full house at the 7-ish p.m. show. We were not a young crowd. But we were laughing. Sure, the characters veered into stereotypes, as they so often do, but that’s part of comedy, dating back to commedia. And sometimes it seemed that Woody really did want to make a “serious” film about this subject — two young American women amusing themselves in Barcelona where they fall under the spell of a Catalan artist with a violent ex-wife lurking — instead of an amusing take on French films. But the look of the film and the acting was, well, I almost typed “fun” and that isn’t far off. Fun, amusing, lightly engaging, sensuous in a way.

I particularly enjoyed the way the characters and the actors so often channeled Woody, specifically the American ones. Rebecca Hall as Vicky, the more uptight of the two, was especially adept at this, a mess of contradictions and rolling eyes and confessions that somehow become funny. Patricia Clarkson is also excellently Woody-esque, and her scenes with Hall are the best in the movie, from my particular seat.

All the buzz is about the Scarlett Johansson-Javier Bardem-Penelope Cruz love triangle, and the kiss between Johansson and Cruz. Neither Johansson nor Bardem has much to do, acting-wise, until Cruz juices the energy level as the ex-wife. While they are playing it more or less straight, Cruz seizes her stereotype, shakes it, sends it to the gates of Utter Parody, brings it back to play nice with the others, then shakes it up again. I love the way she and Bardem go back and forth between English and Spanish.

I also love the travelogue feel of the movie. We get some sweet footage of Barcelona and as Woody said in an LA Times interview, bicycling in the countryside. It’s lush and pretty, the upper class version of Barcelona, the picture postcard version, but still… see, I almost did it again. Fun.

The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy IS a Woody Allen expert, and he is a supporter of the film, to a degree. For a plenitude of other reviews, there’s Rotten Tomatoes, where it’s currently measuring about 7 out of 10 on the Tomato Meter.

“My brain’s on fire”: Movies that moved me

This is an audience participation post, it just takes a few paragraphs to get there.

A few nights ago, I was watching one of the old film channels on cable, the ones that I find myself watching more and more, which I take as a sign of my impending decrepitude. It was dangerously close to my shutdown time, but I started in with 8 1/2 anyway, intending to watch Marcello Mastroianni channeling Fellini for a few scenes and then up to bed. But I kept saying one more scene one more scene, even as I hovered inches above unconsciousness, and then something marvelous would happen and I’d bolt awake, before settling back. It’s not Fellini’s dreamiest film, but I was close enough to the dreamstate myself to think about it in those terms.

I was in no condition to do anything analytical with the movie, which is just as well. Start fretting over the logic or the meaning or who that character represents in Fellini’s life (Mastroianni’s mistress in the movie is the spitting image of Fellini’s mistress, for example, according to Tullio Kezich’s biography of Fellini) and maybe its pure visual poetry starts to leak out.
But as the closing credits filled the screen, I started thinking about how much I liked 8 1/2. And I thought of three categories:
1. The movies that I thought were simply the best movie I’ve ever seen, for one reason or another.
2. The movies I considered my favorite movies.
3. The movies that have created the most positive havoc in my life.

Obviously, there’s some overlap, but my unofficial rankings are almost never the same over the three categories for any one movie. The exception would be 400 Blows, which is happily playing this week at the Clinton St. Theater. It would figure in the top three in all three categories as of this evening. (I am notoriously fickle and forgetful, which I would take as a sign of my impending decrepitude, except that I’ve always been that way.)

The third category — the movies that had created the most positive havoc in my life — is the hardest to crack. 8 1/2 has come too late into my consciousness, maybe, to crack the top 3 in that category. Fellini isn’t a bolt from the blue to me, which he might have been at one time, but wasn’t; he’s more a confirmation of thoughts, an extension of lines of thought, a softly sublime puzzlement. The third category is all about bolts from the blue or red eyes in the darkness or something.

So why is 400 Blows high on that list for me? I was 17 and visiting Williams College with a friend who desperately wanted to go there (I already knew I was headed somewhere else, but went with him so I could miss a stultifying day or two of high school). One night during the visit we went to a film class, and the professor screened the movie for his students — I remember lots of turtleneck sweaters. So, I was away from home, in a strange and charged environment, watching my first subtitled movie, and it just happened to be this intensely real family drama about a “normal” kid and his “normal” family, and it all started spinning out of control for the kid, headed toward some conclusion that I feared more with every minute. I didn’t know you were allowed to make a movie like this. I was furious that no one had ever shown it to me before (the same feeling I had later when I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God). I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when the discussion period started, and even though it was January and freezing in Williamstown, Mass., my brain was on fire when I left. I wanted to know how to talk about things like this (I still do!).

And that’s how you get on that list. So what would be my top 3 movies in this category?

1. 400 Blows
2. From Russia with Love: Right on the edge of puberty, I got a blast of adult sexuality combined with some spectacular violence (for those days), a few bad puns, a fight to the death (or “to the pain”) between two gypsy women and some Cold War politics all rolled into one. My circuits overloaded big-time.
3. Blade Runner: Welcome to my brainpan Philip K. Dick, just in the nick of time to save me from death by lack of imagination.

That third slot is the one that changes with the tides of memory the most. Sometimes, I think that Blade Runner is just one of my favorites, not really a “havoc” movie. Then I’m tempted to toss Dr. Zhivago in there, because, well, Julie Christie and the sweep of it all and the music (and again I was at an impressionable age). Or maybe Raise the Red Lantern. Or possibly She’s Gotta Have It. I could go on…

… but I won’t because that’s not the point! The point is, I want to know YOUR “top three movies that have created the most positive havoc in my life.” Want to play?

Scatter friends go out on the town

With the summer solstice having hit town at precisely 4:59 p.m. Friday — was that a sylph we saw cavorting in the woods? — it’s a semi-beautiful weekend here in Portland, Oregon.

All right, clouds are moving in. Yet we are undaunted. Some cool things are happening around and out of town involving Friends of Art Scatter (this is not an official organization, but we like the sound of it, though not as much as we like the sound of “The Loyal Order of Moose”) and we would be remiss not to fill you in on the upcoming action. Some of these are this-weekend-only opportunities, so get on your dancing shoes, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out of the house.

Subversive operatics at Someday Lounge: We like Opera Theater Oregon. How much? Read our report on OTO’s winter production of “Carmen,” sung live to a screening of Cecil B. DeMille‘s 1915 silent-movie version of the Bizet opera. So we are happy to report that this seat-of-the-pants company, which dares to believe that opera ought to be fun (its motto is “Making Opera Safe for America”), is throwing a one-night wingding Saturday at Someday Lounge to show off its new season, raise a little money (there’ll be a silent auction) and generally blow the art form’s reputation for stuffiness all to hell.

“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” will preview the three-show season of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “The Medium” (paired with a 10-minute original called “The Head of Mata Hari”) in October, “Camille Traviata” (music from Verdi’s opera accompanying the 1921 silent-movie “Camille” with Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino) in February ’09, and “Das Rheingold” (a scrunching-together of the Wagnerian wallbanger with an episode of television’s “Baywatch”) in June ’09. All shows at the Someday Lounge, where you can drink to all that.

Bonus attraction Saturday night: OTO performs Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Classical Revolution PDX and Karaoke From Hell. Ouch, we think.

7 p.m. Saturday, Someday Lounge. $25, $40/couple, 10 bucks if you just show up for the after-party from 9 until the cows come home.

Loie Fuller in the Columbia Gorge: Maryhill Museum of Art, our favorite concrete castle on a cliff with a backside view of Mt. Hood within easy driving distance of Portland (see our report on its affiliated Stonehenge replica) was established by visionary engineering entrepeneur Sam Hill as his home and the center of what he hoped would be an agricultural utopia. That failed, but three of his far-flung friends — Queen Marie of Romania, San Francisco dowager Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (wife of the sugar king) and Loie Fuller, the American girl who became an interpretive dance sensation in Paris — turned the place into one of America’s unlikeliest, and quirkiest, art museums.

On Saturday Maryhill is sponsoring a day-long series of events in celebration of Fuller’s life and art, to culminate in an evening performance in the nearby city of The Dalles by the New York company Jody Sperling and Time Lapse Dance, which will perform three dances inspired by Fuller. 7 p.m. Saturday at At the Dalles-Wahtonka High School Auditorium,
220 E. 10th Street, The Dalles; $7-$10.

Looks like a swell day trip, and if you need a break, some good wineries are nearby. The mammoth Maryhill Winery is just down the road from the museum; we’re also partial to the little, high-quality Syncline Cellars in nearby Lyle, Wash. (The poster shown here, part of the museum’s permanent collection, is by Alfred Choubrac, who with his brother Leon was one of Paris’ first poster designers in the 1880s, anticipating Toulouse-Lautrec. She’s probably doing Le Papillon, her butterfly dance.)

Glass at the Portland Japanese Garden: As many of you know, Portland is Glass City, U.S.A. this summer, with a major retrospective of the work of contemporary master Klaus Moje at the Portland Art Museum through Sept. 7, the annual international conference of the Glass Art Society this weekend, and glass work on view at about 40 galleries and other spots around town.

One of those “other” spots is the beautiful and soul-refreshing Portland Japanese Garden, where work by six Japanese or Japanese American glass artists is on view. The work of five (including onetime Moje students Yoko Yagi and Etsuko Nishi) are inside the Pavilion through June 30. But bigger-scale outdoor installations by one of our favorite artists, Jun Kaneko, remain on the grounds through July 31. “This Kaneko piece seems as if it has always been in the Garden,” Diane Durston says of the serene glass bridge in the photo above. We first got to know Durston, the garden’s curator of culture, art and education, when she was the director of education for the Portland Art Museum, and we trust her taste and enthusiasms.

The return of Chamber Music Northwest: One of Portland’s most congenial summer traditions returns Monday night for its 38th season, and we’re not afraid to say we’re looking forward to it. Sure, the crowd’s heads are largely streaked with silver, but these are geezers (and we count ourselves as part of that category) who know a good time when they see one. Great musicians playing great music under very Portland-friendly conditions: no leader onstage, just a small group of talented artists working on something together, and paying attention to the nuances that requires. Scatter pal David Stabler gives details in The Oregonian; we’re looking forward to festival vet Fred Sherry doing a little Wuorinen and Schoenberg’s first 12-tone quartet on July 12.

Through July 27; Reed College and Catlin Gabel School. (The photo is of cellist Sophie Shao and pianist Pei-Yao Wang in last summer’s “Schubertiade.”)

Must-see TV, really, I must

The couch. Yes, the couch.

End of the work week, the daily trudge home, the brain dull and the eyes glazed. Time for some TV! And some of America’s finest television is available, just over the cable, no iTunes or websites or DVDs necessary. TV, the way Apollo intended it! Apollo, god of prophecy (not to mention health, music and poetry, and salty snacks). Apollo, speak through this vehicle, this Toshiba, not flatbellied (er, screened) with muscular definition, no, but prepared to absorb your Delphic pronouncements.

Speak, Apollo. Let’s see: the last bit of “My Name is Earl” and then “The Office” vs. “Grey’s Anatomy.” We can watch both, no problem, and even bits of “BloodRayne” on the SciFi channel. Hey! Ben Kingsley, vampires and thus blood, swordplay, provocative costuming, hilarious dialog. Is that Meat Loaf? Yes, it is. Oh no, not Geraldine Chaplin… but alas, yes again. And Michelle Rodriguez, who used to be in “Lost.” Perfect. Because “Lost” follows “Grey’s Anatomy,” and during commercials “ER” still hangs in there, verily concluding its 14th season, and who should show up on that episode but Stanley Tucci and Steve Buscemi. There is a LOT of acting talent available to us tonight, but Buscemi’s going to triumph over all comers — from Steve Carell to Ben Kinglsey. Even Meat Loaf doesn’t stand a chance. Steve Buscemi has channeled Apollo: He chooses, he suffers, the Mob wants him dead. He does his duty. He gets under our skin.

Time for a commercial. Don’t touch that remote!
Continue reading Must-see TV, really, I must

Cave doings

The news last week that archaeologists rooting around an Oregon cave found coprolites containing human DNA and dating back 14,000 years has shaken Art Scatter right down to the toes of its foundation myth. Art Scatter emerges from lithic scatter, the circle of rock shards and shavings that stone-age men and woman created as they bent themselves to the task of making objects.

photo25.jpgThe findings in the Paisley Caves in central Oregon on what were then the shores of once-great Summer Lake, connect us to that image — and expand it. Because along with flaked stone spear points, grinding stones and other tool-making remnants, the archaeologists based their most important claims on the coprolites, a word we use to avoid the less elegant “dried dung” or worse. Art Scatter’s concept of itself, it turns out, was a sanitized idea, and the shudder generated by the new evidence involves the implications of this addition to our “image.”
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Gus Van Sant, vaguely artful

Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” has received mostly respectful reviews (see Rotten Tomatoes for a rundown of major reviewing activity on the film) from the nation’s movie critics, though not “glowing” or “excited” reviews. Most of them seem to get what Van Sant is up to — which is to give an atmospheric account of a horrific moment and its reverberations in an alienated teenager’s life. (The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy was among the most positive.) It’s a little too “arty” for some of them, with its fractured narrative line, scene repetitions and slow-motion, soft-focus sequences. But really, that’s what the film is about — to create an artistic affect, simple on the face of it but maybe profound and complex upon reflection. We’ll see.

“Paranoid Park,” which closely tracks the plot of Portland native Blake Nelson’s Young Adult novel (which I haven’t read), is a portrait of Alex (Gabe Nevins), a 16 or maybe 17-year-old kid in a small family that is breaking up. Van Sant doesn’t give us much background on Alex — he doesn’t have a psychological theory to explain him, no “causes” for his behavior, he doesn’t supply a case history. That’s OK, from a “coherence” point of view: Alex doesn’t have the equipment to analyze himself very thoroughly; and no one around him is interested enough to hazard a guess about what’s going on behind that placid (maybe slightly worried-looking) exterior. Except maybe for Macy (Lauren McKinney), his younger friend from down the street. More about her in a moment.

So, we don’t know exactly why Alex has started to get into skateboarding, what he was into before, what his status at school might be. We have to accept that he simply is into skateboarding, even though he’s not good at it yet. His friend Jared skateboards, too, and persuades him to visit Paranoid Park (the skater-constructed skate park under the Burnside Bridge, in actuality), where the best and scruffiest skaters hang out. Alex protests that he’s not ready for Paranoid Park, and Jared, in his one good line of the movie, replies: “No one’s ever ready for Paranoid Park.”
Continue reading Gus Van Sant, vaguely artful

Film festival: Enjoying “Flight of the Red Balloon”

“Flight of the Red Balloon” is part of the Portland International Film Festival (70 some films, 44 shorts, Feb. 7-23), a movie made in French by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien as a sort of homage to “The Red Balloon,” Albert Lamorisse’s famous 1956 short film about a balloon with a life of its own. It’s the sort of movie that you have to decide, do I like this sort of thing or not? And if you don’t, it’s going to be excruciating — it obeys none of our storytelling conventions about pacing, action, climax, denouement, resolution. Maybe it’s all denouement, but even that’s stretching it. It’s highly unlikely that it will be one of the PIFF movies picked up for a regular run at one of Portland’s commercial theaters, even though it has a star in the cast, the incomparable Juliette Binoche.

So if you find yourself watching it all the way to the end with some pleasure that might even involve periods of inattention? If it’s not “unbearable” as The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy describes it, then what is going on? A pure form of naturalism leavened by some whimsy. And the lives of others responsibly depicted have a certain appeal, an invitation to consideration, that doesn’t have much to do with entertainment. And that’s exactly the criticism most frequently leveled at Hou: He’s not entertaining.

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