Friday, March 10, 2023

Notes on Film: Look Ahead

 by Anthony King

Riding that F This Movie Fest high into the rest of the year.

I sensed a bit of trepidation leading up to the fest this year. People seemed cautiously optimistic about the lineup. Return of the Jedi and Valley Girl were both cheered for upon the announcement. WarGames and Mr. Mom were met with general applause. Superman III and Krull were greeted mostly with sighs and groans (especially from this writer) with a smattering of a few enthusiastic hurrahs. But as the fest opened, our goblets of enthusiasm began to runneth over, and as the day progressed, the usual proclamations of “He knows what he's doing,” began to pop up. Why would we ever doubt Patrick? I, for one, was dreading Krull, yet it played spectacularly. As I said on this week's podcast, I think Superman III was the surprise hit of the entire day. So once again, F This Movie Fest was, to use a word Randy used on Julie in Valley Girl, unsurprisingly and truly dazzling. I'd been pretty burned out on movies and podcasting up to that point, and with a full schedule of recording the new season of Cult Movies ahead of me, I wasn't as excited about it as I normally had been in the past. But the fest was just the energy booster I needed and, as usual, it reminded me why I love movies so much, and how they can bring people from all over the world together. Last weekend got me thinking about the rest of the year, movie-related plans, a few ideas, and how I want to grow as a movie fan.

Because of the fest, and because Cult Movies is ramping up again most of what I've been watching will be talked about on podcasts. Here are some shorts, though, I highly recommend seeking out, all of which can be found on YouTube.

Seasons... (Stan Brakhage, Phil Solomon | 2002 | 16 min.)

If you've never experienced one of Brakhage's scratch films this could be a great place to start. Allow yourself to become enveloped in the silence, and let the visuals sweep you away to a calm place. Every frame that passes before your eyes has been hand-painted and/or scratched by Brakage, resulting in fascinating colors and shapes. These visuals are then lit by Solomon's unique lighting techniques, so what we're left with are truly hypnotic, abstract images. Take a chance and watch something completely different today.
Down to the Cellar (Jan Svankmajer | 1983 | 15 min.)

Svankmajer is known for creating some of the most remarkably odd characters put on film. Working in stop-motion and different animation techniques, everything I've seen from him so far has been absolutely unforgettable. Jabberwocky (1971) and Dimensions in Dialogue (1983) are striking feats in stop-motion. Cellar is a mix of live-action and stop-motion which follows a girl having to venture to the basement of her apartment building. Coming across strange characters and creatures, her eyes are opened to the reality of her neighbors. It's incredibly interesting and quite haunting, again leaving me in awe of the creativity.
Powder Keg (Alejandro Gozalez Inarritu | 2001 | 14 min.)

The short film anthology series from BMW follows “The Driver” played by Clive Owen. Each short he's hired to transport people or objects while dodging bullets and cars from opposing forces. Every film is directed by someone of note (Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, Guy Ritchie, Tony Scott, etc.), with appearances by well-known actors (Ray Liotta, Madonna, Forest Whitaker, Mickey Rourke, etc.). Before this I'd seen Ambush, directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, and starring Owen and Tomas Millian, and Hostage, directed by John Woo and starring Owen, Maury Chaykin, and Kathryn Morris. Powder Keg follows “The Driver” trying to get an injured war photographer played by Stellan Skarsgard across the border of a war-torn Latin American country. Lois Smith makes an appearance as the mother of the photog. These films are masterclasses in efficient storytelling, proving that an hour of padding and fluff is totally unnecessary to care about characters.
Now we look to the future. I realize the general movie-watching audience just wants to escape from reality and relax for a couple hours at a time. And that's it. Movies are nothing more than a temporary blanket. And for many, movies aren't even that. And that's fine. But for people like the FTM crew, movies are much more than that. “Movie love for movie lovers” isn't just a slogan Patrick says at the top of every show. We are “movie lovers” for life. And while, yes, sometimes we just want to throw on a movie for nothing more than background sound so we can relax for a bit, most of the time we're watching movies in order to learn something new. Movies can help us grow in life. For people like me, movies inspire us to write words and connect with other people all across the globe. I want to learn about other cultures, other points of view. I want to be challenged. Many (probably most) people do not want to be challenged by movies. Again, that's fine. But when I watch something like Tar (2022), and I start to tear up because this monster of a human is dealing with (minor) repercussions because of her actions, I walk out of the theater thinking, “What the hell, man? Why do I care about this character? Should I care about this character?” And then I got to have a great conversation with my wife, who felt the complete opposite about Lydia Tar than I did. It's easy to think in absolutes. “This person did bad stuff, they suck and don't deserve any more thought.” Or, “this person is great and everything they do is great and should be praised forever.” If you want to think like that, fine. Something I constantly struggle with is realizing I can't control how anyone else thinks or acts. My opinions are my opinions. Yours are yours. While I hope my opinions about a movie can inspire you to watch it, whether you like said movie or not is out of my control. (Easier said than done for me.)
To expand my brain and be challenged and learn something new is what my movie goals are all about. The more Japanese movies I watch, the more I pick up on the language. Last year I watched a ton of French movies and began to understand some of what they were saying. As Bobbie and I went through the Lone Wolf and Cub series, we wondered, “Why do they wear their hair like that?” Back then, the men in Japan would shave parts of their head to stay cool and wear their hair in a bun so their hats and helmets would fit better. I just watched a handful of Dorothy Arzner films for a podcast. Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) is about a woman who just wants to dance. There's a romantic subplot, but the romance takes a back seat. Our main character Judy (Maureen O'Hara) kisses a man then runs to her bedroom and wishes upon a star. We expect her to wish for marriage or something alike, but instead she wishes to be a dancer. I guarantee had the movie been written and directed by a man, we would've gotten a straight romance. Instead, we get a film about a woman chasing her dreams. Because I've seen so many movies where a woman is relegated to wife/homemaker/etc. and is ultimately subservient to a man, a movie like Dance, Girl, Dance catches me off guard and seems like a revelation. But it shows me what a predictable story told from a woman's POV – that is, more realistic – is like. Again, these are silly things that seem obvious but really aren't because of what we've been force fed en masse.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) is another great recent example. (Pardon me if I've written all this before.) I really disliked the film. The performances were great, but I think the idea of the multiverse is one of the laziest creative efforts someone could put forth. “Hey, here's a movie where absolutely anything can happen. Hot dog fingers? Why the hell not! A bagel that doubles as a black hole? Sure!” It's the work of college freshmen baked to the gills in their hazy dorm room. Working within a structure is a real exercise in creativity. “What can you make within these parameters?” All this said, lots of people really love this movie. It moved them tremendously, and I think that's wonderful. Is EEAAO the worst movie I've ever seen? Not even close, especially with Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) exists (also not the worst movie I've ever seen). “The worst” or “the best” is speaking in absolutes, and speaking in absolutes is for lazy people who don't feel the need to grow any more. That's dangerous if you ask me.
So I'll continue my journey through John Woo's filmography, through Tomisaburo Wakayama's filmography. I'll watch more films written and directed by women, and people of color. I'll watch more queer cinema. Maybe I'll even watch a couple superhero movies. I'll watch these movies because I love movies. And I love movies because I want to grow as a human being.


  1. Damn it, i want to rewatch the BMW films now. I think they're all on youtibe, but they look like crap. That was before blu-rays qnd HD streaming, so all we got was a shitty dvd NOT encoded for widescreen tv. You had to order it. I'm pretty sur i still have it somewhere

    1. Somebody on YouTube did some sort of 4k upscaling/remastering of them a couple years back. It's far from perfect, but it's an option:

    2. Holy shit, this is awesome. I should've thought of looking for it again