Tuesday, September 26, 2006

THIS JUST OUT Ballet Russes

Dayna Goldfine and David Geller’s 2005 documentary about Colonel de Basil’s Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo and the subsequent “ballet wars” is out on DVD. Good news for all of you who (like me) weren’t able to go see it when it played last year for fleeting moments in far flung and obscure theatres across the country. (Honestly, it wasn’t that far away, but cross basin traffic made it seem so).

After briefly acquainting the viewer with the history of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Goldfine and Geller detail how the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was created as a continuation of the Diaghilev ballet and endured in various forms for over 30 years. The ballet companies encouraged some of the most unique artistic collaborations in the twentieth century and brought ballet to countries that had no previous exposure to it. Without Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the two companies that followed, there would be no ballet tradition in the U.S. nor would the talents of such genius as George Balanchine be known today. Through interviews with surviving members of the ballets and archival photos and film footage, the film captures a fascinating time in the history of dance. I’m sure Ballet Russes would have been even more enjoyable on the big screen, but you take what you can get.

Ballet Russes Site
Diaghilev Ballets Russes Season by Season
Frederic Franklin: 30 Years of Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo
A Ballet History
Danilova Collection at the Library of Congress

Books of Interest:
Irina: Ballet, Life and Love by Irina Baronova
The Ballets Russes: Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo 1932-1952
Leonide Massine and the Twentieth Century Ballet
Massine: A Biography
Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina

Ballets Russes
Picasso and Dance
Gaite Parisienne

Thursday, September 21, 2006

TO DO IN LOS ANGELES “Where were you in ’82?” American Hardcore at the ArcLight

Feeling nostalgic? Longing to go back and revisit your punk rock past? Well, pull the docs out of the closet and head on over to the Arc Light because American Hardcore is showing tonight at 8pm. Directed by Paul Rachman from a screenplay by Stephen Blush (from his book of the same name) American Hardcore covers the history of the first generation (or only generation, depending on your viewpoint) of American punk, from 1980 to 1986, and charts the rise of bands like Black Flag and The Misfits. The film uses archival footage interspersed with interviews with members of 7 Seconds, The Adolescents, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and DOA. Rachman and Blush explore how Reagan-era conservativism created a tribe of disaffected youth who saw no hope in government institutions, leftist politics, or any global ideologies.

I feel compelled to warn you, however, this film does contain interviews with Henry Rollins, self-appointed expert-on-all-things-punk, and prolonged exposure to Rollins Pontification can be hazardous to your health. I know it is to mine.

Q&A after screening with filmmakers Paul Rachman and Steven Blush, Keith Morris of The Circle Jerks, and Jack Grisham of TSOL.

ArcLight Hollywood is located at 6360 W. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood
Tickets are $11, $10 for ArcLight, AFI and Skirball members, on-site parking is $2 for four hours with validation. To order advance tickets, go to www.arclightcinemas.com, call 323.464.4226 or visit ArcLight Hollywood's box office at 6360 W Sunset Blvd. (at Ivar). Admission prices may vary depending on event.

View Trailer

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

TO DO IN LOS ANGELES Strange Dreams of Present and Future

On Saturday, September 23 at 7:30pm, American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre will be showing a group of film shorts that deal with life in the near future. While I have not seen the majority of the films, I am pleased to see that James Oxford’s “Smartcard” (US, 16 min) is among them. I had the privilege to see this film last January at Smogdance Film Festival where I was “working” as one of the festival’s judges and consider it one of the best films screened there.

Smartcard is about a world in which every aspect of life is integrated by the smartcard, a sort of credit card, keycard, and personal information record in one. Not only do you use your smartcard to get into your car and have it drive you, but to purchase goods, record your medical history, and every other sort of personal information. Your card knows the quickest way to drive you home, what food is lacking in your refrigerator, and what is best for you. In short, smartcard manages you, helping you to make decisions that enrich your life and make you a better consumer, I mean person. Tired from work and want to put off going to the market? Smartcard has decided that it would be better for you to do it now. Craving a candy bar at the minimart, smartcard knows that your doctor has determined that junk food is bad for you. While the smartcard starts by being annoyingly “helpful” and manipulative, by the end "Smartcard" suggests that there are more troubling reasons to be wary of integrated computer information systems.

Other films being shown are Jonathan Joffe’s "Cost of Living" (Canada, 10 min), which examines how much a man is willing to pay for possible immortality. Christopher Leone’s "K-7" (US, 18 min), in which an ordinary job interview becomes a battle for life or death when Vincent Kincaid rates a high score on his psychological profile. Jeremy Haccoun’s "Paradox" (UK, 19 min). Are the two gentlemen in a well? Are they in the present or in medieval times? Michael Lucas’ "Turn" (Australia, 11 min) a surreal comedy about love, traffic and survival.

Films will be screened in the Spielberg Theatre (the smaller one in the Egyptian, not the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre) at the Egyptian with a discussion with directors Christopher Leone (K-7) and James Oxford (Smartcard) to follow.

Grauman’s Hollywood Egyptian Theatre is located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard between Las Palmas and McCadden, just east of Highland Avenue in Hollywood.
Tickets are General Admission $9.00 (unless otherwise noted), Cinematheque Members $6.00, Seniors 65+/Students w/valid ID $7. 24-HOUR PROGRAM INFO: 323.466.3456

American Cinematheque
Program Information

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Celebrate the Swedish Sphinx’s Birthday on September 18

"I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.' There is a whole world of difference."

With her breathtaking beauty and enigmatic persona, Greta Garbo remains the ultimate Hollywood icon. As MGM’s highest-paid star, Garbo had approval of story, costar, director and cinematographer, often closing the set to visitors and crewmembers. For fifteen years, Garbo wielded power that few could match—yet she was often at odds with the system that made her a phenomenon. She was famous for her reclusive lifestyle, which became part of the Garbo mystique. Except at the very beginning of her career, she granted no interviews, signed no autographs, attended no premieres, and answered no fan mail.

While Greta Garbo made over 25 films in Hollywood, many of them are unfamiliar to contemporary audiences due to a prejudice against silent films. But these are the films that made her famous and established her legendary association with John Gilbert.

THE TORRENT (1926) Garbo’s first film in the U.S. Directed by Monta Bell, Garbo plays Leonara, a Spanish peasant girl who is sent to Paris and becomes an opera singer.

FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926) Directed by Clarence Brown and costarring John Gilbert. This marked Garbo’s first collaboration with director Clarence Brown as well as her first film with John Gilbert. This story of fallen love broke box office records across the country and established Garbo and Gilbert as great lovers of the silver screen.

LOVE (1927) Directed by Edmund Goldberg. The tagline for this film read simply, “Garbo and Gilbert in Love.” Garbo’s first version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, made with two endings, happy and sad.

THE KISS (1929) Directed by Jacques Feyder. This was the last film MGM made without dialogue (it used a soundtrack with music and sound-effects only), and marked the end of an era. A courtroom drama in which Garbo is tried for the murder of her jealous husband.

If you can’t sit through silent films, Garbo successfully transitioned into talkies to make the following films:

ANNA CHRISTIE (1930) Directed by Clarence Brown. Garbo Talks! Garbo’s low, husky voice was heard on screen for the first time in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. The movie was a huge success, but Garbo personally hated her performance. Audiences waited 16 minutes for her entrance to hear her say, “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby.”

ROMANCE (1930) Directed by Clarence Brown. Garbo plays prima donna Rita Cavallini in this period drama. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for this film as well as Anna Christie, but lost to Norma Shearer in The Divorcee.

QUEEN CHRISTINA (1934) Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. A historical drama that takes considerable liberty with fact. Christina inherits the Swedish throne in 1632 at the age of 6 after her father’s death on the battlefield. When she refuses to marry and produce an heir, she is forced to abdicate at the age of 28. This film tones down Christina’s lesbianism, but portrays her as a progressive woman of intelligence and sophistication who could not bow to the limitations placed on women of her time. One of my favorites.

CAMILLE (1936) Directed by George Cukor. Her performance as the doomed courtesan in Camille was called the finest ever recorded on film. Garbo was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actress again.

NINOTCHKA (1939) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Garbo in her first comedic role, Ninotchka was one of her favorite films and for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress again. Garbo plays a Soviet agent in Paris who falls in love with a French nobleman. Another favorite.

"Her instinct, her mastery over the machine, was pure witchcraft. I cannot analyze this woman's acting. I only know that no one else so effectively worked in front of a camera." —Bette Davis

Saturday, September 02, 2006

TO DO IN LOS ANGELES AFI at ArcLight Presents Auntie Mame

"Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."

On Wednesday, September 6 at 8 pm AFI at the ArcLight will be showing the classic Hollywood comedy Auntie Mame. Starring Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Fred Clark, and Roger Smith, Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell) is a free-spirited socialite from the Roaring ‘20s forced to settle down and raise her nephew Patrick (Roger Smith) when her conservative brother dies. Mame immediately sets forth to expose her sheltered charge to all the wonders of New York, but a stuffy executor appointed by Patrick's father tries to protect the boy from experiencing too much of Mame's unconventional lifestyle. Despite his father’s preparations, Patrick and Mame quickly become devoted to each other and journey through the Great Depression collecting madcap adventures.

Tickets are $11, $10 for ArcLight, AFI and Skirball members, on-site parking is $2 for four hours with validation. To order advance tickets, go to www.arclightcinemas.com, call 323.464.4226, or visit ArcLight Hollywood's box office at 6360 W Sunset Blvd (at Ivar). Admission prices may vary depending on event.

Experience the irrepressible Mame in the original Patrick Dennis novels: Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade and Around the World with Auntie Mame

Uncle Mame: The Life of Patrick Dennis
But Darling, I'm Your Auntie Mame!

Friday, September 01, 2006

FILM REVIEW Hour of the Furnaces Part 1

El Grupo Cine Liberacion’s 1968 film, The Hour of the Furnaces, directed by Fernando Solanas, is an overview of how colonialism and neo-colonialism have disenfranchised the Latin American people from the Spanish conquest to the contemporary period as seen from a radical left perspective. Broken into sections in which it discusses different effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the final section provides a solution for the entire range of issues at work in Argentina: the transfer of power from the ruling class to the people through armed revolution.

Subtitled "Notes on Neo-Colonialism, Violence and Liberation," The Hour of the Furnaces juxtaposes quotes by writers and political figures such as Jean Paul Sartre, Aime Cesaire, Juan Peron, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar, Frantz Fanon, and others, with documentary footage, archival stills, and voiceover narration in a Soviet montage-style agitprop piece. The Hour of the Furnaces focuses its attention largely on the various forces that work to impoverish and oppress the Argentinean people and sites the agrarian oligarchy, the industrial bourgeoisie, the military, and a corrupt government as the contemporary forces of neo-colonialism that maintain power over the wealth of the entire nation in the form of land, industry, and labor. While the oligarchy owns the overwhelming majority of farmland in the country, the bourgeoisie control trade and industry centered in Buenos Aires. The interests of both are served by the government and its military that legalize their policies and financial interests at the expense of the workers.

In addition to the economic system of oppression is the ideological oppression created by the triumvirate of church, mass media, and the importation of imperialist cultural products. The film makes a comparison between the church and faith healers, mind readers, and charlatans to show how the church benefits the ruling class by “sowing confusion” and replacing indigenous cultural practices with western culture through missionaries working in rural communities.
Likewise, the mass media serves to distract the people from a true understanding of their powerlessness in society by disseminating the ideology of the ruling class while suppressing discontent and dissent among the people. In the most arresting section of the film, graphic shots of cows being led through a slaughterhouse are interspersed with shots of advertising stills and young people dancing and buying records. American popular music is played continuously in this scene while the narrator echoes the ideas of Theodor Adorno, namely, that all mass media serves to keep the masses obedient to market forces as well as distracting the people from their oppression and exploitation. While the people think they are making their own decisions about what to buy and what cultural products to enjoy, they, like the cows in the slaughterhouse, are being led by a manipulating force to act against their own interests in favor of those of the ruling class. The film’s attitude toward this behavior is not entirely sympathetic, however. It suggests that by accepting the products of the mass media, Argentinean people have become complicit in the system of economic and cultural imperialism.

All of these sections taken together lead the filmmakers to their concluding section, The Choice. In this section, the filmmakers proclaim that the only way to correct the false history of colonialism and neo-colonialism is to “replace imperial violence with revolutionary violence” and suggests that martyrdom to the revolution will free not only future generations, but the one martyred as well. After the voiceover narration ends, a still of their ideal revolutionary martyr, Che Guevara, is shown in death.

While the statistics and much of the other specific information provided in this film now function only historically, aspects of The Hour of the Furnaces are perhaps more accurate today that they were in 1968, especially in its exploration of the effects of American cultural hegemony and its economic dependence upon cheap foreign labor. In addition, its indictment of the United States’ policy of supporting repressive governments through material and economic means shows the filmmakers’ tremendous foresight considering the events that would take place in Central America and elsewhere over the next twenty years. The film’s main importance lies, however, in its detailed explication of the causes and effects of neo-colonialism in Argentina and in the dramatic ways in which Solanas delivers its meaning.

Though this film is not available on DVD, one can sometimes find it in university a/v departments or collections and it is occasionally shown in film festivals around the country. Should it ever be shown at a festival in your area, I urge you to see it.

Vincent Canby's 1971 NY Times Review