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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Boyhood: A Photo Tour

The following post was created in a spirit of lighthearted fun. For those of you who fear I’m getting soft in my old age, please be aware that I’m working on a review of Hard to Be a God.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Austin, Texas, on a vacation with my wife Jill. So of course we had to visit several prominent locations from Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Our first stop was the legendary Continental Club, a live music venue that originally opened in 1957, and which had also played itself as a live music club in Linklater’s Slacker in 1991. Here is the club’s lovely exterior sign:

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The interior of the Continental Club is quite small. It’s really more of a bar with a small stage than a club proper. Jill and I arrived at “happy hour” and enjoyed delicious margaritas (made with tequila, triple sec and lime juice – none of that “sour mix” b.s.!) for $3.50 a piece. We chatted with the friendly bartender and listened to Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. Here’s a photo Jill took of me taking a photo of the stage where Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his girlfriend Sheena (Zoe Graham) watched the bluegrass band The Austin Steamers play (please note the margaritas in the foreground):

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Next we headed over to Book People, the largest independent bookstore in all of Texas. This is where the scene of Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) attending a midnight book-release party for Harry Party and the Half-Blood Prince was filmed (although the scene actually takes place in Houston). Sadly, they did not have my book, Flickering Empire, in stock:

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Finally, we hit up the Magnolia Cafe where Mason and Sheena memorably ate queso at 3am while engaging in some typically Linklater-esque witty and philosophical dialogue. Jill and I can confirm that the queso is indeed amazing — though it wasn’t the very best that we had in Austin (that would be at Torchy’s Tacos). Here’s the cafe’s exterior sign:

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And here’s Jill enjoying some of that famous queso not far from the booth where Mason and Sheena sat:

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Although it has nothing to do with Boyhood, I wanted to also include a shot of the “Blu-ray vending machine” at the Alamo Drafthouse, further proof that Austin is one of America’s best city’s for cinephilia. The less said about the movie we actually saw at the Drafthouse, the new Poltergeist remake, the better. (Cut me some slack — Mad Max was sold out.)

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Anyone visiting Austin can find the addresses of these locations from the film (and plenty more) at this invaluable website: http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/Boyhood.html#.VWZW66a6ZhB

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Khrustalyov, My Car! (German)
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller)
3. Hard to Be a God (German)
4. Fear of Fear (Fassbinder)
5. The Story of Adele H. (Truffaut)
6. INLAND EMPIRE (Lynch)
7. Sherlock Holmes (Berthelet)
8. Poltergeist (Kenan)
9. Supervixens (Meyer)
10. The Magic Flute (Bergman)


Review Round-Up: Dan Sallitt Double Feature / Samantha Fuller’s A FULLER LIFE

I originally wrote the following reviews of films by Dan Sallitt and Samantha Fuller for Cine-File Chicago back in January to coincide with theatrical screenings. The Sallitt films can be rented on amazon (and you really should see them if you haven’t already) and the Fuller doc is happily still enjoying theatrical engagements around the world (with a home video release coming eventually).

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Dan Sallitt’s HONEYMOON and ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA (American Revival)

When the enterprising distributor The Cinema Guild picked up the low-budget comedy/drama THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT in 2012 it considerably upped the profile of writer/director Dan Sallitt, a New York-based critic and filmmaker whose sparse filmography (he’s made exactly one film per decade over each of the past four decades) constitutes one of the hidden treasures of independent American cinema. Beguiled Cinema, the programming endeavor of local critics Ben and Kat Sachs, has teamed up with Chicago Filmmakers to present this rare double-feature screening of Sallitt’s second and third films at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema, an event that should be considered unmissable for local cinephiles. Both movies are visually austere, dialogue-based dramas centered on two characters in conflict. The earlier of the two, 1998’s HONEYMOON, is a mature and astonishingly frank portrayal of marriage about two old friends, Mimi (Edith Meeks) and Michael (Dylan McCormick), who decide to tie the knot on a whim. These urban professionals seem intellectually and emotionally compatible and their friends have long remarked that they would make the “perfect couple.” It isn’t until their honeymoon at a lakeside cabin in rural Pennsylvania, however, that they first attempt physical intimacy–in a series of awkward and halting encounters that must rank as the most honest portrayal of sexual dysfunction ever committed to celluloid. Mimi and Michael’s decision to stick out the marriage ultimately leads to an ambiguous finale that will likely serve as a Rorschach test for the personal philosophy of each viewer. What’s not in doubt is the phenomenal chemistry between Meeks and McCormick, who convey the evolution of a years-long relationship telescoped into just a few days. Even more compressed, and impressive, is the 64-minute ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA from 2004. The lean running time of this virtual two-hander, about a series of philosophically-inflected discussions between two very different sisters, belies the wealth of feeling and ideas that Sallitt has crammed into it: respectable Evelyn (Strawn Bovee) teaches theology at the college level while her estranged, potentially suicidal younger sister Virginia (Meeks again) returns home after being kicked out of a religious cult. As the women struggle to re-establish their former sibling bond, the notion of exactly who is helping who is kept tantalizingly in flux. New City’s Ray Pride will introduce the screening. The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky will lead a Q&A afterwards. (1998 and 2004, 154 min total, 16mm and DVCam) MGS

More info at http://www.chicagofilmmakers.org.

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Samantha Fuller’s A FULLER LIFE (New Documentary)

With A FULLER LIFE, Samantha Fuller, daughter of maverick filmmaker Samuel Fuller, has made an unconventional but entertaining documentary about her father. The first-time director daringly eschews traditional interview segments in favor of having a dozen motion-picture luminaries appear before her cameras only to read excerpts from her dad’s superb, posthumously published memoir, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking. Among the readers, most of whom worked with or were friends of the late, great Fuller, are: Jennifer Beals, Robert Carradine, Joe Dante, Bill Duke, James Franco, William Friedkin, Mark Hamill, Monte Hellman, Buck Henry, Tim Roth, James Toback and Constance Towers. Some misguided critics have damned A FULLER LIFE with faint praise by likening it to a mere star-studded “audio book” but this is hardly a fair analogy since many of the film’s pleasures are image-based. The “chapters” are visual records of the subjects reading their texts in a specific location, one that seems suffused with an almost mystical energy: Fuller pere’s legendary garage-office, a place affectionately known as “the shack,” which functions today as a virtual shrine to his impressive careers as newspaperman, soldier and filmmaker. Each segment is also cleverly intercut with scenes from both Fuller’s official oeuvre, from 1949’s I SHOT JESSE JAMES to STREET OF NO RETURN 40 years later, as well as home movie and documentary footage he shot throughout his life (including powerful wartime images of a recently liberated concentration camp in Falkenau, Czechoslovakia, footage that was recently added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry). Finally, the film’s most disturbing sequence, the Dante-narrated “Sicily Black and Blue,” is embellished by an inspired use of animation. All of this adds up to a fitting tribute to a vital American artist, one whose ballsy and highly personal “yarns” were both ahead of their time and inextricably tied to the colorful, adventurous life of their creator. As a writer/director, Sam Fuller may have specialized in genre fare (especially war movies, westerns and crime films) but, whether working as an independent or within the Hollywood studio system, he stamped everything he did with his outrageously entertaining, “yellow-journalist” style. Within his idiosyncratic idiom, Fuller’s commitment to racial equality, long before such a stance was fashionable in American cinema, looks especially interesting today. A FULLER LIFE is a must for Fuller’s admirers and an ideal introduction to his work for the uninitiated. (2013, 80 min, DCP Digital) MGS

More info at http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org.


Welles and Micheaux on Blu-ray / John MacLean’s Slow West

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My latest blog post at Time Out Chicago concerns the two most important surviving Chicago-shot movies of the entire silent era: Charlie Chaplin’s His New Job (the only film he made in my fair city) and Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (the earliest surviving feature directed by an African American). Both will be released in newly restored editions on Blu-ray — from Flicker Alley and Kino/Lorber, respectively — in the next year. Read about it here.

At Cine-File Chicago, I have a review of Slow West, a new Michael Fassbender-starring western (from which the above still was taken) by the Scottish musician-turned-filmmaker John MacLean. It opens at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre tonight and I highly recommend it. Peep my review here.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Little Otik (Svankmajer)
2. Xala (Sembene)
3. Inferno (Baker)
4. Variete (DuPont)
5. Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller)
6. Creature from the Black Lagoon (Arnold)
7. Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock)
8. The Iron Mask (Dwan)
9. The Player (Altman)
10. House of Wax (De Toth)


For the Love of Film: Varieté and The House of Mystery

The invaluable National Film Preservation Foundation is currently in the process of restoring a silent one-reel comedy titled Cupid in Quarantine from 1918. In order to raise funds to cover lab costs for its preservation as well as the recording of a new score to accompany its online premiere, the essential movie blogs Ferdy on Films, Wonders in the Dark, and This Island Rod are hosting the annual “For the Love of Film” blogathon. White City Cinema is proud to be participating in this blogathon again by contributing reviews of two silent masterpieces newly released on home video in new restorations: Variete and The House of Mystery. Please consider making a donation to the National Film Preservation Foundation, no matter how small, after reading my review. Film preservation is a very worthy cause!

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My two favorite home video releases of the year so far are Flicker Alley’s DVD of Alexandre Volkoff’s 1923 “cliffhanger” serial The House of Mystery and Edel Germany GmbH’s Blu-ray of E.A. Dupont’s drama Variete from 1925. Both films deserve to be called masterpieces of the silent European melodrama and both feature plots that revolve around bizarre love triangles. Yet their virtues are ultimately as different from one another as are the virtues of the new discs that house them. Both films have been the recipients of painstaking new photochemical restorations although each new edition is not without controversy: Variete has been saddled with an anachronistic new score that has silent purists crying foul and The House of Mystery has been released on DVD only and not the superior Blu-ray format. I nonetheless will argue that both releases are absolutely essential for anyone who cares about silent cinema.

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Variete (also known in the U.S. as Variety and Jealousy) was Germany’s biggest box office hit of 1925 and it’s not hard to see why. It came out during the height of the movement known as German Expressionism but, in spite of the extraordinarily fluid camerawork of Karl Freund (Metropolis) and a clever plot about the sinister goings-on within a circus, E.A. DuPont’s movie actually feels closer to the school of social realism with which directors like G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box) and Josef Von Sternberg (The Blue Angel) would soon make their mark. The film begins with a long-time prisoner, “Boss” Huller (Emil Jannings in an uncharacteristically restrained performance), breaking a 10-year vow of silence and telling his warden the tragic story, seen in flashback, of how he came to murder his unfaithful trapeze-artist wife (Lya de Putti). The whole thing is great but the undeniable highlights are the exhilarating trapeze sequences, the deft camerawork of which seemingly puts viewers smack-dab into the leotards of the performers, creating a thrilling “you are there” effect.

Previously available on home video only in poor-quality and truncated editions, this definitive restoration of Variete by the redoubtable F.W. Murnau Foundation adds more than 20 minutes of footage unseen since its original release. While the image quality on the Blu-ray is predictably superb, the only option for an audio track is a controversial new score by the British musical trio The Tiger Lillies. This retro-cabaret act’s score features sung lyrics (a no-no for silent films, according to many cinephiles) that comment directly on the onscreen action. Personally, I love it; most silent movies did not have official musical scores so I have to wonder what the point is of commissioning contemporary musicians to compose new scores for silent films if one is only going to handcuff them into imitating something one would’ve heard in a theater 100 years ago (e.g., a generic pastiche of 19th century folk tunes)? Contemporary viewers are, after all, watching digital versions of these films in their own living rooms, no? The musical score for a silent film need only be effective, I say, not attempt to function as some sort of time machine.

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Until recently, The House of Mystery was for me an unknown quantity — a film I had never heard of by a director I had never even heard of — but I purchased it sight unseen anyway simply because it is drumming up excitement in certain cinephile circles. Directed by Alexandre Volkoff, a Russian filmmaker living in France, and co-written by Volkoff and his star and fellow Russian emigre Ivan Musjokine, this 10-chapter “cliffhanger” serial feels like the missing link between Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang. Like Feuillade’s Fantomas (1913), it begins with a montage of close-ups of Musjokine’s character, Julien, a master of disguise, posing in each of the many drastically different makeup jobs he will sport over the next six-and-a-half hours. Unlike Fantomas, Julien is not a master-criminal but rather a good-hearted factory owner who is framed for a murder he did not commit by the factory’s villainous director (Charles Vanel, later a favorite of Henri-George Clouzot) because he covets Julien’s beautiful wife (Helene Darly).

Also different from the serials of Feuillade is how The House of Mystery‘s narrative follows a single clean story arc. Feuillade’s capers were beloved by the Surrealists in part because of their “we’re making it up as we go along” quality (often a cyclical capture-and-escape narrative-loop structure that perhaps best finds a modern equivalent in the endless death-and-rebirth narrative-loop cycles of the Resident Evil series). The House of Mystery, by contrast, is closer to classic “hero’s journey” epics like The Odyssey and The Count of Monte Cristo in its portrait of a man who escapes from prison and spends years attempting to clear his name and reunite with his family. There are many astonishing set pieces along the way — including a wedding sequence depicted entirely in silhouette and an exciting prison-break/chase scene involving a hijacked train being pursued by mounted police. Flicker Alley’s release represents the first time The House of Mystery has ever been released on home video in any format and also serves as a reminder of how much our knowledge of film history depends upon the vicissitudes of fate. While a Blu-ray would have been preferable to this DVD-only release, you should definitely buy this anyway; it’s so good you won’t regret upgrading when and if a Blu-ray ever does hit the market.

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You can make a donation to the National Film Preservation Foundation here.

You can purchase a region-free Blu-ray of Variete from Amazon Germany here. (Chicagoans should note I will be introducing a screening of my own projected Blu-ray of Variete this Saturday, May 16, at Transistor.)

You can purchase The House of Mystery on DVD directly from Flicker Alley here.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
2. Robin Hood (Dwan)
3. Prometheus (Scott)
4. Cool Apocalypse (Smith)
5. The Band Wagon (Minnelli)
6. Goodbye to Language (Godard)
7. Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller)
8. The Graduate (Nichols)
9. Three Times (Hou)
10. Resident Evil (Anderson)


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