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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Teacher, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

Social systems have a tendency to self-replicate, and therefore self-reinforce, all the way down the ladder, forming a fractal pattern, a series of the same values and, often, the same abuses. Growing up in a capitalist system, children learn to be good little mini-businesspeople, trading candy at lunchtime and favors after school. Learning to exist according to class, the janitor’s kid soon knows to pay deference to his friend, the banker’s son. In fiction, it’s often these small-scale replications that are the most fruitful, the most intimate and powerful. Jan Hrebejk’s The Teacher is certainly one of these, the story of a small classroom in 1983 Czechoslovakia, dominated by a dictatorial teacher, who begins each school year by taking down the occupations of her student’s parents, a helpful guidebook for an extortion scheme revolving around petty favors rendered in exchange for good grades.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: Tiger Theory, by Dayne Linford

25 Apr

I’ve always been a huge fan of the comedic subgenre surrounding the “battle of the sexes” – women and men pitted against each other, usually ending in a tempestuous and hilarious romance. Your standard romantic comedies are a derivation of what Shakespeare perfected, though they never seem to go quite far enough. To work, it must be an actual battle – that is, two equal, individualized forces pitted against each other. There’s more to Beatrice and Benedict than gender, and more to them together than alone. Many, many variations on this theme can be found throughout Western storytelling, of which Radek Bajgar’s Tiger Theory is another, sadly inferior take. Though well-written, often honestly funny, and well-acted throughout, Tiger Theory forgets the most important rule – we must be on both sides at once, or it’s boring.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Noonday Witch, by Dayne Linford

21 Apr

At their weakest, horror movies can be boiled down to one or two “gotcha” elements, thematic or environmental springboards which carry the weight of the vulnerabilities and anxieties supposedly expressed in the piece. TVs in The Ring, showers in Psycho; at their strongest, however, theme and environment are one and the same – the shower in Psycho is not scary because showers are vulnerable and scary, though they are. The shower in Psycho is scary because Norman Bates is scary, and Norman Bates has a key, and a peephole, to that shower. He has a way into our intimate places, and can expose and exploit our secret vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, The Noonday Witch is not one of these movies, and it hopes that the terror of a heat-induced mental breakdown will be enough. If it’s not enough for Psycho, it’s not enough for anybody.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Devil’s Mistress, by Dayne Linford

18 Apr

Czech That Film is an annual traveling festival showcasing the best in contemporary Czech cinema in theaters around the U.S. A schedule of showings and events can be found here – www.czechthatfilm.com

Nazi movies are a dime a dozen and why not? World War Two is the historical event of the last century most of the world over, and, when the last big things in American history were the Civil War and the West, there was no shortage of westerns, either. Though, like with Westerns, the process of becoming a genre carries with it inevitable clichés, well-trodden paths and obvious drum beats. More importantly, it also carries the weight, so often elided in westerns, of working out your place in history, and history’s place in yourself. Perhaps there’s always a new Nazi film around the corner because we still haven’t exorcised the ghosts of that war, still haven’t resolved the great evil it embodied and unleashed upon the world. Not perhaps – certainly. At least, that’s certainly what lies behind the recent Czech film The Devil’s Mistress, currently being shown on a film tour of contemporary Czech cinema around the U.S. Though a fairly straightforward biopic of the silent film star Lida Baarová (Tatiana Pauhofová), Filip Renc’s film is only as it could be made in the Czech Republic – replete with the sense of doomed history, moral compromise, and the essential mysteries of motivation, love, and personal culpability.

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SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock: Mick Rockumentary, by Dayne Linford

6 Apr

If your documentary subject is the famous music photographer Mick Rock (yes, that’s his real name and yes, nobody can resist talking about it), creator of some of the most iconic pop culture images of the twentieth century, and you have to create a film, a series of images, to package and deliver his images, it must be intimidating. It also must be exciting, must be irresistible, and must be at least a little addictive. So, it must be rock n roll. Like Rock’s photography then, a documentary told from his perspective needs to be daring, inventive, needs to take honestly unnecessary risks in the pursuit of the perfect hook, the most innovative riff. And, in that pursuit, it sometimes will be self-indulgent, pointless, and myopic, like a rambling, eight-minute-long guitar solo. But we can’t blame it too much. After all, we got to be in the company of rock stars.

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The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts: Process and Politics, by Dayne Linford

9 Feb

The Oscar-nominated live-action shorts being their theatrical tour tomorrow.

Perhaps the most unwatched category of the Academy’s nominated films, the shorts nevertheless often feature some of the most inventive, responsive, and interesting filmmaking of the year. For this year’s live action crop, that promise is variably fulfilled, some shorts tending in a typical, Oscar-friendly direction, while others live up to their potential, utilizing their time well and delivering innovative filmmaking on a small scale. This year is rather interesting in that the nominated films are all mainland European, perhaps reflecting international politics and the activism latent throughout this year’s nominations in other categories. The content of each film can be viewed in that same sense, two of them dealing with immigration and social violence, three concerning stratification and criticizing social predation, three concerning the invasive, or democratizing, or alienating, effects of modern technology. They’re surprisingly deep films considering their short running time, though, with one exception, they’re generally quite straightforward, not in keeping with the iconoclasm of the best of the genre.

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Home Video Hovel: Cinerama’s Russian Adventure, by Dayne Linford

22 Dec

Cinerama, the practice of stitching together three different rolls of footage to be displayed concurrently across a massive screen, was one of the great experiments in film, concocted to try and out-spectacle television and get viewers back into the theaters in the 50s and 60s. Widely utilized but largely relegated to circuit markets and specialty theaters, it never broke through into the mainstream, only employed in a few disparate films, most notably How the West Was Won. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating experiment, and Russian Adventure, a pseudo-documentary travelogue of the American rival, introduced and narrated by Bing Crosby, is a delight to view. Playing as a variety show made up of the efforts of disparate filmmakers throughout the vast USSR, it’s an entertaining, breezy two hours, of interest largely as an historical document and cinematic experiment but still nonetheless fun to watch, particularly with the help of the new “Smilebox” technique, replicating the look of the original piece as directly as possible, though “formatted to fit your screen” as all things must be.

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La Notte: Waking Up the Dead, by Dayne Linford

15 Sep

lanotte

Perhaps the most telling visual metaphor in the great Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte (1961) – newly restored and embarking on a fresh theatrical tour from Rialto – is the very first. In the credits, a series of long, rolling shots track downwards over the reflective façade of a modern hospital building. Following immediately from a two-shot featuring different sides of Milan, divided by the hospital, Antonioni is content to let us sit with this building, each slice of concrete flooring interrupting the crystal reflection of the city, adding a note of perverse insubstantiality to the image of its vast, solid expanse. It echoes a spool of film, reeling past us with frightening speed, showing virtually the same image, itself only remarkable in the knowledge of it as a film-esque reflection inside the reflection that is itself film, the interruptions of its literal concrete reality creating surrealism in the context of our image, interrupted suddenly by the loud gasp of Tommaso (Berhard Wicki), dying in the hospital. These twisted and ultimately immaterial self-reflections are the subject of Antonioni’s film: characters, and cameras, gazing into their own unknowable depths and coming away with virtually nothing.

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Home Video Hovel: Belladonna of Sadness, by Dayne Linford

2 Sep

belladonna

Belladonna of Sadness was the last release of the Mushi Production animated motion picture studio. It was founded by legendary Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka, who is often credited with giving birth to anime with his most successful property, Astro Boy. Belladonna of Sadness is a great deal further from that. Created in a maelstrom of ambition, desperation, debt, and ultimately bankruptcy, the fact that it survived at all is stunning, that it was finished in the first place even more so. Besides being plagued by production problems, it’s also harrowing subject matter. I think myself fairly familiar with animated film, yet can think of no other like Belladonna, and am struggling to find any corollaries in live-action features. One of the most disturbing films ever made; powerful, uncomfortable, completely unhinged, Belladonna is the unique gift to cinema of the death of Tezuka’s company, and is one of the single most daring, provocative films I’ve ever seen.

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Die Hard and the Politics of International Terror, by Dayne Linford

13 Apr

hansgruber

Now suddenly evoking the San Bernardino shooting, the holiday party setting in John McTiernan’s action film masterpiece Die Hard (1988) took on a much more somber tone in my family’s annual Christmas viewing last year. The film’s subject matter was pertinent enough in 1988, as Americans watched Europe besieged by terrorism on their televisions and the line “Los Angeles has now joined the sad but world-wide fraternity whose only membership requirement is the awesome specter of international terrorism” didn’t carry such a grim irony. Nearly thirty years later, however, Die Hard seems almost prophetic and, as the franchise itself becomes ever more irrelevant, the original film maintains a startling and immediate pertinence.

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