I Like To Watch

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October's Screening: Tokyo Godfathers

Most of you know me well enough to be acquainted with my love of Anime, and I have to give those of you who’ve sat through FLCL marathons and Miyazaki movies and the occasional episode of Outlaw Star a lot of credit. There is a lot of Anime out there, and not all of it is great. A lot of people have preconceived notions about Anime, and a lot of them are true. Most Anime I love does have giant robots, buxom animal-girl hybrids, weird ninja sex, and plenty of upskirt shots of school girls. But those cliché elements are not the bits that draw me to Anime. I love that a lot of Anime really subverts traditional Western forms of storytelling but, even more essentially, I love it because I am an adult, and I love animation. You may know that a lot of the cartoons you watched growing up were Japanese imports, like Voltron or Robotech. Moreover, though there would be no Anime without Hollywood, there would be no Saturday Morning Cartoons without Anime. In 60s due to the creation of cable television, suddenly broadcasters had many more channels and a lot more airtime to fill. Producer Fred Ladd worked with NBC and brought Astro Boy and Gigantor to the US starting in 1963, and the translated versions of Japanese hits found their greatest success with American kids on Saturday mornings. In the US animation never shook a stigma of entertainment for kids, but over the last 10 years thanks to programming on Cartoon Network like Adult Swim and some intrepid film distributors, that has started to change. If you loved Anime on Saturday mornings when you were ten, I encourage you to try some cartoons for grown ups.

The movie we’re watching this month was directed by Satoshi Kon, a newish fave of mine. I first encountered his work watching Paranoia Agent on Adult Swim, and last year saw his most recent film Paprika. For the most part Kon’s work is highly realistic in style, and deals mostly with modern, urban or suburban life, but in doing so delves into the stress, the repression, the palpable pressure that isn't unique to Japanese society, but is present in modern life universally. Kon’s movies and television series are post-modern and creepy-- kind of in a David Lynch way-- but with a clean, bright, humorous undercurrent. We’ll be watching Tokyo Godfathers (2003, 92min) which is about as charming a movie as you can get. Based on the John Ford film 3 Godfathers, Tokyo Godfathers follows a similar premise, replacing outlaw thieves with a rag-tag assemblage of Tokyo’s homeless, who find a baby on Christmas Eve, and set out to reunite her with her mother. And lest you think you’re about to enter some twisted world of tentacle rape and space pirates with unexplainable ambiguities, this movie is highly narrative, there are no ninjas, and it’s so damn heartwarming it made Dan’s Dad cry. As an additional challenge to you, friends, this month we’re switching our nights—we’ll be watching Tokyo Godfathers on Sunday October 19th at 7pm. Happy Hour will still be in effect, we’ll still be at Heathers Bar 506 E 13th St btw A and B, and I’ll even bring some Japanese snacks to share just to make this even more enticing. Come change your mind about Anime and next thing you know we might be hitting up Comicon together…

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September's Screening: Bunny Lake Is Missing

I Like to Watch is back, apologies for being slow on the blog, but please come back to Heathers on Monday September 29th, 7pm as usual. This month’s film Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965, 107 min) was directed by Otto Preminger, and is coming to us by way of Lisa. The movie is starring (Sir) Laurence Olivier, and Carol Lynley, with Noel Coward and The Zombies. Lisa’s description: A woman reports that her young daughter is missing, but there seems to be no evidence she ever existed. IMPORTANT NOTE: I highly recommend you DO NOT Google this movie, because pretty much everything I’ve seen about it includes major spoilers. I’ve never seen this movie, so that’s all we have to go on, folks. Complicating things a bit more, I’m realizing just now that I have seen almost none of Preminger’s films. Therefore, I’m falling back on Bordwell once again, (well, BordwellThompsonStaiger, that holy trifecta of film history, from here on: BTS) I’ll crib a bit for all of us from the lengthy, wordy, heavy and kind of expensive The Classical Hollywood Cinema. BTS characterizes Preminger’s style as kind of cinematic pokerface. BTS put forth Hitchcock as a counterpoint to Preminger’s style: Hitch being the kind of director who draws attention to his hand in a film. Hitch uses very visible and intentioned camera movements, and careful framing to bring your attention to details he wants you to see, and sometimes to make a show of the details he doesn’t want you to see. (As an example BTS use the scene in Shadow of a Doubt when Uncle Charlie is reading the newspaper, and discovers article he doesn’t want his family to see, tearing it out of the paper. The audience sees the article eventually, when young Charlie goes to the library, but Hitch makes a point of drawing the audience in by witnessing Uncle Charlie tearing the paper, but then keeping the most vital information from the audience until it is discovered by young Charlie.) In comparison BTS suggest that Preminger “planes classical narration down to a flat, almost inexpressive ground…” and through his visual style demonstrates an “unwillingness to specify character psychology…” Combined with Lisa’s cryptic description, I can only surmise that we’ll all be kept guessing until the last moment of Bunny Lake.

A secret, a mystery, or a twist is one of the most satisfying narrative devices, and the often quite difficult to pull off successfully. With the widespread dissemination of all kinds of important information on the internet (like that most vital information: the twists and turns of our favorite movies and TV shows) it’s becoming harder and harder to keep a narrative twist a secret. But learning the secret of a plot doesn’t always destroy the pleasure of a film, if that film has something more to offer than the simple thrill of the twist.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Giving Laura Mulvey Her Due

Jezebel linked to Stanley Fish's NYT Opinion piece about Kim Novak asking "Does Kim Novak get ignored by film critics because she was "the object of voyeuristic male gaze" in the '50s?" I clicked through thinking that Fish's piece was going to be some kind of reclaiming of Novak, lauding her as an actress in her own right and not just a pretty face steered around by powerful directors. (And in answer to Jezebel's question: Kim Novak is hardly ignored by film theory and criticism and when she is discussed, its usually only in the context of the male gaze. Please, Ladies.)

Fish's Op Ed "Giving Kim Novak Her Due" is a pretty tribute to a beautiful actress, a star who put up with more than her fair share of bullying through her career at the hands of Hitchcock, Preminger, Wilder, some of Hollywood's most famous auteurs. I agree that in the company of cinematic authors of that caliber, history never quite includes Novak as a driving force in the landmark films in which she stars. Nevertheless, upon finishing Fish's article I am left with but one screaming, rage-filled thought: "Holy crap! Did I just read an article about Kim Novak and the male gaze written in two-thousand-and-freaking-eight with not one single mention of Laura Mulvey?????" I mean, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema is such a primary text in Film Theory (not just Feminist Film Theory), I resist even summarizing it in a blog. However, I know that one person's seminal text is another's petty diversion, as academic fields and interests vary. (This exemption does not apply to the NYT, however.) In a nutshell, Mulvey uses psychoanalytic theory (Freud, Lacan) to equate the camera's view with the desirous male gaze, consequently the cinematic spectator's gaze becomes aligned with the male gaze. I'm a little to riled up right now to really discuss it in full, maybe later when I've taken the rage down a few notches I'll have a more thoughtful analysis of Mulvey v. Fish. Nevertheless, Fish's summation "[Novak] was something that has gone out of fashion and even become suspect in an era of feminist strictures: she was the object of a voyeuristic male gaze..." both flagrantly talks around Mulvey and blames her (without naming names) for the destruction of Novak's celebrity and the type of woman she portrayed on the screen. But wasn't that entirely the point? I'm all for nostalgia but why should a woman movie goer with her wits about her be complacent in worshiping an actress as a "glittering something beheld from afar." Mulvey set out to change that for women, and in turn put spectatorship into question for all audience members who watch through the eyes of a camera lens who aren't heterosexual white and male.

image above from Masters of Media. More hilarious smartypants jokes there.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Even more fun places to watch movies!

After my last post, Kim and Mike both emailed me about some summertime funtime movie nights they frequent. Having this many options is the best and worst thing about New York in the summertime-- but what a fantastic conundrum to be in! Turns out I'll be watching several movies a week through the end of August. And most of them for free. Darn.

This Friday I'll be checking out Gandahar at the Rubin Museum, a film I can not believe somehow has evaded me all these years: French animated scifi craziness. YES. Picture to the right, is enough for me. Films at The Rubin start at 9:30 and are free with a $7 bar minimum.

And don't forget about movies under the Brooklyn Bridge on Thursday nights! On the 22nd they're showing one of my faves-- Being There. If you've never seen it, its a charming movie with Peter Sellers in one of his final roles. Bring a plastic cup if you come so I don't drink an entire bottle of wine by myself and end up too drunken and melancholy. Movies at Brooklyn Bridge Park are free and start around 8.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Things to watch in the summertime

Heathers will be closed for renovations on our usual night, so there won’t be a screening this month. Robbed of this opportunity to force people to see movies, I’d like to take a moment and really encourage people to go to a Rooftop Films movie. I’ve been volunteering for them this summer a few times a month, and as far as I know everyone I’ve coerced into coming to watch movies has really enjoyed eating chocolate* and hanging out on a nice roof watching a movie. You can check out some of the shorts they’ve shown online at IFC (but none of the ones I’ve really loved, you can look at those here and here.)

Consequently, I strongly encourage attending Song Sung Blue at Roosevelt Island on August 16, if you love Neil Diamond as much as I do (and its free!), or Flying on One Engine on August 22 if you can’t bear to leave Williamsburg and you also must have free booze. I’ll be at both these screenings helping out in whatever way I can which usually involves stacking chairs. I must note however, that both the films I’ve recommended aren’t actually showing on a roof. The roof above is the Rooftop homebase, the Old American Can Factory. Find a screening that’s happening there, in the schedule—it’s a really pleasant roof. Actually, I also feel compelled to mention that last Saturday there was a screening not on a roof-- at The Yard -- and magically these Mexican food people who are usually at the Redhook Ballfields showed up and were making incredible tacos, so if you go to a screening that’s happening there, this good fortune may befall you. Also, bring bug spray. Or find me, I’ll have some.

I Like to Watch will be back in September. Email me if you want to watch something specific.

*chocolate doesn’t come with the movie, you have to bring your own. You can also most likely sneak in your own booze, and get drunk for free after the movie.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Movie This Monday

You can drink this heatwave away at Heathers this Monday with The Killer. The movie starts at 7, Heathers is located on 13th St btw A & B, and here's a map if you need one. Screenings are always free, but come prepared to buy a cooling drink or two from the bar.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July's Screening: The Killer

This month, Raechy is bringing us John Woo’s classic Hong Kong action film The Killer (1989, 104 minutes.) Like Hitchcock, Woo often focuses on Man’s dual nature in his films. However, while Hitchcock constructed scenes with a meticulous mise en scene and traditional (for the most part) Hollywood editing, Woo incorporates amore modern shooting style that throws rules of editing, like the 180° rule, out the window in service of Woo’s poetic vision. In his book Planet Hong Kong, the eminent David Bordwell finds that in a scene between assassin, John (Chow Yun-Fat), detective, Li (Danny Lee) and (recently blinded) singer, Jenny (Sally Yeh), Woo uses framing and jump cutting to emphasize the dual nature of John and Li: “They are in the same situation and they’ve got the same feeling and they’ve got the same positions. It’s like looking in a mirror.” (Bordwell) Woo emphasizes throughout the film that killer and cop, John and Li, are both men with integrity, but simply on opposite sides of the law. This story becomes as hyperbolic as it sounds: naturally there’s some betrayal by the respective allies of both John and Li, and of course the criminal and the law bringer come to respect each other more than they’d ever thought possible. It is Woo’s visual splendor and bold telling that makes The Killer an epic story, rather than one with a predictable plot twist.

The Killer brought Woo overseas success, and introduced American audiences to a kind of Hong Kong action film that left behind campy Kung Fu of the 70s. Nevertheless, Woo’s films are hardly realistic, Bordwell aptly uses the term ‘hyperstylized’ to describe Woo’s shooting style. Renowned Hong Kong based film critic Li Cheuk-to suggested Woo’s over-the-top characters and visuals that drew American viewers to his films. In the early 90s he remarked: “A lot of times we cannot take the passionate action films of John Woo, but Western genre film fans love them precisely because such uninhibited wildness is almost impossible to find in Western genre films.” (Bordwell) Woo opened the floodgates for an American cinema of ‘uninhibited wildness’ and you can see his visual and narrative style reflected in the films of the Wachowski Brothers, Robert Rodriguez, and most blatantly, Quentin Tarantino.

photo from loveandbullets.com