Made Out Of Mouth

Movies Watched. Thoughts Provoked. Words Spilled.

11.08.2005

SKIDOO


I have to admit that I was underwhelmed with the slightly overhyped Skidoo. More head shaking than jaw-dropping, this failed attempt to tune into the sixties drug vibe serves best as a cautionary tale for those clinging to coolness. Made by Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder) in 1968 this comic, acid tripping romp stars Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, and many, many others.

By 1968, most of the cast were cast off as "your parents comedians". Desperately trying to remain hip this aging pack of comedians attempt to tap into a free spirit style that is utterly foreign to them. Imagine your parents listening to "your" music. That's how pathetic Skidoo feels. As laughable as it maybe to watch Jackie Gleason undergo an acid trip, full of psychedelic cliches and not so groovy music, it is hard to stop from wincing at the sad fact that Hollywood had no clue how to handle the changing times of the late 60's. It's no wonder that a film like Easy Rider could throttle itself into box office stardom. Skidoo could not have been much fun for anyone back in '68. Parents who grew up with those comedian did not want to see them like this and the youth of '68 had to have sensed a rat. Skidoo sticks out like a narc at a biker rally.

Today, Skidoo is a humorous note in the annals of film history. It's a marker of a point in time when Hollywood was looking to strip cash from a changing culture that it could not put its thumb on. From the present day perspective its easy to see how mis-guided the whole project feels. One automatically wonders what drugs studio executives were on when they green-lighted a project that has Groucho Marx playing a mob king-pin known as God and has its credits sung by Nilsson. Yes, singing credits and Groucho Marx smoking the Pot! Perhaps, those are were the two selling points in a sales pitch that must have been hilarious to hear. Groucho and Nilsson are perhaps the two best points in a truly bungled picture.

Now, I am left to wonder what modern films will stand out like Skidoo. Hollywood continues to have trouble understanding the youth market and old celebrities refuse to die young. Will the present day obsession with the 80's, the persistent use of supercasts, or the heavy dependency upon irony leads us to our next Skidoo? Only time will tell. Until then be cautious of what you cling to.

STILL LIFE

Still Life
(Bruce Baillie, 1966, 2 minutes, color)

A quaint joke at best, this short film holds for two minutes on a static shot of obstructed bodies sitting two rooms away as they discuss a photograph. Filmic jokes can only be told once, which makes them rather rather poor jokes.

TUNG

Tung
(Bruce Baillie, 1966, 6 minutes, color)

Playing just after Bartlett's Moon, the opening shot of Baillie's Tung is rather confusing. The image of the distant moon reflected in a small body of water, perhaps a puddle, is one of the more striking images I have ever seen in cinema. Playing off Aristotelian ideas the univeral the practical image of the moon floating in a pool of water is poetic and haunting.

Sadly, this image is quickly obstructed and gives way to multiple exposures and distroted images that speak more to a fucked up state of perception than a quiet state of being. How quickly solace slips away.

MOON

Moon
(Scott Bartlett, 1969, 15 minutes, color)

Bartlett finds a subject in the moon and then filters his subject through an series of video and film effects to create a drug induced trip to the moon. It's interesting if you are into the sort of images associated with drug trips. Personally, I'd rather watch footage of the actual moon landing that supposedly took place that same year. You don't need drugs to enjoy that. I'd rather watch those images than Bartlett's altered images.

MAKING OFFON

Making Offon
(Scott Bartlett, 1980, 10 minutes, color)

During a video production course Bartlett and students recreate some of the effects used in his 1967 piece OffOn. Outside of a few moments where Bartlett acts like a magician revealing his tricks there is not much of interest in this piece. Oddly, a few technical explinations made to clue the audience into vocabulary being used by Bartlett was cause for chuckles amonst some of the film students in the audience. Why, I do not know? Is jargon now considered funny? I missed that memo.

OFFON

Offon (Scott Bartlett, 1967, 10 minutes, color)

Bartlett was one of the first experimental filmmakers to create electronic cinema. Utilizing early video equipment and trippy film loops Bartlett was able to create mind-bending images. Today, they feel dated and regressive. We've seen it all before from music videos to feature films. The psychedelic images of dancing female forms melting into one another, wild colors, and crazy patterns. Pass the brown acid.

Obviously, I am not so impressed with this work. Growing up straight-edge and never having taken mind-altering drugs may have something to so with my lack of interest. More particularly, it is Bartlett's lack of subject matter that disinterested me most. He's just a boy playing with toys.

11.07.2005

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ( 5 Random Thoughts)


I hadn't watched this in years, I'm going to guess at least 12. I thought I'd just zone out and fall asleep, but instead I ended up watching the whole thing. While I did these thoughts ran through my head.

1) What the hell sort of school is Dr. Jones teaching at? It's 1938. I believe he's in California. San Fran, from what I can tell by the map when his plane takes off. Is this Stanford or Berkeley? Why does it appear like he has nothing but girls in his class? Minus one or two boys, the classroom is swarming with girls. Was there a big female interest in archeology during the late 30's or were all those girls just looking to touch Indiana's whip. At least one of them shows signs that she wants to.

2) Wow! Talk about coincidences. I was just talking about surveying and how it was a lost art. I saw some students on campus doing an exercise and I commented that I thought it would be neat to know how to use surveying tools. I remember reading that a lot of our country's forefathers knew how to survey the land. Perhaps, is was a more necessary skill when you did not have satellites and Mapquest. I think it would get you more in touch with the land. But, I totally overlooked the fact that this ancient art could help you find the Ark of the Covenant. Yet, there was Dr. Jones scoping out buried treasure.

3) This is a rather violent film. I don't remember it being this violent. People get shot in the face, people get burnt alive, people get chopped up by propeller blades. Egads, have I grown old or was I desensitized to violence at a young age thanks to Steven Spielberg? Still, I now found this rather excessive, especially for a PG film. I know everyone laughs when Indiana shoot the sword swinging Arab. Ha-ha. But, isn't this just typical of Americans, always solving their problems with guns?

4) Flat-out and no bones about it, this is good screen-writing and good directing. I may not like much of Spielberg's adult work, but when it comes to Boy's Life fantasies I have to give the dude credit. But, I give more credit to Philip Kaufman and Lawrence Kasdan. One can only imagine what would have happened if George Lucas had bothered to write the whole thing himself. It would be over kill city with horrible dialog, but her the dialog is minimal, important, humorous, and sharp. The scenes are equally sly, especially having the heroine introduced in a drinking game only to have her high alcohol tolerance return at a later point in the film. I don't know if I caught that as a younger film viewer.

5) There are parts of this film that are still genuinely creepy. Both the image of the snake coming out of the corpse's mouth and the melting of the Nazi's is freaky shit. These little touches help move the film away from being a strict action/adventure tale and help add a touch of horror.

Now, let me go on record and say that it will be another decade before I feel the need to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again, but here is proof that I've not completely turned my back on the films of my childhood.

JERRY'S

Jerry's (Tom Palazzalo, 1974, 9 minutes, color)

Jerry's isn't your typical deli and that's because Jerry isn't your typical guy. He's a piquant shopkeeper who grabs customers by the arm, rushes them to the counter, and barks at slow ordering folk. He barks at his employees. He barks into the phone. But, his bark is worse than his bite as Jerry himself admits that his attitude it more schtick than anything. For all the guff Jerry dishes out it doesn't seem to slow down business and Jerry tries to analyze why people come back and agree to be man handled and yelled at.

Short, sweet, and full of life - real life, Jerry's is a wonderful gem of a documentary. More human than the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame, but just as unique. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

RESTAURANT

Restaurant
(Andy Warhol, 1965, 33 minutes, B/W)

Allow me to be smarmy for a moment. No one would give two licks about this film if it weren't for the cult of Warhol. Yes, one can enjoy the film for its minimal use of camera. The opening images flash by until the camera settles on a close-up of an ashtray, a few classes, a bottle, and random hands descending and ascending into the frame. The voices are barely audible, a dissonant white noise. Occasionally a shrill scream makes itself heard over the din. The film's star, Edie Sedgwick takes a prominent seat to the right side of the frame, but her face is far out of frame. As time goes on the camera slowly zooms out to revel a cluster of Warhol "stars" such as Ondine and Edie sitting at a table table. They gab, the order, they drink, and they smoke. Every 100th word is heard, but nothing makes much sense. Later, the camera shifts about the room attempting to pry in on the conversation of other diners. Finally, the camera returns to Edie and then the film runs out.

As an exercise in gesture or banal camera work this may hold the slightest interest. Many images appear like that from a liquor ad or an absurd play, with a gaggle of partygoers crammed around one table. However, if the film were only that and nothing more it would not have withstood the test of time. Since it was made by Andy Warhol the film continues to exist and it continues to torture film students and for once I actually felt rather sorry for the kids in the lecture hall. I only have to wonder what a faculty member would say if one of these students turned in a similar project. A or F, what would the student get?

11.02.2005

ALMOST HOME

Once again I am having to comment on the work of an instructor and find myself knowingly watching my words. So often, I shoot from the hip when writing these entries, but there is the occasional need to type cautiously.

As a PBS documentary I really enjoyed Almost Home. Being that it is a documentary intended for PBS its hard to fault the film for what it ended up being. Attempting to tell the story of a nursing home in the midst of change and the various stories of the people who live and work at this evolving site, filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein tackles a formidable task. It's never easy to show a comprehensive view in a mere ninety minutes.

Focusing on a few key individuals the film finds most of its structure in their lives and how they have been effected by the nursing and the new changes that are afoot. Taking a more caring and home like approach to assisted living Saint John's is allowing residents to have more say in how they are cared for and treated. Gone are the days of regimented feeding and bathing times. No longer are patients confined to wheel chairs, strapped to beds, or bound to their rooms. A family like environment is promoted, one that encourages staff to get to know the residents and to bond with them, but for an underpaid and overworked staff this may be asking to much. Many nurses complain and surprisingly so do some of the patients. Afraid that the new lax rules may allow for his wife to sleep her life away and slowly give into the dementia that already has taken away a good portion of her mind, one husband feels that the new policies are a hindrance to his wife's mental health.

Complain as some might, most are grateful for the new rules. Trips to museums, lunch dates at restaurants, and even an occasional visit to an old family cabin give back a great deal of life to those who may have spent the rest of theirs trapped inside a nursing home. A genuine sense of care and bonding forms between many of the staff and the residents as they learn to live with the new rules and with one another. Throughout the course of the film it does appear that things are getting better, even for some residents who must deal with the harsh realities of old age.

In particular, one distinguished senior citizen must watch as her husband succumbs to Parkison's disease. As his life comes to a halt she slowly distances herself from him. Still lively and still healthy, she shuns her own husband in favor of new friends she has made at Saint John's. As heartbreaking as it is to watch a man not only lose his mind, but his heart it is not a wholly sad story. By the film's end he has moved on and has found another woman, someone equally as incapacitated as himself, but just as sweet. The image of them in their wheelchairs holding hands is enough to make your cry. That is unless you consider the fact that he's still a married man. However, this concern does come up amongst the staff, but do to the state of these two beings and the man's wife wanting nothing to do with him, no one sees much fault in their youthful romance.

Told in a style quite similar to three various forms of documentary, Almost Home promotes itself as a cinema verte, but truth be told it can not rightfully claim this title. And, here is where I may find myself in hot water. The French filmmaker Jean Rouch coined the term Cinema Verte when he attempted to get to the truth through cinema. Through the probing use of questions, Jean Rouch would interview his subjects on camera, asking them question after question, always attempting to get to a deeper truth. Later, he would have his subjects look at the film he shot and comment on whether or not they thought it was truthful. Almost Home does include interviews, but you never hear the filmmaker asking the questions. Nor will you find the subjects looking at themselves and commenting on the honesty captured or not captured by the camera. Yes, there is a handheld, shaky, in-the-thick-of-it camera style in Almost Home and this same camera style was often used in cinema verte films. It gives the viewer a sense of watching life unravel before the camera. However, this same camera style is also found in the Americanized version of cinema verte, a style known as direct method. However, there are too many titles and too many stylized edits to make Almost Home a version of the very pure and very minimalist technique that is indicative of direct method cinema. Lastly, there is free cinema, a movement from England that emphasized films about non-glamorous, working class individuals and activities. In subject matter, Almost Home compares slightly with this branch of documentary. The worker's at Saint John's are certainly working class. The residents who can afford such luxury are probably not.

I do not want this to be a semantic argument. I merely bring up these terms because I feel that Almost Home lacks a distinct style. Floating somewhere between these three various styles of documentary I feel it borrows plenty from each, but does not lean far enough into any one style to give the film an overall aesthetic. For PBS this is probably not an issue as the blending of style s culminates into a highly emotional and informed piece that will surely spark debate and discussion. Speaking from the point of view of an artist, I feel the film is lacking a unique vision that would make this a Brad Lichtenstein piece and not just a PBS piece. Perhaps I need to see more of the filmmaker's work, but unlike a Werner Herzog or Fredrick Wiseman or Errol Morris who's personal style is so singular that you can not mistake them for someone else, Lichtenstein seems to have not found a personal touch.

I would like to cite one specific moment in the film before closing. Left alone, at a rather fancy dining table the film's heartbreaking hero battles with Parkinson's as he attempts to return his half-filled water glass from his lips to the table. With shaking hands he gets the glass to the table only to find that the clutter of napkins, utensils, plates, and additional drinking vessels has left him little room to place his glass down. While the nursing home has diligently attempted to recreate a fine dining experience in their food hall they have over looked the simple fact that for some, the difficulty of eating is only compounded by the overdressed tables. In this rather long shot, perhaps the longest shot in the film, we watch this man struggle to retain his dignity while enjoying some fine dining. Due to the length of the shot one is able to contemplate whether all this decoration is a service or dis-service to the individual. In essence, you have the gist of the film in this one shot. I only wish there had been more images like this- poetic and paused, giving room for thought.