This week in New York, Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” got a little more respect, Kevin Costner added serial killing to his filmography, and Arts Engine presented the Media That Matters Film Festival. Also, “Radiant City” gave the suburbs its own moc doc.
“Barry Lyndon” Sells Out
Lincoln Center celebrated Memorial Day weekend with a sold-out 6 screening run of Stanley Kubrick‘s “Barry Lyndon“, the director’s 1975 epic masterpiece based on William Thackeray‘s 19th century novel about fictional 18th century social climber Lyndon, who manages in the course of the story to rise from a ruined Irish landholder to a wealthy aristocrat, and then lose everything again. The film was recognized at its release for its stunning photography, period costumes, perfectly scored music and technical advances (Kubrick famously used a camera developed by NASA in order to shoot scenes by candlelight), but the director’s emotional distance from his material made many critics decry the movie as bloodless and cold. It is only now, after 30 years, that “Barry Lyndon” is beginning to receive its rightful recognition as Kubrick’s masterpiece.
On hand at several screenings to introduce the film and for a Q&A following was Leon Vitale, who played Lyndon’s wrathful stepson Lord Bullingdon, and continued collaborating with Kubrick in a number of roles behind the camera, eventually overseeing “Barry Lyndon”‘s restoration. The director, he said, had generally been depressed about the film’s initial reception, and did not truly recognize the film’s greatness until 13 years ago. “BBC Television ran a series of his films,” explained Vitali at Monday afternoon’s screening, “and they gave them each a rating out of 5 stars. Barry Lyndon they gave 5 stars… they gave all his other films 4 stars and said they would have given them 5 if it hadn’t been for Barry Lyndon.” While the details of filming would seem grueling to most people – the shooting continued for an entire year; one duel, not in the script, took 2 weeks to shoot, as the director continually changed both the details and the outcome. Vitali loved all of it, and explained how the shoot effected his transition from in front of the camera to behind it. “When you see something like (the lighting rig), or any of the marvelous things we had on set, you want to ask about it, and he was so warm and open and generous, he would talk about it. And we got on so well that it led to more questions and answers, for months, and after all of that he asked me if I wanted to work on “The Shining‘”.
Mr. Costner on “Mr. Brooks”
Kevin Costner was at the Tribeca Grand Hotel on Tuesday to greet an intimate gathering in its small, comfortable screening room for a special screening of his upcoming serial killer thriller, “Mr. Brooks“. While his face has graced this nation’s multiplexes less often in this decade than in the one previous, it has lost none of the warm affability that made him a star. In the midst of his brief introduction, Costner paused and gave a charmingly self-denigrating, “I hate people who talk during movies and before them…. I’m hating myself at this moment,” before praising the writer/director Bruce Evans, stating “When I read it, I knew I wanted it to be part of my filmography, I wanted it to exist exactly as it’s written.” As the film started, it became clear that just as Costner retains the warmth of his earlier years, he also retains his ability to play against type. What impresses in this case is not simply his decision to take a dark role, but his ability to pull it off. Never does he feel anything less than convincing in his portrayal of a successful businessman tormented by his compulsion towards senseless killing.
The same cannot be said of the film. It’s hard to tell which part of the movie rings most patently false – William Hurt playing Costner’s murderous superego as a continuation of his mob boss from “History of Violence“, Dane Cook‘s enthusiastic apprentice who chanced to photograph Costner mid-crime, or the decision to treat killing people as an addiction that any upstanding member of society might have (and pass to his daughter), a decision that results in the film’s absence of any believable statement about either murder or addiction. What trashy fun there is to be had in that absence, then, is provided by Demi Moore as a hard-as-nails heiress-cum-police investigator being swindled by her ex-husband and stalked by a thoroughly tangential pair of thrill-killers, but this is not enough to keep the whole enterprise from turning ridiculous-in-a-bad-way by the half-hour mark. The party continued at the Soho Grand hotel, where Costner was joined by wife, daughter, and Kyle MacLachlan.
Media that Matters
On Wednesday night at the IFC Center, independent media group Arts Engine, Inc. presented the World Premiere of the Media That Matters Film Festival, a collection of 16 films – 13 docs, 2 animations, 1 narrative and 1 spoken word piece – that focus on a wide range of social issues, each of them under 8 minutes. There was a wide spread of topics and production levels, from Ambika Samarthya‘s lovely, slick “Ashray“, about a center in Bombay for children affected by HIV, to “The Final Frontier“, a punchy little doc made by Chicago teenagers Trace Gaynor and Stephen Sotor who were curious about the moral ramifications of developing defense programs in space. Other standouts in the festival included “Still Standing“, the swiftly heartbreaking story of a woman in New Orleans attempting to rebuild her house and keep her sanity in the midst of resistance from insurance companies and the local government, and “The Apollos“, an inspiring story of Oakland students who fought to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday, by high schoolers Nick Parker and Jazmin Jones.
At the Q&A, most of the festival filmmakers lined up in the front of the room, including a dozen or so middle school students there with the film “The Farm Sanctuary” – about a school field trip that lets children spend a weekend as a vegan in the company of rescued farm animals. Still, when an audience member addressed a question to “the young filmmakers”, it was not immediately clear whom she meant – almost all of the filmmakers were under 30, and a sizable portion were under 20. “To be able to work on something that you really care about and you think can really make a difference… this is the ideal situation, this is the ideal festival for all of these films,” said director Kathleen Hulka, whose animated film “Grace” explored domestic violence. Said Sverre Fredrikson, with the animated “Power Up“, “I think it’s really inspiring to see everybody else’s work, and on the big screen, and to see an audience that wants to see it. It’s a sold out show!” Indeed it was – the large spill-over from the audience, in fact, watched the show from the IFC Center bar. The Media That Matters awards ceremony will take place on Thursday at the HBO center, with directors such as Albert Maysles and Nelson George presenting awards.
Pioneer Screens “Radiant City”
Also on Wednesday night, Two Boots’ Pioneer Theater saw the New York premiere of journalist Jim Brown and director Gary Burns‘ (“Waydowntown“) “Radiant City” a canny blend of documentary and mockumentary set in the glacially hellish suburbs of Calgary. Both a collection of insights into suburbia by various architects, urban planners, and cultural commentators as well as a somewhat fictionalized portrait of the inhabitants of a particularly bleak subdivision (played exclusively by actors who actually live in the suburbs of Calgary, and supplemented with their personal anecdotes), the film portrays modern suburbs as being unsustainable cultural dead zones whose structure prohibits the very sense of community that they promise their residents, a sense most effectively conveyed in its series of overhead shots of endless stretches of lifeless, monotonous sprawl.
While neither director was present for a Q&A, Robert Cohen, co-author of “Suburb: The Musical” (featured heavily in the film) was there, and he quickly drew a delineation between suburbs (he is quite fond of his own suburb, Montclair, NJ), explaining of the film “this is shot in one of the worst suburbs I’ve ever seen in my life.” It is a point made by the experts in the film itself that suburbs are not inherently bad places – it is the modern suburbs that have grown up lately, which lack the factors of community as well as the infrastructure for development, that are the true problems. “The planning is something that in the future has to be dealt with by architects, by communities, by governments,” continued Cohen. “I think individual people don’t have a lot of control… when developers are moved solely by profits, and don’t care about the welfare of the residents.” The film will continue for the next week at the Pioneer Theater.
Coming Up Next Week
It’s a packed week, as Newfest opens on Thursday (and continues until June 10th), as does Sundance at BAM. The National Museum of the American Indian will host the New York premiere of Billy Luther‘s Sundance entry “Miss Navajo” on Tuesday, 6/5, and Lincoln Center will begin its “Open Roads – New Italian Cinema” series on Wednesday, 6/6.
In Theaters This Week
“Ten Canoes” (May 25), directed by Rolf De Heer. Distributor: Palm Pictures. Official website
“Rise: Blood Hunter” (June 1), directed by Sebastian Gutierrez. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films. Official website
“Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman” (June 1), directed by Adrian Shergold. Distributor: IFC Films. Official website
“Crazy Love” (June 1), directed by Dan Klores. Distributor: Magnolia. Official website
“Day Watch” (June 1), directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Distributor: Fox Searchlight.
“Gracie” (June 1), directed by Davis Guggenheim. Distributor: Picturehouse. Official website