As October reached its midsection, screens in New York turn inevitably turn to horror films of all varieties. On Monday night, Michael Haneke was in attendance for an oblique Q&A for his “Funny Games“, while Brian De Palma and Amy Irving discussed their classic “Carrie” at the Academy Theater; on Tuesday night, CMJ opened with a more domestic type of horror, “Frank and Cindy“, the story of a hideous marriage that might be the least uplifting thing “This American Life” has ever produced.
Haneke plays “Games” at MoMA
On Monday night, the Museum of Modern Art launched its inaugural “Mondays with MoMA” series with the closing-night film of their Michael Haneke tribute, “Funny Games”, the story of a nice German family, tormented by the most annoying psychopaths in the history of the world. The Mondays with MoMA program was designed as a collaboration between MoMA’s film and media departments as a way to foster discussion between filmmakers and artists, with an eye towards the avant garde; as in this case with Haneke, the museum’s curators will occasionally integrate current exhibitions with the series.
“We wanted to design a program where you could simply say, ‘if it’s Monday night, I’ll be at MoMA’,” said Rajendra Roy, chief curator of MoMA Department of Film. “You don’t need to do your homework before you show up – you’ll see a cutting edge work, and you’ll know the artist will be there to talk about it, so even if you don’t know anything about it going in, you’ll learn something coming out.”
MoMA’s admirable focus on providing access to each week’s featured artist was frustrated by Haneke, an irascible filmmaker prone to refusing to answer questions with a simple “the work speaks for itself,” granted through a translator. In this case, he’s not wrong; “Funny Games” DOES speak for itself, in the guise of a killer who maddeningly breaks the fourth wall with asides and winks. It’s a self-reflexive gimmick that was tremendously au courant in academic circles in 1997 but has already gotten stale- so why the hell did he feel the need to film a shot-for-shot remake in English, with Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt?
Haneke didn’t deign to answer that question in his guarded Q&A, but he did discuss the audience’s fallibility, saying “When the film screened for the very first time, people applauded [at a climactic moment]….people fell into the trap of applauding a murder,” continuing later, “the viewer would like to see violence done.” Well, no; if the viewer had any sense, he or she would actually like to see a different movie altogether. Ignoring that, Warner Independent will be releasing the American remake of this film in February.
De Palma Reflects On “Carrie”
Those in the mood for a more satisfyingly ironic take on the horror genre could forgo the Haneke for a screening of Brian De Palma’s classic 1976 “Carrie”, screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences‘ theater. The showing was part of AMPAS’ “Monday Nights with Oscar” screening series, in which Oscar winning or nominated films are screened off a high-quality print, though some shipping snafus resulted in this being screened off a DVD. Nobody seemed to mind too terribly- it’s Carrie, after all, everybody’s favorite violent revenge of the nerd fantasy, in which the shy, sweet misfit is pushed past her breaking point and uses her unique telekinetic power to terrible effect. The film’s sexualized campiness is apparent right from the famous, opening scene in the girls’ locker room.
“Oh, the shower scene,” recalled De Palma, present along with actress Amy Irving for a Q&A. “all those girls, with all their clothes off. Oh my… we shot all these close-ups of Sissy in the shower, for two days, absolutely every single section of her body. I’ll never forget Sissy watching the dailies, saying “Gee, thanks, Brian”.
“I’ve never had to work so hard to get a role,” said Irving. “There were two big films that needed young actors – there was a cattle call to meet George Lucas for “Star Wars” and Brian De Palma for “Carrie”. They had every kid in town going through that office with the two of them sitting there, and deciding who gets which one….it took weeks of auditions, improvisations, role plays, fake class elections- that kind of thing.”
Irving’s memory proved fantastic – when De Palma would forget any detail, Irving would be there to remind him of everything. “I don’t think we thought we had much of an ending,” said De Palma, of the film’s most famous, final shock, and Irving concurred. “I read the line, ‘and then the hand comes out and grabs Sue Snell’, and I just didn’t think it read well….I saw it at the first screening, and the audience scared the shit out of me. They jumped 3 feet in the air!”
For next month’s screening, Jane Fonda will be in attendance at a screening of “Coming Home“.
CMJ Festival Explores Domestic Horrors
The final horror of the week was back at MoMA, where the CMJ Festival‘s film portion had its opening night event on Tuesday with a screening of the documentary “Frank and Cindy”, the story of also-ran pop star Frank Garcia and his embittered wife Cyndi Brown, whose nonstop bickering and screaming were captured by Cyndi’s son GJ Echternkamp. It’s a true morass of human relationships: Frank and Cindy clearly, sincerely hate one another, and their fights get truly vicious (there is always an implied threat of physical abuse), and while the viewer might get angry at Echternkamp for filming such relentlessly negative portraits of his parents, they have clearly damaged him enough during his life that they probably deserve what they get. Yeesh.
Even the most compassionate of human interest documentaries gets charged by somebody of being exploitative, and it wasn’t long into the Q&A before moderator Ira Glass (who first featured the story on the televised version of his show, “This American Life”) dispatched with the “E” word. “I think when I went into this project, my initial intent was to exploit them,” admitted Echternkamp (who at one point in the film interrupts his parents’ bickering to snicker, “you guys are solid gold”), “but….if I am going to tell a story warts and all, I don’t think that’s exploitative.”
Exploitative or not, it was not particularly affectionate. Both Frank and Cindy seemed shaken after the screening, and Cindy said, heart-wrenchingly, “I originally thought this film was going to show me at my best, but I was just depressed and embarrassed when I saw it…. I cried for two days straight.” She reiterated a sentiment that she expressed in the film – no matter how hard the experience was for her, “it was worth it to help GJ…. I thought I’d lost him, that I’d damaged him forever, but I really feel like there’s hope now.”
“I had an experience with my radio show, when I started doing stories about my parents,” suggested Glass, trying his best to find one of his show’s brand of uplifting epiphanies from the whole tragic mess of experience. “The most surprising thing that happened to me is how close I became with them.”
Cindy agreed. “I was such a drunk when he was a child, so I was glad he wanted to be close to me in any way at all, and I wanted to tell him how sorry I was.” The audience sunk further into awkward depression. The CMJ Film Fest continues through Saturday.