This week, New Yorkers in the film industry fled the city like rats from a sinking ship to attend the Cannes Film Festival. Those of us unlucky enough to be left behind at least had ample distraction from our jealousy, in the form of BAM’s tribute to ace cinematographer Ed Lachman and Lachman’s bevvy of oddball guests (Larry Kramer, William Schrader and David Byrne among them), as well as the Doxita festival of short docs, and Film Forum’s retrospective of Godard’s 60s. Anyway, supposedly it’s raining in Cannes.
FIlm Forum Celebrates Godard
Last summer was the 40-year anniversary of the Summer of Love; this May is the 40th of the Spring of Discontent. What better way to celebrate the May ’68 student uprisings and general strike in France than with a celebration of the films of Jean-Luc Godard, currently underway at Film Forum? The series is titled “Godard’s 60s”, which is telling- no other director has owned a time period as completely as Godard owned the 60s, when he tossed off multiple films a year, and every single one of them made an imprint on the zeitgeist.. Indeed, the counter-cultural pull of his films (often nothing more than loose, strikingly photographed vignettes of ersatz lowlifes dicking around) was so strong, they were often cited as a key influence of the rioting students.
“Godard is revered like few other directors,” says Film Forum’s director of repertory programming, Bruce Goldstein. “His films represent the spirit of the era like no other filmmaker’s. He not only helped fuel the events of May ’68, but his subsequent films were inspired by it.”
The series began on May 2nd with Godard’s first and still most cherished film, “Breathless“, and continues through June 5 with all of the classics (“Alphaville“, “Band of Outsiders“, “Weekend“), as well as the more rarely screened (1968’s Rolling Stones tribute, of sorts, “Sympathy for the Devil“).
“You may say that this festival has been ten years in the making,” says Goldstein. “Eleven years ago, when we first revived “Contempt”, few of Godard’s films from this legendary period were in distribution or available in 35mm prints, apart from “Breathless”…. Within the past 10 years, companies like Janus, New Yorker, Koch Lorber and my own company, Rialto, have acquired rights to the others and struck new 35mm release prints. So it’s finally possible to create a complete retrospective of Godard’s 60s.”
The series concludes on June 5, after a week-long screening of 1962’s “Vivre Sa Vie“. “Vivre Sa Vie” has not been on DVD and has been out of theatrical release for decades,” says Goldstein. “It is one of only a handful of major Godards of the 60s that has not had a theatrical re-release.”
BAM Salutes Lachman
BAM celebrated a different type of artistry this week, with its 11-day salute to Ed Lachman, the versatile cinematographer whose acclaimed recent work with Todd Haynes, lensing “I’m Not There” and “Far From Heaven“, harkens back to his inexplicably sinister visions of the 1980s in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Less Than Zero“. On Friday night, Lachman was joined by sleaze auteur Larry Clark for the opening night film, their co-directed effort “Ken Park” (Lachman’s directorial debut); screening throughout the week are such varied films as “The Virgin Suicides“, “Light Sleeper“, and Ulrich Seidl‘s latest, “Import/Export“, films unified only by the fact that they look terrific.
“We started talking about this series after listening to all of the discussion about “I’m Not There” last year,” says programmer Jake Perlin. “It all seemed to center on the visual style, the beauty of the images. Ed’s name was very deservedly in public discussion, and we thought this was a good chance to look at all the work he’d done… particularly as many were films that hadn’t been shown on 35mm for a long time.”
Included among those is David Byrne’s sadly under-appreciated 1986 film “True Stories“, an absurd slice of Texas life that represented the peculiar Talking Head frontman’s only foray into feature filmmaking. Operatic, grotesque and beautiful, it’s a truly original work with the steady camera and beautiful lighting seen throughout Lachman’s work.
“Ed was very tolerant and accepting of someone like me who was working on his first movie,” said Byrne after Sunday night’s screening. “I’d come in with harebrained ideas and different ways of working… he’d say ‘wait a minute, we can try that.'”
“I’m always drawn to first-time directors, or directors who have their own visual language,” said Lachman (who has been making appearances almost nightly at BAM). “The only way you come up with different images it to approach them in different ways.”
Byrne opened the discussion with a show-and-tell of the work of Bill Eggleston, who he said was the primary influence of the film’s look. Lachman explained further, saying “When you break an aesthetic, you create a new one. Bill Eggleston would break the frame, he would cut buildings in half, cut people in half. We thought, ‘well, nobody’s ever tried to do that in a film, let’s do it’…. in the end, nobody ever said anything about weird framing, or whatever, because in the end you just accept it. It becomes the convention.”
“The Cinematography of Ed Lachman” runs at BAM through May 20.
First Doxita Fest Kicks Off
Documentary shorts got a little love on Monday night at the IFC Center, with the premiere of the first annual Doxita Festival, a collection of 6 terrific shorts that will travel to art-house theaters throughout the country. The subjects range the gamut, from “Cross Your Eyes, Keep Them Wide“, Ben Wu‘s uplifting look at an art center for the developmentally disabled, to Dylan Wyn Tomas‘ moving portrait of a man overcoming his stammer in “Martin Thomas“, to Ricardo Iscar‘s disturbing tuna snuff film “El Cerco“.
Says curator Karen Cirillo, “I used to work for the Full Frame Festival, and there were all these great films, and they never really got quite the same treatment as the features did… people feel they can’t devote an entire program just to short docs, or they don’t know how, they just throw a bunch of films together, regardless of subject.”
Asked why these particular 6 films seemed to go together so well, Cirillo responded “All of these films are testaments to how people struggle with their day-to-day lives.”
“I started out trying to make a feature film,” says New Yorker Jesse Epstein, whose animated doc “The Guarantee“, chronicling a young male ballet dancer’s nose-job, is part of a series of 4 films about body image and perfection. “It got endless, there are so many ways you can go about this subject… making this into shorts meant I could go about this in many different ways.”
“I’m really hoping to interest broadcasters in the series,” says Cirillo. “A lot of European television channels fund short filmmakers. It would be nice to see that happen here.”
The festival will continue on the play at Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, Silver Springs, Chicago, and Miami Beach.