By far the most outrageous film going experience you might have had in New York City this week was the Donald Cammell retrospective being hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. That's saying a lot when you consider that Crispin Glover was in town showing his openly offensive "masterpiece" of 70's homage with a cast of actors afflicted with Down's Syndrome entitled "What Is It?" This time at the IFC Center accompanied by a slideshow, no less. But as shocking as Glover's work can be - if you think this is crazy wait until you see what he does with Multiple Sclerosis in the sequel - Cammell's work is truly violent, abrasive filmmaking that pushes an audience's tolerance about as far as it can go. Where Cammell's work is certainly more narrative in form, Glover's has a kind of humorously playful irony that allows the viewer to laugh at him, if not necessarily laugh with him.
When viewing his most famous achievement, "Performance" (directed with Nicolas Roeg), one questions the need for a Cammell retrospective. A veritable mish-mash of penetrating sound-cues, confusing drug trips, 'Clockwork Orange'-esque abuse and superstardom, "Performance" stars Mick Jagger, and, much like The Who's rock opera "Tommy," belongs to a battery of male-dominated 70s filmmaking that is more indicative of the time period than the director. At least that's what one would think until they saw the Cammell selection from the 80s, "The White of the Eye". "Eye" is an equally abrasive, sadistic and mysoginistic mystery about a rash of brutal housewife murders. Other selections included "Demon Seed", the sci-fi follow-up to "Performance" that finds Julie Christie being raped by a computer, and the director's cut of "Wild Side", Cammell's last film which, when cut down by the distributor to be more commercial, was said to have drove him to suicide. Nevermind that the films are cleverly structured and accented like an avant-garde jazz piece; Cammell's work still essentially wears on the eyes and ears. Legend has it that the filming of "Performance" was so intense that it drove co-star James Fox to a ten year stint in evangelism. I would assert that Cammell's direction might do the same to the viewer.
While the bizarre hyper-reality of Mick Jagger was being reinvented in Manhattan, the Museum of Moving Image in Queens hosted an event that exemplified some very different horrors for rock stars and their documentarians. As part of their of their series "Critic's Choice: Great Documentaries", MMI programmed an archival screening of Barbara Kopple's "American Dream", the 1991 story of the labor movement at the Hormel meat-packing plant. The screening was to be followed by a conversation between the director and esteemed film critic Marshall Fine, but when the 16mm projector broke down beyond repair, the always officious Kopple quickly hopped up on stage, apologized to the crowd and hurried back to the projection booth to try to fix the problem. Within ten minutes the audience was treated to a surprise viewing of Kopple's latest doc, "Shut Up and Sing", the story of the country/rock group The Dixie Chicks. The film focuses on the controversy surrounding their public anti-Bush statements. The film was scheduled to screen in the next time slot in the theater with Kopple only doing an introduction but given the circumstances she was happy to do a Q & A in which she both commended the projectionists for their valiant attempt to get "American Dream" back on and plugged the "Shut Up and Sing" DVD, noting that "They [distributors Genius Media] wouldn't let me put any extras on it." It seems as though everything is being saved for the special collector's edition.
Monday and Tuesday saw a plethora of bigger premieres including Michael Apted's narrative foray "Amazing Grace" and the Tom Hanks produced Picturehouse release "Starter for Ten", as well as special screenings of the winning Slamdance films at the IFC Center. However the winner for most eclectic - and fun - event of the week went to the DVD release party for Esther Bell's second feature, "Exist", at the White Rabbit downtown. Bell's film, which screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2004 and is finally available for the consumer public to enjoy in their own living room, tells the story of two young activists who have to go on the run when falsely accused of murder. It starts newcomers Nic Mevoli, Ben Bartlett and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe who, along with his bandmate Kyp Malone, graced the party with a low-tech but the nonetheless fantastically intimate musical performance. The jovial atmosphere was topped off by Bell's remarks before the packed crowd in which she reminded everyone, "DVD sales are why independent film exist. Ha ha."
And now for the saddest news this week for New York film fanatics: The West Village's most distinguished rental spot, TLA Video, will be closing its doors forever. For over ten years now, TLA Video and Kim's Video have been the premiere New York City stores for video retail, the former for rental and the latter for sales. But loyal customers to TLA were greeted this week by serious lines of fellow former renters buying their favorite selections from the inventory. TLA, a Philadelphia based company, will continue their business in all six of their home city locations, but for now it's up to Kim's to pick up the NYC rental slack.
NEW IN THEATERS THIS WEEK:
"Close to Home" (February 14), directed by Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu. Distributor: IFC Films.
"Gray Matters" (February 16), directed by Sue Kramer. Distributor: Yari Film Group.