Charles Ferguson‘s Iraq doc “No End in Sight” managed to stun audiences during January’s Sundance Film Festival, and the same shock transfixed audiences last weekend for the premiere of the film in New York. BAM spotlighted director Robert Aldrich with six films that were critically lauded, but failed to lure audiences in the United States. The films, which were perhaps a comment on the conflicts of the day in Vietnam and Algeria, maintain their relevance today. And, D.A. Pennebaker was on hand at IFC Center in downtown Manhattan for the NYC theatrical debut of “’65 Revisited,” a collection of outtakes from his earlier Bob Dylan doc, “Don’t Look Back.”
“No End in Sight” Reveals the true quagmire in Iraq
The long line out of Film Forum for Friday night’s premiere of Charles Ferguson’s 2007 Sundance Special Jury Prize-winning documentary “No End in Sight” was far more excitable than might be expected for a documentary about the current Iraq war, but extremely glowing reviews and strong word-of-mouth had declared that this might well be the definitive film about the Iraq occupation. It is easy to see why, the film steers clear of any controversy surrounding the decision to go to war and instead focuses on giving a chronological framework to the occupation that followed, beginning in January, 2003 with the minimal consideration given to reconstructing a post-Saddam government, and following through a series of astronomically asinine missteps over the next year that result in the current state of civil war, which Ferguson argues was probably avoidable.
The film’s strength is in its ease of explanation in showing how the reconstruction of Iraq was bungled so badly by the hierarchy of the U.S. Department of Defense, which consolidated power in the hands of a very few–Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer.
During the Q & A, the audience queried Ferguson for answers, although they were perhaps not prepared for how depressing the state of the Iraqi quagmire. Asked about the possibility of troop withdrawal, Ferguson said, “Most of the people with whom I spoke feel that if the United States were to withdraw fully, there would be an immediate and quite horrific bloodbath and increase likelihood of a regional war that would involve Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia and possibly other nations on the other.”
Ferguson thanked attending author George Packer for providing the inspiration for the film with his book “Assassins at the Gate,” before inviting him on stage. After taking a second to praise a blushing Ferguson, Packer backed up Ferguson’s dour predictions, stating “There is no answer, there is no solution, it’s bad either way and nobody should imagine that getting out will be the end of Iraq’s problems, or ours, because it will be our problem for the rest of our lives.” Damn.
“No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq” is currently playing at Film Forum.
“Overlooked Aldrich” finds shades of grey from a bygone era
On Tuesday night, the Brooklyn Academy of Music concluded its six-film tribute to the lesser known films of director Robert Aldrich, “Overlooked Aldrich,” with the director’s 1972 anti-war anti-Western “Ulzana’s Raid.” Lauded by critics but generally ignored by audiences upon its release, Aldrich’s tough little film follows a band of U.S. cavalry lead by Burt Lancaster and a young Bruce Davison trying to track down and capture a party of hostile Apaches led by the particularly ruthless Ulzana and helped by an Apache tracker who may or may not be trustworthy. As Ulzana draws them into a fight on his territory and his terms, the film eschews rote ideas of good and evil in the conflict (there are no noble savages here, and also no simple cowboys), instead showing the entire conflict as a bloody and regrettable quagmire whose benefit is questionable at best.
Village Voice writer Elliott Stein was on hand afterwards for one of his periodic Cinema-chats, with his typically cinephilic audience, explaining that while the film did not do well in the United States, it was embraced in Europe as symbolic of both the Vietnam conflict and the war in Algeria. “Essentially, the films shows what happens when a colonial power attempts to impose itself upon a people about whom they know nothing,” said Stein. “It is a message that is depressingly timely today.”
As to how to fit this in with Aldrich’s extremely varied output (this is the same director that somehow made “The Dirty Dozen,” “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” and “Kiss me Deadly“), Stein put it simply, “Aldrich had a taste for the Grand Guignol. This is one of the few Westerns you can see with truly Grand Guignol death scenes.”
D.A. Pennebaker Talks Music at IFC Center
On Wednesday night, the IFC center and Filmmaker Magazine hosted “An Evening With D.A. Pennebaker” to conclude its series, “Dialogues on Film,” featuring New York theatrical premiere of “’65 Revisited,” a collection outtakes from the director’s legendary Bob Dylan documentary “Don’t Look Back.” This film is a bit sweeter than the original, and where Dylan may have appeared in the earlier film as arrogant and aloof, here he seems more uncomfortable with his outsized public persona, at one moment smiling awkwardly while awe-struck fans giggle to be in his presence, while at another scrutinizing a psychedelic tie in a dressing-room mirror to see if it goes with his image. Most of all, there is a good deal more concert footage here, featuring songs in their entirety, in beautifully intimate handheld close-up, a signature of Pennebaker’s music documentaries from “Monterey Pop” to “Ziggy Stardust.”
“I had never used a whole song, I didn’t have a lot of music in ‘Don’t Look Back,'” said Pennebaker afterwards, “because I didn’t want it to be a music film, I wanted it to be about Dylan. It wasn’t until the next year that I did ‘Monterey’ that I found out what a music film was.” To this end, the first film was a disarmingly close and not always flattering look at Dylan, particularly in his interactions with a clearly smitten Joan Baez (seen more sweetly in this follow-up). “I know that he always thought the film got into his private life in a funny way. He always used to say, ‘it’s a great film, I’m just sorry it’s about me.'”
When asked by another filmmaker about the proposed New York City filming restrictions now before city council, Pennebaker said “I’ve already written my letter and you should too. The first couple of films I did, we were all trying to make the Italian post-war films here in New York… We couldn’t have ever made them with these rules. Now, the person with the camera is treated like a terrorist.”
“’65 Revisited” can be seen on the “Don’t Look Back” deluxe edition 2-DVD set.
Specialty titles opening this week in theaters:
“Becoming Jane” (August 3), directed by Julian Jarrold. Distributor: Miramax Films. Official website
“If I Didn’t Care” (August 3), directed by Benjamin Cummings and Orson Cummings. Distributor: Artistic License Films. Official website
“El Cantante” (August 3), directed by Leon Ichaso. Distributor: Picturehouse. Official website
“The Ten” (August 3), directed by David Wain. Distributor: THINKFilm. Official website