movies


4/5 Stars ****

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an influential movement in mid 19th century England that strove to throw off the stifling, classicist reigns of the art “establishment” (personified as The Royal Academy of Arts.) If you are interested in art, this 6-hour series is an excellent, condensed introduction to the story, imbued with all the drama and pathos, of how change was wrought. But as Fanny Moyle, the author of the book which it’s based on, says in her interview (an extra on the first disc), “I think what really interests me about that period and the Pre-Raphaelites is how modern they are. How iconic their relationships are. It could be happening today…”

As she goes on to say: “The Royal Academy had been set up by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great painter towards the end of the 18th century. And it was an institution that dominated both the training of British artists, but also taste and opinion. It determined what was considered good art. And Reynolds, when he set up the Academy, had written, if you like – to be crude – a sort of rulebook about what he considered good art; and this had been interpreted and sort of ingrained in the thinking of the Royal Academy. This was really an art in what’s now referred to as the Grand Manner, when there were very particular rules of composition and of what was considered beauty. Beauty was something that was not real. Realism was not part of the Royal Academy doctrine, but idealization.”

“Now, all the Pre-Raphaelites went through the Royal Academy schools, which was a very rigorous academic training. And really, anyone who really, seriously wanted a career as a painter, if they could they would try and get into the Academy because it was an institution that once… Once you’d been through the mill, it spat you out into the establishment and it provided a market for your work, really.”

“So all of them were trained. …And what was so extraordinary was the way they turned on the Academy and said, “This is all rubbish, these rules.” That, “Life isn’t like this. We want to paint stuff that is real. We don’t want to do idealized images of the Virgin child. We want to find girls on the streets who look real and we want to paint them the way they look.”

Here is some humorous dialogue from the movie, at the annual Academy exhibition: Curator: “Is something troubling you gentlemen?” Millais: “We were just a little concerned about the position of our paintings [way up high by the ceiling.]” Curator: “What appears to be the problem?” Rossetti: “The problem isn’t so much that you put the work of these two men of genius so, so far above the line that you’d need a ladder to see them; it’s what you put on the line. On the line, Mr. Stone. I mean, look at this [pointing at a painting of three cherubs.] I’ve seen stains on a chamber pot with more artistic merit.”

Fanny Moyle goes on to say, “…It’s really hard today to understand how powerful Ruskin [the art critic] was as a critic and writer. But he was extraordinarily influential. The brotherhood had suffered two years of terrible criticism. Utter criticism. I mean, these were artists on their knees, where pretty much every national newspaper had said their art was awful, they were an outrage, they were an affront, they were audacious whippersnappers.”

“…Ruskin stayed silent throughout this period [1849-1851]. Then in 1851, Ruskin wrote a letter to The Times and he said he thought that, contrary to what everyone else was saying, in fact the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood could be the best thing for British art in the last 300 years. And then the minute he said that, other people shut up.”

“…It’s very interesting that Millais, in particular – his paintings of women, like Ophelia; like another painting he did called Mariana; were very, very, very popular with the female audience. There are descriptions that when these paintings went on show, there was just rows of bonnets. You know, women were desperate to see these pictures. And they are pictures that are highly sexed. I mean Ophelia is a woman drowning, but she’s also a woman in an almost sort of orgasmic sort of position.”

“What is extraordinary about these young men [twenty] – unmarried, very young, in mid-Victorian society – they were painting female sexual appetite; or Millais, particularly, was. And certainly you don’t really see the critics mentioning it overtly, but the public reaction implies … that the public understood that intention.”

Fanny Moyle’s interview is brilliant, as you might expect from the person who, in fact, “wrote the book”: Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites. Her interview is an extra on the first of the two DVDs. I would recommend listening to her interview first. It doesn’t contain any spoilers – but it should help flesh out the story and give you background and perspective. The character Fred is a composite. Most of the rest of the characters are real historical characters. The timeline has been condensed.

K2 Siren of the Himalayas

Fantastic movie! Gets inside the head of climbers like nothing I could’ve hoped for.

For me, the expedition leader Fabrizio Zangrilli is the star of this movie. His levelheadedness is powerfully instructional. But he wasn’t the only star. You grow attached to this hardy, fearless crew. Emotionally powerful – I cried.

The extras are a must-see. A great concept/vision for a film; and flawlessly executed. A real achievement.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.

Jimi_All_Is_by_My_Side_poster

When this movie was shown at the NW Film Festival last year, there was some mystery around it. The people I asked about it seemed to think there was something… maybe a little… off about it. But they wouldn’t say what!

Yeah. For me, there were one or two shockers. I’m not going to say, either. But I’m very troubled by the way this movie – which apparently got a lot of its info verbatim from Charles Cross’s Hendrix bio “Room Full Of Mirrors” – might function as yet another meme about Hendrix. The man is 45 years dead… and still the vultures circle. Incredible, just incredible! See the movie and then do a little research on the internet; if anything strikes you as questionable. For me it’s a cautionary tale about believing everything that you’re told.

I liked it inasmuch as it renewed and re-piqued my interest in Hendrix. Linda Keith was portrayed as very influential in shaping Jimi’s professionalism and in encouraging him to be a bandleader/artist in his own right. For me it brings up questions about the star-making process. It seems like an interesting question: if Hendrix hadn’t been ‘discovered’, shaped, molded, etc. (if indeed he was), then what would his artistic career trajectory have been? I think our musicians and other artists get commodified – it’s an occupational hazard. They sometimes sacrifice themselves – or get sacrificed! – in order to share their own unique vision with the world…

Andre’ Benjamin’s performance was uncanny, simply brilliant.

I liked the sense of getting a window onto the groundbreaking artistic milieu and zeitgeist that was London at that particular time. The film captures some aspects of it very well.
I had a big objection to the way that the Devon Wilson character (Ida) was portrayed – as some evil Svengali of romantic intrigue. Phony, sensationalistic and objectionable, in my opinion. There’s more of this kind of portrayal of the women in Hendrix’s orbit.

At any rate, after watching this, I did a little research on the internet, listened to some of my favorite Hendrix tunes and had a bit of a cry for the man and his music. Then I picked up Cross’s book, which I’m reading now – with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I guess for me it was a vehicle to meditate on the man and his music… 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

howl

Five stars out of five.

This puts many of the other films about the Beats to shame. Make sure you Don’t… Miss… This one, if you’re a fan.

Well, okay. I’m a big Ginsberg fan. I loved James Franco’s portrayal/characterization. It’s very believable, in a lot of ways. Even if it was only because I wanted to believe it. Everything was well researched and thoughtfully put together.

It had a clear point of view about Ginsberg – I liked that. Maybe they gilded the lily, somewhat – but so what? Ginsberg stands up to it. He deserves to be romanticized.

What comes through, though, is: self assurance; belief in self; an inspired authority about writing; and a human quality.

The film itself is quite an achievement. Filmed on a shoestring budget, it captures the mood and flavor of the times and subject. It distills things down to a few essential events, ideas and elements. It incorporates courtroom drama, ‘interviews with Ginsberg’, ‘flashbacks’ and animation – all very effectively, masterfully. Great stuff for film buffs and students. And hey. It’s just a really good, fun movie.

If you’re interested in writing, you’ll want to see this. Listen to the commentary, too! Virtually every bit of dialogue was culled from interviews and court records.

The court scenes – kind of unbelievable! But it wasn’t so long ago. Coming out of the McCarthy era and the repressed Fifties, the uproar and trial over the publication of Howl was a game-changing watershed in American law and free speech.

6 or 7 Dylans? Oh no! What does it mean?!

I saw the ‘biopic’ “I’m Not There” in a theatre when it came out, the imaginative retelling of the Bob Dylan story/mythology/sociological/cultural phenomenon. It kind of all went by in a blur. Dylan was portrayed by 6 different actors as 6 different seperate “characters”.

I watched it again on DVD a couple of days ago, and got slightly more into it. Then I watched it again with director/co-writer/auteur Todd Haynes’ commentary.

Wow! The sheer poetry of Dylan – and Haynes’ erudite study, astute and perceptive analysis – just blew me away. By the end of it I was bawling at the sheer inspiration and visceral connection I felt to the music; to Haynes’ vision and empathy; and to all that the music and story meant to people of my era – or anyone that’s ever been touched by it.

I thought I knew a lot about Dylan (at least, beyond the mysteries of his art and genius.) Haynes’ commentary really revealed a lot to me, though. His commentary during the last two scenes and through the end credits might serve as a good introduction to anyone that is slightly baffled by the kaleidoscopic, impressionistic imagery of the movie.

I was moved to transcribe Haynes summation over the end credits. I found it quite moving, inspiring, and a creative muse. If you’re a Dylan fan and haven’t checked it out; if you like the transcription; if you want to be inspired – it’s worth checking it out for yourself. All I can say is Amen! It’s good to hear a storyteller that knows what they’re on about!

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“…When Dylan was hearing “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” on playback [while recording Blonde On Blonde], he said, ‘Now that is religious music! That is religious carnival music. I just got that real old time religious carnival sound there, didn’t I?

“I’m just so happy, I can’t believe I have a movie that ends with ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’!……” [Hearing the comments and the music together was powerful!]

“We held off [using] ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ until the end, just to keep people in their seats”    [‘Like A Rolling Stone’ kicks in as the credits roll.]

“……The theme of freedom is something that they talked about a lot in the Sixties. ‘Only the man that says ‘No’ is free,’ to paraphrase Melville. And DH Lawrence said, ‘Men are not free when they’re doing what they like. The moment you just do what you like, there’s nothing you care about doing.’

“I really wanted to talk about freedom from identity; and I think that’s really what Bob Dylan stands for; and that’s sort of what the ultimate message is to this film.

“He said,  ‘You’ve got to be strong and stay connected to what started it all, the inspiration behind the inspiration; to who you were when people didn’t mind stepping on you. I tried, I guess, in my own mind to separate aliveness from deadness; to not let all the namers and blamers boundary it all up. But no one’s free, even the birds are chained to the sky.’

“Tony Scaduto, who wrote one of the first biographies [of Dylan] said that he built a new identity every step of the way in order to escape identity.

“In the final quotes from that great period where he was playing with structure – yesterday, today and tomorrow are all in the same room (from the “Blood On the Tracks” period.) Because I think all great works of art, philosophy, science start to challenge linear time and favor relativity, and that’s what Dylan was doing in his songs. And that’s what I tried to do in my movie. I mean, it was really an attempt to embrace what was radical about Dylan, what was experimental about Dylan.

“The fact that it [Dylan’s music] remains so popular and drew an audience and drew the following of an entire generation doesn’t disprove how radical it was. The genuine weirdness of Dylan I think is something you can’t forget; and that’s really at the root of what he’s doing. [‘Weirdness’ relates back to what was said earlier about the weirdness of the cultural mix of America, itself.] But that’s where he’s combining high and low art – that’s where he’s made something beautiful out of the juke box, you know. And he’s never compromised; whether he’s failed or succeeded – he’s just done what he had to do, and I tried to do that in this film.

“And we were lucky because we had support; we had amazing artistic collaboration; we had great critical response on this movie. And I think that it’s a movie that will live on. And I think it’s a movie that really does respect its subject and try to get to the core of its subject.”