Tuesday, September 7, 2010

n+1 magazine shares a little film love

"Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno," d. Serge Bromberg and Ruxanda Medrea (2009)

The latest issue of n+1 comes with a brand-new online film supplement, N1FS 1. Editor A.S. Hamrah has high hopes there will be enough continuing interest in the IFC-funded project "to include interviews, excerpts from new film books, pieces on films and filmmakers that aren’t as contemporary, and more coverage of independent and gallery-based film-making, two things we’d really like to find new names for." The first group of articles is intriguing and entertaining, reminding readers there is (still) a universe of contemporary films and filmmakers beyond the googoolplex that is worth searching for.

Here are two brief excerpts from "Bad Influences, Bad Personalities," Hamrah's own round-up of new films, describing Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by graffiti artist Banksy, and Chase, by the charmingly named Liz Magic Laser. Chase is Laser's two-and-a-half hour film of Bertolt Brecht’s "Man Equals Man," a play first performed in Germany in 1926, set in a sequence of New York City bank ATM vestibules.

Exit Through the Gift Shop: What begins as an interesting documentary about how Banksy and other famous graffiti artists make their art soon turns into a semi-mockumentary that plays into people’s desire to believe the art world is too easily manipulated and therefore something they don’t have to pay attention to; that, in fact, they would be idiots to pay any attention to it at all. What they should pay attention to is Banksy, who doesn’t credit himself or anybody else as the director of this film, but who appears on-screen to speak to us from the shadows, if that’s really him, next to a monkey mask with ping pong balls for eyes.

Chase: Laser shot Chase on digital video in the ATM vestibules of banks in New York City. She worked without permission, gaining access like anyone else would, by swiping a bank card to open the door. In the film, her actors perform next to customers using the ATMs, among security guards and cleaning ladies. The actors declaim Brecht’s words while bystanders, a built-in audience, make withdrawals and deposits or wait around. Usually people ignore the actors, but some, roped in, play along for a moment before they leave. Whenever a new customer opens the door, a burst of unmixed sound from the outside world floods in, then the door closes and cuts it off again. One actor, Max Woertendyke, struts and works the crowd like he was born to act in foyers backed by a chorus of beeping machines. At one point, without breaking character, Woertendyke nonchalantly takes a Gummi Bear from a package a bystander is holding and eats it.

A scene from Pedro Costa's "In Vanda's Room" (2001)

There's a lot more to read in N1FS, starting with Elizabeth Gumport's thesis that good movies, or at least pleasurably bad movies, make the worthless ones even worse. (You may be able to get your money back after sitting through Kick-Ass, but you can never retrieve the time.) And then there's "Dicking Around," Christian Lorentzen's musings on the delayed-adulthood films of Judd Apatow: "It turns out that Funny People is the movie Apatow wanted to make all along. It takes as its subject the misery of success in Hollywood. Poor Adam Sandler basically plays Adam Sandler if Adam Sandler were a barely redeemable asshole with leukemia."

Of course, if you're interested in reading about the films of Pedro Costa -- the Criterion Collection recently packaged Costa’s massive Lisbon slum chronicle under the title Letters from Fontainhas -- there's this filmmaker's quote too, in an article by Jeanette Samryn and Jonathon Kyle Sturgeon: “he told his audience that making a good film is like writing a love-letter in a bank. 'Few people are going to see this love letter in a bank, and still fewer are going to write a love letter in a bank. . . . Your work is to continue trying to write love letters, and not checks.' ”

For more love among the sprocket holes, check out the full article index at N1FS.

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