Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 14

Yup, it's been going on for two full weeks, and it's not over yet.

I saw two more programs last night, starting with the documentaries about graffiti/street art. Stories of graffiti have been a staple of Indiefest for some time (and not just Indiefest, other festivals as well. It's pretty clear that independent film and renegade art has an affinity for each other). This program consisted of two short films, and one short-ish feature (about an hour long).

The first short was The Reverse Graffiti Project. An artist named "Moose" paints pictures by cleaning walls in San Francisco. Particularly, on the filthy walls of the Broadway tunnel, he used stencils to clean silhouettes of plants that would exist there if not for the tunnel. It's really pretty ingenious. Who can complain about cleaning?

The second short was Flipone. "Flip One", aka Charles T. Henry, was a graffiti artist in Brooklyn in the 70's, particularly fond of tagging subway cars. Now he's living in Los Angeles, has a regular job, and has put that part of his past behind him. But filmmaker Jan Arnold interviews him rather nostalgically about his youth and art (the Shea Stadium story is pretty good). He also had some video footage of himself and his cohorts tagging, which Jan used in the movie. He seems like an interesting guy, and the movie was okay, although the audio levels need to be adjusted--it went from normal conversational to blaring music pretty sharply.

And then the feature was Abraham Obama. Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster became perhaps the most iconic symbol from the 2008 campaign. But another more enigmatic icon was Ron English's melding of Barack Obama's and Abraham Lincoln's faces. Ron English is known as a pop culture street artist (although he has a gallery, he prefers his art to be on the street where people will see it) who mocks brand images (he did the obese Ronald McDonald poster for Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me). He's famous for covering up or subverting the messages of billboards (one of his election 2008 campaign stunts was a fake Viagra ad showing John McCain with the tag line "I want to be erected"). The Abraham Obama exhibit caused a huge stir when it premeired in Boston. A little too much, as his fans were pasting posters all over the place, including a local politician's home. They decided to take the exhibit on tour, ending up at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Along the way, they paste it all over the place (including, of course, San Francisco) and meet fellow artists (Shepard Fairey, Morgan Spurlock, and others have cameos in the movie). It's a fun ride-along of some creative people having a laugh and hopefully getting people politically active.

Next up was a movie I've had a surprisingly hard time reviewing. Skills Like This is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and that's kind of the problem. It has a ridiculous premise, it's a straightforward zany comedy, the characters aren't really believable, and it feels more like a mainstream movie than an "indie" film (in fact, it has a theatrical release lined up for the spring). The problem is, I really liked it, and I'm afraid I'll lose my indie cred by saying how much fun it is. Okay, Max Solomon is a struggling writer. In fact, he's struggling so much he's decided to quit, and is depressed because he's no good at anything. Then, after a lighthearted discussion with his friends Tommy (the brainless one) and Dave (the spineless one), he decides to rob a bank. Turns out he's good at it. He doesn't need the money, but he becomes a kleptomaniac because it feels so good to be good at something. He ever starts an affair with Lucy, the teller at the bank he robbed. And in a more Hollywood, lowest-common-denominator movie, this unbelievable silliness would piss me off (Tommy's bike, in particular, was completely out of place but always made me laugh). But this film walks a clever path, making it about Max's character rather than just the capers.

There's a point in the movie when Max is talking to Lucy about how good it feels to be good at something, and she's trying to convince him that if he just works harder he could be a good writer. She admits she's a terrible dancer, he suggests that if she practiced really hard she could become a world class ballerina. She mentions something like 'that would be a fate worse than death' (I don't remember the exact words). And that to me was the whole heart of the movie. We're all told that if we work really hard we can be great at anything, but we also all know that if we don't have some immediate facility, working really hard at a skill we don't like is torture. It's a brief moment in the movie, but to me it summed up everything the movie was about.

So yeah, Skills Like This is a film that's easy to like.
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