Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 6

I started the evening with the world premiere of FERLINGHETTI, the new definitive documentary on the life, work, and influence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti is a poet (possibly the most read poet alive today), a bookstore owner (co-founder of the SF institution City Lights), a publisher (City Lights is a publisher as well as a bookstore), a free speech icon (he won a famous case after publishing Allen Ginsberg's Howl). And director Chris Felver shows us he's a funny guy, a painter, a friend, an icon, and a huge influence on art, culture, and politics not just in San Francisco but far beyond. The movie mines decades of footage (news, interviews and private home movies dating back to the 50's) and includes loving testimonials by tons of creative types (probably the biggest name is Dennis Hopper). Tellingly, Chris Felver explicitly stated in the Q&A that his goal was to show Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the best possible light. So don't look for anyone offering a counterpoint that he was a dangerous guy or a jerk or a hypocrite. I don't think that's true anyway, but if the argument can be made, it can be made in a different movie.

Ferlinghetti himself was there for the screening (and I sat next to his grandchildren), and he came out to say just a few words before turning it over to Felver for the Q&A, which turned interesting. There were some interesting questions, and then others asking about his dark side or drug use (Ferlinghetti's or Felver's was never really specified). And finally, a bizarre question about how Timothy Leary was a CIA stooge that had nothing to do with Ferlinghetti. What the heck was that about?

Anyway, I had a little time to kill so I made my way to the hospitality lounge, where I learned that for 1 night only happy hour was extended until 8:30. So I had a few beers and met a few cool filmmakers (really excited for D TOUR now) before catching my second film.

Peter Greenaway nearly made it to town for his art history doc, but has a project he needs to finish. Still, REMBRANDT'S J'ACCUSE gave me the distinct feel of spending an hour and a half with Greenaway (as he lectures me). It's an essay on Rembrandt's most famous work, The Night Watch, and the mysteries hidden in plain sight. Sometimes it's hard to take Greenaway seriously, like when he opens his film with a diatribe about how nobody knows how to read an image anymore. Information is all in text, not pictures anymore (even film communicates through dialogue more than pictures). He then proceeds to paste his talking head over his images for the entirety of the film, something I have to take as a practical joke. But taking him at face value, he employs his love of enumeration (see DROWNING BY NUMBERS) to list and explicate in turn 30 (+1) mysteries in The Night Watch. Pointing out its unconventional pose, it's theatricality, artificial light, phallic symbols, costume, architecture, etc. (even the title, which was not the original) Greenaway lectures that it's an indictment of the power struggles of Holland in general and an accusation of murder (and homosexuality) in specific. He also brings in fascinating asides like contemporary advances in candle making technology and wraps it all up with a bitter tale of how backlash from the painting actually destroyed Rembrandt's career and he died in poverty. Fascinating work, that's a little too much to read in one sitting. I loved it, and will revisit it.

By the way, I've noted before a theme of investigating art in this festival (ART & COPY, (UNTITLED), etc.). I think it's safe to say this movie counts as well.
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