Monday, February 11, 2013

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

The first marathon Saturday at Indiefest, 5 shows after getting home (to San Jose) sometime around 4 am. (note to self: get a hotel room in the city next weekend.)

First up was a program of Uncanny Shorts: Past and Present, experimental shorts and a conversation with Mary Helena Clark and Lynn Hershman. I will first confess that generally experimental works are not my cup of tea, but in an effort to see everything (or as close to everything as I can get) I embraced this program.

First up, a selection of shorts by Mary Helena Clark:
AND THE SUN FLOWERS: A close-up shot of her wallpaper, with digital alteration effects to make the static shot seem subtly, strangely alive. Also had a voice-over segment, but I've completely forgotten what the voice said.
SOUND OVER WATER: This time the effects and manipulation were inherently film-based instead of digital. Colors suggestive of (like the title) light dancing on water (if I recall the Q&A correctly, some of the original footage was actually birds in flight against the blue sky.) Ending with a series of still photos from a whale-watching trip. The photos (from a friend's first experience with a camera) were the inspiration for the piece.
BY FOOT-CANDLE LIGHT: This one I actually liked quite a bit, because it was a sort of exploration of the space and act of exhibiting work. I.e., it was about the act of being an audience. So it was kind of about me. And I like things that are about me.

And then Lynn Hershman's film DESIRE, INC made an interesting counterpoint. Back in the '80s, Hershman produced a series of ads featuring no product--just a sexy model inviting viewers to call in and respond. And she made this documentary showcasing the ads, some respondents, and commentary by herself (e.g., "Mass communication is masked communication) and others. A fascinating look at making mass media interactive, an experiment that maybe presaged (but would be redundant now in) the Internet/social media world.

The conversation afterwards was interesting, if a little film theory-geeky. Mostly talking about narrative and the nature of watching. Or, at least, that's mostly what I remember about it.

Next up, it was time to BE GOOD with this movie by and about a new father/indie filmmaker. Reversing traditional gender roles, Paul stays at home and tries to write his newest script while taking care of his 6-month old daughter Pearl. Meanwhile his wife Mary goes to work and actually supports the family. But there's never any talk of traditional gender roles, that's jut the subtext and it's immediately accepted that they're a modern couple who doesn't have to fill the roles. Of course, there are issues like Mary pumping her breast milk in the storage room (what, she can't do that in the bathroom? My only thought was maybe there wasn't a convenient power outlet in there.) Or there's the fact that Paul simply can't get much writing done during Pearl's (extremely  brief) naps. Or that Mary desperately misses time with her daughter, and how the whole situation is straining their relationship. Then there's the side plot of a guy who scams Paul out of $20 with a sob story, and Paul trying to hunt him down and confront him (including a rather traumatic point that was telegraphed a bit too much.) But mostly it's an interesting look at the life of two new parents that never gets too strident and weepy nor does it get into slapstick "Mr. Mom" territory. It's just sort of...working to make it to the next day...much like some new parents I've known.

Oh, and the most important part is that Pearl (played by director Todd Looby's real infant daughter) is totally adorable. As is their dog. Oh, and Joe Swanberg (director of the closing night film ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY and a Roxie series immediately after the festival) shows up as himself (and the example of a new father who continues to be a prolific filmmaker.)


So I didn't think about it at the time, but the theme of fatherhood actually plays into the next film, the Cronenbergian sci-fi horror flick ANTIVIRAL. In fact, more than Cronenbergian, it's a Cronenberg film--Brandon Cronenberg, an apple that didn't fall far from his father David ("Master of Venereal Horror") Cronenberg's tree. If I were David Cronenberg, I would pat Brandon on the head and say, "That's pretty good...for a first try." Of course, like most creators of sick and twisted art, David is probably in real life a really nice guy who loves his son and supports and encourages everything he does. It's just, as a fan I'd like to see how much sicker Brandon could get in trying to impress his dad. Because the fact is, he's already surpassed his father in sick weirdness his first feature.

In the near future, celebrity worship has gotten so intense that people go to clinics to get infected with diseases that celebrities have had (not just disease, mind you, but the germs/viruses grown directly from the ones that infected the celebrity.) Or, they'd go to the shops to buy slabs of meat grown from celebrities' muscle cells. Kind of cannibalism...but the meat is just grown in big trays, it's not like actually cutting a steak from the flesh of a person. And it's what the people want. Syd March works at a clinic that has an exclusive deal with superstar Hannah Geist. He also smuggles diseases out of the clinic (by infecting himself) and sells them on the black market. One problem, the latest bug that Hannah caught and he has infected himself with...is killing her. And it will soon kill him, too. And so he enters an even weirder world of corporate espionage to find the source of the disease and (hopefully) the cure. If this was played for a joke, the joke would've gotten old well before the film was even halfway through. But because it's played so seriously, it ends up just getting sicker and sicker all the way through to the absolutely sublimely repulsive ending. Awesome!

And then for a little horror that was played for laughs. SIGHTSEERS is the latest from Ben Wheatley, whose dark comedy DOWN TERRACE and dark not-at-all-comedy KILL LIST played in previous Indiefests. He's back in comedy form now with this romantic comedy road movie. Tina is dating a new man, Chris, and they decide to go off on holiday to visit England's numerous tourist destination (e.g., historic tramways, parks, etc.) And then he kills a guy just for littering. And she's a bit shocked, but after some thought...she likes it. So they go on a bizarre spree of vengeance against minuscule slights. But disagreements over who deserves punishment might just wreck their little utopia. Funny and bloody, and I absolutely loved the ending.

And then, for the 10th year in a row Indiefest hosted their Big Lebowski party. This time it moved from CellSpace to the more intimate venue of 518 Valencia. So they had to pare down some of the bigger pieces--no trampoline, no swing. But plenty of White Russians and people in costume. I say this nearly every year, but it always amazes me how much effort people put into celebrating a movie about a slacker. If you try that hard, you're very un-dude. Really, the most dude thing you could do is skip the party, skip the movie, stay home, drink, smoke pot, and eventually go bowling. But who cares about being dude when there's a party and a movie?

Around about midnight the party moved into the Roxie for the costume contest, and finally a screening of a gorgeous new 35 mm print of the film itself, THE BIG LEBOWSKI. I've seen it many times. Even seen it on the big screen many times. Heck, I was one of the few people who saw it in its initial release back in 1998. But seeing it last Saturday night, with an enthusiastic audience cheering all their favorite lines was just magical. If you're a "true" cinephile who insists people shut the fuck up (Donny!) and just watch the damn movie, this was not the event for you. But if you were full of white russians (Or oat sodas. Or a combination of both...like I was) it was a night to just have a blast.

And that was the first Saturday at Indiefest 2013.

Total Running Time: 443 minutes
My Total Minutes: 313,876
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