Monday, April 27, 2009

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 4

5 more shows on Sunday, to cap the opening weekend of the festival.

First up was ART & COPY, a documentary about the hectic, creative world of advertising. There's already perhaps an interesting theme creeping up in this festival, with this and (UNTITLED) there's are some interesting statements about what is art. While the characters of (UNTITLED) would quickly dismiss anything the least bit commercial as "not art", ART & COPY makes a powerful case that good advertising ("good" being a key word) is art, and is a vital part of our culture. While it would be easy to talk about all the insipid, brain-dead and brain-deadening advertisements that bombard us, director Doug Pray makes the counterpoint. By only profiling the hall-of-fame advertisers, the film argues that the answer to bad advertising isn't reducing advertising (good luck doing that even if it were the preferred solution), but making good advertising. It starts with a bit of a primer on advertising history, starting from around the 1950's when advertising was an old boys club and the writers just sent their copy to the artists to stick some pretty pictures on it. And then some revolutionaries broke off and started putting the writers and the artists in the same room, and told them to be creative. Common themes running through the success stories are 1) creative people coming up with something new, and b) clients being scared. Apples "1984" commercial only made it on the air because Jobs and Wozniak put up their own money over their board's objections. They tried to pull "Where's the Beef?" the night before it aired. Tommy Hilfiger was catapulted to stardom with an ad campaign that compared him to the greats like Klein and Armani, and the ad campaign gave him many sleepless nights. The personalities in the movies are not household names unless you're in the industry. But on screen, they become vibrant, vital personalities. No more so than the cantankerous George Lois, the mind behind the Tommy Hilfiger campaign and most notable "I Want My MTV". And there are others, Lee Clow is the man behind Apple's "1984" ad (and may I say, seeing that on the big screen was awesome). Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, the guys behind Nike's "Just Do It" (I forgot how great that campaign was). Hal Riney, the pleasant, wistful voice behind so many ads, including Reagan's "Morning in America" (great comment, Ed Rollins says when Reagan first saw that ad, he commented "I wish I was that good of a President". My only thought was, 'me, too'). Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby are the minds behind the intentionally ungrammatical "Got Milk?" campaign (that Aaron Burr commercial is still one of my favorites). Anyway, I could go on, but yeah, that movie surprised me with how good, and how reverent it was. I wonder who's doing their ad campaign.

Next up was the documentary, NEW MUSLIM COOL. Growing up in Puerto Rico, Hamza (Jason) PĂ©rez had two recurring nightmares--that he'd be dead, and/or that he'd be spending lots of time in jail. When he found Islam, his old gang life died, and now he spends a lot of time ministering in prisons. This movie follows him over a few years, moving from Massachusetts with a group of Muslims to form a community in a crime-riddled Pittsburgh neighborhood. He goes from a firebrand rapper (literally waving a flaming machete on stage) to a more thoughtful minister of peace, even working with an elderly Jewish woman on a collaboration book of poetry. He becomes a target of government surveillance, and for a time his permission to minister in prison is revoked (it takes a while to get an explanation, but the reason put forth is related to anti-government quotes from his earlier rapper years--the flaming machete time period). He's an interesting, charismatic, and likable hero, and the movie convincingly makes the case that Muslims, like all people, come in all forms. This old atheist nerd dug NEW MUSLIM COOL.

And then I saw, and more importantly heard, SOUL POWER. In 1974, Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in "The Rumble in the Jungle", which was documented in the movie WHEN WE WERE KINGS (which I'm embarrassed to admit I've never seen). In conjunction with the fight, a 3 day music festival was planned, bringing African American musicians (James Brown, B. B. King, etc.) together with African musicians. Although the fight was ultimately delayed for a few weeks, the concert went on as originally scheduled. Director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte took cutting room floor footage from WHEN WE WERE KINGS to document the backstage trials and on stage triumphs of the music festival. There's not a single modern talking head in this film, it's all contemporary footage, and immediately transports you back to that time. Okay, full disclosure, at the time I was still stewing in my mommy's tummy, I was born the day after the Rumble in the Jungle, so I can't really say it transported me back to the time. But it's cool as hell to see a young James Brown, B. B. King, Muhammad Ali, and others. And the concert footage is awesome. It really is a concert film, allowing full time for the performances, which were universally greeted with applause by the movie audience (yeah, we know that they can't hear us all the way over in Zaire and 35 years in the past, but we were still moved to applause). Really, really, cool.

I only regret that I didn't have time to see the Q&A after SOUL POWER. That regret became all the more acute as the next film, BULLET IN THE HEAD, unspooled. I thought Alejandro Adams was ballsy starting CANARY with 10 minutes of Russian (very banal Russian) with no subtitles. At least he didn't shoot a 90 minute movie and completely remove the dialogue track. There are background noises, and all the characters converse with each other, we just don't get to hear it. Banality of evil crosses over into the crushing tedium of evil. It's based on a true incident of the assassination of two French policemen by Basque terrorists. And, as advertised, there is eventually a bullet in the head. But to give you an idea of how frustrating it is to watch a movie with the dialogue track intentionally removed, I'm going to type the rest of my comments with the keyboard disconnected.

and that's what I thought of BULLET IN THE HEAD.

So finally I ended the night with the animated shorts program, "A Thousand Pictures". Here's the rundown/lineup:
AANNAATT: Shapes appear, disappear, move around, move through walls. All in a window? Or from beneath a glass table? Or on top? Wait, which way's up?
FAR AWAY FROM URAL: Stop motion story of a Russian horse/suitcase/officer, his boy-toy, and his wife. Awesomely weird and wicked.
THE HEART OF AMOS KLEIN: An old officer remembers the history of Israel. Beautiful, sad hand-drawn animation.
KANIZSA HILL: Head, meet body. Body, meet head. When mind and body are separated, it's tragi-hilarious.
LIES: I'd already seen this at Cinequest. A Swedish film about lies and confessions. A conman is caught posing as an auditor and stealing from a company. A little kid steals from his mom's purse to buy toys for his friends. And a woman grows up always lying about her gypsy heritage, to the point where she doesn't know who she is, even after having a husband, children, and a drug problem.
PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS: People ask for really weird things from archivists. How to politely tell them there are no pictures of Jesus, or Hitler at the 1948 Olympics, or the Yeti....
SLAVES: I'd also already seen this one at Cinequest, where it won the best animated short award. An interview with two Sudanese children rescued from slavery.


Unknown said...

Oh, gr-eat! Now I'm really looking forward to Bullet in the Head - thanks for the warning, though.

Oh, and "elderly Jewish LADY activist"? ;) I'm just saying...

BTW, I think you will really like the Voices Carry shorts program if you can get a chance to catch that.

puppymeat said...

I put that in there just to piss off the elderly, the Jewish, the ladies, the activists, and especially the english majors.

Unknown said...

Mission accomplished.