Category: Movies

The Best Worst Movie

This one’s for you, Mike Tully!

Two weeks ago, I’d never even heard of Troll 2 – or maybe I had, but cast it off alonside Ghoulies 2, Critters 2 and other late-80s pint-sized monster sequels – and their predecessors, for that matter – whose posters made an impression on me on childhood trips to the videostore but whose promises I never sought to later fulfill. When I first read that the news that the Alamo Drafthouse was going to be screening Troll 2, I actually misinterpreted it as Leprechaun 2, and wondered what all the hype was about. Then I watched this clip, which pretty much sealed my fate. How could you not want to see this?

The Best Worst Movie

The people to whom I’d mention the film’s title would fall into two distinct camps; those who had no idea what I was talking about, and those who’d already seen it about ten times and, upon hearing about a midnight screening at the best movie theater in the country with most of the original cast present, would get this strange light in their eyes. Dear reader, I now understand that reaction.

My friend Clay and I drove down to Austin and made it to the Alamo about ninety minutes early, just as the line that would soon wrap around the black was just beginning to form. The theater, when we were finally admitted, quickly filled to capacity (rumors trickled in that fans who had driven all the way from New Orleans were among the many turned away at the door). Green cookies and milk were passed out, the cast was introduced to great applause, they apologized profusely for what was about to be exhibited, and then the lights went down. A few vintage trailers for upcoming screenings preceeded the feature (Grizzly, Humanoids From The Deep) and then, with the annunciative roar of the MGM lion, Troll 2 – a film from whose negative not a single print was ever struck – trickled across the silver screen in front of the single largest audience ever assembled to view it.

I can’t imagine a better context in which to watch such an amazing movie. It is absolutely, beautifully wretched, and just competent enough in execution to be insanely watchable (unlike, say, Manos, The Hands Of Fate, which is often its chief competition for title of worst film of all time). There’s really no point in trying to describe it, but this really brilliant trailer (which they projected after the film) hints at a lot of what makes it so wonderful.

The Q&A; afterwards was fun and enlightening. It was revealed that since the screenplay was entirely in Italian, with only the dialogue translated into English, the cast had no idea what was going on in the film as they were making it. Michael Stephenson, AKA Joshua, talked about how he had to live the film down all through high school. Darren Ewing, the stellar thespian who played Arnold, got up on the stage and gave a performance of his infamous “They’re eating her!” monologue.

Most endearing of the bunch was George Hardy, who was randomly cast as Mr.Waits before returning to a quiet life of dentistry in Alabama. He seemed tickled pink that he’d somehow – in this theater, at least, for this one night – become a cult icon. Of course, the cult seems to be growing; more screenings are being planned, and Lions Gate is producing a documentary on the phenomenon, in which you might actually catch a glimpse of yours truly, sitting near the front row of this landmark event and grinning in disbelief at how great this awful little movie really is.


Dance Party USA, pt. 1

Dance Party USAI’ve been reading Movie Mutations, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin, which was born out of the realization that cinephiles the world over are simultaneously and of their own accord being drawn to the same films and filmmakers; and I’ve been thinking about how there are similar traits noticeable in the films themselves; artistic sensibilities born of and in response to cultural impressions, political climates, generational ennui and what have you; and I’ve focused these thoughts on one particular microcosm of cinematic development, that being the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, where a certain type of filmmaking seems to flower above all others, and the filmmakers, inadvertently or otherwise, form a sort of self-propogating clique.

I’m thinking of the Duplass Brothers’ The Puffy Chair, Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, Joe Swanberg’s Kissing On The Mouth and LOL and now Aaron Katz’s Dance Party USA. These are all films made independently of each other, but they all have a sort of shared formal aspiration, a blurring of form and content (or, rather, a crystallization of Susan Sontag’s belief that form and content should be inseparable, indistinguishable) and an alluring, incisive sense of naturalism.

With the exception of Bujalski’s picture, all of these films were shot on prosumer digital video, which may represent a financial impediment more than anything else; but whereas just a few years ago filmmakers who couldn’t afford otherwise were trying their best to make their video look like film (yours truly can be indicted on this count), what we have here is a new generation of filmmakers who treat video like video, who make it beautiful in the way that video can be beautiful. Which is to say that it doesn’t matter what medium these films were made on; they move past the point of being judged on their technical specs, which means this whole paragraph is practically irrelevant.

So now that that’s out of the way, let me say that what I think binds these films together, moreso than their improvisational qualities (regardless of whether or not they were scripted) and handheld aesthetic and overall naturalism, it is their disregard for overt incident. They exist almost entirely between the beats of a ‘traditional’ narrative, finding their own three act structures entirely within these exploded moments. I don’t think I was ever more aware of this than at points in Dance Party USA; the first when I realized that the titular soiree was already in progress, and the second when the final shot revealed itself as such; suddenly the film was over, and my impressions of where it was going were forced into sharp contrast with where it had actually gone.

I missed Dance Party USA when it played at SXSW this past March, but caught up with it on DVD a few moths later and loved it. One of the most exciting things about it was how it not only fit in with the mode of filmmaking outlined above but so clearly distinguished itself on its own terms (I don’t know how many of these directors subscribe to the auteur theory, but as much as clear as their similarities are, I think they’re all equally and instantly recognizable as their directors’ own films). Case in point: there’s a common instinct to allude to the influence of Cassavetes in any film that features a handheld camera and any extent of improvised, naturalistic dialogue. Katz certainly earns that comparison – up to a point. But then, during a certain scene midway into the film (you’ll know it when you see it), something happens. The camera stops moving, the characters keep talking and, over the course of the twenty best minutes of cinema I’ve seen this year, Dance Party USA becomes positively, painfully Bergmanesque.

Six paragraphs in and I’ve scarcely started to review the film. Maybe I should pause here to note that the film opens tomorrow at the Pioneer Theater in Manhattan. Those of you unable to make it can purchase a DVD-R copy of the film from the official website. It’s a must-see.


A Conversation With Richard Linklater

A Conversation With Richard Linklater
When Richard Linklater’s new film, an adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, opens today, it could potentially be construed as an act of terrorism. Literally. Congress just passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the wording of which is vague enough to potentially lump an eye-opening film together with plots to blow of animal testing facilities. That would be pretty extreme, of course, but the fact that it’s actually possible is pretty troubling.

I wish I’d interviewed Linklater a week later than I did, so I could have asked him about it. As it is, though, we had a great free-wheeling discussion. I always love it when filmmakers talk about their films without actually talking about their films.

If you don’t mind, I’m just going to open my MacBook here. I like to record interviews straight to my desktop.

Look at that! Now if it could just transcribe too…

There’s software that does that, isn’t there?

They haven’t quite perfected it yet. I’ve been following it for years, believe me. How nice would that be?

Makes the screenwriting easier, right?

“Idea!” And there it is on your computer to edit.

Well, let me kick things off with something I read in an interview with Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser. He said he wasn’t completely comfortable with making his book into a film until he knew for certain that you were going to make it your own, and follow your own vision for it. What exactly was your vision for it?

We got off to a good start with this because Eric knew just enough about the film industry – he had grown up around it a little bit and he’d worked for a film company in New York. He was pretty savvy to how things work, and so, very wisely, he didn’t just sell the book to the industry. He kept the rights, and we started working on it and he was like, “you know, if you just want to take it and make the movie and I’ll see you at the premiere, that’d be great.” And I was like, “no, you’re going to be with me the whole way.” Because I saw him as the conduit to so much of that world, even though…it’s one thing to know it intellectually, but he had such contacts. Like, we’d go to Colorado and he’d introduce me to all these people in the book. He had done a lot of time thinking about it; he had written plays, he’s a natural dramatist. I think he deserves a lot of credit, because he had thought of it, and he had the big central idea. He approached me with that, the idea of just kind of throwing out the book and making it about these workers. and following their lives. And that’s when it clicked with me, and we were off to the races.

But we still spent about three years on the script, off and on, over time. We were both busy doing other things, and it was kind of an ongoing process. It was four and a half years ago when we first met, so it’s been a long haul. We’re both happy. He wrote a really uncompromised book, and I think the film’s completely uncompromised, too.

When was the last time you ate fast food?

Well, I haven’t eaten the fast food depicted in the movie in, like, twenty three years. Well, that’s not true. I kept eating fish for a long time, and I would occasionally have a McDonalds fish sandwich. This was when I liked McDonalds. I remember I was in Vienna, and there’s such a different culture there; at noon on Saturday, everything closes. There’s just nothing. There are some restaurants open, but it took three hours to get lunch. It’s just so frustrating – give me American efficiency! So you’d go to McDonalds and get a couple fish sandwiches. So this is when I appreciated their ‘model of efficiency.’

But I had fast food a couple weeks ago in Austin at P. Terry’s. They built it across from the McDonalds on South Lamar and Barton Spring, and it’s kind of healthy fast food. Really tasty veggie burger, whole wheat bun, no trans-fat in the fries. They pay their workers a living wage, like nine dollars an hour with benefits. And it’s like, wow! There is a way you can do it! This burger costs a buck eighty five – it’s still cheap. Instead of ninety nine cents, which is so artificially low. You have to question anything that costs ninety nine cents. We’re so spoiled. We spend less money now on food than any other time in history.

I wanted to ask you about one specific scene in the film. You set up Greg Kinnear’s advertising executive as the protagonist of the film, and you think maybe he’ll be a whistleblower…

Yeah…

And then all of a sudden he meets Bruce Willis’ character, who deflates any possibility of him taking a stand. That’s my favorite scene in the film…

The analogy here would be Colin Powell, before he goes and speaks in front of the UN. He’s going to speak truth to power, we’re not going to have another Vietnam – he knows. And yet the pressure is unbelievable to just be a good soldier and tote the party line and do your part. Because you’re off the hook, you’re absolved of any responsibility.

The corporate structure allows anyone absolution. Even the CEO. In another country, if your products kill people, you’re under arrest. I remember in the 80s, a chemical planet thing where fourteen thousand people died in India. The CEO flew over to put a good face on it and they arrested him. That’s unthinkable here. You only get arrested for illegal activity, like Ken Lay and those guys, but no one’s responsible for the products. So if the structure allows you to be off the hook…

I just wanted to show that no one’s a bad person. No one wakes up and looks at themselves in the mirror and says “I’m going to exploit, screw over the planet, hurt people….” You don’t think like that. Everyone’s like, “I’m doing my best. I’m providing jobs, helping the economy.” We all live with our own self-justifications, and so it would have been so untruthful to the complexity of this industry and this world to turn everything into personality conflicts. Even politics – it’s so much bigger than that. There are huge forces at work, and we’re all capable of going along with that.

It’s funny, the Mexican workers are striving to live like Greg’s character lives. If they could have that middle class life, that’s what they’re working towards. But what we realize is that he’s as insecure as anybody. We’re all a couple of paychecks away from losing the house. Everyone’s got a mortgage to pay. It’s really tough to be a whistleblower, to stand up. It’s so easy to be convinced that you’re just going to be pissing in a huge ocean, that it’s not going to make any difference. So it’s kind of fun to show that. Like, “grow up, that’s the way things are.” And it was also to show in the same movie the youthful – what some would say naive – view. They [the students] know there’s injustice and something wrong, and they’re going to try to act on it. They have no political power and no money, they’re just poor students. They’re lucky that they’re not poor Mexicans just trying to make a living, that they have this time in their life where they can sit around and bullshit, but they see things pretty clearly. They aren’t a part of a special interest group yet. Once you work for the man, you have an angle, similar to Bruce Willis’ character. He has an angle that serves him. And he’s not lying. Everything he says in that conversation with Kinnear is technically correct. Just cook it. He’s right. They can sell you meat right now with salmonella, they do all the time. Just cook it. He’s correct in everything he says, he’s just not seeing a very big picture.

You’ve got a really impressive cast for such a low-budget film, and I was wondering how many of them signed on because they felt strongly about this subject matter.

I don’t know. Everyone has their own reasons, I guess. I think they liked what the script was getting at, but no actor would do it unless they liked their character. I think we gave actors stuff to do, and I think certain bigger-name actors who came in and worked a day or two – which I’m really thankful for, I mean, I didn’t know Kris Kristoffersen or Bruce Willis, and they don’t know me – I think they just liked those characters. It’s kind of fun to just work a day or two, and if you have something to say through those characters, that means something too.

I know Bruce Willis is somewhat well known for being a Republican, and it’s sort of great to see him in a movie that could be skewed as leftist right up until his character comes along; his presence sort of depoliticizes everything.

Yeah, I really didn’t want it to be some left-wing polemical diatribe. It’s complex; that’s why it’s important to have that voice. But as far as Bruce goes, he doesn’t strike me as any one…he seems like a lot of folks who are free thinkers on any issue. I think that’s what is missing in the public debate. You can’t catch a politician like that, they’re back painted into a corner with their ideological talking points. But I find myself, like, “okay, on that issue, I’m totally libertarian, but on that one…”

We’re all free agents – except for our representatives, unfortunately. I found Bruce that way too. He’s a real working class guy. He had some land in Idaho, and he got a ballot initiative about some environmental issues, some potato farmers polluting something. It seemed like it was for the common good, and he was really out there supporting this thing, and he got totally shut down by that industry. They just make ads, make you look like some sort of….they’re polluting, but they can make it look like it’s you, John Q. Citizen, who is under attack. “Let’s get the government off our backs!” That’s all we need is more regulation!”

I was talking to some young libertarians in Austin recently, and they were asking me about my views. I was like, yeah, I’d love to be libertarian, but there’s just so much corruption, and corporations have been handed the whole store. We all know they don’t regulate themselves, so I think there does need to be some oversight. When they have all the control – well, what do you know! They don’t always act for the common good! So a watchdog, wherever it comes from, is kind of necessary.

During production, the film was operating under codename ‘Coyote’ during the shoot, to keep things undercover. Did you ever actually have any interference from the industries, or…

We made it a couple of weeks, and then we were outed. Someone in Austin explained what we were doing, and then the New York Times picked it up and wrote a big story.

I remember reading that.

It’s funny. There won’t be a story when the film comes out, they won’t do a Sunday piece, but they will write a piece making it more difficult for us to get locations. And we lost a few locations; they just weren’t the major ones.

My last question is sort of a bit of dorky Austin film-scene trivia. I’m always excited to see you working with cinematographer Lee Daniel, since you two go so far back. Is there a certain type of project you’ll call him up for?

It depends on the project. There’s always moving parts with any crew member. It’s like a cast member, when they’re right for something, they’re right. We’ve got a history. I’ve got a history with Ethan [Hawke] too, and when it feels right for the project…

It’s kind of like that with anybody on a production. I just happen to go back further with Lee. I want him to be engaged, emotionally, and this was a subject he could get a lot out of. It’s always fun working with him. My old roommate. There’s an upside to our shorthand, and a downside. Like – “Lee, you’re calling me at one in the morning? If this was our first film together, you wouldn’t be doing that!”


My first Ghost Story

I’ve been looking for this movie all summer.

This was the first movie I ever made. I shot it in the fall of 1988, which means the VHS tape I pulled it from is nearly 30 years old. I was seven and a half at the time. The last six months of my favorite age. We had just moved to Texas. My dad’s friend came to visit, with his camcorder in tow, and I was ready with scripts, props and a cast of siblings. This one was my version of Spielberg’s Poltergeist, which I was aware of but definitely hadn’t seen. Finally having the means to make a movie felt monumental to me. You don’t have to look to closely to see my hanging around the edge of the frame, anxiously making sure things happened the way I intended. It didn’t occur to me to actually look through the viewfinder. Or maybe my dad’s friend just didn’t trust me to hold the camera.

There’s no preternatural brilliance on display here, no innate talent. But I still feel like there’s something there, even if it wasn’t completely intentional.

On the other hand, I made another ghost movie, ten years after this one. It’s called Ghostboy. I produced it my senior year in high school, right around the same time I started this website. Everything about it was intentional. And it is terrible. It was shot on Hi8, on the camcorder I bought as Best Buy with my first paycheck, and it was also my first experience editing on a nonlinear editing system, via some off-the-shelf software I also found at Best Buy. I exhumed it from the same box of VHS tapes that Poltergeist was found in, and had every intention of sharing it here, until I watched it myself. It is bad. Really bad. I made it through all ten minutes of it in piecemeal, and was depressed for the rest of the day. At age seven all I wanted to do was terrify, but by eighteen I was trending towards a terrible, treacly goth sentimentality – a pit from which I am still struggling to emerge. It was a real bummer to see, and I’m sure it’ll end up on YouTube someday.


OMATG – Wrapped!

OMATG - Wrapped!

Week six ended at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and with it went all the usual stress of a film production in full swing. We still had a little bit more to go, but that little bit would fit into just two days, with a travel day in between. It felt like we were basically done.

And basically done we were! Monday was a long split with lots of shots in tight quarters (a motel room, which we realized halfway through is the one set which there’s no excuse to never build on a stage) and a higher page count than any previous day of production, but it was unburdened by the usual subconscious consideration of the days and weeks ahead. We wrapped at four in the morning, marking the official completion of production in Ohio. I went home and watched a rough assembly of a scene we’d shot a few weeks prior, and lo and behold it mostly worked and so the spirits I fell to sleep in were good, and remained so the next day when we drove up to Michigan, and were good still the morning after that, for that final wake-up, the last morning meditation, the one remaining drive to set. We got to prison at 7:30, got our first shot off by 9 and then just kept shooting. We shot, and shot and shot, for almost eighteen hours. Seven scenes, seven locations. By the end of it we all got a little loopy. I lost confidence in one scene and thought about scrapping it, but Joe Anderson figured out how to make it work. Everyone was a trooper.

It was almost 1am before we arrived at our martini. The set-up looked just like this, but with Robert Redford in place of Dutch, our beloved 1st AD.

OMATG - Wrapped!

We rolled the first take. It wasn’t great. We did a second. It was good. We went for a third, and the mechanism that made the prison cell doors open broke. A few minutes were spent trying to fix it before I decided that take two was fine and asked to check the gate. The gate was good, and the movie was wrapped. Anticlimax has never been so satisfying.

I’m doing best not to romanticize the end of things because it wasn’t really over – we’ll be getting together later this summer to get some pre-ordained pickups and anything else I decide we need between now and then. But for now it’s done, and it was great, and if this really is Redford’s final movie in front of the camera, we did our best to send him off well. I’ve made two movies with him now and am a luckier person and better storyteller for it.

A few of the things I learned on this film are:

  1. A little bit more about how to work with actors – a never-ending study that always reveals new dimensions, partially within the process but mostly in myself.
  2. How to let go a little bit more and not shoulder everyone else’s burdens. Everyone has creative challenges on movies, but I chose the people I chose because I trust them to handle them well.
  3. How to move on after take two. And sometimes takes one! But almost always by take three. If you get a good take and don’t know how to make it better, don’t ask for another one just because. But if you do, which you probably will, and it doesn’t get better, don’t do another one after that. Swap a lens or move on!
  4. How to watch the take unfolding before me with a clear focus and no presuppositions. This is a lot harder for me than it should be.
  5. That if you are going to be working with rain towers or in potentially inclement weather, invest in a good pair of waterproof pants (water proof, not water resistant). Worth their weight in rainwater that would otherwise be soaking through your jeans.
  6. That you should always and only work with a gang of folks who will leave you sincerely quoting Royal Tenenbaum: “I’m loving every minute with this damn crew.” I knew this already but it’s always good to be reminded of it

I drove home last Friday, down through the bluffs of Kentucky, across the Mississippi, under the Ozarks. As I crossed the state line back into Texas, I did a previously scheduled interview with American Cinematographer about A Ghost Story, which was just about as fitting a transition as I could have asked for. This past Monday, after unpacking, I watched the final DCP of that film at the Texas Theatre. It was the first time seeing the film since before Sundance – and I loved it! It was exactly what it should be. It looked and sounded better than ever.The only three things that bothered me:

  • The credits, which used to be really short, are now really long – a last minute change due to various union stipulations and such. We all love our unions so no arguments there, but sorry to anyone who’s sitting through them. Hopefully they’re calm and meditative in lieu of being expeditious or aesthetically inventive.
  • The accidental glimpse of a Nietzche book on a bookshelf. People are going to read way too much into that, but it was purely accidental, just one of many prop books gleaned from a second hand store, and its presence means nothing. When we were shooting that bookshelf scene, what I was really worried we’d see too much of a Garcia Marquez book, which is far more apropos – but it’s practically invisible.
  • The whole movie felt too short!

Lastly: I saw Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion last night. It was phenomenal. The tintype time-lapse is already the best VFX sequence of the year. And there was one line I repeated to myself over and over after it was uttered so I wouldn’t forget it, because it has a whole lot to do with A Ghost Story.

Posterity is as comfortless as God.
Well said, movie version of Emily Dickinson.


A Ghost Movie and a Marathon

Last spring, I had an idea for a little movie about a ghost haunting a house for 200 years. I wrote it down, and it came out to about ten pages long. A week later those ten pages had become thirty, and I called Toby and James and suggested that there might be an opportunity to shoot them over the summer. There was a window of about a month and a half between the time we finished Pete’s Dragon and the run up to its release, and surely, I thought, that would be enough time to make a small, self-financed St. Nick-scale movie.

And so we did just that (although it turned out a littler bigger than St. Nick). I finished post-production on Pete’s Dragon on June 10th, and at sunrise on June 12th I was back in Texas with a small but intrepid crew of friends, shooting the first scene of what was until recently simply called The Ghost Movie. The image of our lead character below is from this first day of shooting.

A Ghost Movie and a Marathon

We carried on from there, shooting into July and then regrouping again in late August to pick up a few necessary pieces. I must admit, it was a terrifying, gut wrenching experience. I took to gnawing on my finger in front of the monitor, agonizing on a shot-by-shot and second-by-second basis over whether this experiment was going to work out and become something more than an experiment. The questions one normally works out during prep were being discovered and solved as we were filming them. At times the whole endeavor felt flat-out ridiculous, the dumbest idea imaginable, and I was just waiting for someone to pull the plug and tell me it was terrible. There were plenty of times when that would have been a relief! But it never happened. And by and by the bad, awkward stuff started to turn good, more quickly and in greater quantities. We started to figure out what the movie was, and how to make it, and by the time we finally wrapped (technically just over a week ago, since we did a few pickups on December 9th), we knew what we were doing.

And the movie does work. The almost-finished product is strange and challenging and leaves me with a feeling I can’t quite describe. I made it, and it still surprises me every time I watch it. I saw a blog recently query whether it would be more art-house friendly than ATBS was, and I don’t know how to answer that question. I think it’s a better film than ATBS, but it’s also smaller, stranger and probably a great deal more alienating. There will be plenty of people who call it pretentious, plenty more who walk out at a very specific point about twenty minutes in, and others who will shrug it off, for whom it will be neither here nor there. But some people will love it, and I’m excited for them to discover it. Our joke pitch for the project was Beetlejuice as remade by Apichatpong Werathesakul. It didn’t turn out like that, but still, that’s sorta the spirit in which me made the film, and if that appeals to you, you might be in our target audience.

It’s called A Ghost Story but in my head I still just call it The Ghost Movie. It premieres next month at Sundance, a stamp of validation for which I am immensely grateful. Great thanks to Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Andrew Droz Palermo, Annell Brodeur, David Pink, Jade Healy, Tom Walker, Daniel Hart, Bret Curry, Casey, Rooney, Will and the rest of our amazing crew and cast for realizing this crazy idea with me. I couldn’t have done this alone, and I thank everyone for helping me maintain confidence when the going got crazy.

Equally prominent on the personal achievement front, Toby and I ran the Dallas Marathon yesterday. It was the second time for both of us, having first run it in 2011. It was awesome. Horrifically painful towards the end, but awesome all the same. The weather was perfect, and we both shaved considerable time off our first go-rounds, which given that we’re both five years older makes us feel a whole lot better about the passage of time and whatnot (I finished in 4:01:57, which is about 12 minutes faster than my first one).

Look at those crazy eyes as I crossed the finish line! My body is still deep in the process of ceasing to hurt, but already the rose-colored glasses have come on and I’m thinking about waiting a whole lot less than five years to run one again. It’s a microcosm of life, wrapped up in one four hour bundle of joy and ardor and blistered toenails.


Following Last

Following Last

Following last month’s Showgirls discussion, it was decided that such blog-a-thons should be regular things. The second round was scheduled for today, and thus you’ll be able to spend your pre-Valentine’s Day afternoon reading different takes on this month’s selected title: Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown. Less fun to discuss en masse than Verehoeven’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-camp classic? Perhaps, but I relished the opportunity for the sole reason that, of Haneke’s recent slate of domestically distributed pictures (beginning with Funny Games in 1997), this was the only I’d missed. Now that I’ve seen it, I feel as if I’ve found the one missing piece to a puzzle.

La Pianiste was my introduction to his work, but now it’s suddenly clear to me how much of an anomaly that film is. It is the sole introspective work from a filmmaker whose gaze is otherwise tunred outward; or, I should say, his films are always introspective, but they examine the societal psyche, rather than that of the individual. Indeed, one of the two overriding themes in Haneke’s oveure is a contrast of castes; this could be seen as tantamount to a sensitive but incisive indictment of the bourgoisie, but I think Haneke is too considerate for that sort of generalization.

Caché is perhaps the most overt example of Haneke’s social concerns, but Code Unknown is its direct thematic precedent; it is also far more ambitious, and substantially more oblique. The film is an elliptical accumulation of scenes, centered around a handful of characters in France and/or Eastern Europe. Most of these scenes are comprised of extremely long takes that are, in their seeming uneventfulness, as deceptive the final shot in Caché. Others are more dynamic, and serve almost as microcosms of the film as a whole; the most immediately impressive sequence is the lengthy steadicam shot in an upscale restaurant, in which the camera drifts from one table, where a popular actress (Juliette Binoche) is having dinner with friends, to another, where a young black man (Ona Lu Yenke) is trying to impress his white date. Binoche and Yenke met at the beginning of the film, but they do not interact in this scene; they simply exist simultaneously in the same space, holding independent conversations, unconsciously creating an unspeakably tense social dynamic. In Haneke’s films, the gray area where classes merge is a dangerous one (as categorically evidenced in Caché).

I mentioned that classism is one of two themes in Haneke’s work; the second, as I see it, would be the involvement of the viewer. Haneke is fond of implicating his audience, breaking the fourth wall in unexpected and subtly (or, in the case of Funny Games, explicitly) devious ways; these are films that, in the great postmodernist tradition, have a lot to do with the process of watching them. In Code Unknown, the subjective trickery involves a thriller Binoche’s character is starring in, entitled The Collector, a few sequences from which are woven into the film. They last just long enough for us become involved in this new, comparatively pedestrian narrative before Haneke jerks us back out again, forcing us to reassess both the placement of those scenes and our reactions to them in relation to the overall scheme of the film. There is an early videotaped (check) rehearsal of a scene in which Binoche is terrorized (check) by an unseen figure (check); her face fills with terror as she’s informed of her impending death, tears fall from her eyes – and then the director stops her to give her some direction. Compare this to the adjacent scene in which Yenke’s mother sobs over the mistreatment of her son by the police; there’s no resolution for her sorrow, no one to tell her what she’s supposed to feel. This disparity in emotion ties into a key decision (or lack thereof) on Binoche’s part later in the film involving a little girl living in a neighboring apartment; and this development loops right back to a scene in The Collector involving an endangered child.

Code Unknown is itself a thriller, although the image of Binoche’s frozen scream featured on the film’s posters and DVD cases might mislead audiences (or even Haneke fans like myself who note its placement between the genuinely shocking Funny Games and La Pianiste) into expecting something more visceral. Instead, the thrills are of a distinctly cerebral kind; the film is so meticulously structured and so evasive of our immediate grasp that the gradual emergence of its purpose is more exciting than any of the scenes we see in The Collector. It is difficult to involve one’s self with the characters here, emotionally or otherwise – Haneke’s sharp cutting purposely works against our tendency to empathize – but it is impossible not to become caught up in the intellect of the film, and its dialectical structure.

It’s worth noting that the lines of reality are very clearly drawn in Code Unknown (something this film shares with La Pianiste and Le Temps Du Loups, both of which, incidentally, keep that fourth wall intact and reject any postmodern narrative trappings), whereas Funny Games and Caché allow the suspension of certain reflexive boundaries (who’s been making the videotapes in Caché? I think the answer is in Funny Games). Over the course of these five films, Haneke is constantly revisiting various combinations of themes and narrative and stylistic traits (reading other blog-a-thon entries this morning, I realized that whenever his films revolve around a couple, their names are always Anne and Georges), resulting in a genuinely cohesive – and fascinating – body of work. By the time that last abrupt cut-to-black occurred on the big screen in La Pianiste three years ago, I was hooked on this filmmaker – but I’ve only just now begun to realize why.

Also worth noting: Code Unknown seems to require at least two viewings, something I wasn’t, due to my schedule this weekend, able to give it. Thus, I’m pretty sure I’ve only scratched the surface of the film, and I’m looking forward to reading the other varying perspectives today, and seeing what I missed.

For the record, Le Temps Du Loups is both my favorite of his films and one of the very best pictures of the decade thus far. Also, has anyone seen his 1997 adaptation of Kafka’s The Castle?

Girish’s post, wonderful in and of itself, comes complete with a full run-down of participants in this Blog-A-Thon. Drop him an e-mail if you’d like to participate in next month’s round, which will feature the entire body of work of Abel Ferarra…


The Top 255 Movies Of 2017

Why pick? Here is everything I saw in 2017. Titles in bold were seen theatrically.

1. NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Dir. Alfred Hitchock
2. CAMERAPERSON Dir. Kirsten Johnson
3. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER Dir. Nicholas Pesce
4. OJ: MADE IN AMERICA Dir. Ezra Edelman
5. CAFE SOCIETY Woody Allen
6. SILENCE Dir. Martin Scorsese
7. JACKIE Dir. Pablo Larrain
8. THE RIGHT STUFF Dir. Philip Kaufman
9. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME AT THIS WORLD ANYMORE Dir. Macon Blair
10. PERSON TO PERSON Dir. Dustin Guy Defa
11. L.A. TIMES Dir. Michelle Morgan
12. THE YELLOW BIRDS Dir. Alexandre Moore
13. BEACH RATS Dir. Eliza Hittman
14. WHERE IS KYRA Dir. Andrew Dosonmu
15. GET OUT Dir. Jordan Peele
16. THE NOVITIATE Dir. Marion Betts
17. SPLIT Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

18. UNBREAKABLE Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
19. BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN Dir. Irene Taylor Brodsky
20. LITTLE SISTER Dir. Zach Clark
21. NERUDA Dir. Pablo Larrain
22. WAR REQUIEM Dir. Derek Jarman
23. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO Dir. Raoul Peck
24. RASHOMON Dir. Akira Kurosawa
25. YOJIMBO Dir. Akira Kurosawa
26. SOLARIS Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
27. TONI ERDMAN Dir. Maren Ade
28. THE NINTH CONFIGURATION Dir. William Peter Blatty Home
29. THE CHASE Dir. Arthur Penn
30. SANSHO THE BAILIFF Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
31. PATERSON Dir. Jim Jarmusch
32. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE Dir. John Huston
33. CLAIRE’S KNEE Dir. Eric Rohmer
34. LE PARC Dir. Damien Manivel
35. THE SIXTH SENSE Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
36. DAMSEL Dir. David Zellner
37. STRAIGHT TIME Dir. Ulu Grossbard
38. THE SALESMAN Dir. Asgar Farhadi
39. A CURE FOR WELLNESS Dir. Gore Verbinski
40. ACE IN THE HOLE Dir. Billy Wilder
41. LE SAMOURAI Dir. Jean Pierre Melville
42. LOGAN Dir. James Mangold
43. THE VILLAGE Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
44. CHARLIE VARRICK Dir. Don Siegel
45. KEDI Dir. Ceyda Torun
46. A MOTION SELFIE Dir. Jamie Stuart
47. PRINCESS MONONOKE Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
48. MEDITERRANEA Dir. Jonas Carpagniano
49. SHORT CUTS Dir. Robert Altman
50. LOST IN LA MANCHA Dir. Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe
51. DOWN BY LAW Dir. Jim Jarmusch
52. MY LIFE AS A ZUCHINI Dir. Claude Barras
53. INGRID GOES WEST Dir. Matt Spicer
54. DAY FOR NIGHT Dir. Francois Truffaut
55. THE BENEFACTOR Dir. Andrew Renzi
56. KONG SKULL ISLAND Dir. Jordan Vogt Roberts
57. THE EVIL WITHIN Dir. Andrew Getty
58. THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE Dir. Peter Yates
59. TRAINSPOTTING 2 Dir. Danny Boyle
60. SONG TO SONG Dir. Terence Malick

61. THE COALMINER’S DAUGHTER Dir. Michael Apted
62. PERSONAL SHOPPER Dir. Olivier Assayas
63. GHOST IN THE SHELL Dir. Rupert Everett

64. THE DISCOVERY Dir. Charlie McDowell
65. RAW Dir. Julia Ducournau
66. GEORGE WASHINGTON Dir. David Gordon Green
67. THE VOID Dir. Steve Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie
68. SOMETHING WILD Dir. Jonathan Demme
69. PRIME CUT Dir. Michael Ritchie
70. LOST CITY OF Z Dir. James Gray
71. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Dir. James Gunn
72. A DARK SONG Dir. Liam Gavin
73. COLOSSAL Dir. Nacho Vigalando
74. MAGNOLIA Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
75. BOTTLE ROCKET Dir. Wes Anderson
76. THE DINNER Dir. Oren Moverman
77. ALIEN: COVENANT Dir. Ridley Scott
78. THIRST STREET Dir. Nathan Silver
79. THE CROW Dir. Alex Proyas
80. HUNTER GATHERER Dir. Josh Locy
81. A QUIET PASSION Dir. Terence Davies
82. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME Dir. David Lynch
83. STALKER Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

84. LIFE IS SWEET Dir. Mike Leigh
85. WALKING AND TALKING Dir. Nicole Holofcener
86. THINGS TO COME Dir. William Cameron Menzies
87. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS Dir. F. Gary Gray
88. WAR MACHINE Dir. David Michod Home
89. LOST HIGHWAY Dir. David Lynch
90. ASSASSIN’S CREED Dir. Justin Kurzel
91. BEATRIZ AT DINNER Dir. Miguel Arteta
92. MARJORIE PRIME Dir. Michael Almereyda
93. SEX LIES & VIDEOTAPE Dir. Steven Soderbergh
94. BITCH Dir. Marianna Palka
95. ICARUS Dir. Bryan Fogel

96. THE BIG SICK Dir. Michael Showalter
97. ALLIED Dir. Robert Zemeckis
98. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Dir. Bill Condon
99. WONDER WOMAN Dir. Patty Jenkins
100. TARGETS Dir. Peter Bogdanovich
101. NOCTURAMA Dir. Bertrand Bonello

The Top 255 Movies Of 2017
102. CITIZEN BAND Dir. Jonathan Demme
103. THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV Dir. Albert Serra
104. THE LITTLE HOURS Dir. Jeff Baena
105. IT COMES AT NIGHT Dir. Trey Edward Shultz

106. JULIETA Dir. Pedro Almodovar
107. SUNSET SONG Dir. Terence Davies
108. DEATH BECOMES HER Dir. Robert Zemeckis
109. THE BEGUILED Dir. Sofia Coppola
110. THE SARAGASSO MANUSCRIPT Dir. Wojciech Has

111. JOHN WICK 2 Dir. Chad Stahelksi
112. MASTERMINDS Dir. Jared Hess
113. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE Dir. Chris McKay
114. RICKI AND THE FLASH Dir. Jonathan Demme
115. MY LOVE IS IN FLAMES Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
116. HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES Dir. John Cameron Mitchell
117. THE UNTAMED Dir. Amat Escalante
118. EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING Dir. Stella Meghie

119. PRINCESS CYD Dir. Stephen Cone
120. LIFE Dir. Daniel Espinosa
121. FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS Dir. Stephen Frears
122. BABY DRIVER Dir. Edgar Wright
123. SUPER DARK TIMES Dir. Chad Phillips
124. MOHAWK Dir. Ted Geogohan
125. JAPANESE GIRLS NEVER DIE Dir. Daigo Matsui

126. MAP TO THE STARS Dir. David Cronenberg
127. WAR FOR THE PLAET OF THE APES Dir. Matt Reeves
128. RULES DON’T APPLY Dir. Warren Beatty
129. VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF 1000 PLANETS Dir. Luc Besson
130. LADY MACBETH Dir. William Oldroyd
131. DUNKIRK Dir. Christopher Nolan
132. ENDLESS POETRY Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
133. GIRLS TRIP Dir. Malcom Lee
134. ATOMIC BLONDE Dir. David Leitch

135. FATE Dir. Fred Keleman
136. IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES Dir. Nagisa Oshima
137. THE HUMAN SURGE Dir. Eduardo Williams
138. STAYING VERTICAL Dir. Alain Guiraudie

139. LOVETRUE Dir. Alma Har’el
140. BELOVED Dir. Jonathan Demme
141. NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A FIXER Dir. Joseph Cedar
142 KAILI BLUES Dir. Gan Bi
143. SEVENTY-EIGHT / FIFTY TWO Dir. Alexandre Phillipe
144. RUMBLE FISH Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
145. BRIGSBY BEAR Dir. Dave McNary
146. ED WOOD Dir. Tim Burton
147. ANNABELLE: CREATION Dir. David O Sandberg
148. FANASTIC PLANET Dir. René Laloux

149. VIOLET Dir. Bas Devos
150. LOGAN LUCKY Dir. Steven Soderbergh
151. KUSO Dir. Flying Lotus
152. SUMMER HOURS Dir. Olivier Assayas
153. ESTHER KAHN Dir. Arnaud Desplechin
154. GOOD TIME Dir. Josh and Bennie Safdie
155. DEATH NOTE Dir. Adam Wingard
156. BLADE RUNNER Dir. Ridley Scott
157. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE 3RD KIND Dir. Steven Spielberg

158. EIGHT AND A HALF Dir. Federico Fellini
159. WE ARE THE FLESH Dir. Emiliano Rocha Minter
160. LIGHT OF MY LIFE Dir. Casey Affleck
161. LEMON Dir. Janzica Bravo
162. WILSON Dir. Craig Wilson
163. THE MUMMY Dir. Alex Kurtzman
164. THE LOVERS Dir. Azazel Jacobs
165. BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING DEBBIE REYNOLDS & CARRIE FISHER Dir. Fisher Stevens & Alexis Bloom
166. IT Dir. Andy Muschetti
167. THE EXORCIST III Dir. William Peter Blatty
168. SUSPIRIA Dir.Dario Argento
169. MOTHER! Dir. Darren Arronofsky

170. SURREAL ESTATE Dir. Eduardo De Gregorio
171. GOOK Dir. Justin Chon
172. DARK CITY Dir. Alex Proyas
173. JENNIFER’S BODY Dir. Karyn Kusama
174. CITY OF GHOSTS Dir. Matthew Heinneman
175. THE HUSTLER Dir. Robert Rossen
176. DESPERADO Dir. Robert Rodriguez
177. ROUGH NIGHT Dir. Lucia Aniello
178. CHUCK & BUCK Dir. Miguel Arteta
179. VENGEANCE IS MINE Dir. Shohei Imamura
180. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER Dir.Charles Laughton
181. NEVER GOIN’ BACK Dir. Augustine Frizzell
182. BATTLE OF THE SEXES Dir.Valerie Dayton & Jonathan Farris
183. GERALD’S GAME Dir. Mike Flanagan
184. STRONGER Dir. David Gordon Green
185. OUR SOULS AT NIGHT Dir. Ritesh Batra
186. COLUMBUS Dir. Koganda
187. BRAD’S STATUS Dir. Mike White

188. MARIE ANTOINETTE Dir. Sofia Coppola
189. BLADE RUNNER 2049 Dir. Denis Villeneneuve
190. CAT PEOPLE Dir. Val Lawton
191. SPIELBERG Dir. Susan Lacy
192. DON’T LEAVE HOME Dir. Michael Tully
193. THE SHAPE OF WATER Dir.Guillermo Del Toro
194. FREAKS Dir. Todd Browning
195. THE LOST BOYS Dir. Joel Schumacher
196. HAUNTERS: THE ART OF THE SCARE Dir.Jon Schnitzer
197. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE Dir. John Hough
198. HALLOWEEN Dir. John Carpenter
199. HALLOWEEN 2 Dir.Rick Rosenthal
200. TRAIN TO BUSAN Dir. Yeon Sang Ho
201. EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE Dir. Anne Goursaud
202. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE Dir. Stephen King
203. FRIDAY THE 13th Dir. Sean S. Cunningham
204. DRAG ME TO HELL Dir. Sam Raimi
205. CABIN FEVER 2 Dir. Ti West
206. THE BROOD Dir. David Cronenberg
207. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD Dir. Dan O’Bannon
208. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
209. THOR: RAGNAROK Dir. Taika Waititi

210. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES Dir. Noah Baumbach
211. WONDERSTRUCK Dir. Todd Haynes
212. THE UNINVITED Dir. Lewis Allen
213. THE FLORIDA PROJECT Dir. Sean Baker
214. LAST FLAG FLYING Dir. Richard Linklater
215. THE SACRIFICE Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

216. GOLD STAR Dir. Victoria Negri
217. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS Dir. Kenneth Branagh
218. THE TRANSFIGURATION Dir. Michael O’Shea
219. THE SQUARE Dir. Ruben Ostlund
220. JIM AND ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND Dir. Chris Smith
221. JOAN DIDION: THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD Griffin Dunne
222. BISBEE ‘ 17 Dir. Robert Greene
223. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS Dir. Jodie Foster
224. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI Dir. Martin McDonaugh
225. THELMA Dir. Joachim Trier
226. LUCKY Dir. John Carrol Lynch
227. COCO Dir. Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina

228. PHANTOM THREAD Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
229. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN Dir.Mel Brooks
230. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC Dir. Carl Theodor Dryer
231. THE DISASTER ARTIST Dir.James Franco
232. EYES WIDE SHUT Dir. Stanley Kubrick

233. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME Dir.Luca Guadagnino
234. I, TONYA Dir. Craig Gillespie
235. SPIDERMAN HOMECOMING Dir. Jon Watts
236. MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND Dir. Asa Asensio
237. VOYEUR Dir. Myles Kane and Josh Koury
238. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI Dir. Rian Johnson
239. ELF Dir. Jon Favreau
240. A CANTERBURY TALE Dir. Powell / Pressburger
241. IRMA VEP Dir. Olivier Assayas
242. STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH Dir. George Lucas
243. ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD Dir. Ridley Scott
244. LADY BIRD Dir. Greta Gerwig
245. HOME ALONE Dir. Chris Columbus
246. A CHRISTMAS STORY Dir. Bob Clark
247. HOME ALONE 2 Dir. Chris Columbus
248. NINETEEN EIGHTY-FIVE Dir. Yen Tan
249. DOWNSIZING Dir.Alexander Payne
250. THE POST Dir. Steven Spielberg
251. BY SIDNEY LUMET Dir. Nancy Buirski
252.REBECCA Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
253. DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME Dir. Bill Morrisson
254. THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN Dir. Me
255. CITIZEN KANE Dir. Orson Welles

I watched almost no television this year, with the natural exception of Twin Peaks, episode 8 of which is in a category all its own.

The best book I read this year was The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. The other best was Lincoln IN The Bardo by George Saunders. Both felt as if they advanced literary form, maybe by just a little even though it felt like a lot. The most monumental book I read was The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, which true to the quote on the back cover was the fastest 1000-plus pages I’ve ever read.

All of this was set to Lorde’s Melodrama, which wasn’t the only record I listened to this year but might as well have been, and the title of which aptly sums up the direction my disposition flared towards over the past twelve months.