Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ulysses in the Subway (Paul Kaiser, Marc Downie, Flo Jacobs, Ken Jacobs, 2017)

The avant-garde trains us to step off the capitalist treadmill and pause on some useful-in-its-uselessness image or sound. I've been mesmerized by a rainbow sliver on a CD tower created by light caught on an overturned DVD. And I always stayed to listen to my garage door close because it evoked the gong-rattling guitars of My Bloody Valentine's "All I Need." So I was receptive to Ulysses in the Subway, a 3-D algorithmic picturing of a sound journey taken by Ken Jacobs of a subway ride up to 42nd Street and then back down to his loft near Chambers Street where his wife Flo (Penelope in this Odyssey) awaits him. But it put me right back on the capitalist treadmill.

The idea here is to awaken our hearing to the sounds around us by providing a graphic representation of their complexity, an effect enhanced by the 3-D which allows us to dive into the sound-images. Often, they resembled the perspective of looking upon miles of city lights from high on a hill. The problem is that the sounds themselves weren't recontextualized and the sound-images didn't do enough to transform that deadening "Stand clear of the closing door please" announcement. For millions of New Yorkers every day, this is capitalism's repetition compulsion at its most pummeling and Ulysses didn't deliver it from us. And soon, everything about the project felt just as oppressive as those eternal announcements, from the fact that the journey never wanders above 42nd Street to the leisure implied in Jacobs' stopping to listen to an endless steel drum performance to the hoary narrative of the male wanderer and the female waiting at home. 

Ok so it wasn't for me. But I'll tell you who it was for. At the Q&A afterward at MOMA, an old man asked where he could hear these sounds. Clearly, the man hadn't been underground in some time, if ever. So come with me and watch the Show Time boys do their thang. Marvel at the purple explosion all over the walls and pillars in the Union Square station of black man named Prince at various points in his history. Keep your eyes open for the light orgy just before you reach the 125th Street station. Oh you've never up this far before?

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sooooo Not The Gayest Musical Of Them All!

The Great American Broadcast (Archie Mayo, 1941)

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Ingrid Bergman after a day of work in Europa '51 (Roberto Rossellini, 1952)

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Various 2016 screengrabs

Demon (Marcin Wrona)
       Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)

Krisha (Trey Edward Shults) 
 The Measure of a Man (Stéphane Brizé)
 Little Men (Ira Sachs)
Le fils de Joseph (Eugène Green)

 Tower (Keith Maitland)
 Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Too Young, Too Immoral (Raymond Phelan, 1962)

Raymond Phelan was the cinematographer for several early Doris Wishman nudist films as well as Jazz on a Summer's Day. So with the title Too Young, Too Immoral, I assumed I was in for a sexploitation romp. Instead, written, directed, shot by and starring Phelan, it's a convoluted crime story about dope pushers in New York City (with a naughty oral sex scene tacked on to the beginning). Taylor Mead at his cutest is on hand as a deaf pusher named Scribbles. He shares a scene with Brenda Denaut, the mother of the Arquette clan (Alexis, David, Patricia, Rosanna, etc.). There's a probably queer crime lord in a wheelchair named Mr. Claude. It's all sadly forgettable but of course, I'm glad to have seen a film that was languishing in Phelan's Vermont home from which Anthology Film Archives extracted it for the first screening in 50 years. It works best as a document of late 1950s NYC (you can tell the year because the 1958 film The Quiet American is advertised on a marquee). In fact, it's an orgy of NYCness. This scene is in the 42nd St. subway station, that one's by the East River, that location is on 35th between 1st and 2nd, then out to Fire Island, then up to Riverdale (!), let's look at this map of Manhattan, that toll booth charges ten cents, etc. And neon enthusiasts will get the vapors after about fifteen minutes. Best of all is a scene about gentrification. A building is being torn down and an old man laments the fact that he can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood because the rent is too high. This is the late 1950s, mind. Was New York City ever good? Was New York City ever bad?


Friday, February 03, 2017

The Founder (John Lee Hancock, 2016)

A biopic on Ray Kroc, not really the founder of McDonald's, promises a cinematic death by bleeding out Significance from its every frame. But The Founder fascinates in a way similar to Todd Haynes' more faithful adaptation of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce - it's just plain informative. The film's didactic jouissance reaches its apex when Kroc (Michael Keaton), frustrated over his inability to make money from his franchises of the McDonald brothers' (Nick Offerman, ever sexy, and John Carroll Lynch) original Taylorist burger stand in San Bernadino, enlists the help of businessman Harry J. Sonneborn (B. J. Novak) who informs him that he's not in the burger business or the franchise business (or even the business of selling time which is where I thought he was going) but rather, the real estate business. Sonneborn's glance through the ledger, so sexy in its own right, compels Kroc to scarf up land and eventually buy out the McDonald brothers from the restaurant they created. These libidinal economics don't require much personality to make them come alive and here, John Lee Hancock delivers. His direction is as blandly utilitarian as his article-noun titles (The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, The Founder) and all the better for it.

And yet, some critics are still hankering for characters to care about. In his mixed Chicago Reader review here, J. R. Jones writes: "These business maneuverings are pretty entertaining, but in the end The Founder must stand or fall as a character study." Why?? Damn near every Hollywood film ever is a character study. Why can't it stand or fall as an institution study or a film governed by processes rather than character development or a delirious maximalization of character (e.g., Haynes' Mildred Pierce)? In any event, all we need to know about Kroc is telegraphed in the scene when he goes to the movies and opts to see On The Waterfront instead of Magnificent Obsession. Nuff said.

Still, the character development moments are smartly handled. For all the burgers and fries littering the frame, there are plenty of scenes involving food not served in bags. Kroc's long-neglected wife Ethel (Laura Dern in a thankless role) complains about a heavily salted meal at a VFW and asks her husband for salt at a tense home dinner suggesting an upper class propriety floating above the middle masses first courted and then soon abandoned by the corporate elite. And the supernaturally beautiful Patrick Wilson is on hand as the owner of a fancy supper club from whom Kroc steals his wife (poor guy - even Lena Dunham ditched him on Girls).

My only qualm is that I wish the requisite end titles didn't make us feel sorry for the McDonald brothers who walked away with $1 million each in 1961 (over $8 million in 2017 dollars) while Kroc became a billionaire. Some scenes showing how they survived perfectly well with their "mere" millions would prove a progressive rejoinder to this era of grotesque wealth accumulation.

Suggested sequels:
On the birth of the Filet O' Fish: The Flounder
On the birth of Chicken McNuggets: I Dip You Dip We Dip