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On Beauty and Commissioned Cinema: Luca Guadagnino’s Stunning “Here”

30 Jan

I am, admittedly, about a week late to this short. Here hit the web last Tuesday, which might have something to do with the lack of immediate effusive praise: Oscar nominations tend to hog all the attention, especially when it comes to those of us that spend our days writing about the movies. Unfortunate, because I would venture to claim that this 15 minute jewel from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) is plenty more attractive and tightly produced than many of the features up for this year’s Academy Awards. It’s a gorgeous and calmly reverential piece of commissioned work that absolutely entrances, further making the point that beauty really is entirely inexpressible in words.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try out utmost. There’s an aesthetic perfection all over this film, not simply an enticing attribute but the entire point of the production. The Luxury Collection is a group of almost impossibly chic hotels and resorts under the Starwoods label, and their collaboration with Waris Ahluwalia is both out of love for art and a desire to showcase their properties to a wider audience. Here was shot at three of these hotels: The Equinox in Vermont, the Phoenician in Arizona and the Royal Hawaiian. They’re pretty stunning. Continue reading

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Daily Short: Sylvester and Tweety in Birds Anonymous

2 Dec

As I noted yesterday in my round-up of the animated short Oscar shortlist, Warner Bros. is pushing hard for a nomination for their new Sylvester and Tweety short. I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, which is playing in front of Happy Feet Two, would be the first Looney Tunes to go to the Academy Awards since 1963’s Now Hear This. Sylvester and Tweety themselves were nominated four times in the ’40s and ’50s, winning twice. I haven’t yet seen the new short, so I have no idea if it lives up to the extraordinary legacy of Warner Bros. cartoons at the Oscars, but I’m eager to find out.

In the meantime, let’s take a look back at the last time these two rambunctious pets made it to the podium. 1957’s Birds Anonymous would mark the fourth Oscar victory for the Looney Tunes series, and the second for a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. It’s a wonderfully light-hearted spoof of the dark and often heavy-handed melodramas of the time, influenced by the growth and success of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also one of the most successful films Friz Freleng directed before Warner Bros. closed their animation studio in 1963, causing him to then start his own production company (DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which would create The Pink Panther). Continue reading

Daily Short: Tilda Swinton in Depuis le jour

1 Dec

I must say that the most exciting thing about today’s National Board of Review announcement for me was the Best Actress honor for Tilda Swinton. Firstly, it’s refreshing when these groups shake things up a bit and keep the competition going. But more than that, I think Swinton is one of those actresses who enrich just about every conversation, Oscar season or otherwise. Her strength isn’t simply that she’s an extraordinarily talented actress, but that she chooses projects and collaborations that dare to enrich and extend art and cinema as a whole. Too many of the leading female performances raved about this awards cycle are in safe and uninteresting movies, which is never a problem for a Swinton picture.

But enough general gushing. Let’s go back to an early point in Swinton’s career, one of her very first film roles. A year after appearing in Caravaggio, her first collaboration with Derek Jarman, the director asked her to star in his contribution to 1987’s Aria (which I covered earlier this week, as a tribute to Ken Russell).  The music is the famous Depuis le jour from Gustave Charpentier’s Louise, a sweet ode to young love. It’s a gorgeously simple short from the often provocative director, as earnest in its beauty as the music itself. Continue reading

Daily Short: Raoul Ruiz’s Colloque de chiens

30 Nov

I’m not exactly stoked about the New York Film Critics Circle awards, given that I thought The Artist was kinda slight. No matter! One thing the NYFCC did right was extend a special award to Raoul Ruiz, who passed away in August. His last film, the epic Mysteries of Lisbon, is one of my favorite features of the year. Magnificent in scope and sporting some of the most stunning cinematography I have seen in ages, the near-6-hour epic is everything I love about ambitious narrative cinema. There are few directors as deserving of this sort of special recognition as Ruiz, and it gives us a great excuse to take a look at one of his early shorts.

From one angle, Colloque de chiens seems like a perfect example of the French New Wave’s influence on a younger generation of filmmakers. Ruiz arrived in Paris in 1973, after Augusto Pinochet’s US-backed coup in his native Chile, and by 1977 had made a number of films in France. This particular short is almost entirely made up of narration and still photographs, evocative of La jetée and other similarly experimental French films of the 1960s. Bourgeois characters find themselves in doomed relationships and meaningless affairs, the sort of characteristic malaise you’d find in Godard’s work. Yet by the late 1970s all of that was getting a bit old, and Ruiz is most certainly doing something new with this complex little film. Continue reading

Daily Short: Address Is Approximate

28 Nov

I love stop motion animation. For whatever reason, despite having seen countless shorts and features using the technique, it blows me away almost on principle. Everything, from the Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam to Wallace and Gromit and that episode of Community, sends me into awe as I think about the process. These little movements, each artfully choreographed down to the slightest detail, are suddenly stacked together for kinetic experiences that often feel much more alive than regular live-action filmmaking. It takes you back to the very basics of cinema.

And of course new technology has only sent creativity through the roof. People can now make shorts with their phones, like that Aardman video set on the beach that was released this summer. Shorts are being made everywhere, inspired by our new world of technology in unexpected and delightful ways. Address Is Approximate is a shining example of this exciting trend. Put on the web just a few days ago by The Theory films, this delightful distraction uses Google Maps to show just how small the world can be these days. Continue reading

In Memoriam: Ken Russell’s Nessun Dorma

28 Nov

There’s a bittersweet awkwardness that happens when you discover someone’s work only as a result of their passing. I’ve never been familiar with Ken Russell‘s extraordinary and controversial filmography, despite the many times friends have recommended him. I adore Women in Love but I haven’t seen any of his other features, and from what I hear that’s hardly a representative work. I’ve seen clips of The Devils on YouTube, but have never gotten around to watching the full film. And so, as the film community mourns, I spent some time this morning reading some wonderful obituaries and poking around the web to see if he’d ever directed shorts. I found something entirely unexpected, enigmatic, and hermetical.

Aria, released in 1987, is one of those anthology flicks that opens to great excitement at Cannes and then goes absolutely nowhere. There isn’t much of a market for these things, at least not since the ‘ 60s, and it’s a shame. This particular film tasked 10 celebrated directors to each make a short film around a single opera, giving us a unique opportunity to see how artists like Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman and Robert Altman relate to specific pieces of music. Russell’s contribution is Nessun Dorma, a haunting seven minutes wrapped around one of the most darkly powerful arias in the operatic canon. Continue reading

Daily Short: Asian American Jesus

14 Nov

It is really easy to make fun of bad poetry, especially the kind of spoken-word stuff that can fill up an urban café with loudly terrible metaphors and confrontational redundancy. If you’re only interested in the jab, the jokes write themselves. On the other hand, it is much harder to poke fun at artists and other character types while simultaneously creating something new. YouTube is full of parodies that do nothing more than point and laugh. Samantha Chanse and Yasmine Gomez are interested in something more. Asian American Jesus is not just a funny satire of awful poetry, but also manages to combine laughter with genuinely witty social commentary.

Based on characters from Chanse’s one woman show, the short takes the form of student Suzette Law’s final project for an Ethnic Studies class on Asian American artists. She follows around Truth Is Real, a local poet whose work is almost impossibly awful. We get to see bits of performances, as well as interviews with everyone from the local artistic establishment to a barista at the cafe where Truth Is Real drives away customers. Everyone is played by Chanse herself, who plays around with voices and mannerisms to really bring these characters to life. It’s like a miniature “A Mighty Wind” set in the Bay Area. Continue reading