BC Christian News — November 2008

The newest issue of BC Christian News is now online, and with it, my film column, which looks back at the Vancouver International Film Festival and highlights four films in particular — namely Summer Hours, Happy-Go-Lucky, I’ve Loved You So Long and Religulous. It also has news updates on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything and Fireproof.

Rachel and the blue elephant in the room.

Since seeing it at the local film festival a few weeks ago, I haven’t had time to think any deep thoughts about Rachel Getting Married, but I have been somewhat fascinated by the reactions it has received from some of my favorite bloggers, especially where the film’s casual — yet never openly acknowledged — blending of cultures and ethnicities is concerned.

Here are some key quotes from their posts on this film:

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:

But a friend has observed that the way Demme portrays the African-American and Jamaican characters — Sidney, his Army-serving younger brother, his parents and the various musicians and guests who float in and out — is a form of benevolent reverse racism. He does this, my friend argued, by making certain that only the white characters — Rachel and Kym and their parents, played by Debra Winger and Bill Irwin — are the screwed-up ones. Antsy, haunted, angry, nervous, gloomy. But the darker-skinned characters are all cool, kindly, radiant, gentle, serene.

I was a little suprised when I first heard this view, but I’m starting to think she may have a point. It does seem a little phony. I would have invested myself a little bit more in Rachel Getting Married if, say, Sidney has been a wee bit obnoxious or an obsessive-compulsive or a relentless pot smoker — anything but the dull block of wood that Demme, Lumet and Adebimpe have created. Everyone everywhere has conflicts, problems, insecurities, regrets. Except in films like this one.

Brett McCracken, The Search:

But the thing I like most about this movie is its commitment to hipster realism. It has an almost ethnographic-like attention to the details and culture of hipster, which I—as a person who is currently writing a book about hipsters—readily appreciated. . . .

The music is really where the film hits the nail on the hipster head. It is eclectic with a capital E. Dozens of Sidney’s bohemian musician friends are bumming around the house during the entire wedding weekend, jamming to jazz and folk and whatever they feel like. A drums-and-guitar emo punk plays a Hendrix-style wedding processional. Sidney sings Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” for his wedding vow. There is hip hop, an African drum collective, a jazz trumpeter, and an androgynous DJ for everything in between. And that’s only what I can remember. . . .

The people partying with gleeful, postmodern abandon (when they are not embroiled in family drama and emotional catharsis) are the very essence of hipsterdom today. It’s about pastiche, de-contextualized pop commodities, “subversive” stylistic fusion, and non-committal, consumer-oriented multiculturalism.

Victor Morton, Rightwing Film Geek:

Even if it were no good as a family-relationship drama, though it is, it REALLY is … RACHEL GETTING MARRIED works as a completely-unintentional parody of Connecticut Upper-Crust Secular Multicultural Awareness. I began mentally ticking things off: there are four “parents” on Rachel’s side of the family (the side the film focuses on); the marriage is inter-racial and this is never even alluded to in any form; every ethnic group is represented in this World’s Fair by Benneton wedding guest list (I had to stifle a giggle at the entry of the Latin America Booth in the form of samba-dancers dressed for Rio Carnival week and a short dumpy woman in Andean Indian garb); the bride announces she is pregnant during the weekend, and this results in unmitigated celebration; their religion is “Religion”: the wedding cake was decorated by Hindu elephants, the wedding outfits are Indian-style, the walls are decorated by Christian-looking icons but done in the Hindu style, and Kym (the film’s central character, played by Anne Hathaway) toasts “L’Chaim”; the marriage is not in a church or by any sort of minister and the couple wrote their own vows; they live in Stamford in a multi-storey home on a lot big enough to pitch a wedding tent in the yard; Kym drives an old-model Mercedes; rehab, psychology PhD’s, smoking-Nazism and fucking someone the day you meet him are all considered unremarkable.

A fellow film geek “twittered” me “why do I have a feeling RGM is gonna piss you off just because of the wedding alone?” He was correct in guessing that I detest these people in the abstract and I’d consider attending this wedding in real-life to be a purgatorial experience. But as for the film I didn’t mind all this stuff at all. Why should a portrayal of a slice of society you dislike not have signifiers of “Dislikability”? It’s not that any of these Bobo Signifiers is unbelievable or remarkable; few are morally significant per se. But the sheer amount of them makes displayed Boboism almost a structuring principle (a thing you notice and react to), and it starts to become funny — how much more Aware and Tolerant can they portray themselves. “Oh … there’s Rigoberta Menchu … Must. Not. Giggle.”

Karina Longworth, SpoutBlog:

But the lack of racism amongst the two families plays into a larger issue, one which engulfs those dreaded saris as well. Holed up in their sprawling Connecticut manse, Rachel and family are cut off from the functioning world by virtue of their obvious immense wealth. Rich, sheltered people do “eccentric” things like wearing saris instead of wedding dresses, partially because they can afford to explore stupid whims, and partially because their stupid whims mark them as “unconventional.” From the color blindness of both families, to the (unfortunately sexless) all-night orgy of fractured cultural reference into which the wedding party gloriously devolves, Demme is telling us that this family prides itself on its creativity, its liberalism, its openness, its ostentatious rejection of convention.

But of course, this self-styled nonconformity is not only unsustainable, it’s revealed to be totally false. When filterless addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) is dropped straight from rehab into this happy liberal idyll, nobody can deal with her brand of actual nonconformity, her inability to simmer down to normal. Rachel’s volatile, often unpleasantly frank younger sister is the only thing that could puncture the bubble in which she’s determined to marry. Seen from this angle, the over-the-top multiculturalism is absolutely essential: this is ultimately a film about a family that’s self-consciously molded itself as the most accepting, post-60s construct possible, and then force them to confront the only thing that could possibly make them uncomfortable, the embodiment of the problems they don’t have, the kind of unresolvable personal misery that even money can’t stave off.

Meanwhile, Steve Sailer explores the possibility that the sibling rivalry in the film may be inspired to some degree by the relationship between screenwriter Jenny Lumet and her sister Amy. The Lumets, incidentally, are bi-racial themselves, being the daughters of filmmaker Sidney Lumet on the one hand, and the granddaughters of actress Lena Horne on the other hand.

Terminator Salvation — an update

There used to be an article on Terminator Salvation at this page on the Premiere website. But if you click on that link now, the website re-directs you to its home page. Hmmm. Fortunately, io9 has summarized and quoted what I presume are some of the better bits from that article — including what sounds like a significant spoiler or two. As always, read at your peril.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life — a review

Patti Smith: Dream of Life opened at the Granville theatre in Vancouver this weekend, and, knowing that my colleague David F. Dawes is something of a fan, I asked him if he would have any interest in reviewing it for this blog. He said he would, so voila:

PATTI SMITH is talking to a friend about a question she gets asked too often: “How does it feel to be a rock icon?”

“I think of Mount Rushmore,” she smiles.

The scene is from a film which is anything but carved in stone. Steven Sebring’s Patti Smith: Dream of Life is full of vitality, evincing a lively imagination worthy of its subject. It is an evocative and incisive portrait of a brilliant poet, ferocious vocalist, open spiritual seeker and rabble rouser of the first order.

Blessedly, there’s not one reference to ‘Godmother of Punk,’ a cliche frequently attached to Smith. The film does more than justice to the breadth of her art beyond rock ‘n roll, including her poetry and painting.

Sebring had an unprecedented opportunity to film Smith over an 11-year period, beginning in 1995. The result could have been far too disjointed. Instead, the director has skillfully distilled the footage into a series of vignettes — with scenes clustered around different concepts.

We see Patti’s meditations on the death of loved ones, such as husband Fred Sonic Smith and lover Robert Mapplethorpe; tributes to her influences, including William S. Burroughs, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg; her carefree interactions with her family; and her fiery peace activism. While some might find the combination of topics chaotic, the film holds together as a suitably many-faceted portrait of a complex personality.

Memorable sequences include: Patti goofing around on guitar with playwright Sam Shepard; Smith and a friend expressing shock and awe over a draconian invoice on a Prada bag; and her righteous outrage over the war in Iraq and other W. Bush misadventures.

The film’s style is by turns poetic, documentary and abstract. It is mostly black and white, with effective intrusions of colour. A few moments are confusing, showing people interacting with Smith without clarifying their relationship to her. But this occasional lack of concrete information also enhances the free-flowing evocation of an artist and her milieu; and continuity is provided by narration spoken by Smith.

Some sequences are simply riveting. At one point we see a series of colour close-ups of Smith passionately vocalizing in concert; however, we hear no vocals — but instead very intense, discordant instrumental music which perfectly evokes the expressions on the singer’s face.

Speaking of concert footage: there are some simply amazing sequences — handheld camera reflecting the energy of the musicians and fans, with Patti in your face, a force of nature unleashed.

Indeed, the film is appropriately permeated with Smith’s music — acoustic and electric songs, and poetry incantations. Highlights include ‘Rock N Roll Nigger,’ ‘Land,’ Ginsberg’s ‘Spell,’ and the harrowing ‘Radio Baghdad.’

As for Patti herself, she comes across as both intimidating and endearing — undeniably charismatic, gentle-hearted, opinionated, bursting with artistic and political passion.

Her spiritual side is mostly presented in a low-key fashion. She is shown occasionally wearing a cross. More significant is a sequence showing her wandering in the Middle East. A skillful montage combines images of Arabs in a mosque; Jews praying at the Wailing Wall; and Patti in an Orthodox church.

The most upfront portrayal of her spirituality occurs in the final credits, which features her reworking of a Psalm. Calling on “the Rock that is higher than I,” she sings “hear my cry, O Lord” in a heartfelt plea for aid.

Overall, Dream of Life is an outstanding debut for director Sebring. More importantly, it is a worthy tribute to one of the most phenomenal talents of our time.

John Barry turns 75. Variety pays homage.

I collect James Bond soundtracks. And the only piece I can play on the piano with two hands, from memory, is the ‘Two Socks’ theme from Dances with Wolves (1990).

So yeah, it’s safe to say I’m a John Barry fan.

So I cannot help but note that Variety magazine ran a bunch of articles on him and his music yesterday. Here they are:

– – –

Composer with the midas touch
John Barry turns 75 today. The composer of “Out of Africa,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Born Free,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “The Lion in Winter” — as well as such iconic James Bond themes as “Goldfinger,” “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds Are Forever” — is believed to be the sole Brit to have won as many as five Academy Awards.
True, he’s scored only three movies in the last 10 years (the last was “Enigma” in 2001), but he’s still waiting for another great one to come along. . . .
And what a history. No modern film composer has undergone as radical a musical transformation as Barry. Starting with the twangy guitar, rock ‘n’ roll sound of “Beat Girl” in 1960, he soon shifted into a pop-jazz-orchestral sound for the James Bond movies while simultaneously creating a quiet, brooding ambiance for such low-budget Brit films as “Seance on a Wet Afternoon.”
The period historical dramas of the ’60s and ’70s — “The Lion in Winter,” “The Last Valley,” “Mary, Queen of Scots” — demanded choirs singing texts in Latin, German and French. Eventually, Barry became Hollywood’s go-to composer for richly orchestrated, grandly romantic scores like “Somewhere in Time,” “Out of Africa” and “Dances With Wolves.” . . .

John Barry invented the spy movie score
Very few composers can be said to have created a new style of film music,” says David Arnold. “John Barry single-handedly created the spy genre.”
Arnold, who recently completed scoring “Quantum of Solace” (his fifth James Bond score), has a long way to go to catch up to Barry’s record of 11 complete 007 scores (not counting his arrangement of the original “James Bond Theme” for “Dr. No”).
Arnold admires Barry’s accomplishments — saluting them in his 1997 album “Shaken and Stirred” — and Arnold’s Bond scores, from “Tomorrow Never Dies” to “Die Another Day,” still draw on the musical ideas that accompanied 007’s earliest film adventures 40 years ago.
It was a combination of the time (the early ’60s), a collision of musical cultures (the end of the big-band era, the beginnings of rock) and the offbeat qualities of Ian Fleming’s creation that led to Barry’s unique mix of jazz, rock, pop and traditional orchestral writing. . . .

Collaboraters reflect on the composer
When Sydney Pollack started editing “Out of Africa,” he assembled a temporary score that consisted entirely of excerpts from earlier scores by John Barry: “Somewhere in Time,” “Robin and Marian,” even “Mary, Queen of Scots.”
“Barry’s scores were so clearly movie scores,” the late director told Variety in 2001. “His music was always very evocative. ‘The Last Valley’ (a Barry score from 1971) had a piece that gave me an idea how to put together the whole flying sequence, when Denys takes Karen out over Africa. It had a somber feeling that was achieved by using a chorus of male bass voices humming. It gave it a religious, liturgical feeling.”
Both Pollack and Barry won Oscars for their work on the film.
Pollack’s experience was not unique. Barry’s many collaborators over the years have talked about his dramatic instincts and his melodic sense. . . .

Barry succeeds in theater and TV
With five Oscars on his mantelpiece, it’s easy to forget that John Barry has enjoyed success in other musical realms, notably the London stage and in both American and British television.
In fact, a revival of Barry’s 1974 musical “Billy” is now in the discussion stages. Based on the play and film “Billy Liar,” about a daydreaming young Yorkshire clerk, it ran for three years on the West End and made a musical star of Michael Crawford. . . .

John Barry reflects on 10 of his scores
“Goldfinger” (1964) . . . “Born Free” (1966) . . . “The Lion in Winter” (1968) . . . “Midnight Cowboy” (1969) . . . “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) . . . “Somewhere in Time” (1980) . . . “Body Heat” (1981) . . . “The Cotton Club” (1984) . . . “Out of Africa” (1985) . . . “Dances With Wolves” (1990) . . .

Valkyrie and the Steve Taylor connection.

This new trailer for Valkyrie is much, much better than the one that came out a year ago. However, one line made me giggle, because it reminded me of a line from an old Steve Taylor song:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

There’s a bit in the trailer where one guy says, “Any problem on Earth can be solved with the careful application of high explosives.” That sounds rather similar to a bit in one of Taylor’s more controversial songs, where — as seen in the music video below — the protagonist sings, “There ain’t nothing wrong with this country / That a few plastic explosives won’t cure.”

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

Note: Those who dislike the song or miss the fact that it is intended as satire should read Taylor’s comments at the link above.