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Jim Finn, SFBG's "Video Issue" and a Bit More

Utopian Comedies: The Films of Jim Finn, the filmmaker's first retrospective in the US, opens this evening at New York's Anthology Film Archives and runs through Wednesday. "Finn is a major talent," declares Vadim Rizov in the L Magazine, "a vaguely avant-garde video specialist whose work is far too accessible to be ghettoized and left to the tender mercies of museums and academia. Finn's three features (barely so: at 71 minutes, Interkosmos is the longest) all set about recreating the mental landscape and cultural textures of different Communist cultures. His tools: scenes of the indoctrinated reciting party dogma with diligent blankness, fervently patriotic musical numbers, overblown archival footage celebrating fake achievements.... Politically, Finn's three features would be palatable to both liberals and conservatives: they have sympathy for the textural feel of each regime/movement while unambiguously condemning them."

"Interkosmos follows two Eastern German cosmonauts into space, where love gets in the way of science, interrupted by occasional musical sequences by cheerleader teams," writes Mike Plante for Filmmaker. "Finn's second feature, La Trinchera Luminosa Del Presidente Gonzalo, is much more bare, following a group of imprisoned female Shining Path followers through a day of discussing their lives and beliefs. Gonzalo shows Finn really wants to explore what the hell happened politically in the last five decades through his filmmaking and subjects, how people got so lost and fought to regain control through motivated groups. Where Interkosmos delivers with style and clever humor, Gonzalo gives you a deep look inside a movement and rationales."

For Mike Hale, writing in the New York Times, The Juche Idea is "a bit like a Saturday Night Live sketch devoted to the film theories of North Korea's Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. A fictional, and noticeably humorless, South Korean filmmaker (Jung Yoon Lee) appears in short scenes set at a North Korean arts colony (upstate New York stands in for the Korean countryside) where she has enrolled — voluntarily, as far as we know — in search of greater creative freedom than she can find elsewhere. The bulk of The Juche Idea consists of the short films she makes during her residency, with titles like The Tiny Dentures of Imperialism and The Winter of Abundance."

"Finn has managed to spoof not just easy-target Kim, but also the very notion of artists in residence making ever more obscure, inaccessible, and pretentious work," writes Lauren Wissot in Slant. "From quotes on Juche film theory lifted from Kim Jong Il's On the Art of the Cinema, to segments on English as a Socialist Language (featuring stilted ESL discussions between a Russian actor and a Korean guy singing the praises of a North Korean nature park, a hotel with a beauty salon and finally a hospital offering free medical care), to an interview in which Yoon expresses regret in telling the regional director about her guinea pig's eye surgery, Finn's film feels like a throwback to the wild inventiveness of public access TV."

As part of the San Francisco Bay Guardian's "Video Issue," Rita Felciano talks with Paul Festa about The Glitter Emergency and Apparition of the Eternal Church, both screening this evening at Supperclub, and Johnny Ray Huston writes, "Maybe now that Apichatpong 'Joe' Weerasethakul has won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the art film world can be forgiven, but many of my favorite movies of the past few years have been made for Vimeo or YouTube more than for DVD rental, let alone the big screen. I'm thinking of Damon Packard's SpaceDisco One, and most of all, I'm talking about music videos shot right here in San Francisco: Skye Thorstenson's fantasia for Myles Cooper's 'Gonna Find Boyfriends Today,' and Justin Kelly's numerous videos for Hunx and His Punx. Where else are you going to find a world of arcane rituals, giant boomboxes, bigger phones, and mustard-and-syrup food orgies, populated by a cast of personalities that might make John Waters pine for his youth and Andy Warhol rise from the grave?"

In the Los Angeles Times, Susan King rounds up local repertory series, including a weekend screening of Fletch, whose 25th anniversary has prompted Peter Hyman to ask in the Boston Phoenix, "So how did a modestly funny comic-noir adaptation grow into such a durable cultural artifact?"

Two more articles to note for the moment. Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" carries on growing at the AV Club and today he's written on Béla Tarr's Sátántangó. And at PopMatters, Paul Maher tells the long — over three decades in the making — and fascinating story behind Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.

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David, thanks for the article on Finn. Interkosmos is one of my favorites from the past decade and I look forward to seeing his two other films. I have to say that I think Vadim Rizov goes a little too far in saying Finn “unambiguously condemns” the Communist ideology in Interkosmos though. Finn is too wry and subtle in his film for that sort of absolute thinking. He manages to invoke a sort of tempered sympathy for the delusion grandeur of the scope of the communist vision that is contrasted by the viewers realization of the failure and cost of those goals. The conversations between Cosmonauts Seagull and Falcon suggest the distance between the dreams of the true believers and the actuality of the where those dreams led. The absurdity of the Communist song spouting cheerleaders and the meerschweinchen episode also lend more a feeling of wistfulness to the enterprise than of condemnation. It strikes me that the film is more about human hopes and the failings of ideology in any form rather than it is about a particular ideology. Finn relies on our knowledge of the failures of the the communist state to contrast his “celebration” of their “achievements” which provides a much broader range of emotions than is suggested by Rizov. Some people may find the film to be a little too precious perhaps or too fey in a Guy Maddin sort of way, but I found it entirely captivating and far more moving than many more direct and serious approaches to the subject and era.
Thanks, Greg – I’ve wanted to see Interkosmos for some time and your comment has just nudged it higher on the list.

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