For the second year in a row, the Babylon theater in Berlin is presenting a series of American independent films, 22 this time around, ranging widely in genre, style, means of production and, for that matter, cultural milieu. Nearly all the articles appearing in the local press present some sort of capsule history of independent cinema in the US that leads straight up to the current dire economic climate for it. Same goes for Hannes Brühwiler, the programmer of Unknown Pleasures #2, who adds: "But despite, or even precisely because of these difficult conditions, there haven't been such interesting films as have appeared in the past few years in quite some time. Are the mounting challenges to successfully placing a film in theaters freeing up the filmmakers and leading to less self-censorship?"
The series opened on Friday with James Gray's Two Lovers and, a few days before, Simon Rothöhler recommended the film to readers of Cargo Container, the magazine's blog. He's also quite taken with Greg Mottola's Adventureland, and going by the tweets of several other Berliners, he is not alone. Volker Pantenburg follows those recommendations with a hesitant one of his own: CW Winter and Anders Edström's The Anchorage: "True, practically nothing happens. True, it's a little boring and inane. Even so, something happens on this island on which practically nothing happens (except for the wind and the rain, the morning walks through the nearly dark forests down to the sea, the few words spoken with the grownup children), something after all, a tiny thing, an itsy bitsy thing - but the perceptual apparatus has adjusted by this point so that this small thing is like an earthquake (or can be)."
For the Berliner Zeitung's Ralf Schenk, the highlight is Damien Chazelle's Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, "the love story between a trumpet player and a young woman who at times waits tables and at other times aimlessly wanders the streets of Boston." Schenk admires the grainy black-and-white cinematography and then: "There's hardly any dialogue, but the camera is close to the bodies: gestures or glances say more than any word could.... At the high point of the film, the characters begin to dance or play an instrument: When Guy asks his girlfriend Madeline to forgive his affair, he does so with a warm trumpet solo. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench becomes a classic musical; John Cassavetes meets Fred Astaire."
Well, speaking of... First, don't get me wrong. I like Joe Swanberg's work, but Joe himself, aware as he is of how controversial a figure he can be on the scene, would most likely not find this from Frank Noack in Der Tagesspiegel helpful: "For the way he produces his films, he's been compared to John Cassavetes, and for his perpetual adolescence, to Judd Apatow, but the energy with which he tackles his work is most reminiscent of the young Fassbinder." On the other hand, hopefully his plug for Alexander the Last will draw people to the Babylon when it screens on January 11 and 18 (the series runs through the 19th).
The smarter of Berlin's two city magazine, zitty, has given Regina Lechner space for a few paragraphs of an overview of the series and exactly one brief recommendation (neither piece is online). She's chosen Azazel Jacobs's The GoodTimesKid, a "work for fans of humor à la Jacques Tati and meditative stories à la Jim Jarmusch."
"With Ode (1999), Then a Year (2001), and Travis (2004), the three short films that she made during her hiatus from features, [Kelly] Reichardt returned to her experimental roots," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "She shot all three herself, using a Super 8 camera, producing images of lush, ephemeral beauty by exploiting the limited contrast ratio, low resolution, tendency toward overexposure, and Impressionist splotched color of the narrow-gauge film stock." The three shorts are on view at Esopus Space in New York through February 11.
Dead or alive, Elvis Presley turns 75 on Friday. TCM is celebrating all day with a batch of films and the Egyptian Theatre is throwing a party, complete with a double feature (Elvis '56 and Jailhouse Rock), on Sunday. "[W]ithin his body of often-dismissed films there is a submerged narrative of unrealized potential and unexplored talent," argues Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "Amid the flotsam are films with talented directors and actors in which Presley showed glimpses of startling sincerity and emotion, a true actor in the making."
"A Response to Three Cinephilias," Michael Guillén on the new issue of Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media.
Image: Kelly Reichardt's Ode.
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