Day 2: The 2007 Wisconsin Film Festival


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Young Frankenstein (U.S., 1974) * * * *
D: Mel Brooks

Friday night's 7pm screening of the Mel Brooks comedy classic Young Frankenstein was the first WIFF event held in the Capitol Theatre (formerly the more dignified-sounding Oscar Meyer Theatre), as WIFF director Meg Hammel noted in her introduction. She also noted that there were plenty of children in the audience, and was encouraged that there were parents willing to show their kids the wide scope of what cinema has to offer. Then began the movie with the sex jokes, the Marty Feldman mugging, and Gene Hackman as a blind hermit setting Peter Boyle's thumb on fire. What can you say? It's Young Frankenstein, and it works best with an audience (although the show was not sold out--there were many empty seats in the front). A couple of things I picked up on in this viewing: Teri Garr is one of the most underrated comic actresses of all time, and Gene Wilder screams throughout this entire film. There was only one technical glitch--after an early reel change, the projector played the film at the wrong speed, which bought us a little bit of time since we had a 9:15 screening to catch way down the street at the Cinematheque. As it was, we had to skip out on the last ten minutes of the film. As we ran down the street, we passed a few other WIFF-goers also talking excitedly about the films they'd seen so far.

Here is Always Somewhere Else (U.S./Netherlands, 2007) * * *
D: Rene Dalder

This fascinating documentary fleshes out the few sketchy details known about the Dutch artist Bas Jan Alder, a sublime painter, photographer, filmmaker, and performance artist who had a tendency to risk his own neck for his art; witness his final work, which he called "In Search of the Miraculous": he attempted an Atlantic crossing in a small sailboat--it would have been the smallest craft to have made the crossing--and never returned (the boat washed up off the coast of Ireland, but without Alder). Aaron Ohlmann, a former UW student who produced the film and shot much of its footage, brought to the screening a handful of Alder's short films, which mostly consist of Alder demonstrating the effects of gravity and plummeting from great heights. The documentary itself is deeply sympathetic to Alder's quest to pinpoint the most reckless creative moment in the creation of art, while maintaining enough distance to view his final feat with a touch of regret and sadness.

El Topo (Mexico, 1970) * * * 1/2
D: Alejandro Jodorowsky

A few years back I heard that notorious cult filmmaker, comic book scribe, and spiritual guru Alejandro Jodorowsky was travelling from France to Toronto for the rare screenings of his films The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. He was there, actually, to make a very big announcement: after thirty-odd years of bitterly feuding with El Topo distributor (and withholder) Allen Klein, the two had finally reconciled, and now El Topo and The Holy Mountain would finally be officially released to home video in the United States--something which had never happened. Given that over the decades these shocking, surrealist films were impossible to view legally in the U.S., and subsequently had become legendary among cult film fans, this was an extraordinary thing. It turns out that when Jodorowsky and Klein finally confronted each other face to face, and saw that their full beards had gone completely gray, all resentment was cast aside and they embraced each other as old friends. Even so, a mysterious curse still seemed to hang over Jodorowsky's films: the rare Holy Mountain print had been stolen in transit, and as a substitute we had to watch the crummy Japanese DVD, censorship fogging intact. It's a few years later, and we're only a month away from the release of a U.S. DVD box set, which will contain pretty much everything a Jodorowsky freak like myself could want. El Topo and The Holy Mountain have been taken on a short repertory circuit, including a welcome stop at WIFF, where they will screen as a (daunting) double feature on Sunday night. But, like everyone else at Friday night's sold-out screening, I had to see it as it was intended to be seen--as a midnight movie. The story concerns a mysterious, black-clad gunfighter (Jodorowsky) who travels on horseback through the desert with his young son (Brontis Jodorowsky, later to star in Santa Sangre); he seeks to kill four Zen-like "gun masters" who dwell in the desert, and he's aided by two duplicitous women. This is the first half of the film. The second half, which takes place after the gunfighter's death, finds him reincarnated in the caverns below a mountain, where he helps a tribe of the diseased and the deformed climb into the sunlight--literally becoming a mole, but also a Christ-like savior. Wilfully naive, overtly symbolic, and full of extreme, shocking imagery, you will either love or hate this film, but you'll never forget it.



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