Pazar, Nisan 06, 2008

Day 3, Part 2: The 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival

The Wonderful World of Sid Laverents (U.S., 1963-1980)
D: Sid Lavarents
  • Multiple SIDosis (1970)
  • It Sudses and Sudses and Sudses (1963)
  • One Man Band (1964)
  • Stop Cloning Around (1980)
This brief program (45 minutes) featured four short films from the eccentric but multi-talented amateur filmmaker Sid Laverents, a retired engineer who, over decades, has amassed hundreds of home movies demonstrated his unique, slightly insane sensibilities. He recently turned 100, and some of his shorts have been preserved and restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, from which these choice selections were taken, introduced by a UW grad who interviewed Laverents and assembled the program. To call the films bizarre would be an understatement, but they're also charming and friendly, as though Laverents has invited you into his home and chosen to provide the entertainment for the evening. These entertainments include demonstrating, visually, how multi-track audio recording works (the brilliant "Multiple SIDosis," easily the jewel of the program, and depicted in the still above); attempting a zero-budget, live action recreation of cartoon mayhem when Laverents is forced out of his apartment by an exploding mass of bubbly suds; playing a couple of tunes as an extremely elaborate one-man band; and exploring in-camera trickery with the musical clone comedy "Stop Cloning Around." Loads of fun.

Mongol (Russia/Kazakhstan/Mongolia, 2007) * * * 1/2
D: Sergei Bodrov

Imagine Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible: Part One, as reimagined for the post-Conan the Barbarian, post-Lord of the Rings, post-Matrix crowd, and you have Mongol, an epic action film which isn't highbrow enough for the Eisenstein fans, but is, as my wife put it, "really, really cool." It tells of the rise of Genghis Khan, in his youth called Temudgin, robbed of his royalty and sent into exile after his Khan father is poisoned by a rival tribal leader. The story--told in flashback, but mostly in a linear fashion--is redundant as hell, basically depicting Temudgin getting captured and recaptured again, while constantly in pursuit of his bride, whom he chose himself when he was nine (a decision which is at the root of all his troubles, since his bride was from the wrong Mongol tribe). It's rescued from tedium by, oh, just about everything: the extraordinarily gorgeous cinematography, the excellent and nuanced performances, the folktale weight of the story, and the exciting and bloody action scenes, edited by UW grad and Oscar-winner Zach Staenberg (who was scheduled to attend, but cancelled because he was busy editing the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer adaptation). Staenberg must be singled out for praise here, as his exhilarating and harrowing editing slows down and speeds up the action, sometimes in a single shot, to make sure that the audience can follow what exactly is happening amidst all the dust, blood, and swinging swords. Nevertheless, director Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains) largely refrains from style-for-style's sake, apart from a few flashy touches--like an arrow that is launched across a vast plain, to land at the feet of the enemy leader as a declaration of war--that call to mind the mythic/storybook proportions of one of Zhang Yimou's recent action epics.

Stuck (U.S./Canada, 2007) * * *
D: Stuart Gordon

Stuart Gordon has produced a body of work more consistent in quality than most of the modern-day "masters of horror"; in fact, any greatest hits collection of the recent Showtime anthology of the same name would have to include his two standout films, "Dreams in the Witch-House" and "The Black Cat." His movies, almost all of them in the horror genre apart from the recent Mamet adaptation Edmund, reflect the work of a first-rate storyteller, provocateur, and grand guignol enthusiast. (He's also, hands-down, the best cinematic translator of H.P. Lovecraft, a well he will revisit again with his next feature.) Stuck is both typical and atypical of his output: atypical, because it begins as a straightforward drama, parallel portraits of a young nurse (American Beauty's Mena Suvari), on her way to a promotion, who spends her nights partying recklessly, and--unconnected--a middle-aged man in desperate straits, having just lost his job and his apartment (The Crying Game's Stephen Rea). Then their lives collide literally: she strikes him with her car late one night, and his body becomes lodged in the broken windshield. She panics, but unable to make this a hit-and-run, drives him home and hides the vehicle--bloody body and all--in her garage. But he isn't dead. What then unfolds is a razor-sharp satire (the selfish Suvari asks Rea, "Why are you doing this to me?"), as well as a hilariously miserable battle of wits between the two, as Rea agonizingly struggles to get out of the windshield, and Suvari tries to find some plan to dispose of this little problem, which threatens to derail her career path. With Stuck, Gordon played the Orpheum audience like a violin, and it was almost entertaining enough to just listen to the peals of laughter and disgust (usually at once) which rippled through the crowd at Saturday's late-night screening. After the film, Gordon conducted a short Q&A; the shy, witty (and, some say, squeamish) director related the real-life incident which inspired the film, commented upon his Hitchcockian cameo, and revealed that he couldn't get into the UW's single film class when he was a student in the 60's.

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