MFF 2012 DAY THREE: J. Hoberman Panel – Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year

COMPLETE MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 COVERAGE

DAY ONE: Starbuck – Opening Night Party
DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S
DAY THREE: Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
DAY FOUR: Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC
DAY FIVE: Pink Ribbons, Inc. – 11 Flowers – How to Survive a Plague
DAY SIX: Romancing in Thin Air – Elena – The Imposter
DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life
DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show
DAY NINE: Las Acacias – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman
DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master
DAY TWELVE: Mourning – As Goes Janesville – Blackmail – The Ambassador
DAY THIRTEEN: The Invisible War – Klown
DAY FOURTEEN: Old Dog – Little Red – Five Star Existence
DAY FIFTEEN: The Sessions – Detropia

9-29 Sa
03/15

This morning I first attend two panels organized by Milwaukee Film’s Cara Ogburn, the first of which is Chinese Cinema Through a Transnational Frame. The primary speaker is Dr. Jennifer Feeley, Asst. Professor at the University of Iowa and most certainly an expert on 100 years of Chinese Cinema. Very enjoyable. The second, somewhat invaluable, panel is titled Film Distro 101. Wasn’t going to miss that one. Thanks, Cara.

Milwaukee Film’s tribute to J. Hoberman features two films chosen by the critic, and the first is presented at 4:45pm in the main hall of the Oriental Theater, the late Chris Marker’s incomparable Sans Soleil. Thank you to Mr. Hoberman for choosing this film and allowing me to see it on the big screen, because I can now confidently say that Sans Soleil stands out among every film I’ve ever seen as my favorite, the best, the most impressive, the one which makes best use of the medium, dense with ideas and images, in love with cats and with voyeurism and, of course, memory. It is about experience through the screen – the “memory box,” the television set which “makes illiterates,” and the place where you can watch Vertigo (which I’m now convinced I’ll have to pick up on blu-ray).
It calms me to watch and even created a feeling of freedom. The disparities of humanity, belief and passion – suddenly anxiety and insecurity seem impotent in the face of such broad-mindedness. Every other spoken line strikes me as profound.

“Censorship focuses on by censoring. Censorship is the show. Religions have always done this.”

“Women have a tiny grain of indestructibility and it’s men’s job to remind them as late as possible.”

“I’ve been all over the world and the only thing that interests me anymore is banality.”

A lesson to other filmmakers, one of many, regards density. This is a film which never stops or slows, very few shots lingering longer than a few seconds. While this does not strike me as explicitly overwhelming, it does create a stream of ideas that all sound inter-related, and draws you infectiously in. Marker makes me fall in love with everything he puts his lens to. Even the inane, idiotic things – the singing JFK, soulless consumerism, Japanese animation – all of it falls into the same category here: human experience. The things we do can’t help but make you chuckle.


…and then came Dead Weight. Perhaps my powerful negative reaction to this film was so strong because I had come out of the best film ever made. But if Sans Soleil excels in every way that film is capable, Dead Weight is similarly deficient: in conception, script, cinematography, editing, performance, production design… every tier of production. I’m terribly sorry to have to be so critical, especially to local filmmakers who need good press, but, in the end, I was simply the wrong person to view this film. There is really a great deal I could write about it, but out of respect for the filmmakers I am biting my tongue.

I would end up seeing two films out of the eight selected for Milwaukee Film’s Sound Vision series, and the first is Andrew Bird: Fever Year from Kartemquin Films’s Xan Aranda. This, however, is a work-for-hire, commissioned by the artist himself and to be released when he sees fit (currently only available in public festivals). Don’t forget that. It is an exposé about a particular type of auteur and his creative process intercut with footage from one year of Bird’s career – ten performances, the most notable taking place at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater in 2010. This year of performances marks Andrew Bird’s official ascension to becoming a Somebody in the international music scene, and throughout it all Bird endures a persistent illness – or a romantically mused metamorphosis – which keeps him chilled or sweating bullets at all times. I may be wrong, but in these first encounters with Bird I found myself pigeonholing him as somewhere in between They Might Be Giants and Jeff Buckley – TMBG for his youthfulness and invention and Buckley for that haunting male harmoniousness. But there are all sorts of qualities I’m missing, folksiness being a primary one (hipsters love this guy) and of course his highly impressive status as a musical factotum, standing solitary on his stage surrounded by a bizarrerie of stringed and horned contraptions. When he isn’t touring Bird escapes to his private studio, any musician’s wet dream, a big house in the country with a lovely garden outside and brimming with equipment of all kinds. As a portrait of the artist as a young man, Fever Year may enlist youthful enthusiasts and may inspire the general public into more ambitiously self-oriented pursuits, or may sell future Bird performance tickets. As a film, well, gosh, I’ve just seen so many documentaries in the past two years…

written by David Ashley

Seen so far:
Starbuck
Ethel
Come As You Are
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
V/H/S
Sans Soleil
Dead Weight
Andrew Bird: Fever Year

Ranked:
Sans Soleil
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Ethel
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Come As You Are
V/H/S
Starbuck
Dead Weight

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