MFF 2012 DAY FOUR: J. Hoberman Panel – Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC

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

9-30 Su
04/15

J. Hoberman’s 94-minute lecture can be viewed in its entirety here.

The day begins with J. Hoberman’s “State of Cinema” lecture inside the main hall of the Downer Theater. While I’ve certainly regarded Hoberman on the higher end of the spectrum of living critics, I have not been compelled to go out of my way for him (or maybe I just required a tome of quantification the likes of Thomson). But on hearing him speak I find him to be a very sensitive and insightful man, and somebody who I do not see tolerating anything he doesn’t like.

He would speak about the landmark status of The Matrix in its incorporation of CGI technology, making it more of an animated film than anything else. He would note that The Matrix is this generation’s Jazz Singer, cinema’s first instance of synchronized dialogue which would kill silent films and, quite literally, build the foundations and fortunes of Time Warner and Walt Disney. I was very happy to hear such expertise opine on cinema’s long game. And then, he’d note, was that unprecedented media moment when Time Warner merged with the world’s largest internet service provider, AOL, involving a 182 billion dollar exchange of stocks and debts – the largest in history. He uses a clip from Linklater’s Waking Life (my prediction proving correct, the ‘Holy Moment’ scene) to illustrate, if I recall, cinema’s potential ‘true purpose’ as a method of recording not manufactured drama, but time itself and, in essence, the evolving face of God (a somewhat sentimental view for this sense-imprisoned biped). Of course there was 9/11, perhaps the one single event viewed on a screen by more humans than ever in history (billions?), and what that did to Hollywood… There’s the way that digital technology is making cinema more of an abstraction, perhaps something more akin to what people would view in 1896. Cinema is about magical thinking, as opposed to the subjectively-guided objective eye of documentaries (which are, little by little, fueling a dormant tantrum where I will rail against the ‘pussies’ who make documentaries without adding any innovations to the medium or the idea of narrative expression. Another time). The medium is here, it exists – “it happened” – and therefore is beyond good and evil.

And then there’s David Lynch, who in 2007 wrote “I’m through with film as a medium. For me, film is dead.” Did Lynch get it all out of his system, every last bit, in 2006’s Inland Empire? I’ve heard more than one person complain that Lynch has been telling the same story for his entire career, basically, and I won’t deny that his primary themes are wrapped up in one another – namely, in magical thinking: dreams, denial, Hollywood (progenitor of the most intoxicating magical thinking? “…where stars make dreams, and dreams make stars.”). I have been a lifelong fan of Lynch, and he continues to surprise. I recall watching a clip of him speaking about his favorite films and feeling rather shocked at the conventional nature of his answers. “Oh, I really love Fellini. I love old American films, like Sunset Boulevard. I could watch that film 100 times.” (paraphrased from memory, but close enough) Lynch loves the dream of Hollywood… he did choose to live there, after all, and this for a man who adores wood and the smell of ‘lake water and gasoline’ (“a beautiful thing,” sez Dave). Having dallied, I cannot blame him.



Inland Empire is, clearly, a… curious film. I find it to be the most difficult Lynch film to like, the most esoteric – and this is coming from a person who loves him. Hoberman chose this film to be featured as part of Milwaukee Film’s tribute to him, and would inform the audience that all those scenes of Laura Dern extensively confessing to some anonymous man in a black room come from a 70-minute monologue performed by the actress before Inland Empire‘s production. Must say that was valuable info to have. I know that the film was shot over years, when Lynch could get access to Dern, that lucky SOB. Guess I forgot to mention I’ve had a crush on Laura Dern since childhood, one to match my crush on Lynch himself. What is there to say about Inland Empire? I would imagine that we should all be so lucky that a singular voice such as Lynch’s exists.


I am feeling no segue to the documentary about Bad Brains, the all-black male punk band that came out of Washington DC in the 80s and arguably the most important punk band to come out of the US (arguably, yes, as opposed to all those other things which are not “arguable.” Maybe I’ll just stop using that word). DJ Don Letts would call Bad Brains the Sex Pistols of America – “What the Pistols did in Britain, Brains undoubtedly did in the US.” Like many documentaries chronicling bygone auteurs (like the Burroughs one shown at MFF in 2010), at least half of the film, I’m sure more, is spent in interviews with living artists inspired by the deceased/defunct artist(s) and run sycophantic cocksuckery to its limit. Hey, I understand. You have my sympathies. Here it’s Henry Rollins, Adam Yauch (who posthumously earns the film’s dedication), David Grohl, Harley Flanagan of The Stimulators. Bad Brains was (and might still be) fronted by Paul Hudson, known by all as H.R. I say ‘might’ because this docu ends with H.R. utterly alienated from his bandmates, expunged and denounced, during their 2010 reunion tour, only to be accepted back into the band months later (learned via an epiloguic title card). H.R. is unarguably the docu’s central character and for… well, if not ‘good’ reasons then at least imaginable ones. H.R. has personality to spare, if you want to call it that; his is one which may inspire controversial interpretations. His incredible energy got the band noticed – by the Beastie Boys in a club, the beginning of their career – and is largely responsible for the band’s legacy. It’s really something to see – imagine a live performance of The Mars Volta in an infinitely smaller concert space (a basement, basically), except that a Bad Brains show would be teeming with positive vibes thanks to that acronym Bad Brains added to the collective vernacular, PMA (positive mental attitude), the keystone to the Bad Brains message, disseminated at every 80s show.

H.R., really, appears to be completely out of his mind, totally goofy (he loves the camera), often hilarious, ceaselessly ganja-blazing (no hyperbole), and sometimes the kindest man you could seem to encounter – but lacking checks or balances of any kind. He’s the sort of bandmate who could cause the band to break up because he would simply “go off” or go solo. During a 1994 tour with the Beastie Boys, H.R. would ‘flip out’ and attack some police officers, though this would not deter him from blazing up daily in his cell and even recording his part of a new song over the prison phone, while high (true story). It’s a hoot and a holler and an entertaining nostalgic sojourn, if your bent already bends in punk’s direction. It seems like the filmmakers intended to make a documentary about the band’s reunion tour, knowing they’d make a historical tribute doc regardless and praying that something astounding would happen. Sadly, we had seen H.R. act out before. “The deal” with H.R. is discernible in that shit-eating grin that is impossible to decipher, the one which could absolutely be mocking, which no doubt does represent lots of joy and which, most of all, loves that camera.

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
Inland Empire
Bad Brains: A Band in DC

Ranked:
Sans Soleil
Inland Empire
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Ethel
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
Come As You Are
V/H/S
Starbuck
Dead Weight

Advertisements

About this entry