Shining A Cinema Light Upon Women Directors

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I would love to see more women directors because they represent half of the population – and gave birth to the whole world. Without them writing and being directors, the rest of us are not going to know the whole story.    / Jane Campion, director

“I don’t think you catch people’s attention with normalcy. Seeing the same world through the eyes of a healthy married woman with three kids might be interesting, but it doesn’t catch people’s attention. I think the mechanism of shock triggers a more acute sensitivity. You have to put people in a certain frame of mind. I think a filmmaker has to be shrewd. Not in a bad way, not like, ‘I’m a shrewd businessman. I can get away with anything.’ But in terms of sensitivity, being shrewd means putting people in the right frame of mind. Then you can tell them, ‘Come with me on a journey…'”    / Agnes Varda, director

 

The successful release of Patty Jenkins’ film of Wonder Woman to critical raves upon this weekend has renewed discussion of the future of female cinema directors and their power within the Hollywood system.  Worldwide, there are indeed women directors producing some great pieces of work, but the number is much less financed than the currently male dominated industry.  Many women directors are left waiting to bring their works to light because of the continued biased towards an unrealistic belief that women cannot handle big budget films or bring both male, as well as female, audiences into the theater.  This sad devotion is depriving us of many possible great films with a perspective we need, as Jane Campion is quoted above.  A greater knowledge forms from different perspectives, and from that knowledge we all grow as humans.

Patty Jenkins success with a superhero film may repave this neglected road for women directors to gain much more of a foothold with numerous projects and bigger budgets.  We recently saw Sofia Coppola win the coveted Best Director prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for her new film The Beguiled.  This is only the second time a female has won that prize in 71 years.  The first was Russian film director Yuliya Solntseva, who won for her film Chronicle Of The Flaming Years back in 1961.  That statistic alone should illustrate the lack of recognition within this industry.  This is a statistic that needs to change.

We can begin to change this by recognizing and praising the very films written and directed by women.  It should not take the advent of a superhero film directed by a woman to crack open this bigger discussion,   This is a dam about to burst, for on the other side lies the very hardcore evidence that women directors are an important piece of cinema and just waiting to be unlocked.  The list below captures many recent works, so that one can easily find and stream those films, however there are some older works which are just a worthy as pioneers in cinema history.  Use this small list as a starting point to familiarize yourself to new perspectives and hopefully lead to others that I have missed.

Jane Campion [New Zealand writer, producer, director] The Piano, Sweetie, An Angel At My Table, Holy Smoke, Bright Star

Maya Deren [Ukraine/US experimental filmmaker]  Meshes Of The Afternoon, The Witche’s Cradle, At Land, Meditation On Violence

Claire Denis [French writer, producer, director]  White Material, Chocolat, Beau Travail, Let The Sunshine In

Sofia Coppola [US writer, producer, director]  Lost In Translation, The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, The Beguiled

Agnes Varda [Belgium/French writer, producer, director]  Vagabond, Cleo From 5 to 7, The Gleaners And I

Dorothy Arzner [US director]  The Wild Party, First Comes Courage, Get Your Man, The Red Kimono

Deepa Mehta [Indo-Canadian director] Fire, Midnight’s Children, Water

Lina Wertmüller [Italian writer, director]  Seven Beauties, Love And Anarchy, All Screwed Up, Swept Away

Lois Weber [US actor, writer, director]  The Blot, Suspense, The Hypocrites

Agnieszka Holland [Polish writer, producer, director]  Europa-Europa, Total Eclipse, The Secret Garden

Gillian Armstrong [Austrialian writer, director]  My Brilliant Career, Starstruck, High Tide, Oscar & Lucinda, The Last Days Of Chez Nous

Amma Assante [British actor, writer, director]  A United Kingdom, Belle

Susan Seidelman [US writer, producer, director]  Desperately Seeking Susan, Smithereens

Lynne Ramsay (Scottish writer, producer, director]  Ratcatcher, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar

Sally Potter [British writer, director]  Orlando, Ginger & Rosa, Rage, Yes

Chantal Akerman [Belgium writer, director]   Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (one title), No Home Movie, News From Home

Larisa Efimovna Shepitko [Russian actor, writer, director]  The Ascent, Wings

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Begin with these filmmakers and discover a world not governed by the male gaze, but at times a much more honest and cutting look into the female mystique (and humans in general) on screen…by women themselves.  These women behind the camera have a unique importance in cinema and a place in storytelling history.

And, perhaps in time, it will be unnecessary for such a piece devoted exclusively to women directors.  In the eyes of audiences, those filmmakers will indeed be equal without borders, without labels, and judged simply as artists.

In Praise Of Her: Those Risk-Taking Actors

Until 45 I can play a woman in love. After 55 I can play grandmothers. But between those ten years, it is difficult for an actress.   / Ingrid Bergman

It is the conceit of Hollywood, and cinema in general, that age does not factor for the male actor on screen (someone like 74 year old Harrison Ford is still considered leading man material), whereas the female actor falls into the trap as legend Ingrid Bergman describes.  It is a double standard and grossly unfair.  The ratio between leading roles for men and for women over a certain age is so lopsided that we find ourselves celebrating ecstatically for the few female actors that manage to score important complex roles in major films these days.  Then you run those numbers across ethnicity and it becomes even more lopsided, but that is a whole other discussion altogether.

Mature women on screen seem to be a rarity, but when given that time, so remarkably memorable.  There are several examples, which will be displayed here, which argue for more actors of experience that can open all new avenues of stories and experiences.  Speaking as a male, I refuse to believe I am the only one that wants more than just a Barbie doll representation of womanhood in cinema.   There is a beauty that goes beyond surface aesthetic and a strength beyond superhero fighting skills.  Where are these women that take risks with themselves and with their material?  These are roles that go beyond a wife, a mother, a lover, a mistress, to an idea which transcends these boring mass audience boundaries and gives us real flawed human beings.

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The first actor that comes to mind is Isabelle Huppert.  French born and with over one hundred films to her credit, Huppert lately continues to surprise and stretch herself in cinema.  Most recently, her performance in director Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” is as complex and daring as anything out there.  “Things To Come” was another tour de force that demonstrated Huppert’s range and skill.  These roles are not women hanging on the arms of some male hero.  These are flesh and blood characters engaging in a wide spectrum of emotions and able to act out, sometimes violently, their inner demons.  Huppert is unique in projecting a distant light, but quickly cuts herself to the bone exposing that raw beating heart.  There is no  other female actor quite like her.

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The career of Catherine Deneuve spans a lifetime of risk and glorious successes in cinema.  French born as well (do you detect a pattern here?), Deneuve has memorably gone against the glamour of her looks with roles which metaphorically take apart what it is to be a woman.  Look no further than Roman Polanski”s “Repulsion”, Luis Bunuel’s “Belle de Jour”, Andre Techine’s “In The Name Of My Daughter”, Francois Truffaut’s “The Last Metro”, and one of my recent favorites as the returning matriarch in Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale”.  Deneuve exudes an icy coldness, but with a fierce intelligence unmatched with her male co-stars.

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We now arrive at the last example and my personal favorite who continues to bring such intelligence and unsurpassed openness in her performances, Juliette Binoche.  Once again, French born (okay, so there is clearly a pattern here) and has more than sixty films to her credit internationally.  You may recall her face in Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient” or more memorably as the sweet photojournalist in Philip Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being”.  Both Hollywood productions which splashed her name to American audiences.  Binoche  brings such humanity with the inner beauty which is sometimes not illustrated within women, which is in part why she continues to fascinate and amaze me as a favorite of mine.  Her career is filled with intriguing performances such as Olivier Assayas’ “The Clouds Of Sils Maria” and “Summertime”, Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and “Cache”, Bruno Dumont’s “Camille, Claudel 1915”, among others.

Two crowning achievements for me materialize in the form of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue” and  Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy”.  The grief stricken Julie is a monumental performance in “Blue” that exemplifies everything possible in a three dimensional character.  Binoche also brings such insight and intelligence to “Certified Copy” as Elle in a shape shifting examination of relationships.  It is both exciting and fun to see her tackle such a broad range in Kiarostami’s off-kilter synthesis of the beginning and end and beginning of a lasting relationship.  Binoche is both fetching and raw in this role.  Both films are endlessly watchable because of her richly detailed performances.

These are but three examples that readily come to my mind.  There are, of course, many others I could have listed (Tilda Swinton may merit her own piece of my writing) that include actors such as Annette Bening, Natascha McElhoneEmma Thompson, and of course Meryl Streep.  Many others could be listed as well.  All have their strengths and their weaknesses.

I am not really being fair by only detailing the three French actors that stand out in my mind, but fairness is not the point.  I wish to gain more support for women tackling larger roles in current cinema.  There is simply a large gap in this area and is inexcusable.  We all can learn so much from characters in which women can bring different perspectives and thoughts.  Cinema itself could use it so much more and I believe audiences would respond in kind.  Complexity and nuance are just the tip of the iceberg for what accomplished female actors can bring (such as the ones I illustrated here).  There is so much more to mine from these actors in stories that matter.

It is time to shift the paradigm.

Directed By Jonathan Demme: Colors and Shades

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The versatile American writer/director, Jonathan Demme, passed away today from cancer at 73. Thankfully, his soft spoken and gentle demeanor are forever etched in each of his works. The rain outside seems only to color further the grayness of today.

Beginning in such humble surroundings with Roger Corman’s low budget studio efforts, Demme rose to prominence in the eighties starting with the critical darling “Melvin & Howard” [1980], a small film with a big heart.  His sensitive direction and eye for composition soon caught the eyes of Hollywood and the music industry.  Demme’s career ranged from comedies, dramas, documentaries, television, music videos, with never seeming to repeat himself in style or content.  The one consistent theme throughout his work could be the abundant enthusiasm for his subjects.

The eighties saw such a wealth of screen work in films such as “Swing Shift” [1984], “Stop Making Sense” [1984], “Something Wild” [1986], “Swimming To Cambodia” [1987], “Married To The Mob” [1988].  Each of these films displayed a talent for mixing stylistic choices into different mediums that were currently stagnant in repetition and riddled with cliches. “Something Wild” is a film I consider one of Demme’s very best work and incorporates all his themes and ideas into a richly funny, yet very dangerous story.

Then in February 1991, Demme released his most influential hit, “The Silence Of The Lambs”, which the following year won big at the Academy Awards.  The film is miraculous in that he never really wanted to approach the material because of a distaste for violence on screen that has no intrinsic value except for sheer excitement.  When assured that he could tackle the themes of Thomas Harris’ original novel in his own way, Demme ended up producing a work both shocking and thought provoking which audiences immediately recognized as something different.  One can see Demme’s influence such as tightly focusing on the character Clarice Starling’s face amidst the horror surrounding her in many scenes.  There are far more hints of violence, than actual visual depictions of it.  Watch how the camera seems to chase Starling from behind in the woods sequence at the beginning, only to discover she is actually on a training exercise with the FBI.  The position of Starling as the outsider in situations, making her appearance small in stature and hemmed in by the walls of Dr. Lecter’s holding cell or surrounded by those tall local policeman at the funeral home.

One cinematic masterstroke (and evidence of Demme’s dislike of violence) comes by way of the climatic ending with Buffalo Bill and Starling.  When all seems lost in the dark for Starling, she turns and shoots at the hunted serial killer, striking him in the chest several times.  When all other filmmakers would show the “hero” in their moment of triumph over adversity, Demme chooses instead to focus on the repercussions of such a violent act with Buffalo Bill lying on the floor bloodied and wheezing the last few breaths of his fading life.  We never see Starling’s heroic face in relief, we only see the aftermath of violence in all its ugliness.  This is a master filmmaker completely in tune with his materials and his personal vision.

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After the huge success of “The Silence Of The Lambs”, the turn toward more serious films consumed his career.  “Philadelphia” [1993] focused on the current AIDS crisis and another Academy Award winner.  “Beloved” [1998] was a strange and wonderful ghost story during the aftermath of Deep South slavery.  “The Manchurian Candidate” [2004] was a worthy revisionist take on the Frankenheimer classic.  Two other films were molded on the comedy genre, most notably “Rachel Getting Married” [2008] is a joy of a film and most overlooked.  Within these years Demme worked on documentaries with Neil Young, President Jimmy Carter, and also directed some superb television work.  Before his death today, he was in preproduction for another film.  Working right up to the end.

Jonathan Demme was (is) an American original.  To watch one of his films is to see a compassion for human frailties, mistakes, and a yearning for something greater.  Melvin’s need for meaning, Starling’s need for acceptance, Drigg’s need for excitement, Beckett’s need for understanding.  All of these characters have real basic human flaws, which Demme loved and cherished.  The term sensitive direction does a disservice to Demme’s films.  He was an artist able to channel his own ideas of how the world works in a variety of adjectives too numerous to list.  It is sad to think we will no longer be treated to a new Jonathan Demme film.  No longer will we see his smiling face and enthusiastic passion shining a light on what makes us human.  Goodnight, Mr. Demme and thank you for sharing with us.

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[Jonathan Demme 1944-2017]

“Everything I’ve made – it doesn’t mean they’ve all been good – but everything I’ve made so far, big or little, fiction or documentary, has been something that I’ve been really enthusiastic about.”

A Light Within The Darkness

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Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.  

– Martin Scorsese

 

I have always thought that, of all the arts, the cinema is the most complete art.  

-Alejandro Jodorowsky

I have been singing the praises of cinema for a long as I can remember to anyone that cares to listen..or not listen.  This art form is a universal language that transcends all cultures, all beliefs, all man-made notions of a one absolute truth.  Cinema is an art that can change the world in small ways, such as casting a stone in a still pond that echoes its arrival with ever widening ripples.  It either reflects life or displays other possibilities within our reach.  Cinema is not an obsession with me, but I will champion it ever more in the face of an increasing dogma of non-science and non-arts rhetoric we seem to be facing these days.

When I speak of “cinema”, I am speaking of those films that are adventurous.  Films that risk stretching the boundaries of ordinary storytelling to ask questions, make the audience question to seek those answers within themselves.  Showing audiences a story or situation that hits close to our hearts and minds.  We bring a lot of ourselves, as with all art forms, into the darkened theater.  The piercing light projected onto that blank white screen gives us opportunities to escape, learn, appreciate, empathize, embolden, or give fuel to what is already bubbling deep inside.

Make no mistake, I love escapist films as much as anyone else.  The universe of Star Wars, James Bond, Indiana Jones, or (yes, I am guilty of liking these) the Fast & Furious movies are pure audience candy.  There is nothing wrong with them and are all very popular.  There is a genuine need for them worldwide.  They provide a rest from real world troubles, a haven for turning off your mind for a couple of hours.  Everyone needs that from time to time.  One comedy I return to again and again is Stanley Kramer’s insanely epic 1963 comedy “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World”.  It stars many of America’s comedy greats of yesteryear with a story of absolute greed and outrageous gags.  It reminds me of my childhood watching this with my parents on the living room television set and listening to them laugh, along with me, as Jonathan Winters completely destroys a gas station single-handily with his physical presence.  There is joy in these kind of films because of what we inject ourselves upon them.  For others it could be the 1977 Star Wars film because your father took you to see it as a special treat.  Memories and feelings all coincide with movies.

Why all this talk about cinema?  One of my points is to shine a light on the other films out there; the overlooked or hard to find films that richly deserve an audience as much as the latest Fast & Furious chapter.  Recently, I have been adding to my True/False Film Festival category with many films that are astounding in their courage and risk taking techniques (one example is “Brimstone & Glory”…see my review).  Many of these are small films, but epic in their cinema language.  These are documentary films and seldom seen in any mainstream theater.  If we are lucky, an art-house theater (like Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, MO; pictured above) will present these films for a few nights.  International films provide a wealth of new cinema going experiences with cultures, insights, and stylistic choices waiting to be explored.  Let go the fear of subtitled entries and really listen to the original language of these films with all its inflections and nuances.  A lot is lost on dubbed voices in these films.  Sitting in the dark, with a receptive audience, brings a communal bond much like sitting around a campsite fire telling ghost stories.

Which brings me to my last point regarding cinema; the theater going experience versus watching at home.  The rise in technology has made it so much easier and accessible to reach many of the films that I champion.  I absolutely love that I can peruse a streaming catalog of everything Rainer Werner Fassbinder has ever made, along with all my favorite Bond films.  Watching at home is convenient and less costly.  However, we are losing the communal bond I mentioned before by not watching with a large audience.  The feeling of being a part of something, the gathering around that campfire.  Like many, I can remember moments in theaters that cannot be matched by viewing at home.  I can list five such moments right away.

1.) Sitting with my older sister, almost front row center, watching the opening crawl from 1977’s Star Wars with the sound going in and out.  The audience rebelled (no pun intended) and the theater rewound the film and started over after fixing the sound.

2.) Watching a reissued 70mm Six Track Dolby Stereo presentation of Apocalypse Now with my father.  The immersive sound and picture was overwhelming to both of us and merited an entire car ride home talking about it (a rare occurrence).

3.) Taking in a rare 70mm showing of Lawrence Of Arabia and being able to see the shimmering haze of Omar Sharif’s entrance in the distance.  The audience applauded when the film began and when the end credits appeared.  There was a love for this film that could be felt from everyone.  Absolutely stunning to see after years of television pan-and-scan views.

4.) The loudly receptive audience mesmerized by a sneak preview of a little film called Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  The sound was set so high, just the cocking of the pistol in the beginning sequence hurt our ears…but it was magical and felt as if you were part of an event with a hundred other people all gasping, laughing, and smiling ear to ear.

5.) Sitting in the audience with my 10 year old son watching Donald O’Connor making everyone laugh in Singin in The Rain.  I watched my son’s face as he responded to this film, but also engaging with the audience with laughter and some big smiles.  Cinema can truly transcend time.

Cinema is art, but I believe it also needs participation.  It can be sitting at home with a bunch of friends or sitting in the dark with an audience at your favorite theater.  Cinema wants you to engage, to discuss, to bring up questions.  I am a contributing member of Ragtag Cinema (a locally owned/run theater using memberships to thrive…a rarity in these parts) because I believe and live in that community of arts.  I want audiences to take a chance on stories that can have a profound effect on them socially and artistically.  To be inspired by others and art, is the path to becoming better ourselves in ways we might not even imagine.

 

Bill Murray Finds Enlightenment: The Razor’s Edge Within The City Of Light

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“The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth.”

“Well, you know when people are no good at anything else they become writers.”

― W. Somerset Maugham / The Razor’s Edge

Back in 1983, director John Byrum sent a script, that was having trouble selling at any studio, to his friend who happened to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood at the time.  Bill Murray read the script in one night and telephoned Byrum early in the morning with the words, “Hi, this is Larry Darrell.”

Columbia Pictures now had the backing of a major star with Byrum’s script, on the express consent that Murray would do their summer comedy film going by the title of Ghostbusters.  Murray was aching to do something out of the mainstream and more in tune with his dark sensibilities.  “The Razor’s Edge” afforded a range never before attempted and a trip to his beloved City Of Light for several months.  In the preceding months, Murray hammered out a revised script with Byrum and was ready to take on the role he felt he was born to play.

When the completed film was released in October of 1984 (I was one of the few who attended), it tanked at the box office so drastically that it sent Bill Murray into a self imposed exile to Paris, much like his beloved character Larry Darrell, to think through his life.  Audiences were not ready for a serious Bill Murray and were confused as to why he chose this route.  To Murray, this made sense as a career trajectory and much more satisfying as an actor.  It wouldn’t be until many years later, and thanks to directors such as Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, and Jim Jarmusch that Murray would come into his own as a serious actor.

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“The Razor’s Edge” is an anomaly in his career and a very interesting one.  On the whole, the film certainly has its faults.  For starters, the overbearing music score by the usually reliable Jack Nitzsche hammers home every emotional moment to an excruciating degree.  The injection of Murray’s goofy humor seems very out of place in certain scenes.  John Byrum’s earnest direction certainly needed some polish in certain wooden-like intimate scenes between characters.  For all its faults, the film’s standouts lie on the other side with the gorgeous photography by Peter Hannan, the exquisite production design by Philip Harrison, and lastly the acting; Saeed Jaffrey (always a joy to watch), Denholm Elliot, Theresa Russell (so sexy and daring), and of course, Bill Murray.  Murray takes the role and makes it his own.  It is sad to think many people missed or disliked his performance purely based on perceptions of past films.  His droll delivery intermixed with that cold seriousness lends the character Larry Darrell as a real damaged soul.  It is remarkable that Murray pulled it off in the midst of his super-stardom as a comedic actor and a credit to his talent.

The original novel, by  W. Somerset Maugham, has long been a favorite of mine.  The essence of yearning, striving, questioning for what this life means was (and still is) very attractive to me.  Like Murray, I can claim to be Larry Darrell.  Life does not make very much sense, so I read a lot and question everything.  I may not have made it to Paris, but give me time.  Bill Murray took to heart Larry Darrell’s predicament and identified with it so completely that he stayed away from Hollywood for a few years in The City Of Light.  Unlike Darrell though, Murray could afford it without any worries.

On one occasion of my rereading Maugham’s novel, I decided to flesh out some stories during Larry Darrell’s exile in Paris that I felt the novel kept hidden.  It was fun and a great exercise in fleshing out a situation with one of my beloved characters.  I’ve taken one of those exercises and placed it below for anyone’s reading amusement or disgusted outrage at the amateurish attempt.  You be the judge.

Paris. 1923.
Larry Darrell remembered that he left the novel he was reading back at his squalid tiny apartment off Rue de Rivoli-Le Marais. He loved that tiny space. He had acquired so many books these days that they lined the walls covering the exposed chipped paint that badly needed a fresh coat. Need to talk to the landlord about that, thought Larry.
The avenue he chose to walk tonight was a different route to his favorite eatery. Larry liked to change things up, enter the unknown. He was never a man of habit,
or so he fancied himself to be. Yet, Larry was a seeker. Someone who searched for answers to questions he has yet to think of. Life, love, existence, and the pursuit of his next glass of wine.
Damn, I won’t have anything to read at dinner tonight, Larry rumbled inside. The alley was dark with running water and he stumbled across the broken pavement stones, cursing at his clumsiness. Larry wiped his brow and fished in his pockets for that Mekka he bummed off that university professor yesterday. An interesting conversation, the bespectacled professor claimed the novel as a dead art form with nothing more to be said after Joyce’s odyssey through Dublin. Larry clasped his prize from his pocket and struck a match on the brick side, lighting the alleyway momentarily in a fiery red haze.
With a smoke halo across Larry’s crown, his eyes looked up at the stars as if searching for a God that did not exist. He let out a heavy sigh. It has been a tough year since The City Of Lights captured his attention and it has since disappointed him time and time again. The food was fine, when he had enough to actually pay. The libraries and dusty book shops were better. He spent hours perusing novels, histories, philosophical diatribes, and the occasional newspaper. There was something that bothered Larry. Something that followed him these days. That bitter taste in his mouth was from the loneliness he felt. It was getting harder with each day. All the books in all the world still had no answers to quell this empty space he seemed to live in. So, Larry kept reading. Life had meaning, he waxed, but in layers. Each one of those layers opened to another more complex one, like some onion he saw prepared at Le Procope.
The cigarette was tossed into a pool of brackish water down from the cannery. Larry eyed the cozy lit restaurant ahead and put his hands in his trouser pockets. I have enough for some wine and some cheese, he noted. Damn. Wish I had remembered that book, Larry thought. He hated to eat alone without something to read.
Walking up to the outdoor tables, Larry found his usual spot and sat down. Reflexively, he reached for his phantom book he had forgotten and cursed again out loud. “Are you alright, Monsieur?” Startled, Larry looked up at a face that shone with the stars above. It was a face of porcelain texture lovingly dotted with the finest of freckles. Those eyes, Larry thought, those gray piercing eyes can see right through me.
I am sorry to disturb you, Monsieur. Her voice was languid and pleasant to the ear. Larry stumbled upon some words to apologize himself. Please, he practically yelled, please join me? She looked upon him questionably, but made up her mind that he was harmless. Larry jumped up to offer her a chair. She smiled at his quaint gentlemanly ways as she sat down slowly, cautious still of what was transpiring. Larry smiled a big cheesy smile, until realized the mistake and offered her a drink. Guess I will skip the cheese tonight, he laughed inside.
The two sat in the outdoor corner with a gentle breeze ruffling the tablecloth in its wake. It was a gloriously still night, perfect for such an accidental chance meeting to take place. Larry introduced himself as the typical American expatriate bumming off the city. She listened to his story with an intensity. Her studied look made Larry nervous and when he was nervous, he tended to talk too much. Catching himself, he suddenly ended the explanation as to why he was in Paris. The air was quiet as she continued to study him. Larry felt as if he were an exhibit in the Musée d’Orsay. She took a long drink from her glass and licked her ruby lips.
Larry was mesmerized by this spectacle. He had no idea what to do or say to this vision. After what seemed like minutes, she set her glass down and appeared to begin speaking. Larry leaned in closer across the table. She whispered something he will never forget till his dying days. No woman he has ever met has ever matched her steely beauty and upfront behavior. Was this a dream, he wondered? It was that whisper, those softly said words, that took him forever from that empty space he was trapped in. And for that, he was eternally grateful to her, for those words were what he never found in any book after searching these many years.
That was when Larry Darrell truly opened his eyes and his heart towards a new path.

-Misha / 2014

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“The Razor’s Edge” 1984 2hrs 8min (direction John Byrum, screenplay John Byrum and Bill Murray)

 

Do you dream of living a creative life? What Elizabeth Gilbert can teach you about the “Big Magic” of a life beyond fear.

This is the latest piece from my friend Grace Under Fire that addresses some thoughts on Elizabeth Gilbert and the creative spark.  It is very honest on the good points, but also addresses some of the troubling points that Gilbert presents.  A great read and has actually motivated me (I have never read Gilbert) to seek out what she has to say.  It applies to all of us.  ~BrakeintoFilm

Source: Do you dream of living a creative life? What Elizabeth Gilbert can teach you about the “Big Magic” of a life beyond fear.

The Doors Of Heaven & Hell: Easter According To Martin Scorsese

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“If I were fire, I would burn; if I were a woodcutter, I would strike. But I am a heart, and I love.”     ― Nikos Kazantzakis / The Last Temptation Of Christ

In a humid month of August 1988, a storm of a different shape took hold on this nation with emotional tirades of self-righteous indignation for a film that precious few actually watched, much less had authority to banish from the movie screens.  The spearhead of this movement was Rev Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association against Martin Scorsese and Universal Pictures.  The judgement calls of obscenity, blasphemous content, and outright satanic behavior was shocking to see when juxtaposed with a film that, if anything, actually celebrates the divine complexity of a central figure which is still a hot topic of discussion with millions of people around the world.

I was privy to an actual screening of this film at the now demolished Avalon Theater here in St. Louis.  Throngs of angry protesting individuals pushed leaflets and shouted to me why I must not see this film.  They demanded an answer if I knew this was a fictional account of the Gospels?  That if I knew this was not the Truth?!  I returned their demands with the question, what is truth?  And added that I am here to actually see this film and decide for myself.  There were some police keeping back the protesters and the scene gave the experience a surreal “you-are-in-the-moment” feel to it all.   I was later to discover that most, if not all, of the protesters did not even bother seeing the film they were vehemently against in local newscast interviews all that week.  It left a sour taste in my mouth which made my resolve all the more stronger to support this film and its filmmakers to the detractors that approached me in the days following.

The lights dimmed and Peter Gabriel’s pulsing music rose to a sold out audience in the dark. The Avalon Theater was in a declining slope which was evident in the slightly fuzzy projection and the sub par sound system.  However, I do applaud them for their bravery in choosing to screen this film (the only theater in St Louis to do so).  As the film progressed, the minor annoyances of the theater dissipated as I watched director Martin Scorsese pour his soul onto the screen.  He challenged you, cajoled you, and made you question your perceptions of all you may have been taught as a child or an adult.  The astonishing decision to do away with the Kazantzakis’ poetic delivery in the novel, and replace it with street-like common language, was jarring at first.  Where was the Shakespeare-like delivery that was staple in every religious themed film?  Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader (such an interesting filmmaker in his own right) wanted a different feel for this film, one that spoke directly to the people and not from some lofty summit.  A daring choice and it plays off beautifully upon repeated viewings.  The recently departed Michael Ballhaus’ cinematography is inventive, bold, and holds true to the material as Scorsese envisioned.  The scene where the followers grow in numbers is striking and brings up questions on cult-like mentalities.  Working within a small budget (many of the Roman soldiers are the same small handful of stuntmen shot from different camera angles), the technical brilliance displayed is a result of a group of filmmakers lovingly devoted to their material and to an idea; to challenge thought and make one seek out their own answers.  Isn’t that what great art is supposed to do?

So, that leaves the question, that was shouted to me in protest, of whether this is a true depiction of the Gospels?  In actuality, the question should be, does this film instill the desire in you to seek out a truth for yourself?  The answer to that lies within each of us and I can never propose to suggest otherwise.  Director Scorsese spent nearly a lifetime bringing this story to the screen.  His vision of man/God wrestling for the good of all mankind is arresting in its presentation.  It was never meant to be the one singular Truth.  The story takes the concept of the original novel to make us think and reason and most of all, feel.  I can laugh at the inherent corniness of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 “The Ten Commandents” (most pointedly the line, “Moses, oh Moses, you splendid adorable fool”).  I watch “The Last Temptation Of Christ” and I begin to wonder what my place is in the world, my moral center, or even how past civilizations began and evolved.  It is a credit to Scorsese that he brings his personal love of cinema/history/human/religious subjects to the forefront for all to see and examine as adults.  This is not pandering to one ideology or agenda.  This is a subject for grown-ups to endlessly discuss.

When the film ended, an applause rose thunderously.  When exiting the theater, the only evidence of the earlier protesters were discarded leaflets, some signs, and the police barricade still standing for tomorrow evening’s showing.  Not one person stuck around outside to ask how the film was, or demand an explanation of why I enjoyed it.  Now that would have been an interesting discussion!   In the years since its release, the outraged noise has turned down into a deafening silence.  Art is resilient and hopefully perhaps, many of those that protested, actually viewed the film years later and saw what the film was trying to achieve.  Let it be said, anything that challenges us to question what we have been conditioned to hold dear in this world…is something to be treasured for it makes us grow as individuals.  Happy Easter, Mr. Scorsese, and many thanks.

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[pictured on set Willem Dafoe & Martin Scorsese (r)]

“The Last Temptation Of Christ” 1988 2hrs 44min (directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Paul Schrader, director of photography Michael Ballhaus, music by Peter Gabriel, editor Thelma Schoonmaker)