Category Archives: Bits and pieces

I’m only human: opposing thoughts on Boyhood

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I grew up being taught that it was OK to hold more than one competing thought in one’s head about a given subject at any one time. It’s an approach that seems sorely lacking in our current cultural/critical climate: just consider the fount of “hot take” articles about certain recent films (American SniperSelma) in which the author stakes out ideological ground and defends it with ferocity at the expense of nuance.

Yesterday, Richard Linklater’s timid epic Boyhood – which has had its fair share of vocal detractors along the way – was subject to a hatchet job editorial which screamed ‘Racism in BOYHOOD is the worst kind’, and compared it unfavourably with D.W. Griffith’s 1915 KKK shocker Birth of a Nation. Just like Kanye West’s indefensibly tone-deaf request that the highly qualified and experienced artist Beck “respect Beyonce’s artistry”, the claim should be taken with a dumpster of salt. Yet the outrageous surface shouldn’t totally obscure the genuine feeling propelling it. While Kanye’s more salient (and perhaps indivisible) points about historical white industrial colonisation of black music are full of merit and worthy of investigation (particularly by many of the white commentators so quick to dismiss Kanye as an idiot), many nonwhite viewers’ ire has been stoked by the non-presence, and patronising representation of, nonwhite characters in a film that’s been described by some as an American epic.

I think what’s really pissed people off is the feeling that Linklater’s film – and much of the critical discourse around it – represents, essentially, a glowing elevation of white mediocrity in a world where such constructions aren’t hard to come by, and where female/queer/POC/disabled people have to fight 76 million times as hard to get their work seen/championed. As I once remarked upon emerging from a screening of Miranda July’s blank-eyed hipster gadabout The Future, “I want to be alive in a time when black people can get to make a film about so fucking little and have it released internationally.”

Anyway, here are my opposing (or maybe even complementary: you decide) thoughts about Boyhood repurposed from a couple of end-of-year round-ups at Reverse Shot, the Museum of the Moving Image, NY’s wonderful online journal. Why now? Well, consider it a cash in. Lots of people are talking about Boyhood this week, seeing as its up for the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday, and I figured this was a decent way to get a few more hits for my blog.

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Good!

Without wishing to indulge in hyperbole, the real miracle of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood—a moving, intimate family drama shot in small chunks with the same core cast over a period of twelve years—is not simply that its audacious concept was ushered through to completion. (Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason, the youngster at the center of the film, could have at any moment decided the acting life wasn’t for him, and effectively scuppered the enterprise.) Rather, it’s the unshakable faith that Linklater has invested in stillness, subtlety, and—whisper it—banality, as a pathway to emotional resonance. Think about it: how many other directors would make a film over the same period and resist the temptation to shore up the intimidatingly diffuse timeline with dramatic clichés, coming-of-age touchstones (for instance, young Mason’s hilariously perplexed reaction to a pair of locker-room douchebag bullies), and actorly pyrotechnics? Save for one spectacular, alcohol-fueled family blowout, Boyhood is comprised of hushed, beautifully observed interactions that cut across generational lines, performed with grace and restraint by underrated actors like Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who both shine as Mason’s separated parents. Moreover, the film is structured with stunningly brusque ellipses—sometimes the only way to spot the significant passage of story time is in the unheralded alteration of a character’s hairstyle, or the sudden appearance of an ill-advised moustache. Linklater’s decision to shoot entirely on 35mm film lends the potentially patchwork project a rich, sun-kissed aesthetic unity, while simultaneously rendering it a gentle elegy for an ailing medium. Boyhood plays like some magical collapsed-time capsule: inherently nostalgic thanks to its production history and in the sense that it represents an extratextual commentary on the evolution of Linklater as a filmmaker. But with its implacable forward momentum and refreshing belief in the importance of living in the present, it is thrillingly now.

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Bad!

I loved Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, for reasons I outlined in a brief write-up above. That said, it’s an imperfect work. Much of whatever opprobrium has been directed toward it has, not outrageously, focused on its representational approach. One recurring allegation, more or less boiled down: with its pretentions-to-universality title and monocultural core cast, Boyhood posits the white, middle-class experience as default. And it’s certainly true that some critics have fallen into a trap by lauding this representationally limited film for its portrayal of the quintessentially “American” experience, consequently—without pre-planned malice—abetting the replication of patterns of cultural dominance all too familiar to those of us (like me, a critic of color in a white-dominated field) who fall outside the previously described demographic.

I’m a firm believer in critiquing a film for what it does include rather than what it doesn’t, so with that in mind . . . In all of Boyhood’s 165 minutes, there are, I think, four noteworthy speaking roles for actors of color: less controversially, an awkward college roommate, and a young schoolboy who gets teased by his older friends. And there’s mom Olivia’s black female colleague, who in a brief, very curious moment, appears to make sexual advances toward a freshly graduated Mason Jr. (Perhaps it’s the result of a bad edit—there’s no laugh to release the tension—but the scene carries a weird charge, unwittingly reviving the old jezebel stereotype of the sexually ravenous black woman.) And then there’s inarguably Boyhood’s nadir, the use of the character of the family’s Hispanic one-time handyman (Roland Ruiz). He first appears in a scene in which Olivia slightly patronizingly praises his skills, calls him “smart,” and recommends he take night classes. Then, in a forehead-slappingly silly moment near the film’s conclusion, he reappears at a restaurant where Olivia is dining with her now grown kids. He’s managing the restaurant and, rather than let the audience process his presence independently, Linklater has the man gushingly thank Olivia, this shining beacon of white womanhood, for changing his life. The smug, clunky sequence not only ruptures Boyhood’s refreshing absence of diegetic self-referentiality—rarely does Linklater feel the need to have the film comment on itself to foster continuity—it also plays like it was directed by a drunken Cameron Crowe in ultra-sentimental mode.

In the grand scheme of Boyhood—a generous, expansive, and ultimately loveable work—it’s a minor thing, but it did raise my hackles. Linklater had an opportunity to afford a young Hispanic actor a role with agency, but disappointingly opted instead to utilize him as a symbol genuflecting toward that time-honored trope: the white savior.

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Venice Film Festival 2013 | all my coverage in one place

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by Ashley Clark

From 28 August to 6 September, I was present at the 70th Venice International Film Festival. I had a great time, it didn’t rain much, I ate a bit too much pizza, and I murdered lots of mosquitoes with one of these. I also saw lots of films and wrote about them. Since a few of you have asked me for recommendations on what I saw, I thought I’d bring together all of my coverage in one place. Enjoy:

Sight & Sound Magazine

Venice 2013: truth, lies and admin – American documentaries on the Lido [At Berkeley, The Unknown Known and The Armstrong Lie]

Filmmaker Magazine

Venice 2013 Critic’s Notebook: Gravity and Sorcerer, a strange alchemy

Venice 2013 Critic’s Notebook: Palo Alto, Parkland and Joe – To Live and Die in the USA

Venice 2013: 6 Lessons from At Berkeley director Frederick Wiseman

Venice 2013 Critic’s Notebook: A Means of Escape – African Cinema on the Lido [White Shadow, Traitors, Salvation Army and The Rooftops]

Slant Magazine

Venice Film Festival 2013: Gerontophilia, Tracks, & Why Don’t You Play in Hell? 

Venice Film Festival 2013: The Police Officer’s Wife, Locke The Sacrament

Grolsch Film Works

Gravity – review ✮✮✮✮

Joe – review ✮✮✮✮

Night Moves – review ✮✮✮✮

The Zero Theorem – review ✮✮

Tom At The Farm – review ✮✮✮✮

Under The Skin – review ✮✮✮✮

under-the-skin

Old, but still funny: the Denzel Washington venn diagram

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Denzel Washington is a great actor, but he’s been in a whole bunch of truly forgettable films. His latest, 2 Guns, might well turn out to be a cracker, but from the comically lazy title and poster combo alone, I’m not holding out too much hope. That said, in the film, Denzel is seen to be sporting facial hair, a hat and glasses; significant in that it reveals the need for the Denzel Washington Venn Diagram to be updated sharpish. Malcolm X has got company!

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[Source: maxim.com]

Support Scalarama!

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I wanted to draw your attention to the upcoming Scalarama film season/festival, which will take place in September. The guys behind it have written a detailed manifesto about its aims, and they need to raise some funds (via Kickstarter) to make it a reality. Here’s just a snippet:

More than a festival, Scalarama is an inclusive film season, a movement for movie lovers and a celebration of cinema in all its forms.

We invite you to join a community of enthusiasts from across the UK; a range of film organisations, programmers, curators, collectives, academics, journalists and film fans – all will come together for one month to share their belief that watching a film as part of an audience is something important, valuable and worth championing. Scalarama is not just about film, it’s about the experience, and the people and the passion behind the projector.

Scalarama is open to all, whether you submit an event as part of our Open Programme, select to show one of the specially chosen titles from our Core Programme or take part in national Home Cinema Day on Sunday 29th September (see below for more details). Now in our third edition and with hundreds of events expected to take place across the country, we are on the verge of making a real impact on how people think and talk about cinema. With your support, we can make this year’s season the widest and most inclusive film event yet.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? For the full skinny (including video), and details on how to donate, visit the Scalarama Kickstarter page.

All being well, Permanent Plastic Helmet hopes to present an event at this year’s festival.

The Warriors NYC filming locations – then and now

I’d like to thank my friend, BFI archive curator Dylan Cave, for alerting me to an awesome, three-part piece on the brilliant website Scouting NY, which juxtaposes images of a bunch of images of locations used in Walter Hill’s NYC classic against snaps of them today. Needless to say, some of the changes (and similarities!) are breathtaking.

Here are a couple of photographic examples, though of course the best way of comparing is to book tickets for our upcoming, 35mm screening of the film at London’s Clapham Picturehouse cinema on Monday 15 July: Ticket booking link.

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See the rest here.

[Source: ScoutingNY.com]

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Fiction science fiction, c/o Bowfinger

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The marquee for fictional film-within-a-film Chubby Rain, from Frank Oz’ Bowfinger

No particular reason for posting this picture other than it made me chuckle. Plus I was discussing the other day with a friend that I think Bowfinger (Frank Oz, 1999) – though seemingly regarded as minor Martin and Murphy (who excels in a tricky double role) – is actually a really underrated piece of work. Affectionate, gently satirical of the industry, and with more than its fair share of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, it’s a comedy whose reputation I think should be stronger than it is. I can think of few moments in 90s comedies funnier than this:

You can actually catch it at the BFI Southbank as part of the ongoing Terence Stamp season on May 19 or 23. He does a great job in Bowfinger as a glacial, pompous leader of a Scientology-esque cult.

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The 9th Annual Images of Black Women Festival | 3-11 May 2013

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I’ve been meaning to give this great festival some love for a while. As an introduction to what it’s all about, there’s little I can say that the official blurb can’t tell you with authority, so:

Images of Black Women (IBW) Film Festival has acted for nearly a decade as the only advocate for change in the representation of black women in film, presenting the global black experience with a focus on women in varied roles such as actresses, directors, screenwrites and producers.

Over the years IBW has supported upcoming filmmakers by providing visibility through its its Emerging Filmmaker Forum & helped short-film competition winners as Rungano Nyoni (Mwansa The Great) produce their next film projects. The Festival also premiered work from renowned directors such as the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance 2012 Ava DuVernay, root-shaking documentary director Regina Kimbell for MY NAPPY ROOTS and welcomed international film icon Euzhan Palcy.

This year (2013) we will be at various venues across London with a special addition of free Art Exhibitions: Feminine Expressions & Representations.

For festival discount tickets & more sign up to our Nucinema mailing list

This year’s programme, spread across a host of London venues, looks fantastic, including such highlights as a screening of Dee Rees’ excellent Pariah, the UK Premiere of Ava DuVernay’s award-winning The Middle of Nowhere [pictured above], and Adopted I.D., a documentary screening as part of the BFI’s African Odysseys strand uncovering the extraordinary journey of Judith Craig, who was abandoned at birth and bravely returned to the impoverished nation of Haiti to find her parents.

Here’s the link for the festival website, and here’s the official festival trailer: