Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New Arrival : Cinema Scope N.68


Slowly rolling out to magazine and book stores in the upcoming week, the new Cinema Scope offers a great survey of the Fall new releases, festivals titles and other cool movie stuff. Pick it up if you can!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Canadian Cinema's New Hope

A great new article by Barry Hertz in the Globe and Mail on what he describes as Canadian cinema’s New Hope : http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/awards-and-festivals/tiff/meet-the-millennial-filmmakers/article31792845/

Follow the linked titles to see some of my own previous pieces on these emerging Toronto filmmakers: Toronto DIY Filmmakers, New Canadian Film Movement, Interviews with the DIY Filmmakers, and Young Canadian Directors.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Era of Matt Johnson

“We’ve been making movies about neophyte filmmakers, and the form of which you engage the film is their own finished movie. And so not only does that give you license to do a lot of things that are cheap – like we can’t spend money on slider-dollies or even tripods, which you can’t set up in public spaces – it lets you shoot them as if they are almost like reality television shows, but even lower budget, reality television shows shot by kids. And so that aesthetic allowed us to make that feature because of course we had no money. Like literally we had no money from anybody. So it’s like that software concept of turning your bugs into features, which I think is really important for young filmmakers is to take the things that make you bad and turn them into the things that will make you stand out… I think that the mind set, which does comes from software design, is really powerful as an independent arts tool.” – Matt Johnson 
With the premiere of nirvana the band the show at TIFF and then shortly after the theatrical release of Operation Avalanche it’s worth reiterating the obvious fact about Matt Johnson: an inventor of forms, changing the medium and probably one of the most exciting things to happen to Canadian cinema in a long time. With Operation Avalanche, about two agents from the CIA a/v department attempting to fake the moon landing, Johnson showed that all images are manipulations, fiction, and lies as they’ve been corrupted in the process of becoming a means to an end. So what to do next? A remake of his earlier web-series nirvana the band the show: two hapless losers trying desperately to get a music gig at the The Rivoli. After the departure from Eden due to the loss of grace of the image all that that all can be done is recount the defeat ad infinitum, and with their brief 25 minute running time (always rebooting from scratch), nirvana the band the show tells the story of this defeat.

Nirvana the band the show, or how to capture the world? Some might talk about Johnson’s mise en scène as that of regular television à la Arrested Development but it’s actually a lot more sophisticated than that. Not only are there symbolic details that reappear throughout the season (explicitly addressed or just as background information) but the images themselves are conceptualized. Nirvana the band the show, which started as a web series, is the logical conclusion of new media as it brings together many of the aesthetics, formats and viewing patterns of the internet, video games, television and cinema and turns them into a new video form. Take the show’s living room, for example: A poster of the world, Jacques Cousteau exploring the oceans, NASA moon landing imagery and all sorts of Criterion Collection posters. Johnson overflows the image with too much information (in a style similar to too many tabs open in a browser) to suggest red herrings and to provide an interactive relationship with the viewer to then follow up on their meaning, in a way similar to David Foster Wallace and all of his footnotes.

This aesthetic development parallels another major one for video games from the year 2016: that of John Hanke at Niantic launching Pokémon GO. Just like how Johnson gives the spectator the tools to play with all of the associations in nirvana the band the show, Hanke with his new augmented reality cellphone app he got people to go outside, altered their perceptions of their surroundings and brought a newfound sense of joy and of play into the world.

This leap into the imaginary is also there in Nirvana the band the show. For Johnson the réel is imagination: How to take an overlooked recognizable Toronto site, distilling it of its blandness and making it pure fantasy. This use of imagination is perhaps Johnson’s greatest tool and its perhaps even more important as its lacking in abundance in Canadian cinema. As why are there so many Canadian films that are slaves to the mundaneness of reality and who by focusing on ‘social oppressions’ just recreates without ever offering any room to escape? So when Johnson and Jay McCarroll make a joke or speak nonsense it is an attempt to eclipse current social relations or an understanding of language to begin again from scratch, to find the zero degrees from which a new world can spring from. This is why their important.

As per nirvana the band the show being like the internet, it is in fact a repertoire of popular culture: from its opening credits that riff on popular TV shows, to the many subject of conversations and memorabilia, to the activities of the characters and the styles in which it is shot. There’s a fan fiction quality to the show (with Spielberg as the Lord presiding over it) and it takes a negotiated response to popular culture where smart ideas can be extrapolated from bad object movies (Johnson’s discussion of Ernest Goes to Jail is quite funny). But this idea of the musical riff, that of tonal variations offering new possibilities of experience, is perhaps best illustrated by Jay McCarrol’s piano routines. A professional musician with close connections to the Yuk Yuk’s comedians, McCarrol brings a warmth, liveliness and sense of morals to Johnson's conniving.


I could go on about how Johnson got to where he's at on his own terms (with a blunt approach to denouncing many of the mediocrities of the Canadian film industry), or how he’s like the Canadian Godard (experimenting in all sorts of formats, poaching from all sorts of media to tell the important tales of the 20th and 21st Century), or further discuss the importance of Spielberg and Abrams on him (Star Wars: The Force Awakens plays a big role in one of the episodes), or the importance of video games and the film Hackers to his work (the idea with playing with temporal association, how to take command of the networks for one’s end) and so on. But let me just conclude by reiterating my first point: After taking on all of film history (Operation Avalanche), now returning back to the city and to just burn it all to the ground (nirvana the band the show), his next projects include a John A MacDonald film where he’ll take on the entirety of Canada and its history and then he's planning a remake of Command and Conquer: Red Alert where he’ll take on one of the biggest crimes against humanity of all of History: The Holocaust.

The time has come where the networks are failing and the viruses are taking over. The era of Matt Johnson.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mapping the Evolution of Canadian Cinema


A work-in-progress chart to show a version of the evolution of Canadian film (click here to see it in full-scale). Many of these filmmakers have work at TIFF which includes Arrival, We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice, Anatomy of Violence, Maliglutit, Two Lovers and a Bear, Weirdos, Juste la fin du monde, The Bleeder, Hello Destroyer, Old Stone, Werewolf, nirvana the band the show, Pays, India in a Day, The Stairs, Blind Vaysha, A Funeral For Lightning, Tout simplement, A Cool Sound from Hell and Nelly. Check out some of them if you can! 
It's a work in process with those who are in close proximity implies a connection in some way and there will be more updates to come. We're excited to get feedback for future iterations! - David Davidson and Marko Balaban

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Must-Have: The Demolition Blu-Ray

‘I related to Davis Mitchell and to this journey.’ – Jean-Marc Vallée

‘On était jeunes. On était fous. La bohème, la bohème. Ça ne veut plus rien dire du tout.’ – Charles Aznavour

The release of a Jean-Marc Vallée DVD is always a special occasion and with this new Blu-ray of Demolition you can now take the film home in its pristine image and sound quality. It’s the story of Davis Mitchell, a successful Wall Street banker, and after his wife's sudden death his life is shook up and through grieving he is able to find himself, learn to feel again and start a new friendship with a single mother Karen and her son. 

Every scene and detail in the mise en scène provides a unique rhythm and information that has a larger meaning in Demolition’s complex structure and Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect in the role with his subtle expressiveness and range. This expression of intimate human feelings is the emotional réel of the film that is given substance as it engages with the geographical réel. The scene that best illustrates this is when Jake Gyllenhaal dances through New York City, engaging with its landmarks and enjoys himself. This is the Valléeien gesture: that of in cynical times to bring music and joy to people and the city. These non-narrative scenes, that contribute and build on an emotion, are Vallée's specialty. Similar to Howard Hawks, starting with The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, Vallée likes to stall the storytelling to focus on scenes for the sake of creating good ones: where Hawks aimed for entertaining character development and witty dialogue, for Vallée it is that of a musical lyricism. This musical point is made explicit with the film’s soundtrack (only available as a digital soundtrack from ABKCO Music and Records, with a press release that reads almost as if it was written by Vallée) that ranges from classical, folk, indie pop, rock and electronica; and where each song gets to the heart and personality of each character without ever being too recognizable (Depeche Mode is another unidentified reference). 

Vallée is able to create this musical lyricism with Yves Bélanger’s refined yet simple imagery that brings a palatable energy and emotion to each scene. While Vallé's regular cameo, that of a mourner at Julia's funeral, explicitly continues his humanist outreach project (which goes back to his role as the priest in C.R.A.Z.Y.) but is now turned towards the upper class, which is a similar gesture to that of Denis Côté with his Boris sans Béatrice. This fantasy and support for others leads to Mitchell’s phantasm at the end of Demolition where he’s reunited with the ghost of Julia (similar to apparitions like Raymond in C.R.A.Z.Y., Rayon in Dallas, and Bobbi in Wild) on the carousel that was reconstructed in honor of her legacy.  

Then there's the Paul Valéry quote in Demolition and, as with Café de flore, Vallée seems to enchanted by the culture of the Paris of the belle époque and the melancholy and beauty of the popular poetry of its time. ‘The future is not what it used to be,’ which for Valéry when he wrote this in the thirties, meant that the atrocities of the Great War would taint the comforting assumption that the future will no longer resemble the past, but which Phil applies to the world of digital trading and unregulated capitalism. But another Valéry quote that would have been equally appropriate, for either the title or for Mitchell, is from the most recent Hayao Miyazaki film: “The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!The idea of poetry as a privileged escape from the oppression of reality has currency for Vallée as language, style and new technologies are all equally important for him to express his poetic vision through his mise en scène. As Demolition takes language and ontology as its starting point: Mitchell tries to make sense of his existence by discussing his life, the mood and atmosphere, the meaning of words and the limits of his own psyche and his physical body. Underneath the surface of beings and objects lies an essence and this is what he's searching for. So Phil tells him, “If you want to fix something you have to take everything apart and figure out what's important,” while for Mitchell, “Everything has become a metaphor…” This is why Mitchell tears apart as much from his life as he can with his hands, tools and even a bulldozer everything from his appliances to even the infrastructure of his own house.  

There are a few details from Demolition that stand out after repeated viewing: The reoccurring gecko (similar to the fox in Wild) is actually from the Dan Deacon and Liam Lynch video Drinking Out of Cups where Deacon, in a thick Long Island accent, rehearses some cynical statements. The use of this viral comedy video from 2006 that Mitchell and Julia bonded over earlier on in their relationship (probably a Bryan Sipe reference) is just like Demolition as just like Mitchell and Julia had a negotiated response to this video (turning its cynical Seahorse reference into a romantic one) Vallée takes what could have been a cynical drama and fills it with warmth, care and love. 

Vallée is clearly a réalisateur d'oeuvre as with each new film he builds upon the previous one and all of them contribute to the world-building of his filmography: A Matthew McConaughey-like cowboy appears in a parking-lot in Wild, the business man that tries to pick up Cheryl Strayed at the end of the memoir spins off with Mitchell in Demolition, and the mother-and-son Karen and Chris will anticipate Jane and Ziggy in Big Little Lies. [In the credits there are also references to used footage from Wild from Twentieth Century Fox (though I can’t exactly pinpoint it; maybe the earlier hospital scenes?) as well there is the Snow Monkeys clips which Mitchell watches before going to sleep (from WNET/Thirteen Productions) which anticipates the snowstorm ending of Du bon usage des étoiles.] 

Though the Blu-ray is skimpy of features, there’s at least one great one on it: the Behind the Scenes location footage of the production (mostly short scenes) which is mostly silent with some natural noises. There is Vallée carrying the camera, similar to Soderbergh, and he talks to the actors in his energetic English. There is the small crew, and all of the production specifics, as they’re out filming on naturally beautiful outdoor locations. This form of poetic and personal cinema, along with Vallée’s resourceful means and major actors eager to work with him, makes him closer to a filmmaker like Terrence Malick than to most other Hollywood independents. The other few making-ofs are short and not that impressive (e.g. rehashed footage from the film, with espoused clichés from the crew). So there could have been more… But, either way, it’s incredible to have the chance to re-watch Demolition and the Blu-ray looks and sounds great. It can keep any Valléeien occupied until the release of Big Little Lies on HBO next year. Mysteries are abound.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Demolition Soundtrack

A new soundtrack from Jean-Marc Vallée for Demolition which includes a mix of rock, classical, folk, indie pop and electronica. The songs appear in subtle ways during key scenes in the film to express the emotions and personality of the characters. The musicians include Frédéric Chopin, Gil Scott-Heron, Sufjan Stevens, Loui Doillon, My Morning Jacket, Free, M. Ward, Alexandra Streliski, Half Moon Run, Heart, Cave, The Animals, J.S. Bach, Dusted, Jeremy Zuckerman, Charles Aznavour and Bob Dylan. And the songs are Nocturnes, Op. 9: No. 2 in E-Flat Major; B-Movie; Redford (for Yia-Yia and Pappou); Where to Start; Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream (Pt. 2); Mr. Big; To Be Alone with You; Watch the Show; Le départ; Warmest Regards; Crazy on You; Sweaty Fingers; When I Was Young; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (I.–II. Adagio); Bruises; Property Lines; Under a Blanket of Snow; La Bohème; and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Enjoy! - D.D.
  ***

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Found File : Jean-Marc Vallée on Liste noire

An obscure Jean-Marc Vallée interview from the Liste noire period that was re-posted on the Films du Québec website: this early interview provides a thorough and rich portrait of the filmmaker before he would become more internationally known. Many of the core ideas of his filmmaking are already there but he’s also more vocal and keen, which is a trait that would diminish with the years.

Published in the press dossier for the film, Liste noire – Entretien avec Jean-Marc Vallée (1995) is a rare early interview. The interviewer Charles-Henri Ramond contextualizes Liste noire as one of the commercially successful Québécois films of the late 90s, with Caboose by Richard Roy and Erreur sur la personne by Gilles Noël, that helped refresh their genre films as they were inspired by their American counter-part. Ramond writes, “The modern era of crime stories, thrillers, suspense and other type of fantastic film reinvested the Québécois corpus.”  

In it Vallée still sees the medium for its entertaining qualities but where then he highly values that of audience manipulation in his post-C.R.A.Z.Y. films he was able to refine his aesthetic by focusing first on its emotions.

In the interview he cites Hitchcock (obviously he thoroughly read Hitchcock/Truffaut) but also Paul Schrader and Philip Kaufman. He’s already saying (about the film's sex scenes) on understatement in acting, "Less is more," but he adds, "But as Philip Kaufman also says: ‘Sometimes, more is more.'" He mentions an appreciation for 37°2 le matin by Jean-Jacques Beineix, which he contrasts with Liste noire.

Of note is how Vallée mentions Hitchcock and Truffaut as the center of his cinephilia… Vallée brings the ideas of the original Cahiers project to Montreal and through it is able to re-invent Québécois cinema and film in general. Around the same time that Vallée was making these comments about Hitchcock and Psycho, in Switzerland Jean-Luc Godard was doing the same thing in his Histoire(s).

It’s an honor to translate him. – D.D.
***
The interview begins with a Hitchcock quotation that Vallée then explains,
“You know that the public is always searching to anticipate where the film is going as they love to say: Ah! I already knew what was going to happen. So because of this, one must take this into account, but also completely guide the thoughts of the spectator.” – Alfred Hitchcock


“To begin this interview with this citation from the master of suspence, it’s to say the importance that I grant him and his influence that he has on how I approach cinema, that is to say, like a game. A game with the public. A game that utilizes the cinematographic art to deceive, play, scare, make laugh, to create emotions on a mass scale. With this in mind, Psycho is the perfect example of what cinema can do, and for Hitchcock, it’s his experience that is the most passionate game with the public. “With Psycho, I was doing the directing of the spectator,” he affirmed in his famous interview with François Truffaut. To direct the spectator. It’s based on this idea, and through constantly reminding myself of it, that I took on the task of realizing Liste noire.”

On what brought him to the project,
“The task of directing of Liste noire interested me for several reasons. First off, I was really interested by the challenge of making a thriller that I found to be well written. Suspense, as a genre, permits a grand exploration of the cinematographic language. Secondly, the talkative side of its script really pleased me. And finally, I really liked the characters, and especially the bad guy! Liste noire is certainly story driven, where the story takes away from the stars, but it’s also, for me at least, a film about its characters.”

How to work with actors,
“I must really know the character so that I can know what to tell the actor and explain to them their motivation, debate and identify with their emotions; to really know the scene and how they normally work to best be able to direct them with a continuity; to have the judgment to nuance their performance; and finally, the choice and values to be able to choose a shot. So even if I’m really interested in its technical side (I like to frame, get good shots, have nice movements, light, and create pretty images) I reserve a capital importance to the work of the actors. It’s they who make the film. The cinema that I want to make is one of emotions.”

Why he edits his own films?
“Well because I like it. We learn so many things about understanding the language of cinema in an editing room while were manipulating the footage oneself. This is such the case that we eventually start to hesitate giving the job to others…  The montage ideas come mostly to me in pre-production or while the decoupage where I choose, for 75 percent of the time, the looks of the characters to determine where I cut. At the end of the day, I remain pretty loyal to my own découpage.”

And on its score,
“I told my composer that I wanted something that was equally simple, classic and modern. I set the bar quite high because, as on my working cut, I’ve already included several already existing tracks from Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith, Trevor Jones, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Moricone, Pino Donagio and then I told them: ‘Inspire yourself from these… but remain original.’ They fulfilled by request and exceeded them.”

Finally on Vallée’s American film references,
“My favorite cinéastes are American and my influences are primarily American. So it is sure that there is something American about my films. But it’s not forced, it’s, it’s just my nature! To make a film, for me, this means, wanting to create a good show. I’m interested in cinema in all of its forms (cinephile one day, always a cinephile). To honestly say it, I prefer the films of Clint Eastwood to those of Marguerite Duras. The cinema that I make, and that I want to create, will always be relatively simple. Even in its narrative form the most simple, as I find the cinematographic language is already really complex. To tell a story through images, by the succession of shots, and not by the interior of the shots, can seem banal and easy to attain. But it is not at all evident! Hitchcock had passed his life experimenting one film genre. It’s probably one of the most beautiful lessons to take from the History of cinema. I re-read the book Hitchcock-Truffaut before the filming of each of my films. This reminds me each time that the ‘direction of the spectator’ is just as important as the direction of the actors.”