High Museum of Art: Films


ALAMAR by Linda Dubler

Alamar screens on Friday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre.

By Linda Dubler. Interview by David Jenkins.

Alamar means “to the sea” in Spanish, but to those who don’t speak the language, it’s a word that suggests the rhythmic pounding of waves and the incantatory power of a magic spell. The film, made by Pedro González-Rubio, opens our 25th Latin American Film Festival, and is unlike any Mexican movie I’ve seen over the many years I’ve been programming the LAFF.  It’s a hybrid of fiction and documentary, and in its grace, purity, and ravishing beauty, it’s an antidote to the pervasive darkness we find in both life and cinema these days.  
Jorge and Natan in Alamar

 

Alamar is a love story about the relationship between a father and his young son and their connection to a way of life and a place that seem to be timeless, but are in fact fragile and endangered.  Jorge, who has the profile of an Aztec warrior and the body art of a modern hipster, is calling it quits with his son’s mother, who will be taking Natan with her to live in Rome, Italy. But for a few weeks, Jorge and Natan will spend time together in a fisherman’s shack on the Gulf of Mexico, a place called Banco Chinchorro, which is home to an unspoiled coral reef. Along with an older man who Jorge addresses as “grandfather,” they’ll catch barracuda with nothing but a nylon line, hook, and bait, dive for lobster, sleep in hammocks, and court the attentions of a beautiful white egret that Natan names Blanquita — the only female in their manly company.

How much of Alamar was pre-meditated and how much unfolded in front of the camera? On the screen the film looks organic and completely unstudied.

This interview with the director, which originally appeared in Time Out London, reveals his working process. The young Mexican director explains his dreamy father-son fishing trip movie to David Jenkins.

 Mexican-born director and London Film School graduate Pedro González-Rubio made his debut in 2005 with ‘Toro Negro’, a documentary about a hapless bullfighter. His new film ‘Alamar’, which picked up the top prize at the 2010 Rotterdam film festival, blends elements of documentary and fiction to tell the story of a young boy’s visit to his fisherman father.

 What sort of techniques did you learn at film school that you used in ‘Alamar’?

‘Film school is good. They teach you the basics, the technical aspects of filmmaking. But it doesn’t teach you taste or give you interests. That comes from your own creativity, life and experience. I enjoy finding out about places and people who are not part of my everyday life.’

 Which elements of the film did you write and which were real?

‘I came up with the idea of the trip. I also came up with the story. I didn’t write any dialogue – that’s why there hardly is any. I wanted to portray how the bond between father and son would get stronger and stronger than suddenly, when you least expect it, they get separated. When it came to the earlier scenes, where the boy is packing his bag for the trip, my direction was hands-off. I wouldn’t tell them where to sit or where to stand: they would just do it naturally. I was more like a guide.’

 Can you tell us about the father?

‘Even though it feels like he comes from the area where the film is shot, it’s not true. He comes from a village in the jungle. And he doesn’t fish. The location was very important for me as it’s a very visual film and I believe that a lot can be said with a good image rather than with dialogue. I like to portray the inner qualities of the characters and the location: the innocence of the kid, the purity of the landscape and the expansiveness of nature.’

 Did the presence of your camera affect the performers?

‘Not really. A bit for the father. He was very conscious of us and of his role. But when I focused more on fishing and on the physical activities in the film, he appeared more comfortable.’

 The impression from Europe is that directors from Mexico form an ad hoc community. Did any other directors help out with ‘Alamar’?

‘Yeah, there’s a filmmaker named Elisa Miller. She saw my work-in-progress and she told me what worked and what didn’t. She’s seven years younger than me. She made a film called “Ver Llover”, which won the short film Palme d’Or Award in Cannes in 2008. I think I am drawn much more to this younger generation, those in their mid-twenties. The older generation would ask me, “Where’s the drama? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the structure?” So I have to tell them that it doesn’t have a structure. I’m trying to use a different language to the norm.’

 Did you feel that the final product achieved what you set out to do?

‘Well, I knew that I wanted to let myself go rather than manipulating the elements in the location. I focused more on adapting to their daily routine and from there constructing a movie.’

 Are you working on a new film?

‘Not exactly. I am working on something new, but I think I’m going explore love from a female perspective. These two films have been about male characters. I think the next one has to be female.’



In Honor of Snow and Ice by Linda Dubler

As we collectively emerge from the recent  deep freeze, let’s not lose those afghans, Snuggies and warm couch companions just yet. Here are a handful of snow films as chilly as any Hitchcock blonde.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Robert Altman’s revisionist western is notable for all sorts of reasons, from its Leonard Cohen score to its brilliant pairing of Julie Christie as a savvy, opium-smoking madame and Warren Beatty as her smitten business partner, a gambler and a romantic fool.  The film ends in an extraordinary gun battle during a blinding snowstorm, a masterpiece of choreography and cinematography.

Nanook of the North

Enormously popular when it was first released in 1922, Robert Flaherty’s landmark documentary about an Inuit hunter and his family has been restored and released with a new score by Criterion. The film, which was financed by a French fur company and shot near Hudson Bay,  isn’t a pure work by any means–(Nanook’s wives and children were played by people who weren’t his wives and kids; a scene in which Nanook fights to land a harpooned seal was completely staged)–but as Ephraim Katz observed in The Film Encyclopedia, “What made Nanook so remarkable was not its validity as an anthropological study of an exotic ethnic group but its success in capturing the essence of primitive man’s struggle for survival against the hostile forces of nature.”

Noi the Albino

If you felt stir-crazy after being cooped up for a day or two in Atlanta, (where a recent glimpse outside revealed greenery frosted with snow) try trading places with Noi, a poster boy for teenage alienation hailing from the bleak, colorless end of nowhere otherwise known as  Iceland. This very deadpan comedy about a Nordic rebel  is for those who prefer absurdist situations to jokes, and who like their humor espresso dark.

Dr. Zhivago

Who knows how many animals sacrificed their skins so that women around the world could wear fur hats like Lara’s in Dr. Zhivago? Or how many human nerves were frayed by the tinkling of music boxes playing her theme? Dr. Zhivago was roundly booed by critics upon its release in 1965, but the public ate it up.

When it was  restored and revived for its 30th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared that it was “an example of superb old-style craftsmanship at the service of a soppy romantic vision, and although its portentous historical drama evaporates once you return to the fresh air, watching it can be seductive. ” Ebert observed that “the story, especially as it has been simplified by [director David] Lean and his screenwriter, Robert Bolt, seems political in the same sense Gone With the Wind is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology.”

And like Gone With the Wind, it’s the epic sweep, and all that snow, that impresses. Lean built an ice palace out of wax, and resorted to simulating snow with marble dust and plastic during filming in Spain at the height of the summer.

Still yearning for a polar blast? Consider Fargo, March of the Penguins, Encounters at the End of the World, or the Turkish film Climates. And here’s a great YouTube video:

Have any favorite snowy movies? Post them in the comments!

Linda Dubler



Apocalypse Now: Staff Picks by Linda Dubler
July 10, 2009, 10:36 am
Filed under: Staff Picks | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve asked Museum staff again for their two cents on their favorite apocalyptic movies. (Learn about the inspiration for the current exhibition Richard Misrach: On The Beach here >>)

Johan Harper, Security
Damnation Alley and
Night of the Comet

Why does the end of the world have to be so depressing? Damnation Alley has everything you need in a Post-Apocalyptic movie. Bad special effects, cheesy dialogue, a strange monster truck that floats called “The Land Master”, man-eating cockroaches, George Peppard, and Jan-Michael Vincent! What more can you ask for? O.K. the movie’s beginning is pretty grim and serious, but the low production values turn the whole mess into an unintentional comedy before too long. The scene where the actors fail to pretend to be afraid of tons of plastic cockroaches tied to long strings pulled across the floor is comedy gold! “This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches. I repeat: KILLER COCKROACHES!” Too funny! damnation_alley_ver2

Another enjoyable end of the world movie is Night of the Comet. If you wake up one day and everybody else has become little piles of red dust, wouldn’t you really rather just go shopping at the mall? If everyone is dead, everything is free! Night of the Comet has it all – zombies, mad scientists, and gun-toting valley girls! It is a comedy, it is a horror movie, it is a time capsule from 1984!

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Goodbye Cruel World by Linda Dubler

As I wrote in an earlier post, landscape photographer Richard Misrach’s On the Beach, a show of exquisite, large scale pictures shot from an overhead vantage point in Hawaii after 9/11, is currently on view at the High. Some of the images are populated, some devoid of human presence, but all suggest both seaside paradise and doomsday unease. Earlier posts looked at the beachy aspect of the Misrach pictures, so now we’re turning to the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic currents that run through the series.

What are your favorite movies from this genre?

I’m not a huge sci-fi and/or horror fan, so apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies aren’t my strong suit. Though I enjoy cinematic suspense, the surreal, and things blowing up real good as much as the next gal, I tend to avoid the gore and gross-outs that pop up in most sci-fi and horror. (I remember next to nothing about Soylent Green, which I saw when it first came out, but I still feel vaguely icky even thinking about it).

Johan Harper, a security officer and the High’s resident B-movie connoisseur, steered me to this brilliant post-apocalyptic cheat sheet, which rates a bunch of films based on such PA hallmarks as cannibalism, warlords, mutants and degraded culture. You’ll hear more from Johan when we run staff picks on Friday.

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Staff Picks: Summer Movies by Linda Dubler
June 19, 2009, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Staff Picks | Tags: , , , , , ,

Museum staff weigh in on their favorite summer beach movies.

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10

10

10  (1979)
Cinque Reeves, Security Officer

I’d have to go with 10 from Blake Edwards for the most memorable beach scenes. Just thinking about George trying to walk on the hot sand makes me laugh. It’s probably one of Dudley Moore’s best performances.

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Endless Summer

Endless Summer

The Endless Summer (1966)
Dana Haugaard, Coordinator of Facilities

My favorite summer beach movie is also the one of my favorites for the middle of winter: The 1966 documentary The Endless Summer by Bruce Brown. It is as carefree as every summer should be, and the soundtrack cannot be beat.

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One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer (1986)
Emily Beard, Web Content Coordinator

This movie is basically exactly the same as Savage Steve’s other Cusack vehicle Better Off Dead, except instead of snow there’s sand, and in lieu of a French exchange student, you get Demi Moore with hippie braids. There’s the rich-boy bully, his hot 80s girlfriend, sidekicks Bobcat Goldthwait and a Murray brother, a vindictive 9-year-old, drive-ins and cartoons. Even when it tries to be serious it isn’t, and that’s what makes it an excellent beach movie.

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Shag

Shag

Shag (1989)
Berry Lowden, Curatorial Assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

1. Myrtle Beach in the 60s
2. Bouffant hair
3. Shag dancing
4. Making out in vintage 60’s cars
5. Racy Bridget Fonda routines with American flags (errr….)

It’s a keeper!

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Weekend at Bernie's

Weekend at Bernie's

Weekend at Bernies (1989)
Danielle Avram, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary and Photography

It may be embarrassing to admit, but Weekend at Bernies is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures. We had a VHS copy when I was a kid and actually destroyed it from watching it so many times.



Summer on YouTube by Linda Dubler

As part of the Summer Movies theme for this week, I’ll be scouring YouTube for clips. Enjoy!

YouTube Diversions

Esther Williams was discovered by an MGM scout in Billy Rose’s Aquacade and became a star with Bathing Beauty (1942). Here she is in all her spangled glory. Note the water lily sequence (and the green and pink color scheme), a nice tie to the Monet exhibition currently on view at the High.

Coney Island was America’s playground and was at its hot-dog-eating, sunbathing, boardwalk-strolling, rollercoaster-riding height in the 1930s and 40s. Before air conditioning, suburban sprawl, and urban blight took its toll it was an amazing scene.

Wacky Edwardians invent new ways to pass the long summer afternoons in this clip from the British Film Institute’s fab website.

Ecstatic romance…exotic dances…exciting music in the world’s lushest paradise of song!  Check out Elvis in a tight white shirt and trunks, surrounded by blazing tiki torches and gyrating guys ‘n gals in Norman Taurog’s Blue Hawaii (1961.)



Summer Movies, Part 1 by Linda Dubler

Landscape photographer Richard Misrach‘s works are on view at the High, so the next few posts will spin off from the exhibition On the Beach, a show of exquisite, large scale pictures shot from an overhead vantage point in Hawaii after 9/11. Some of the images are populated, some devoid of human presence, but all suggest both seaside paradise and doomsday unease. This duality is embodied in the exhibition’s title, a forthright statement of what to expect from the images, and also a reference to Nevil Shute’s book and Stanley Kramer’s  post-apocalyptic film of the same name about a bunch of Australians awaiting the appearance of a nuclear cloud that promises to annihilate them all.

Beach Blanket Bingo

Beach Blanket Bingo

OK, impending extinction may not be your idea of summer fun. So let’s consider beach blanket escapades, amusement parks, surfing, and all things sweaty and summery, with just a quick side trip into the apocalyptic.

To begin on an historic note, Blake Leland, a poet and longtime professor in the Science, Technology, and Culture program at Georgia Tech, points out that “many of the beach movies (Beach Blanket Bingo, Beach Party, Muscle Beach and the like) were released after the Cuban missile crisis (as close to actual apocalypse as we’ve come so far).” He continues, “I wonder if these atrocious movies aren’t part of a kind of pre-apocalyptic denial of the possibility of annihilation–at least for teens!”

Well, partying on the eve of destruction is a hallowed tradition, so in retrospect maybe the spunky teens were trying to tell us something. I suspect that all that American International Pictures saw when they produced the cycle of beach party movies made in the mid-1960s were dollar signs. The films starred Philadelphia teen idol Frankie Avalon and a curvy grown-up  Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello.

Funicello was still under contract with Disney when these films were shot, and AIP had to promise that she wouldn’t appear in a bikini since exposing too much flesh would tarnish her wholesome image. I must admit that during the time when Beach Blanket Bingo et al appeared in theaters, I was too busy being a junior high school existentialist to see them and I haven’t revisited them since. They did make lots of money, and they may still have some campy charm.

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity

Before Annette and Frankie were kicking up sand and singing rock n’ roll,  some other Hollywood icons were grabbing Oscars for a World War II era saga, From Here to Eternity, which features an indelible image of  Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster locked in a wave-wetted embrace. The 1953 drama directed by Fred Zinneman, ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which in a sense presages the looming atomic disaster of On the Beach. When From Here to Eternity was restored and re-released in 2003, J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, “Contemporary audiences may not see why, even in its toned-down simplification of the novel, From Here to Eternity was the most daring movie of 1953, but it remains an acting bonanza”

Linda Dubler