The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
THE 2004 MARYLAND FILM FESTIVAL: a.k.a., What I Did Last Weekend:

Dog Days (Ulrich Seidl, 2001): Every year John Waters hosts a movie at the Maryland Film Festival. I'm not sure what he looks for when he picks his picture, but he does have an eye for the gruesome and the strange. This spring's entry was a semi-improvised collection of interlocking tales set in the hottest days of summer in a Vienna suburb. Its characters include a crazy (or retarded?) girl who spends each day hitching rides and tormenting her drivers with constant chatter and intrusive questions, a strange sadistic love triangle, and a divorced couple who still live together and seem intent on making each other's lives miserable, among many others. The film is by turns funny, violent, touching, and disgusting. It grew on me as I watched it, and (even more) afterwards.

Underneath it all, Seidl is a humanist and his film is more sympathetic than cruel. It's not for all tastes. It's not even for most tastes. But I liked it. And so did R., whose tolerance for this sort of thing is much lower than mine.

Archangel (Guy Maddin, 1990): This one, on the other hand, produced a split decision. Maddin's film is either very poorly organized or based on an organizing principle that was too subtle for me to absorb; it contains some wonderfully bizarre images and ideas, but it doesn't hang together and at times grows very dull. It resembles Eraserhead in many ways, but where David Lynch managed to sustain and build a mood, Maddin wasn't able to link his sporadic moments of brilliance into a united symphony.

That's my opinion, anyway. R. just said "I hate this movie" and mulled whether to walk out early. She didn't, but she refused to watch any other Guy Maddin movies during the weekend. I was a little wary myself, but nonetheless went to our next entry:

The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin, 2003): While I watched this, R. was down the hall seeing an excerpt from 50/50, an in-progress documentary directed by Ted (not Eric) Bogosian and produced by Oz's Tom Fontana. She liked it.

And I loved The Saddest Music in the World, a film that's as engaging and coherent as Archangel is alienating and confused. It's a Lubitsch-on-acid musical set in Depression-era Winnipeg, a devastating satire of Canada, the United States, and the Old World. It's the sort of comedy that cuts with a double-edged sword: I'm not completely certain, at the climax, whether Maddin is damning the U.S. or celebrating it, and I suspect he means a little of both. It's a wonderful picture, and it's my new candidate (if I'm still allowed to be playing this game at such a late date) for the Best Movie of 2003.

Saved! (Brian Dannelly, 2004): Dannelly is a Baltimore boy and a UMBC grad, so the place was packed with well-wishers. The movie is about Christian intolerance, the need to accept people, the importance of standing up for yourself, and -- is it obvious yet how utterly lame this picture is?

Actually, "lame" doesn't begin to describe this film. It's a smug, self-consciously "controversial" movie for people whose vaunted tolerance ends where the Red counties begin. The characters are caricatures, the plot is predictable, the jokes are weak, and the only redeeming factors in the whole mess are a couple funny lines from (of all people) Macauley Culkin. Alexander Payne could have had a field day with this idea, but in Dannelly's hands we get a conventional teen comedy with a heavy-handed anti-fundamentalist message. Or that's how it seems to me -- and I'm a fucking atheist.

(Speaking of which: The movie offers the liberal Christian theme that Jesus accepts everybody, but the credits include a nod to George Smith's defense of atheism. What's up with that?)

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004): A rock documentary from the directors of Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost. Heavy metal isn't really my kind of music, but I found this riveting: not just for its inside story of the breakdown and revitalization of a popular band, but for its in-depth look at the creative process. These musicians are as devoted to their craft as the players in a jazz or bluegrass band, and they can't stand the thought of doing something unoriginal or "stock." I came out of the picture with a lot of respect for them, personal warts and all.

Speedy (Ted Wilde, 1928): I'd leap at any chance to see the great Harold Lloyd on the big screen, but this was even better: it came with an original score performed live by the Alloy Orchestra. (Trivial aside: one member of the "orchestra" -- it's actually a trio -- used to be in Mission of Burma.) A terrific way to see a terrific movie.

The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1965): A new print of a classic. There's little to be said about this that hasn't been said already, except that it was my favorite film at the festival. (R.'s favorite was Speedy, which I'd put in third place behind Algiers and Saddest Music -- not that any ranking of three such radically different pictures could be anything but arbitrary.)

One movie we didn't see was Is It True What They Say About Ann?, a documentary about Ann Coulter. I'm not sure what the title refers to, but I'd like to think it has something to do with the fact that one of the most popular Google searches bringing people to this website is "Ann Coulter transvestite."


posted by Jesse 10:11 AM
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