You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 5, 2010.

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A two and a half hour round trip to see a movie may appear crazy on the surface, but when it’s for opening night of something as well put together as the 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival, all is completely sane. Attending the first screening wasn’t in my original plans; I was supposed to just arrive for the weekend. Thankfully, though, I decided to throw caution to the wind and drive up for director James Ivory and his newest work, The City of Your Final Destination. It was my first foray into the Merchant Ivory world, and a perfect entry point in my opinion. The gorgeous landscapes washed over me, the acting was superb—according to Ivory himself, this is his ‘talkiest film ever’—and the story, based on a novel by Peter Cameron, takes you away to this secluded little world of Ocho Rios where an eccentrically composed family resides in self-exile since the death of acclaimed author Jules Gund, the glue that brought them together.

I was always under the impression that these endeavors were more period pieces of pomp and circumstance, winning awards but feeling bloated and like a chore in the process. Never did I expect the wit and humor involved here, cutting through the drama of relationships and politicking for biography authorization rights on behalf of the lead Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally). Banter between characters was in abundance, laced with sarcasm and biting as words hit their mark. When you have roles that leave a bit to be desired on the cordial side of societal interaction, you do begin to delight in the ability of some to leave others speechless. And no one does so better than Laura Linney as Gund’s widow Caroline. She is the stubborn one, wanting to preserve the legacy of her husband—perhaps with ulterior motives as to why—and intelligent, knowing her side of things and never allowing a pandering outsider to chip at her defenses. She is the unreasonable one and says as much herself. Linney has always done wonders as strong women, but this role risked tipping over into unavoidable villainy. Luckily, as Ivory points out, that is why a likeable actor is cast as an unlikeable character; instead of appearing evil, she merely appears human.

And humanity is the driving force behind the film. With an international menagerie inhabiting this European wonderment of living quarters, built in Uruguay by the elder Gunds after escaping Nazi Germany, their interactions are a necessity to the story’s success. It’s an odd arrangement as the main house has both the American widow and British mistress, (Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Arden who came to live with them at 18 once pregnant with Gunds’ daughter Portia), while the second residence includes brother Adam, (although they use Anthony Hopkins’ photos as a young man to depict Jules, his character is in fact eight years older, not a twin), and his Japanese lover Pete, (the always interesting Hiroyuki Sanada). Living together works as they are closed off from the real world, unknowing of the loneliness building inside. Only when this young Ph.D. candidate arrives, despite being rejected by the family as far as writing a biography went, do they discover there is more to life than Ocho Rios; without Jules, they no longer have to stay. But Caroline has taken Arden in as a sort of daughter, recalling how helpless she was when she arrived—leaving her isn’t a topic to take lightly, no matter how stir-crazy she’s going, painting and listening to music without anyone to talk to.

Metwally’s Omar is not only the catalyst to awaken each member of the extended Gund family, but also a character needing to evolve as well. His journey begins for us sinking in quicksand, chasing after a dog that had gotten away. Looking at his life in that moment showed he wanted none of it, a change was necessary to become more independent, something impossible with his controlling girlfriend Deirdre, wonderfully played by Alexandra Maria Lara. His trip to Uruguay alone is the first step towards the rest of his life, bringing the isolated subjects of his planned novel a taste of civilization while learning about freedom and living in the moment, things that never seemed within his grasp. His horizons are expanded, his inhibitions rendered non-existent, and then a fateful bee sting causes his two worlds to collide. Deirdre arrives to nurse her boyfriend back to health, but also to expedite the attempt at getting Adam, Caroline, and Arden to sign off on the book. Lacking any tact in communicating with ‘impractical’ artistic types, a fact making her relationship with Omar seem completely out of character, she only drives all parties away, throwing a wrench into the organic interactions Omar had been building. Her arrival is the last straw for them all to finally look beyond past motivations and for once do something selfish, something that will make them happy—to hell with anyone else.

The attention to detail at work is impeccable, from the locations utilized—the Argentinean land doubling for Uruguay was actually scouted back in 2004 with the late Ismail Merchant, Ivory’s longtime producing partner—the distilled script from frequent collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala to the authentic art direction and breathtaking cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe. Each character evolves during the course of the film, becoming the people they aspire to be, a state they never felt they had the right to attain. It’s a spiritual awakening where love is distilled down to its most pure fiber; it’s simple really, you love what it is you love, there doesn’t need to be more justification than that. Ocho Rios has a hold on each and every one of them, beckoning some to return and stay, while others to escape and live once more. There is a choice for all, one that isn’t always convenient, but crucial to their happiness. It’s all so endearing and familiar, showing that one is never too old to change everything. They all love each other in some fashion—a feeling that will never go away—but until the end, you never get to see their full potential unencumbered by invisible constraints. With a brief epilogue three years later, we catch a glimpse of two characters with unwavering voices, horns locked for supposed perpetuity, changed with the passing time. It just goes to show how life only moves forward; it is up to us to swim with the current and live. What a wonder it is to see the absolute bliss possible once true happiness is finally attained.

The City of Your Final Destination 9/10

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photography:
[1] Laura Linney
[2] Omar Metwally
photos courtesy of Merchant Ivory Productions.

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The opening night of the newly named, and thus inaugural, 360 | 365 George Eastman House Film Festival has ended with a standing ovation. It was James Ivory’s first, at least to his recollection, and a wonderful testament to his extensive and successful body of work. His newest film, City of Your Final Destination, opened the festivities along with the acceptance of the title George Eastman Honorary Scholar with a lovely plaque denoting such. It was my first experience with a Merchant Ivory production and well worth the wait to finally see one, opening my eyes to the artistry, performances, and beauty of story. I cannot wait to visit the duo’s past works—all currently being archived by the Eastman House itself—making tonight’s two and a half hour round trip, half of which through the dark pouring rain, well worth the effort.

Following are a few photos taken from the screening that showcased Jim Kelly as the face of Presenting Sponsor Fifth Year Productions, Partners + Napier’s award-winning new logo and brand for the festival, and Crystal Pix’s introductory short film of dueling cowboy eggs—film was most definitely born here. Review of the film, which was fantastic, to come tomorrow.

Photo: Dr. Anthony Bannon, The Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

Photo: John Richardson, Executive Director, 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival.

Photo: James Ivory being presented his George Eastman Honorary Scholar plaque.

Photo: James Ivory with Jim Healy, Director of Programming, during a post-screening Q&A.

Keith Haverbrook, Eric Schoman & Jeff Mayfield make up the directing collective known as Keith Schofield. It’s an award-winning team from Los Angeles, CA that has been crafting very innovative music videos since 2004, almost all of which utilize some sort of camera trick, using the artifice of the medium to lend a unique visual quality. You could say they just take gimmicks such as depth perception illusions, multiple layering where the background is on a loop while the foreground continues forward, or a rigged focal point axis connected to a prop in the frame instead of the artist, but you can’t say the imagery doesn’t stick with you.

It’s also a pleasure to see the trio work with a wide range of artists from emo-rock to electronica/dance to rap to Brit-pop. Oftentimes video directors will become pigeonholed to one genre of sound, but perhaps Keith Schofield’s extensive catalog of commercials helps allow people to approach them for their style and not because ‘they did a good job on that other band that sounds like us’. Never afraid to plug the artists themselves into the films, the work is more a showcase of aesthetics and fun to complement the music, a la Michel Gondry, rather than a short film using the song as enhancement. They advertise the music first and themselves second.

Death Cab for Cutie: Jealousy Rides With Me
watch video here

The earliest video I viewed by them is also the one that epitomizes their style. It begins with a young couple in love, causing you to think something will eventually come between them to render the song title’s Jealousy appropriate. With camera tricks allowing the duo to utilize the sun as a prop for their humorous jokes, the directors take an ingenious turn and make the celestial bodies the main characters. The moon sees how the humans love its daytime counterpart, becoming sad and jealous of the attention. This rivalry continues on until a great ending where the moon finally puts an end to its appearance of inferiority without special effects. And that is the appeal of Keith Schofield, creating as much of their breathtaking imagery in-camera, computer effects in post unnecessary.

Wintergreen: When I Wake Up
watch video here

The first of two collaborations with the band Wintergreen shows how they’ll use cinematic tropes in their music videos. Not only a clip to promote the song, the video for When I Wake Up is a quasi-documentary about the debacle that was E.T. for the Atari. A fun adventure as the band seeks out the buried millions of cartridges ensues, cutting from them playing the game at home while singing to their desert dig. It’s a poppy song and the visuals are too, showing a few guys goofing off together in the sand.

Minus the Bear: Knights
watch video here

With Knights, Keith Schofield uses a symmetrical mirroring motif throughout, portraying the left and right sides of the frame’s center as two identical halves to create an unnatural whole. Many times the images flash quickly, objects jettisoning into each other as they meet in the middle, even at one time making Minus the Bear’s halved drummer whole again. But it isn’t all mirrored perfectly; if you pay close attention, you’ll see a few things that don’t quite match up, adding another layer to the seemingly simple artistic decision.

Supergrass: Bad Blood
watch video here

Winner of the UK Music Video Award for Best Rock Video, Bad Blood is a fantastic piece of artistry as they focus the camera onto objects in motion, creating a unique effect of movement that becomes stilted and hitched. An entire room moves but the chandelier does not or the drummer and kick-drum swing back and forth as the mallet continues to vibrate in the middle of the frame, there are brilliant compositions of guitar arms angled in close-up or cymbals and drums hit, and it gets even crazier towards the end with masked band members and instruments turning into food. Gorgeous to look at and a great song to boot.

The BPA: Toe Jam
watch video here

Norman Cook’s other project besides Fatboy Slim, The Brighton Port Authority, enlisted the troupe to helm his video for Toe Jam and they went all out on the choreography. Like the Death Cab video before it, which the directors said needed the actors to wear earbuds so they could make sure positioning was correct between props and the sun, this needed impeccably timed compositions. It’s a piece completely inhabited by nude actors necessitating large black censor bars to hide all the naughty bits, bars that eventually become the star. By positioning the women just right, the bars begin to create letters, shapes, and action. The laughs get a bit risqué once a couple male actors enlist a ‘swinging’ bar, but otherwise its nice clean, naked fun—I’m sure it was for the directors shooting it too.

Ladyhawke: Dusk Till Dawn
watch video here

Can you get better than an homage to old 80s style Halloween costumes? You know, the ones where you’d get a hard plastic mask and a smock that had the logo of the character you were dressed as? I love Ladyhawke’s debut album, so it was great to see the boys directed one of her videos, but it was watching the monsters inhabiting her nightmare dressed nostagically that made it priceless. Good to see them have some fun by creating their own ‘new’ costumes too. Gotta enjoy the ‘Murdered Boyfriend’—now on sale at Toys R’ Us.

The Ting Tings: Be the One
watch video here

Be the One‘s video is already being copied—see Adele’s Hometown Glory for a similar idea—but of course Keith Schofield wasn’t the first to utilize projection backgrounds for cinematic purposes. Besides using giant screens pushed around by stagehands to depict both Jules De Martino and Katie White, at times going infinitely deep with multiple layers in one frame, it’s the camera trick of the singers smoothly transitioning from screen to real life that astounds. It plays with the idea that our television is itself one more surface for their images to be projected on, so whether they are standing in front of the movie screen in the shot or on it, they are still a projection for us the viewer, adding one more layer to the artifice.

CSS: Move
watch video here

I’m pretty sure that these guys utilize post-production effects and touch-ups in all their videos, but CSS’s Move is the first to blatantly show as much. They do try and make it realistically plausible that the actors can position themselves to create the Polaroids being snapped, but if you look closely at the shots, arms are around buildings instead of in front of them and there has definitely been Photoshop work done to make the final images perfect. This isn’t a detriment to the video, or the job Keith Schofield did, I just think it deserves mentioning, showing a bit of the ‘man behind the curtain’ so to speak. I do enjoy seeing these eccentric bandmates running around, though, throwing stuff in the air, and seeing how the compositions end up.

MIMS: Move (If You Wanna)
watch video here

Changing things up from the rock and pop staples of their oeuvre, a little hip-hop gets thrown into the mix with MIMS’ Move (If You Wanna). This is a great use of greenscreen effect—that’s the only explanation I can come up with for it—keeping the artist constantly moving as though on a conveyor belt left to right while other dancers go against the grain. The layering is fantastic as people literally fly in front of and behind MIMS, traveling at a different speed than him to create a cool effect of floating. And then the boys throw in some loops, like a breakdancer spinning back and forth continuously in the background while the star continues on his way. It’s stylish and cool, doing something different than the usual background dancers bumping and grinding in real time.

Lenny Kravitz & Jus†ice: Let Love Rule
watch video here

Jus†ice is everywhere. I’ve done a profile on two music video directors now and they are a common entity. The song is Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule but the remix version is by the French dance sensation. It’s a culmination of Keith Schofield’s filmic quality, actually creating the video to be a movie’s end credit sequence. By far the most impressive concept in their videography to me, I was a tad confused by the start as it showcased a guy saving a girl and leaving her to lie low for a while, without any music playing. The track not only soon kicks in, but is accompanied by rolling credits on the right side of the frame, becoming the end of a fictional film, complete with full cast and crew—I wonder how many are real people. The gimmick blew me away. I think it might have been more effective had it continued on like any end credits, but I’m okay with the fact he becomes conscious of the words and attempts to play with them before ultimately doing what he can to rid himself of the annoyance and gain his sanity back.

Charlotte Gainsbourg & Beck: Heaven Can Wait
watch video here

And finally there is the latest work for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Heaven Can Wait, a song collaboration with Beck. The first thing to come to mind while watching was Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sunand the surrealistic absurdity contained within it. The video is shot gorgeously with beautiful close-ups of Gainsbourg and others, usually with a shallow depth of field to lend it a dreamlike quality of crisp focus and blurred periphery. There is some really strange stuff going on too, not limited to a man chased by a revolving ax, a man bathing in Fruity Pebbles as the still above shows, and a pony-tailed person looking into a mirror, but seeing the back of his/her head. Think Matthew Barney Cremaster weirdness—that glorious combo of eccentrically grotesque and stunningly artistic.

This video’s fantastic production value shows the collective definitely have something going for them. Their concepts and technical innovations show that a future in Hollywood is theirs for the taking; I just wonder if they’d stay together or split apart and do their own work. I guess that all depends on exactly how collaborative they are in this process, whether one writes, one directs, one choreographs, etc. Perhaps they work individually but paste the Keith Schofield name on the work for solidarity purposes. The only thing I do know for sure is that I’ll be continually visiting their site to see what new and amazing work they create.

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