Monthly Archives: September 2015

Last Night at the Alamo (1983)

Pennell got better in a hurry for his second feature, a Texas spin on The Iceman Cometh. Pennell widens his scope and gets nearly every detail right. He lets Kim Henkle(The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) take over writing chores. Despite the seeming incongruity between the two men’s styles, both come through and do exceptional work. Henkle wisely writes an overabundance of dialogue so that it can flow naturally with overlap and remove the artificial staginess that marred some scenes from The Whole Shootin’ Match. Characters are more fleshed out, and there are more of them. Pennell handles his actors perfectly; their interactions are exemplary ensemble work, each maintaining his distinct character while still adjusting his performance to the presence of whoever else is in the scene. Pennell also creates his most deeply flawed and fascinating character study, Cowboy, as played by Sonny Davis.

Though the plot sounds like the old cliche of the group of friends who must save their favorite place before it gets shut down, Pennell has much bigger things on his mind. Plot here is used as a sort of red herring from the real point and purpose of the film; though the bar is shutting down, the doomed atmosphere comes from the sadness and lack of purpose most of the patrons’ lives seem to have. Some of them hold a fanciful notion that the Alamo bar is a tight knit community and connected to the bar itself, but most of them already have plans to patronize a bar down the street. Each character reveals their weaknesses by the film’s end, but its to Pennell’s credit that he manages to avoid pointing at them and moralizing; he’s clearly been in very similar situations, and given the rapid decline in his filmmaking capabilities due to alcoholism following this piece, he may see a lot more of himself in Cowboy than he’d like to admit.

Strongly recommended. Now where’s a copy of Doc’s Full Service?

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

Eagle Pennell’s great lost film is finally available in some form thanks to the kind fellows at Landmark films, who I must point out have put together an exceptional DVD presentation of it. Having wanted to see this for a long time, I can’t say I was disappointed, though I also can’t claim to have been blown away. The amount of talent and raw instinct on display here from someone with no background in film beyond making one short is astonishing. The script is very strong, though certain scenes feel a bit stagey. This could mostly be attributed to lack of shooting funds, and thereby lack of time to rehearse the scenes out properly. Pennell however does right by his setting; every frame oozes Austin Texas and he doesn’t coach any of his actors out of their dialects. This makes them feel like specific characters as opposed to archetypes.

The story is a simple but effective one about lives of extremely limited social mobility. Two friends, Frank and Lloyd, played by Sonny Davis and Lou Perryman respectively, are two friends constantly trying out new get rich quick schemes. Both are good natured, if clueless, and their plans always end up in failure. The manner in which Pennell shows their failures and their responses to them gives the sense that they’ve been getting rejected for a long time. Both seem aware on some level of the futility of what they’re doing, Frank moreso than Lloyd, but cover this despair in alcohol and comradery.

Pennell’s position as a real life alcoholic who was unaware of it at the time he made the film(at least if Roger Ebert’s anecdote is reliable) gives him a fairly unique stance on the issue. At no point in the film does either character blame the alcohol for anything that happens to them, and it seems to be mostly just a fact of life for them, a way to cover much deeper problems that can’t be so easily resolved. Though hyped as a sort of white trash Killer of Sheep, this film has a much more conventional structure than that one, though the exploration of the despair and struggle to maintain hope and dignity in a bleak social setting gives the two a certain kinship. Pennell explores these character’s hopes and dreams(in a dream sequence that would seem to be out of place but works) without denying the situation that makes them seem sensible. When a drastic event happens right before the film’s end, its mostly effective since the movie was pointing to it all along, not in any clever furtive way, but as sort a hovering possibility.

Chuck Pennell’s score is excellent, and helps carry some of the weaker montage sequences.

Wilco-Summerteeth (1999)

This is the Wilco record to get. It sounds like unreleased Velvet Underground tracks played by the Electric Light Orchestra. The country sound that had defined Jeff Tweedy’s recordings up to the point this album came out is dicarded entirely. Something like psychedelia is attempted but not quite reached. Where psychedelia came from psychedelic drugs like LSD and marijuana, this sounds more like the work of people on larger than recommended doses of prescription painkillers. Everything on the album is recorded clean then coated with the sort of cotton candy swirl that had made the sound of The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips a little while earlier.

The lyrics are much darker than on previous Wilco albums. There are a lot of hopeless pleas. “I know that we’re just friends.” “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm.” It’s blurry where Tweedy ends and the character sketches begin. His crackly not especially melodic voice is multitracked. The effect is not like on earlier examples of multitracking on LPs. Where a David Bowie track would use two tracks of Bowie singing to make his thin voice sound more soulful, the multitracking on Summerteeth just seems to accentuate the cigarette cracks in Tweedy’s throaty delivery.

The relationship between the band, producer Jim O’Rourke, and particularly the relationship between Tweedy and the now deceased Jay Bennett seems in fullest bloom. Left to his own devices, Tweedy’s genre experiments tend toward rather flat production. They sound like B-sides. Wilco The Album was, whether it thought itself to be such or not, whether the songs had appeared as flipsides to anything else prior, a collection of b-sides-at least in spirit. Summerteeth is a cohesive statement by a band at the archetypal height of their powers.

Lyrics shift between half hearted statements seemingly taken from soda jingles and the sort of self-help books sold at gas stations and bewildered accounts of murderous fantasies of the id. Lyrics like “I’m a bomb regardless”, and “I dreamed about killing you again last night” pop up in the otherwise more subtle lyrics surrounding them meant to convey a contradiction-an energetic tension between the resigned gallows humor of the vocals and uplifting nature of the statements being uttered. Most lyrics on the album are structured around a series of these common phrases until they’re betrayed at the end of a stanza or in their last repetition as a verse by a slip, such as in the much remarked upon “She’s a Jar.”

The sound is cotton candy with the attendant tooth rot. Highly recommended.

High School (1968)

Frederick Wiseman’s second feature length documentary is a frightening indictment of public education institutions, which would seem unfair and cynical except that I can remember specifically living through variants of more than half the scenes Wiseman captures here. The arbitrary punishments and bland affirmations of blind faith in bureaucracy are captured and projected, one after another. The result is a hellish portrait, and Wiseman takes the leverage he builds up to draw some damning connections between the lack of critical thought that goes on in the School and the Vietnam war casualties.

Even the less subtle montages here have a certain gracefulness; one sequence plays the bubblegum pop song “Simon Says” over a group of girls doing synchronized jumping jacks for a gym class. They’re shot from the neck down, and the whole sequence has a texture that recalls a kind of warped Busby Berkeley. The texture of the film is what gives it a great deal of its power; the grim and mindless enforcement of authority is shown to be done not in any kind of histrionic display but in very monotone exchanges; mechanical.

If only more educators could have seen this and not sentimental tripe like Dead Poet’s Society. Thankfully Wiseman is now selling discs for public consumption at prices that, while certainly not encouraging any many shopping sprees, make the films at least accessible to the public in some form.

Domestic Violence 2 (2002)

Frederick Wiseman is one of America’s foremost documentarians, and, perhaps, the most important proponent of the cinema verite movement. He has made 36 films, and is one of the few filmmakers (less than ten) who has received a MacArthur Genius Grant. His often lengthy documentaries sport simple, matter of fact titles like High School, Canal Zone, Central Park, and Meat. Each title is a fair summary of the film’s contents.

High School shows the day-to-day goings on of a fairly typical high school. Meat shows how cows go from farms to grocery stores. Wiseman doesn’t editorialize in any capacity beyond as an editor, and even there he acts more as a curator. Seemingly innocuous events build up until the viewer comes to a moment of realization; what seemed tedious in the watching is revealed to actually be the root of something deeper, more troubling.

The illogical enforcement of authority by gym teachers and principles is brought to a haunting conclusion when a letter written by a former student who is killed in Vietnam is read over the school’s loudspeaker system. The white coats worn by the workers in Meat are associated through montage with the white sheets thrown over the freshly slaughtered racks of beef. Wiseman has a law degree, and has also served as a producer for the great early American independent film The Cool World by Shirley Clarke.

Domestic Violence 2 is a continuation of his earlier film Domestic Violence. Both follow a southern Florida social service system as cases of domestic violence are reported and dealt with. While Domestic Violence is focused on counseling and the recovery of the victims, the sequel goes into what happens to the perpetrators. Both films begin with police fielding a domestic violence call, but 2 goes directly to video court where sentencing occurs, while the first goes into a shelter and counseling center. The second film possesses a more comic air simply for the extremity of the cases aired; the judge in the video court, a mustached man, reviews a seemingly unending series of cases to decide on sentencing for them.

The monotony slowly begins to take an air of comic absurdity. A public defender tries to defend an accused man only for the Judge’s assistant to read that the man has a murder charge, leaving the defender looking foolish. The audience’s assignment of guilt shifts as the layers of each case are pulled away. The final case heard involves a woman. At first all that is revealed is that she tried to run over her husband with a car, but as the assistant pulls up the man’s record and her testimony reveal his insanity and violent possessiveness, the tables turn. Finally, the judge glibly states “You should’ve run him over with the car. You can go home ma’am.”

An abrupt cut to landscape shots of suburban Florida follows. A judge hears disputed cases, obviously bored and, having seen most of these people to the point she recognizes them, has questions of futility written clearly on her face. Finally, a third judge who ensures that restraining orders and similar papers are upheld sees several couples in his office. While not as bored as the second judge, he clearly has no tolerance left for nonsense. The film concludes its 160 minute run time with more shots of suburban Florida, only this time taken at night.

The film is a superlative historical document on several fronts. Wiseman unflinchingly confronts the modern institution without reductive generalizations, and his extensive portraits will provide perhaps the most accurate and useful portrait of American life in the second half of the 20th century that the cinema has provided. His landscapes, taken as a piece with the landscape shots of his other work, show clearly the monotony and repetition of the American town in the era of the conglomeration. Dreary architecture and fast food restaurants dominate, and it’s difficult to distinguish between this town and any other. (In fact, it looks a great deal like where I grew up in upstate New York.)

In a cinema dominated by childishly romanticized road trip movies, this sort of documentation is of paramount importance. His look at the inner workings of the social welfare and judicial systems preserves their actual tone (at least the tone I remember from years of following around my father, a forensic traffic engineer, from courtroom to courtroom) more honestly and complexly than any of the number of courtroom dramas in the post-war cinema or television canons. His judges reflect the air of cynicism that has permeated the American drive toward progressive social reform. Is society something that can be reformed through courts and social work, or are the poor people of Florida simply doomed to repeat their cycles of misplaced affection and physical violence?

The first film, showing the care centers and classes takes a more optimistic look at this issue, showing where it does in fact help, but Domestic Violence 2, by showing the couples interacting, gives a better view of this strange and destructive magnetism that permeates these relationships. Even after being hit with a hammer, choked, or threatened with a gun, the women will still wish to remain friends with their abuser, and the abusers need their victims to the point of ignoring threats of prison time for harassment and stalking.

Regional dialects are recorded and we see how much training and breeding really do shift one’s demeanor. The pervasiveness of product in American life is also shown somewhat here, but not to the extremes of the first film, where the only visuals seemed to be white walls, faces, and garishly out of place soda cans.

Cabaret (1972)

Despite the many visual treats Bob Fosse’s Cabaret has to offer, the most memorable shot is only lingered on for a few seconds and is only thematically connected to the narrative. It shows a ventriloquist and a dummy-the ventriloquist out of focus and in the background, an uncomfortable dazed look on his face, while the dummy is out front, lively and perceptive, in perfect focus. The medium of entertainment has usurped and overshadowed its supposed master.

In the classic musicals, the musical sequence is almost invariably used to grant characters a more vibrant interiority than strict realism would allow for. The singer’s body is then a portal into their mind. Fosse rejects this notion except in two of the musical numbers, the rest of the dances serving to provide commentary on the narrative, framing both its political and interpersonal events. Montage is constantly employed, cutting rhythmically between acts of violence and their more playful counterparts on the stage. This repetition pushes the viewer through several interpretations of the significance of this strategy, and the relationship between the two iconographies evolves from one of contrast to one of conflation-the Nazi violence and the supposedly apolitical art of the cabaret hall work in confluence. The entertainment provides the softening of perception necessary for Nazism to seem laughable; it imaginatively pulls the punches of political upheaval. When the master of ceremonies closes his final number with an anti-semitic remark, his audience peppered with brownshirts, there’s something positively sinister in the cheerfulness of the stage.

However, Fosse doesn’t collapse the Nazis and the music hall into being the same thing, contrasting them in the one number given to the Nazi presence, “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”. The crowd is overcome with swellings of feeling, and join in the very simple music, and the very simple choreography. It’s oft-stated that the reason national anthems are such awful pieces of music is because it’s impossible to get 30,000 half-sober baseball fans to sing opera in unison. There is no separate identity in Fosse’s choreography for “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”-the camera, in framing each face, disembodies each singer. Where the music hall allowed for sexuality and a certain slinkiness, the Nazi dance is a denial of any sort of physical looseness. Nuance cannot exist in the thrall of crowds.

Cabaret, like much popular American cinema of the 1970s, is distinctly uncomfortable with heroic figures, while simultaneously enamored with the protagonist as a means of ordering the narrative. Brian (Michael York) is a heroic figure in some ways; he is careful and studious, politically involved, and sensitive to the finer points of his decisions. Yet when he makes a physical resistance to the rise of the Nazi party, its treated as a nice gesture and little else-there is no chance of anyone changing the course of things. For all the elipticality of the sequence, it might as well be a three panel Nancy comic strip. Man sees Nazis. Man offends Nazis. Man sits in hospital bed. Brian exists more as a foil to Sally (Liza Minnelli) than as a beacon of hope for mankind.

Sally is also admired by the camera for her brashness and spontaneity. Yet with this child-like openness to her surroundings comes an underdeveloped sense of propriety and principles. While Brian has a moment of reflection and discomfort before being bought as a plaything by Maxmilian, Sally is simply dazzled by the display of wealth and power, willing to objectify herself for a certain price. She’s kind and charming, but breezy and altogether too weak to stem the tides of history. Afraid of any sort of commitment, she aborts hers and Brian’s baby, citing an imagined future of domestic misery. Sally’s cop out takes on an added shade of tragedy in light of what likely happened to her in Germany after Brian left for Britain. She’s no Zarah Leander, after all.

Looking at each character as an embodiment of national character would seem a route to further insight, as the piece is shaped distinctly to encourage such interpretations. Brian is the reserved Englishman, Sally the brash naivete of the United States, ambitious with a weakness for shiny things, so on and so forth. Yet, as each mental sketch in this sequence is committed to text, cliche rears its ugly head. Oh well, not everyone gets to be Henry James…

More interesting is a counterpoint suggested perhaps subconsciously; closeted Jew Fritz, with his pork-pie hat and flirtations in broken English evokes a young Maurice Chevalier, around the time he made The Smiling Lieutenant with Ernst Lubitsch. The film, viewed holistically as a lament for the Germany lost in the war, then evokes another Ernst Lubitsch picture: The Shop Around the Corner. In the differences between these two pictures can be seen the differences in how each generation perceived the war. Lubitsch, freshly separated from Europe, sees prewar Europe in much warmer more humanistic terms. The film is a conjuring of the world he left behind. Fosse, who never lived in Weimar Germany, can’t help but look at the past in fairly abstract, diagnostic terms. Fosse is a director of symbols. People can’t ever be just people or else…well…what’s the point?

This tendency is what keeps Cabaret from entering the higher echelons of the cinema. The cook has fussed over his meal too much, putting in too many accents. While certain scenes have a delightfully subtle and whimsical tone, they’re inevitably brought down by later underlining. When Brian tells Sally that he too has bedded Maximilian, the mild revelation is delivered with the sort of glee one child has showing another child a dirty limerick. Is the existence of homosexuality really so shocking? The Jewish characters also seem very loosely sketched, and tangential to the main narrative (though one supposes a movie with just Nazis would be like a cartoon with only Tom or Jerry.) Just as the film doesn’t need to show that homosexuality exists as a revelation in and of itself, so it also manifests the unfortunate tendency to trot out Jewish supporting characters to make sure the audience knows that Jews are people just like them.

Great Albums That Never Were: Samuel Beckett’s Vamp Hop

I woke up this morning with an odd thought lodged in my mind that had not been present at the time I fell asleep. As I made some toast I wondered: “What kind of hip hop album would Samuel Beckett have made?”

This is not as odd a question as it would sound. It is well known among Beckett biographers that one of the greatest regrets of the later Beckett was his inability to secure a record contract on the basis of his freestyles.

Several presentations have been made on the subject at academic conferences devoted to Beckett. Especially interesting to scholars is an unrecorded album that Beckett frequently discussed working on in his journals and letters. Several close friends and associates of Beckett were interviewed about times that he had performed pieces of the lost magnum opus.

“Sam called the album Vamp Hop. It was…he had it almost finished. He used to play bits around the house all the time when we’d sit around smoking and drinking coffee,” remembers neighbor Will Wiggins.

“It was just like…there was no actual rapping. It was just the vamping talk that starts the tracks for like…3 or 5 minutes and then the beat would change. And the whole time it was just ‘I’m waiting for the beat to get hot. I’m waiting for the beat to get hot. This beat will get hot soon. Then you’ll all see.’

“Sam had a much different voice when he was rapping than when he wrote you know? It brought out a different side of him.”

The Irish writer hoped to gain the fame and prestige that had eluded him in the literary world by crossing over into the hip-hop market.

But he was going to do it on his terms. “He thought the act of rapping was too focused on the moment of the instant-the moment when the thing itself happens. Vamp Hop was the imagined perfect album at the end of a rainbow of experimentation, a rainbow that sat in the background overlooking much of the famed scribe’s life.

In an excerpt from the recently published 3rd volume of Beckett’s journals, he discusses the conception of the piece:

“In the songs, the discussion always turns to the real. And the real is always discussed as what’s coming up on the tape. So the raps themselves are implied as being the real. But I think the real moment, the defining moment of life, is that moment of awkward chatter that fills in the space of anticipation.

“So why not a hip-hop album that embraces its aggressive element, the parts of the music meant to bore the listener, the skits and opening patter, and let them expand to dominate the final product.”

Beckett had a primitive home recording device. He would frequently space it evenly between himself and his boom box and record lo-fi demos of vamps. The deceased literary legend would then send batches of these vamps to record labels or hand them out to friendly looking women he encountered clerking fast food restaurant drive-thru windows late at night.

He felt these service workers were the perfect starting point in introducing Vamp Hop to the larger world. Friends recall him remarking that the McDonald’s sitting rooms were the new top 40 radio, where the kids would go to find the music that would color all their childhood memories.

Beckett’s interest in hip hop dates back to when the great writer was a young child. In another excerpt from the journals Beckett writes:

“When I first encountered this music. I was a young man in Ireland. Those were days before the emergence of animatronic animal bands that would play at childrens’ birthday parties at pizza parlors. In that time, the pizza parlors would hire overweight, disabled or mentally challenged men to dress like bears and foxes and chatter away over phonograph records or an accordion.

“It was then, seeing them. Seeing that. I knew what I had to do.”

So what would the album have sounded like? In the Beckett collection at NYU, several cocktail napkins Beckett wrote on provide a glimpse into what was contained on those long lost mix tapes.

Numerous collectors have offered exorbitant cash rewards for any of the original mix tapes. Hopes grow slimmer each year any originals will surface.

From the NYU cocktail napkin collection:

“(to be placed near end of 75 minute album runtime) Yeah, I’m really gonna rap over this one,

Y’all see I’m gonna do it

I’ll start rapping over it any day now

You just wait

This The Vamp Vol. 3-Cash Credit Crew exclusive

I’ll starting rapping any moment now.”

Anyone with a possible lead on the whereabouts of any original Samuel Beckett mix tapes are instructed to contact the official Beckett Museum in Ireland.

Gilliap (1975)

This picture, such an epic flop that director Roy Andersson quit making features for the 20 years that followed its release, is not really that awful upon reexamination. Despite it’s heavily uneven tone and utterly perplexing last third(which I’m going to mostly ignore here), Andersson gets a lot right.

This has to be one of the most accurate filmed depictions of working food service in a small town ever made. Andersson is a master at setting and maintaining tone; the slow pace, dull colors, and silent strangeness of hotel dining room and kitchen all help evoke the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere that dominates such a place. The constant repeated joke of someone claiming they’re only ‘passing through’ threatens to grow tiresome. But if they weren’t, their spirit would be crushed absolutely. In the first third, there are also several absolutely brilliant visual gags.

As the film moves on, Andersson abandons the restaurant, and unsurprisingly the film loses its momentum, eventually regaining it somewhat with an (intentionally) awkward and passionless romance, but then losing it again in an awkward third part that tries to become a gangster film or something. Andersson was in person at the screening I attended and practically disowned the piece. His modesty aside, there’s a great deal here to recommend. When Andersson is on, he’s really on, and that’s more than can be said for most filmmakers.

Olympia (1938)

(This review originally ran in the textbook Documentary Film: Contexts and Criticism, ed. Carl Rollyson.)

Leni Riefenstahl was in many ways the perfect filmmaker to represent the Nazi regime; her work signifies both the astonishing grandeur and formal perfection of their outward displays, and the heartless technocratic beliefs that lay underneath these sleek surfaces. This aesthetic is played out in all its hollowly technical forms throughout her 3 ½ hour chronicle of the 1936 Olympic Games, Olympia.

Olympia has many elements for which it can be commended; tellingly, all of these elements are purely in the technical realm. Her use of natural light is excellent; the action is never unclear and the surface is so sleek as to make the entire production unerringly smooth in spite of the necessary shakiness of the camera in most segments. She has a fairly set schematic of shots in each event, which varies little outside a couple bravura sequences(such as the ‘flying divers’ montage toward the film’s end.) The extremely abstract montage that begins the film shows Riefenstahl at her most engaged; even in Triumph of the Will, she seemed a filmmaker uniquely fascinated with turning reality into high abstraction; mythologizing it beyond the imperfect and mundane. Here she explicitly compares, by a carefully spliced transition, the glory of antiquity and the impressive physiques of the then current Olympic athletes. This opening; with its soft dream-like lighting, is the film’s peak; here Riefenstahl is allowed to fully explore her obsessions and thoughts without the need to represent reality in all its messiness(if such a heavily staged and orchestrated event as the Olympics can even be dubbed “reality”). Still, despite the impressive technique, her need to blatantly telegraph her meaning in each shot hampers any artistic ambiguity that might have enlivened this spectacle. Riefenstahl is a film artist capable of great displays which captivate audiences, but has little capacity for any sort of critical thought.

Especially troubling here is her portrayal of idealized forms; her focus here is entirely on the body, not the mind or the imaginative expressiveness that differentiates men. Outside some elongated focuses on her boyfriend, none of the athletes photographed seem like distinct people, but rather are just running or jumping meat. Riefenstahl is no Thomas Eakins. She sees no spirituality in motion; her rowers are shot from the back more often than not; no internal liveliness is conveyed. And for all the fuss made about her background as a dancer, she shows none of the sensitivity and smaller moments which define the artistic peaks of that form; her ideal is a purely physical one defined by a masculinely characterized dominance and stoic poker faces. Her women are androgynous with hard expressions, and more delicate and characteristically feminine movements, such as many of the gymnastics events, were purposely cut out of the film.

The ability to capture the unexpected and the extended period of editing that documentary film offer as an advantage over fiction film hold no interest to Riefenstahl. All of her editing is done solely with the intent of manipulating the audience in the most shallow and superficial ways. A cloyingly melodramatic score runs throughout and each event is edited as a rapid series of repetitive actions, which she usually removes from context so as to deliver an aimless surge of adrenaline to the viewer.

To further this end, she cuts to crowd reaction shots, which traverse the spectrum from bored distraction to fervent screams punctuated by violent gesticulation. Far from offering a self-reflexive commentary or meditation on the rather tribal nature of spectatorship in such a setting, she uses these shots to color her previous rushes of motion with a simple and palpable emotion for the audience to feel. Granted, it is a bit excessive to ask for a critical view on the simplifying nature of crowds from the woman who was Hitler’s filmmaker. Were she possessed of such a capability for reflection she might’ve done the ethical thing like Fritz Lang and left before the complete downfall of Weimar Germany.

Though she comes up with a number of gimmicks like digging trenches to create smooth tracking shots and uses some time-worn tricks like reverse angle shots to liven up the repetitions, they still start to wear down even the most sports crazed viewer; this is no doubt part of why she decided to break it into two parts. Even split over several viewing periods, this is far too much of a technical exercise to inspire any more devotion than an uncritical appreciation of aesthetics; a joy at soulless mastery and animal appreciation of idealized forms. If World War II should have shown the world anything, its the dangerous nature of such a combination. It preys on the weaknesses of men’s minds, and tellingly this film’s greatest aesthetic legacy is in advertising. The innovations seen here are now used to create subconscious desire in the masses for Gatorade or underwear. Not unsuccessfully, but one would hope for art to aspire to higher realms than this.

Riefenstahl’s fiercely claims that she was thinking in artistic terms; but this intent doesn’t exonerate shallow art. After all, wasn’t Hitler convinced he was an artist at the academy?

Another Girl, Another Planet (1993)

Most well known for its exploration of the artistic possibilities of the $40 Fisher Price pixelcam, this feature bewilders. Ostensibly about two friends and several women who weave in and out of their lives, the narrative will often break down or be  interrupted by long disorienting shots of people lighting cigarettes(I must’ve counted at least 5 drawn out cigarette lighting sequences, a noteworthy sum in a feature that’s only 53 minutes) or moving the camera around the blinking surface of a pinball machine. While these look interesting through the distortion of the pixelcam, they don`t quite add up to a feature film. Director Michael Almareyda seems not to mind.

Another Girl, Another Planet works best when detailing the bored social habits of the overly privileged and idle as he did so well in his first feature, the horribly underrated Twister. The one man who keeps bringing back girls to his apartment to play them incredibly obscure pop records as they sit, pointedly disinterested, struck a note of truth. Same goes for the scenes where the three people are sitting in the apartment as the two who’re a couple leave the third one awkwardly fidgeting(this had the added benefit of being quite humorous.) The final shot featuring an elephant left me perplexed.