Tag Archives: movies

More DRIFT news!

DRIFT movie poster


DRIFT will have its World Premiere this weekend, at Washington, DC’s REEL Independent Film Festival & Extravaganza! Check the schedule for Saturday and Sunday screening times!

The Chicago Premiere and Press Screening will take place next month, on November 21, at the fantastic Portage Theater.

Visit DriftFilm.com for the latest updates!

(Poster design by Tim Swezy. Photography by Joshua Lopatin.)


Still Frame of the Day: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Belgium)

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms (Soviet Union, 1940)

Apologies for the long absence, readers.  I’ve been busy with mostly non-film, no-fun sorts of things.

I am however, working on an experimental short for the Chicago Filmmakers Location Sound Recording & Editing Techniques class, in which I’ve been enrolled for the past month. My process has been a little slow-going, but I’ll post the finished piece [or at least some version of it], once I get done with it.

For now, you might consider taking a gander at this short film from 1940, which documents some bizarre Soviet attempts at animal corpse resuscitation. Produced by Moscow’s Techfilm Studio.

“Sita Sings the Blues” Free to Watch Online; Donations accepted

Opening credits of Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues"

After she spent three years working on her film, animator Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues could not be released, due to licensing issues with music used throughout the piece. It’s now available online; Paley ended up paying the whopping $50,000 in copyright fees by way of a loan, which now remains largely unrepaid.

You can read more about Paley’s copyright struggle, and hear her thoughts on our “permission culture,” at QuestionCopyright.org (where you can also donate to help repay the loan).

You can watch/download Paley’s entire film online at Thirteen.org.

Regarding St. Patrick’s Day,

Celebrate the day right and proper…
that is, with a 24-year-old Jennifer Aniston* and Willow Ufgood:

*How much cosmetic work do you think she’d already had on her nose, at this point?

Documentary Triptych

I recently watched three very different documentaries:

Andrew Gurland and Todd Phillips’ Frat House (’98),

Adi Sideman’s Chicken Hawk (’94), and

Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire (’06)

Though probably best known for frat-flick Old School, Todd Phillips is a former maverick documentarian whose earliest work, Hated: G. G. Allin and the Murder Junkies, has received its definite share of cult praise (and once stood as NYU’s highest-grossing film made by an undergrad). Frat House is Phillps’ follow-up, this time with Alex Gurland, exploring the dedicated, secretive hazing and initiation rituals practiced by certain North American college fraternities. Though some remain anonymous in the film, the exposed fraternities include most largely Alpha Tau Omega of PA’s Muhlenberg College, and Beta Chi of New York College’s Oneonta campus.

Originally produced for the frequently interesting HBO docu-series, America Undercover, the film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. But controversy quickly followed, including allegations of staged scenes, reenactments and other less-than-spontaneous content. Alpha Tau Omega’s national organizers launched responsive legal efforts that ultimately led to HBO’s decision to not air the film. Though the filmmakers have always asserted the accuracy of their film, it has since fallen into obscurity.

During an interview, the frat brother known as "Blossom" is shown attacking and destroying a wooden transport palette.

Despite all validity in the argument that most documentaries are to some degree ‘staged,’ the film did feel strangely manufactured upon a first viewing (even though I knew nothing of its challenged realism beforehand). Even still, the neat-and-tidy structure of the piece may have less to do with potentially fabricated content and more with its originally intended format: an hour-long tv program. The mere all-access nature of the film perhaps suggests a combination of the two. Viewers may wonder in retrospect, if Old School‘s fictional lampooning of fraternity life was Phillips’ intention even in this earlier work.

Years before Frat House, Phillips and Gurland founded the New York Underground Film Festival which, during its first proceedings in 1994, premiered Adi Sidemen’s reluctantly sinister Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys. The film’s subjects — many of whom are associated with the bi-coastal fringe organization NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) — are completely ensorcelled by underage boys, with most of them devotedly unapologetic of it despite age-of-consent laws and shunning by the larger gay rights movement.

Though its depiction hopes to remain mostly unbiased, the film allows the men a few brief, vaguely sympathetic if pitying moments. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine even the most open-minded viewers conjuring even distant personal approval of these subjects, for the skewed earnestness and common ‘love’ these aging individuals share for male youth (whom, they argue, are consenting) is clearly too obsessive to be anything “transcendental” (as described by one interviewee), or simply misunderstood.

 I know, right?

This guy kinda says it all.

Where the first two films mostly maintain a conventional documentary style structurally, in their visual reporting, and with both sharing an hour-long running time, Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire is almost their antithesis. Sixteen years in the making and filmed entirely in emotionally arresting black-and-white, it is a sprawling 152-minute rumination on the protean abortion debate in America.

The film is near-definitive in its collective analysis and display of a single nation extremely divided on the issue of abortion, uncovering its blurry, circular and endlessly complex moral implications. It presents a multitude of interviews ranging from religious fundamentalists, activists on both sides (including Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. “Jane Roe”), to regarded thinkers like Noam Chomsky. These scenes are balanced — sometimes unevenly — with footage of clinic protests and pro-choice escorts, religious rallies, and archival news footage and interviews with imprisoned ‘abortionist’ murderers.

Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan at a gathering of the American Life League.

Most sobering however, is Kaye’s unflinching inclusion of the procedure itself, shot over the shoulder of the operating physician, at an angle not even seen by the patient herself. Then, just above his gloved hands in an indiscriminate close-up, we must watch as the practitioner reassembles the unmistakably human fetal remains into a whole, to make certain that nothing was left inside.

Nearly a decade before Lake‘s completion, Kaye was involved in another controversy regarding his first and only narrative feature, 1998’s American History X. Claiming that Ed Norton re-edited the film to give himself more screen time, Kaye (unhappy with the final cut) attempted to remain uncredited as the film’s director, but was unsuccessful due to a Directors’ Guild technicality.


Both "Lake of Fire" and (moments of) "American History X" are captured in symbolic monotone.

Still, the two films bear definite similarities, namely in their dramatic use of black-and-white imagery and their accompanying over-dramatic scores. The most unfortunate side effect of Lake of Fire‘s baroque motif (its title referring to damnation, as described in The Book of Revelation) is Anne Dudley’s imposing, histrionic score. Not only do these musical points cause the work to feel even longer than it already is, but of all assuredly morose issues a filmmaker can address, abortion (and all its related visuals) is one that certainly doesn’t require such an obvious and constant reminder of its emotional nature.

Though, in spite of this nagging element, Kaye’s long-term filmmaking project is certainly a cultural achievement. Perhaps more unfortunate is that Lake of Fire failed to receive official Oscar attention, with three of the five nominated films that year relating to the U.S. involvement in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • A low-quality, but watchable version of Frat House can be viewed here.
  • Chicken Hawk can be viewed in six parts, beginning here.
  • Lake of Fire is widely available, and is distributed by ThinkFilm.

Additional Suggested Viewing | Documentary:

Valentine’s Day Films Not Starring Sandra Bullock


For the boys and girls who’d rather die alone than sit through The Notebook or You’ve Got Mail this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got your back. Here are a few suggestions for alternative and anti-Valentine’s viewing fare, that you’re still likely to find at your video store/on the web.

And depending on what kind of weird or messed-up relationship you’re stuck in, a lot of these will probably still get you laid.

So, in no particular order:

1. The Mother and The Whore (France, 1973) – Jean Eustache’s rather autobiographical depiction of a thoroughly dysfunctional love triangle,  set in post-’68 Paris. A memorably depressing New Wave opus that runs over 3.5 hrs. The film’s co-star, Françoise Lebrun, just so happens to also be the very woman upon which the film was based.

2. Tony Takitani (Japan, 2004) – Based on the Haruki Murakami story of the same name. The film elegantly evokes the original story’s pervading lonliness. Tersely somber and beautifully shot.

3. All That Heaven Allows (USA, 1955) – Douglas Sirk’s melodrama-cum-social-critique stars Jane Wyman as a widow whose unexpected romance with the younger, non-conformist Rock Hudson is met with sweeping disdain by her children and country club peers.

4. The Man Without a Past (Finland, 2002) – An extremely deadpan comedy about an amnesiac forced to start anew within a meager and altogether strange community. After moving into a storage container, he befriends the homeless and romantically pursues a Salvation Army worker.

repulsion_small5. Repulsion (UK, 1965) – Roman Polanski’s first English-language film. It stars Catherine Deneuve as a repressed, mentally unstable young lady left to her own paranoia and psychosis, after her live-in sister leaves on holiday. This one is all the more appropriate if you’re planning to have rabbit as Valentine’s dinner.

6. Amores perros (Mexico, 2000) – Sometimes translated as “Love’s a Bitch,” the film’s three intertwining stories (all linked by a single car crash) are each marked by the presence of dogs and an overarching theme of familial betrayal and dysfunctional romance. Features a breakthrough performance by a 21-year-old Gael García Bernal.

7. Diary of a Lost Girl (Germany, 1929) – Louise Brooks’ second and final collaboration with the renowned G.W. Pabst involves a stark reversal of Brooks’ confident heartbreaker Lulu (from Pandora’s Box, filmed only months earlier). Here, Brooks’ Thymian is innocent but utterly powerless amidst societal conditions of the German bourgeoisie.

8. Audition (Japan, 1999) – Among my favorite of Miike’s expansive filmography, due in part to his uncharacteristic restraint throughout most of the film. This one slowly and eerily builds to an unforgettably disturbing climax; an instant J-Horror classic. Watch this one and you may end up never again lying to get a date!

9. Control (UK/US, 2007) – A biopic centering on Ian Curtis’ short and troubled life, specifically as front-man for the legendary post-punk quartet Joy Division. Based on the book by Curtis’ oft-neglected widow, the film features Sam Riley as a dead-ringer for Curtis. His conjuring of Curtis’ stage persona is particularly uncanny. Martin Ruhe’s black & white cinematography is also incredibly transfixing.

10. L’Enfant [The Child] (Belgium, 2005) – Shot in a Naturalist style and rather Neorealist in spirit, the Dardenne brothers’ Palme d’Or winner is definitely one of the biggest downers on the list, due in large part to the sad universality of its simple story. Two young lovers survive on welfare when Sonia becomes pregnant. Despondent and hopeless, Bruno sells the baby on the black market, unbeknownst to Sonia. The first time I watched this film, I found myself feeling deeply guilty about all manner of distress I put my parents through as a teenager. Which is exactly why you shouldn’t watch this one under the influence of alcohol.

11. Happy Together (Hong Kong, 1997) – happy_togetherChinese superstars Tony Leung and the late Leslie Cheung play homosexual lovers bound in a volatile on-again/off-again relationship. The two travel from Hong Kong to Argentina where their sad, abusive cycle continues. Also includes some of Christopher Doyle’s most beautiful photography, for a Wong Kar Wai film or otherwise.

12. Mutual Appreciation (US, 2005) – Now for something a bit light, charming and self-consciously dorky. Andrew Bujalski’s film unmistakably belongs to the no-budget movement known as Mumblecore, and as such uses moments of situational awkwardness for repeated comic effect. Justin Rice of the band Bishop Allen stars, and when he’s not performing their songs in the film, he’s basically channeling a marginally cooler, indie version of Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate.

13. Blue Velvet (US, 1986) – Though you can always trace auteurial elements to his earliest of work, Blue Velvet arguably remains the archetypal Lynch film. The Reagan-era noir is peppered with all the director’s nightmarish and phantasmagoric ingredients, slowly revealed to his abecedarian protagonist (played so memorably by Kyle MacLachlan). And if a foppish Dean Stockwell’s lip-sync serenade to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” doesn’t say Valentine’s Day to you, I don’t know what possibly could.

14. Braindead [Dead Alive] (New Zealand, 1992) – A classic tale of your well-to-do young man, torn between a first love and his overbearing mother. Throw a Sumatran Rat-Monkey, zombie sex scene (and resulting baby), a kung fu priest and lawnmower qua weapon into the mix, and you’ll undoubtedly be left wondering where this movie’s been all your life. So much fake blood. So, so much.


Other recommendations: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Raging Bull (1980), Dead Ringers (1988), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Mister Lonely (2007) , Perfect Blue (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Live Flesh (1997), Myster Train (1989), My Own Private Idaho (1991), Fatal Attraction (1987), And God Created Woman (1956)…and, perhaps even Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)