The final Saturday started with a documentary about one of the most incredulous stories you ever heard. The Wolfpack is a group of five boys who have been locked in an apartment in the Lower East Side of NYC for 15+ years of their life. They live with their sister and mother, both also locked into the apartment, and their jailer father. The boys’ only connection to the outside world has been through movies their father brings home, and, to pass the time, they recreated their favorite movies. Director Crystal Moselle lays the bare bones of this odd family’s origin, but is mainly fascinated by the boys’ adventures into the real world.
Sadly, Moselle doesn’t quite understand the treasure of a subject she has to work with. On one side of the story, there’s the crazy story of the parents, and how the mother let the family slip into a trapped situation where everybody is held hostage by the head of household. On the other side of the story, the group of boys have to encounter the world, and figure out how the world lines up with their conceptions created by the movies they consume. Moselle doesn’t probe either of these stories, but is merely content to make a film about the human spirit and the desire to be free. Which, really?? Isn’t that common knowledge?!
Moselle wastes her opportunity to have detailed discussions about the real world from the perspective of boys raised solely on fiction and trapped in a hellish world with a drunk and abusive patriarch. She also wastes her opportunity to figure out why Susanne, the mother, let the abusive noose tighten around her and her family. For all of her fascinated interviews and great footage of the kids at play (including an elaborate Halloween ritual), she doesn’t reveal much more than “all kids will rebel” and “you can’t suppress the human spirit.” Even the connections about the families we create and human endurance are left unanswered. This is really a bad documentary about a great topic that could use a more detailed, assured, and penetrating gaze.
Michael Almereyda’s The Experimenter presents a traditional biopic formula, but tries very hard to penetrate the audience through semi-avant-garde technique. The titular character is Stanley Milgrim, a professor best known for the 1960s series of experiments where an authority figure told a test subject to test somebody, and every time that somebody got something wrong, the subject would shock them with an increasing amount of voltage. Milgrim’s experiments formed a cornerstone of psychology for decades, trying to form answers to why humans blindly obey authority.
Milgrim’s life was dominated by the obedience experiments, despite his attempts to conduct other experiments about human nature, our desire to be comfortable and to conform. At least, according to Almereyda looking back on Milgrim’s life. It’s an experiment that continues to haunt the film until it itself becomes an elephant in the room. But, what does that say about us that we take Milgrim’s interpretation as gospel? Should we reject his conclusions, or obey his thoughts? Even Milgrim seems happier to spar than to be taken as authority.
In response to the experiments, Almereyda acknowledges the authoritative voice of film and tries to break that illusion by throwing in as much artifice as he can. Almereyda – who made his career by having Hamlet deliver a soliloquy in a Blockbuster Video story – uses rear projection, blatantly artificial sets, and disruptive elephants in the room to constantly inform the audience that they are in the middle of an experiment, and they shouldn’t trust anything they’re actually watching. As a result, his film chugs along, engaging the brain on two different levels.
If Peter Greenaway only engaged the brain on two levels, it would practically be considered a failure. Greenaway’s new film Eisenstein in Guanajuato is his calmest film in ages, yet he still uses split screens, hyper editing, a kinetic camera, and repeat actions in a manner trying to stay true to Greenaway’s style but also harking back to Sergei Eisenstein’s films. Eisenstein follows the Russian director on his short venture into Guanajuato, Mexico to make a film celebrating human nature. While making the film, Eisenstein finally succumbs to his homosexual desires and becomes an obsessed romantic while his financiers demand for him to finish their film.
Rather surprisingly, Eisenstein is Greenaway’s most romantic film since The Pillow Book (if that can even be considered a romance). It’s also Greenaway at his most emotionally idealistic even though cynical reality comes crashing through the fantasy love nest occupied by Eisenstein and his big-dicked Latin lover. Greenaway seems fascinated by the raw emotion of Eisenstein, and wants to convey the sense of discovery and awe that he believes Eisenstein experienced in his journey of self-discovery.
In turn, by avoiding the usual cliches that gay men generally associate with coming out, Greenaway has created one of the freshest and most erotic coming-out and coming-of-age gay movies in years. You can tell when Greenaway is bored with both the form and the scene because of his edits and his roaming camera. One scene, where Eisenstein is forced to deal with the finances, is marked by a constantly circling camera, bored with the topic and the form of film. Yet, Greenaway the romantic comes out in full force during the sex scenes, and other subsequent shots of Eisenstein in love.
SIFF’s presentation of Naoki Kato’s 2045 Carnival Folklore is the reason film festivals exist. Kato’s experimental film is his response to the Fukushima meltdown, creating an abstract noise film that pushes the limits of construction. With a form that seems like Alphaville and a mild version of Tetsuo, Kato creates a society where people are eating Soylent Green (it’s still made of people) and a corporation is conducting sexual experiments on a group of people. Meanwhile, a band of humanoid turtles are putting on noise performances. Things happen, and suddenly it’s T. Mikawa (as himself) against the corporation and the mind control signals it outputs. And then there’s 20 minutes of abstract imagery.
The SIFF presentation of 2045 Carnival Folklore happened in the smallest theater: SIFF Film Center, which seats about 100 people. As you walk into the theater from the front, you notice three folding tables with a wide array of electronic equipment, processors, microphones, and about 6-8 amplifiers. An usher comes through offering up orange earplugs, commenting that you will definitely need it. The copy of 2045 was altered so that all of the music was performed by the musicians in the theater. As such, we received a 100 minute 3-person noise band presentation accompanying the dizzying story and imagery on screen. The final 20 minute orgasm of visuals and sound are as distressing as it is amusing, creating an experience that is more sublime than any single frame could possibly be. If there’s any one place to have this type of concert film, it would be at a film festival. But, this time one of the tables was manned by T. Mikawa.
2045 is more of an experience than it is perfect. At 100+ minutes, it is at least 15% too long in all parts. One of the blessed things about the extended abstract industrial music video Tetsuo: The Iron Man is its length. All three Tetsuo movies run 80 minutes or less. The original cut of Tetsuo that I saw ran a slight 67 minutes, barely counting as a feature. Shinya Tsukamoto knew to get in and get out. Unfortunately, Kato overstays his welcome, but what he does have in the film is intellectually, visually, and aurally stimulating at any single given moment. This is what the cinema experience is about.
For the final midnight, SIFF re-ran Cop Car, which initially accompanied An Evening With Kevin Bacon from Week 2. And, it’s purely a piece of pulp entertainment. Two 10-year-old boys run away from home in rural Colorado with no real goal in mind. Along the way out, they stumble on a cop car in the middle of the woods which happens to have the keys in it. Presented with the opportunity, of course they take it. What they don’t realize is that the cop car belongs to a corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) who was doing some dirty deeds in the forest, and is on a mission to get his car back.
Writer-director Jon Watts knows enough to get in and get out. Cop Car is a firecracker of a film, slight as it is. Running a slim 86 minutes, and with only five speaking on-screen parts, Cop Car is the epitome of economy. The plot of Cop Car is actually the lamest part of the movie, with the most enjoyment derived from the 10 year old misfits experiment with having a cop car and access to all the things within the cop car. They are, by far, the best part of the film.
Cop Car is also an average midnight film, because you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. On the other hand, SIFF has had a variety of other films which would have been great for the Midnight Adrenaline crowd: Circle, Goodnight Mommy, Shrew’s Nest, just to name a few. Sure, Cop Car has not much on its mind, and its nothing but energetic and funny, but it feels almost too slight for its time slot. Still, it does hold mass appeal to its benefit.
Next Entry: Butt-slashing bandits, and saying goodbye to an era