Archive for November, 2009

Divided Cinema starts today

November 30, 2009

Today kicks off our three-week Divided Cinema program, which runs until December 16 and includes six films and two symposia to provide more information and context about this period of German film history.

Tonight we are showing Wings of Desire, as previewed by Scott Rice, and Berlin-Schoenhauser Corner, which we’ve described as “the GDR’s answer to Rebel Without a Cause” (though it does not star Horst Buchholz).

Here’s more about the series:

Twenty years have passed since the fall of the mighty Berlin Wall, a landmark that stood since 1961 dividing West Berlin from the eastern part of the city and country. The Wall was also as a symbol for the divergent soviet and democratic ideologies around the world. Arguably the most moving historic moment of the 20th century was the Wall’s ultimate fall in November of 1989 after a period of dramatic social unrest. Northwest Film Forum marks the anniversary of that historic moment with Divided Cinema, a look back at how the politics of the Wall shaped Germany’s cinematic heritage.

Though from very different political and geographic perspectives, the films in Divided Cinema share a deep concern with separation. Some, like Jürgen Vogel’s And For Your Love Too, embrace it; others, like Wim Wenders’ classic Wings Of Desire, cast a melancholy air of mourning over their divided home. Berlin-Schoenhauser Corner follows East German youth who push the boundaries of separation, while Yesterday Girl examines the aftermath of crossing those boundaries. Pulling together these experiences with division, two documentaries chronicle the wall itself. Look At This City is a DEFA documentary by Karl Gass that recounts the history of West and East Berlin from the end of World War II to the building of the Wall on August 13, 1961. The wordless documentary The Wall recounts the construction, separation and destruction, before a backdrop of history both banal and iconic.

“Many people, though knowledgeable about the history of the Berlin Wall, have not had the opportunity to compare the expression of that division through the cinema,” says Film Forum Program Director Adam Sekuler. “With Divided Cinema we hope to examine the tensions present within German culture in the late 1950s through 1980s by viewing them as presented in the art of cinema.”

Sekuler programmed Divided Cinema to juxtapose films representing different viewpoints of Germany.

In addition to the six films in the series, Northwest Film Forum welcomes Seattle University’s Cordula Brown and the University of Washington’s Eric Ames, who will lead symposia on films from the program.


Wings of Desire: In search of cinematic perfection

November 29, 2009

I don’t toss around cinematic superlatives like I’m handing out Sweet Tarts. I rarely use the word “perfect” while reviewing a film. If I have used that word it was probably preceded  or followed by a reference to  Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Hitchcock, or a handful of others. I believe Wings of Desire, the Wim Wenders ’80s era masterpiece of angelic longing, may be as close as we can get in this realm.

The narrative follows Damiel and Cassiel, witnessing angels and angels of testimony, as they haunt the skies and alleys of Berlin sharing the pain of the world one person at a time. Damiel seems resigned to his destiny until he falls for a beautiful trapeze artists. The narrative plays out as angels and humans seek out transcendent journeys in opposite directions.

Watching Wings of Desire reminds me what the cinema is capable of in the hands of a director who willfully employs all its tricks.

The cinematography by Henri Alekan, who also shot Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête, is stunning. Alekan’s use of color is intrinsic to the narrative. The composition, dynamic or static, is purposeful and rife with meaning from the sweeping aerials looking down on the divided city to the Ozu inspired low-angle shots of the claustrophobic Berliner apartments. The lighting is textured, at times subtly; at times dramatically. The images are singularly lovely and collectively powerful.

The sound is a complex medley of music (diegetic and non-diegetic), nature, and urban din. Listen closely to the scenes in the library and you’ll be amazed at the numerous layers of insistent sound that create dramatic tension within the scene. From the waves of amorphous noise to the deft tricks of the Foley artist to the music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; the sound and music pushes the narrative, develops character, and creates tension.

The words are a collage of poetic inner monologues, angelic exposition, and narrative dialogue. The musings of the Berliners as witnessed by the angels slips from the prosaic to the poetic to the melodic and back again with ease and meaning.

The characters and their stories are mesmerizing. There are angels who long to experience the physical realm of humanity and humans who seem exhausted by it. In addition, set against the more personal stories and told through archival footage and smart writing is a story of humanity from the development of rudimentary language and unique pelvic girdles to the violent 20th Century wars that left Berlin a divided and wounded city.

Berlin circa 1987 is the perfect metaphor for a universe divided. The omnipresent wall, the wall that would so soon fall, is a physical example of a spiritual hedge not unlike the film’s demarcation between the sepia world of angels and the colorful world of humans. Empathetic pain, a cut hand, witnessing altruistic acts of kindness from high above, hot coffee sipped between long drags on a cigarette: these are experiences that may lie separated by time or space or experience or even planes of existence. These are experiences that may or may not be bridged by men and angels.

These are just some of the reasons I believe Wings of Desire may be a perfect cinematic experience. The gods of cinema are indeed an unruly troop and because of this, cinematic perfection is elusive. Films like Wings of Desire demonstrate what cinema is capable of in capable hands under fortunate circumstances. Sure, movies that achieve less can still be terrific films and great fun to watch. But films that reach higher, that reach this high, are few in number and should be cherished for the sheer serendipity of their creation.

Winter film challenge

November 23, 2009

Thanks to everyone who came out for the “Silence is Golden” film challenge on Saturday. I had such a blast. And I could tell excitement was already building for the next challenge, and that everyone there was ready to try their hand at Super 8.

Here are the details:

Film Challenge: One Roll of Super 8

Entry deadline is February 12

This winter the Northwest Film Forum’s quarterly film challenge asks local filmmakers to pull out their super 8 cameras and make a film with a single roll of film. Films must be edited in camera, which means the film must be shot in sequential order. No editing allowed! Films are due February 12. The project is open to all levels of skills and experience. Send submissions to: Northwest Film Forum, c/o Adam Sekuler, 1515 12th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122.

For more information email Adam Sekuler at Formats: Super-8 only! Please Include title, filmmaker’s name and contact info with submission. Films screen on Wednesday, February 24.

Mark your calendars. See you there.

Lynn Shelton, Exiles on DVD

November 22, 2009

Critic Sean Axmaker reminds us that this week three DVDs of note were released: Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance, and The Exiles, with both Sean and Sherman Alexie on the commentary.

Says Sean:

The Seattle independent film scene may not exactly be the buzz of the festival circuit but it is making itself heard. This week, it echoed through the DVD new release rack, thanks to the simultaneous release of Lynn Shelton’s two recent films. But on a more personal (and much more self-serving) note, another Seattle fixture made his DVD debut this week: ME. Yes, I made my long-awaited (at least by me) DVD commentary debut on the Milestone’s superb two-disc edition of Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles, a forgotten landmark of genuine American independent filmmaking at its most personal and authentic. All kidding aside, this is a remarkable film and a tremendous DVD release, and only my modest participation in the project prevented me from putting it on my upcoming “Best of 2009 DVD” list. More later. First, let me celebrate the home video invasion of Seattle director (and my friend) Lynn Shelton.

Read his whole review/preview here>

Consuming Bergman: The Passion of Anna

November 21, 2009

“Why does Bergman get away with that?” Steven asked. It was a simple question in reference to the four scenes in The Passion of Anna in which the principal actors deliver direct address monologues musing on the characters they play.

Steven has a way of cutting through the artsy academic clutter that swirls around inside my head and doesn’t always serve me well. I’m reminded of Occam’s razor. You see, while I’m pondering the use of repetitive narrative arcs and how that device may have instigated the use of direct address monologues, Steven is asking the real question: Why does Bergman get away with that?

The question may be blasphemous to cinephiles, but it is perfectly apt. If I were watching New Moon and a shot of a shirtless Jacob faded to black followed by the jolting bang of a clapperboard and the musings of the longsuffering Kristen Stewart on the perils of Bella falling for monsters, I would rant and rave about self-indulgent directing and intrusive choices that interrupt narrative momentum. And I’d be right.

Steven knows that’s what my reaction would be. We watch a lot of movies together. His question, while certainly prompted by a healthy cinematic curiosity, was also in small part prompted by my reaction (or lack thereof) to Bergman’s choice. I was too busy picking my way through the cobwebs of my intellect, referencing other of the ubiquitous self-referential moments in Bergman films, and trying to relate the narrative disruptions to the director’s larger aims. Steven was having much more fun than I was.

Still, for me watching a Bergman film without over-thinking it is like eating a Dick’s hamburger while I’m sober. I know it tastes the same, but it’s a much less fulfilling experience. Thus I am left with the original elegantly simple question: Why does Bergman get away with that?

Bergman doesn’t just break the fourth wall in The Passion of Anna because it isn’t the characters that address the audience. Bergman interrupts the already difficult elliptical narrative with the actual actors talking about their characters. He even labels the clapperboard with the actor’s names lest we fail to immediately engage the device on his terms.

Forgive me monsieur Barthes, but I read those reflexive moments of cinematic caprice as a sort of comforting message from Bergman himself. I imagine him coming to me, leaning down to whisper in my ear, smelling like tobacco and gravad lax and saying, “This isn’t that kind of film. Don’t be frustrated with my deliberate repetition, non-linear narrative, the slow peel of character development, and pervasive reminders this is cinema and nothing else.”

I think that’s enough of my woefully inadequate attempts to channel Bergman.  Let me answer the original question.

Bergman gets away with it, all of it, because he is a cinematic master and one of the most important filmmakers of the 20th Century. He is a purposeful artist who understood the technology of cinema as well as he understood the more ethereal aspects of cinematic artistry. His mastery is manifest in the carefully selected camera angles, the deft composition, the expert use of the deep focus lens, and the intuitive employment of color. Bergman toys with provocative and inventive narrative structures that push back and forth between the formalist, the traditional, the experimental, and the anarchic. And Bergman gets away with it because he never lets us forget that his films are purely cinematic experiences, tricks of light and celluloid, that look forward while reaching back to solemnly acknowledge the dramatic and literary forms from which they spring.

Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2010 poster art

November 20, 2009

See and believe.

Designed by Peter Lucas.

Original 1969 review of “The Passion of Anna”

November 20, 2009

I was having trouble accessing the Seattle Public Library database this week, so I wasn’t able to find the original clipping of this Vincent Canby review, but you can read it online here:

The Passion of Anna (1970)

The Times’ website requires registration (free), but here’s a small excerpt:

“The Passion of Anna is one of Bergman’s most beautiful films (it is his second in color), all tawny, wintry grays and browns, deep blacks, and dark greens, highlighted occasionally by splashes of red, sometimes blood. It is also, on the surface, one of his most lucid, if a film that tries to dramatize spiritual exhaustion can be ever said to be really lucid. However, like all of Bergman’s recent films, it does seem designed more for the indefatigable Bergman cryptologists (of which I am not one) than for interested, but uncommitted filmgoers.”

See all you “indefatigable Bergman cryptologists” this week!
The Passion of Anna plays November 20-25 daily at 7pm.

Electronic Sound and Multimedia Artist Pamela Z on Tuesday

November 19, 2009

The piece of Pamela Z’s that I know best—Geekspeak—is something that may be loosely called a radio documentary, but actually turns into something more like musique concrete and then back to documentary again, with a moment of crazy glitch in the middle that I still wonder about.  It’s a work that documents tech “geeks” during the 90s, but there are moments that challenge an easy picture;  part William Burroughs, part Glenn Gould, her techniques get at the deeper issues and paradoxes of telling a story of technology with technology.  I’ve also seen her do live performance once in some warehouse in NYC’s Chinatown, using her own voice to instigate a variety of complex effects, gauging minute changes and responding in kind.  Her work tends to defy categories . . . in fact one Seattle blog has her Film Forum appearance tagged as an “opera” event, perhaps because she has some classically trained pipes, or maybe because opera itself is just an older word for “intermedia.”  Much of her work emerges from an extended exploration of the voice and language—which is why she also fits into the curation of Writing for Their Lives, the series where you’ll more likely find contemporary poets.  Because she integrates midi controlled devices that help her extend voice into image, gesture into effect, her media work has close affiliations to that of Seattlite Gary Hill, whose work has explored the way in which language becomes concretized in the image by way of new devices.

Pamela Z will give a FREE talk and demo at the Seattle Campus of the University of Washington for the Writing for their Lives Series on Monday, November 23 at 6:30 in Communications 120.  (Other upcoming Writing for their Lives events of interest include language poet Charles Bernstein in January, and performance-writer and media artist Cris Cheek in February.)

Pamela Z’s performance at the Film Forum will be on Tues., November 24 at 8 PM.  This program will combine short, stand-alone pieces with excerpts from many of Ms. Z’s full-evening intermedia performance works – including segments from her latest work-in-progress “Baggage Allowance” –providing a representative survey of an extensive body of work.

Indigenous Showcase “Super Amigos”

November 17, 2009

Longhouse Media in partnership with Northwest Film Forum and National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project will be hosting the monthly Indigenous Showcase Saturday November 28th at 1:00pm in the Northwest Film Forum.

While it isn’t an outright comedy by any means, “Super Amigos” contains a fair amount of comedic flair with its witty dialogue and interwoven comic-book segues that keep the film emotionally light and engaging. “Super Amigos” is an important dissection of Mexican society as these masked characters tackle serious, globally relevant issues. The film’s credibility lies in the fact that the luchadores are not substance lacking, physically chiseled superhero wannabes blindly going out in public to save the world with no reasonable intent or purpose. They happen to be well-educated activists (some for over 20 years) that have a specific aim to bring pressing national concerns to the forefront and transform Mexican society for the better. The luchador mask simply serves as a highly respected national iconic symbol to help rally Mexican citizens in the fight for change, a mere façade for what is more important.

Please join us for this exciting program that shows how Native American and indigenous filmmakers are at the forefront of the industry, successfully establishing a dialogue and creating images that are challenging, changing long established cultural attitudes towards indigenous culture. We look forward to seeing you there!

Seeking house share or sublet for a visiting intern

November 17, 2009

Northwest Film Forum will be welcoming an intern for our Children’s Film Festival all the way from Iowa this January – March 2010.

If you know of an affordable 3-month sublet, house share or house sitting opportunity for a college-age male, please email

Thanks everyone!