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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This week at SFC: Catch a Fire and Land of Look Behind

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 29

First film starts at 7:30pm.

A Jamaican double this week...get here early to Catch a Fire!

Classsic Albums: Bob Marley & the Wailers - Catch a Fire (Jeremy Marre/1999/60')

The Wailers, featuring the legendary Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer, became the most influential band in the history of reggae music. Catch a Fire, their first Island album, released in 1973, introduced them to an international rock audience. Here the principal figures in the creation of Catch a Fire tell the story of how this record was designed to "cross over."

In the late '60s, the notion that reggae would break into the mainstream would have been laughed at. To achieve this, the movement needed a powerful voice of prophetic proportions. This voice emerged from the collective work of three pioneering friends from Jamaica, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Robert Nesta Marley, who sought to bring about an ideological revolution through deeply meditative, hypnotic, and spiritual music. Catch a Fire was the Wailers' and reggae's introduction to the world and turned Bob Marley into a mega-icon of enormous proportions. It was the first album to remain true to the traditions of reggae music while having enough elements that were accessible to popular culture.

Land of Look Behind (Alan Greenberg/1982/90')

Land of Look Behind is an overlooked poetic document by Alan Greenberg from1982. Filmed in Jamaica in May and June of 1981, Greenberg’s initial intention, to my knowledge, was purely to capture Bob Marley’s funeral, and the impact of his death on the island’s culture. But somehow, like an unusual tropical blossom, the film unfolds into something more striking and beautiful than even Greenberg himself expected. It becomes an organic portrait of the very soul of Jamaica, and the earthy, pervasive sub-strata of Rastafarianism. 

Formally the flows easily, seemingly growing from the climate, the music, the speech patterns, and the gentle landscape of the island itself. Footage of Marley’s coffin driven in the back of a pickup along the dusty roadways lined with throngs of devastated admirers does serve as a visual centerpiece. But the heart of the film inhabits its details. For me, specific images seem to recur in my memory (I’ve seen the film several times): the way that, in the opening sequence, a backwoods countryman carefully locates and presents a small indigenous tree toad to the camera; a shot of Gregory Isaacs as he exits a ground floor office and walks into Kingston’s hard sunlight; and the haunting closing sequence involving a young Rasta in the hills undulating to Marley’s music and rhythms floating from a tape player, as though the music contains thee secret code to a deep spiritual  mystery. And in fact it does.

In the end Land of Look Behind, in its casual, organic way taps into the true of the gifts of Jamaican culture, both musical and spiritual, to somehow become a near perfect portrait of the strength and pride of its people. In my opinion, Alan Greenberg’s film rounds out a trilogy of great movies from Jamaica which also includes The Harder They Come and Rockers. I’m happy to recommend it as a film that has not yet received the attention it deserves.

-- Jim Jarmusch

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This week at SFC: Ghosts of Cite Soleil

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 22nd

Film starts at 8:15. Short films from 7:30pm.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil (Asger Leth/Denmark Haiti/2006/87')

Studiofilmclub would like to thank director Asger Leth for sending us a copy of his film and allowing us to screen it in Trinidad.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil was produced and scored by Haitian born singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean. This is a transcript of his text from the book about the film.

I remember running outside when it rained to catch drops on my tongue for drinking water. I remember running naked in the streets, laughing and dancing as the water splashed on my face. I remember eating mud to pacify the hunger in my stomach. I remember we didn't have money for basic needs; we didn't even have any clothes.

Yet... I remember being happy. I remember feeling joy in the midst of that poverty, a joy built on the spirit of Haiti, and I remember being okay.

These are my memories of a place called Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti. From there to New York City is a long way, but some things will always be a part of you. Every time I go back to Haiti, I have an almost physical reaction to my homeland. It is an indescribable energy that is unleashed even before the plane touches down. I gaze out at the striking, majestic mountains as the plane makes its approach. I brace for the inescapable heat that greets you upon landing. It hits me; I am home.

The people of Haiti, especially her kids, are my family. No matter how long I have been away, my people always welcome me back with open arms. When I look into their eyes, I see myself, and I am able to savor the connection that we share to a past that I have never really left.

That connection came calling unexpectedly on a stormy June night in the summer of 2004. On the advice of a friend, I sat down with my partners to watch raw footage of a documentary by a Danish filmmaker, Asger Leth and his Serbian cinematographer and co-director Milos Loncarevic. Set in the teeming, violent slum on the outskirts of Port-au-
Prince, Ghosts of Cite Soleil tells the story of the Haitian 2pac, a gang leader.

I guess it was somehow fitting that it was raining that summer night. It was as if the lightning from the storm outside suddenly hit all of us inside. As I sat there in my studio, mesmerized by the images on the screen, my instinctive reaction was to hop on a plane for Haiti the next day. Why?

I needed to understand. I needed to see these kids with my own eyes and not through the lens of a camera. I needed them to tell me what had happened to that Haitian spirit from my childhood. I needed to understand why their lives had such potential, yet their eyes were filled with so much rage and pain. And I needed to figure out what I could do to change it.

2pac, and so many of the kids like him in Haiti, have been completely written off by the outside world. It's easy to discard those that seem so different, so less than. They make up faceless statistics in a far away land and seemingly have nothing to offer to the world. But this movie refuses to let you get away with that, challenging the way we tolerate the misery around us. The faces tell you that something has gone horribly wrong in Haiti. But then you realise that there is more to the story.

After seeing Ghosts of Cite Soleil, I couldn't shake the image of 2pac from my mind - or any of the other kids desperately trying to find a way out of the mess that was their lives. Of course, music is one of the reason that I identified with them so immediately. 2pac wanted to be a rapper. While living in the Brooklyn projects, my mom put a guitar in my hand. Adjusting to a new, hostile culture, learning a new language, living with the typical angst of a teenage boy - music became my refuge. It saved my life; 2pac looked to it for his salvation as well.

But this movie is about much more than a kid who wanted to rap. Whether you are a gang leader in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere or a successful executive in the richest, everyone has dreams, everyone feels pain. Ghosts of Cite Soleil is about the dreams that we all have, the kind that you tuck away only to pull out in the most private of moments. It painstakingly lays bare all of the elements - love, hope, pain, despair - that make 2pac as human as you and I.

In some of the songs from the soundtrack of Ghosts of Cite Soleil, I blend 2pac's music with my own. I work to bring his unique talent, his dreams, his distinctive vision to the world. In other tunes, I try to capture the power of the movie itself, creating tracks that mirror its chaos and serenity - the paradox that is Haiti.

You cannot help but to look at the searing, haunting images in this film and not grasp the beauty and tragedy and potential
of 2pac's life - you will never be able to dismiss these images as the faces of expendable human beings.

I may have shared stages with kings and presidents all over the world, a long, long way from Croix-des-Bouquets, but I will never forget my beginnings. I may have received awards and accolades at the highest levels, but I will always be able to look at anyone in the eye and connect at that fundamental human level. I may have some of the creature comforts of American fame and fortune, but my work will always reflect and pay tribute to what is uniquely Haitian and yet unmistakably universal.

Always reaching back for those who come after me, I choose to live my life in a way that proves worthy of the blessings
that I have received.

How will you live yours?

Wyclef Jean
July 2005, New York City

Read an interview with Asger Leth at: www.filmmakermagazine.com/directorinterviews/2007_06_01_archive.php

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This week at SFC: Fox and His Friends

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 15th.

Film starts at 8:15. Short films from 7:30pm.

Fox And His Friends (Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Germany/1974/123')

If you are unfamiliar with the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982), this week's film is a good place to start. Starring in the central role of Fox is Fassbinder himself. A short biography follows the film review.

Fassbinder said of Fox: "It is the most honest film I have made up to now".

At the delicate art of combining the bizarre and the mundane, nobody is more skillful than Rainer Werner Fassbinder. His formula is wickedly simple. He begins, often enough, with elements of lurid sexuality. Then he films against type, looking for deliberately banal characters and locations. And then, in a stylistic double-reverse, he photographs his banal subjects with a highly mannered artificiality. The results are uneven, but then anyone who made some 33 films before he died at 36 can be excused for a certain inconsistency. What's important is that when everything's working, Fassbinder produces work that's hauntingly poignant.

That was true of his best film. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, (screened at SFC three years ago) which explored the consequences of a marriage between a 60ish Polish maid and a 30ish Moroccan laborer. It was true, too, of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, with its doomed lesbian triangle, and Jail Bait, with its chubby 13-year-old vixen, and The Merchant of the Four Seasons, with its alcoholic fruit peddler.

And it's especially true of Fox and His Friends. Fassbinder himself takes the leading role, playing a naive and slightly dense young working-class man who wins the state lottery and soon finds himself -- and his lottery winnings -- embraced in Munich's gay circles. The slightly dazed young hero is adopted by the superficially charming son of a rich industrialist. But then things grow complicated. The industrialist, we learn, is about to go bankrupt. The son hopes to save the business. One solution might be to swindle the easily flattered lottery winner out of his fortune -- using love as a pretext.

Fassbinder is a specialist at scenes in which the unspeakable is spoken, the unthinkable is thought, the undoable is done with a vengeance. All three of those elements come into play in the film's best scenes, including a brilliantly complex dinner scene. The industrialist's son brings his new lover home to meet his parents, and it becomes chillingly clear that sex is not the issue with this family; money is. The relentlessly upper-middle-class parents and their gay son are, in fact, engaging in a form of tacit prostitution, trading the fashionable facade of their lives for the money they desperately need.

Fox moves in and out of the gay demimonde: its bars with American rock and roll on the jukebox, its parties, its intrigues. And the film's buried content gradually becomes clear. Fox is a victim of the capitalist society that so suddenly made him rich, deceived by "friendships" he doesn't even realize he's paying for. There's an especially poignant scene in which his lover shows him the expensively furnished apartment he's decorated for "them," with Fox's money.

The point of the movie's title is, of course, that Fox has no friends. Years before Hollywood made its first faltering steps in the direction of a new frankness about homosexuality, Fassbinder was miles out in front. He was so comfortable with gay characters that he felt no hesitation in portraying some of them as selfish, brutal and grasping -- as evil, indeed, as heterosexuals in other movies. Here is a movie about characters who define themselves by their sexuality, but the movie doesn't. It takes the sexuality as a given, and defines them by their values and morals. And in the sad, slow descent of Fox, Fassbinder indicts their materialism and narcissism. It was a neat trick, how often he was about to begin with the materials of soap opera, and expand them into an indictment of society.


Rainer Werner Fassbinder (May 31, 1945 – June 10, 1982) was a German movie director, screenwriter and actor, a premier representative of the New German Cinema. Famous for his frenetic pace in film-making, in a professional career that lasted less than fifteen years Fassbinder completed 35 feature length films; two television series shot on film; three short films; four video productions; twenty four stage plays and four radio plays directed; and thirty six acting roles in his own and other’s films. He also worked as an actor (film and theatre), author, cameraman, composer, designer, editor, producer and theatre manager.

Fassbinder was distinguished for the strong provocative current underlying his work and the air of scandal surrounded his artistic choices and private life. His intense discipline and phenomenal creative energy when working were in violent contrast with a wild, self-destructive libertarianism that earned him a reputation as the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema, as well as its central figure. He had tortured relationships in his personal life with the people he drew around him in a surrogate family of actors and technicians. However, his pictures demonstrate his deep sensitivity to social misfits and his hatred of institutionalized violence. He ruthlessly attacked both German bourgeois society and the larger limitations of humanity. His films detail the desperate yearning for love and freedom and the many ways in which society, and the individual, thwarts it. A prodigiously inventive artist, Fassbinder distilled the best elements of his sources -- Brechtian theatrics, Artaud, the Hollywood melodramas, classical narrative, and a gay sensibility into a complex body of work.

Overworked and overdosed in life, Fassbinder died at the age of 37 from heart failure resulting from a lethal interaction between sleeping pills and cocaine. His death is often considered to mark the end of the New German Cinema.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

This week at SFC: Scott Walker: 30th Century Man and Gates of Heaven

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 8th

First film starts at 6:45pm. Feature at 8:15pm.

We will screen the Scott Walker documentary in its entirety this week. For those who only want to see the 2nd half, please come at 7:30.

Scott Walker: 30th Century Man  (Stephen Kijak/UK USA/2006/95')

This is an absorbing documentary tracing the career of the great singer-songwriter from boy band pin-up to avant-garde legend. It includes interviews with famous fans as well as extensive sessions with the man himself during the recording of his 2006 album, The Drift.

"I know nothing about him," says David Bowie of his musical hero at the beginning of this captivating documentary. "Who knows anything about Scott Walker?" "I heard he likes to sit in pubs and watch people play darts," offers Jarvis Cocker. "Is he still cute?" wonders Lulu. The rumour mill surrounding Walker, one of the great singer-songwriters, has had reason enough to turn over the years. Famously reclusive, he lets his music do the talking. "Ultimately," he tells us, "your work is yourself". But three albums in the last 30 years doesn't give us a lot to go on. Stephen Kijak's film, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, tries to shed light on this most fascinating subject with colourful and eloquent contributions from collaborators and famous fans alike (including members of Radiohead, Sting, Brian Eno, Johnny Marr and Damon Albarn). But the real coup of director Stephen Kijak's labour of love is to provide access to the artist himself as he records his critically acclaimed 2006 album 'The Drift'. When we first meet him, the 63 year-old Walker comes across like the timid elder brother of 'Body World' anatomist Gunther Von Hagens. The leonine hairdo that helped make Scott such a heartthrob back in The Walker Brothers days has thinned dramatically, as has his luxurious baritone voice. He looks allergic and is disarmingly self-effacing for a man who, in 1965, had a bigger fanclub than The Beatles. He's also surprisingly chatty yet gives little away, referring to an extensive creative slump in the 1970s and 1980s simply as "that 20 year hiatus". He is, in fact, the least likely music legend you can imagine.

Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris/USA/1976/83')

This brilliant if very depressing documentary always makes Roger Ebert's list of top ten greatest movies of all time. See it and see why. Just don't count on smiling for about two days afterward.

Errol Morris takes his camera around California and interviews various people involved in pet cemeteries. The first person we meet, Floyd McClure, opened his cemetery as his lifelong dream after his dog was killed; he saw his dream wither away when the cemetery went belly-up and more than 450 animal corpses had to be disinterred and moved. We see some people whose pets had been buried there, but the woman who makes the most vivid impression is Florence Rasmussen, who for some reason goes off-topic and starts talking about her lousy son. Morris keeps the camera on her anyway, and this is where Gates of Heaven starts to enter Maysles or Wiseman territory.

Morris moves on to Cal Harberts, who started his own cemetery with the animals left over from McClure's land. We don't get to know him as well as we do his two sons, Phil and Dan, who help run the cemetery. Phil is a former insurance salesman who's listened to one too many motivational tapes. He seems to be psyching himself up to deal with the remainder of his dull life. Dan is a would-be rock musician who drags his amp outside and practices when nobody is around. The sound of his guitar riffs bouncing off the pet gravestones is incredibly sad and chilling.

Did Morris set out to make a quirky documentary about what some would consider a trivial subject? He came back with an unforgettable mood piece about human loneliness, in which the mourned pets seem much more important than if they had been the movie's true focus (not much time is given to reminiscences about pets).

It's true, it's life, and it makes you want to do anything to avoid ending up like any of these people — except maybe Floyd McClure, who comes off as a gentle visionary.