NOTES FROM THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR

THIS WEEK

Hello everyone!

 

The brilliantly entertaining and subtly complex new film from Jordan Peele, Nope, continues for one final week this week. Be sure to scan our lobby before the film and see if you can spot our special equestrian tributes and the UFO (or is it UAP?) Daniel Kaluuya is looking at, the one that temporarily shorted out our track lighting. (Yes, really!)

We’ve also got the final film in what has proven to be one of my favorite Pickford limited series, Made in Hong Kong, and we also have two brand new films I’m very excited about, here for a run: I Love My Dad and Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song.  

I Love My Dad: It’s been a while since we’ve had a comedy on our screens, and I’m delighted to bring this one to the Pickford, starring a comic great like Patton Oswalt no less, and with supporting turns from the always delightful Rachel Dratch and Lil Rel Howery.  This film, of course, is more of a comedy-drama than a straight comedy, and the premise, based on the writer-director James Morosini’s real life experiences, was just waiting for a movie: a dad, worried about his son and desperate to be involved in his life, invents the Facebook persona of a young woman and reaches out for a connection. Much to the father’s delight, his son accepts the connection; and then, much to the father’s horror, his son falls in love with this invented young woman. He falls, in effect, for his dad.

 

And it only gets more comically, painfully awkward from there. It is both very funny — and deeply discomfiting, often both at the same time. And the fact the writer-director Morosini plays himself (quite brilliantly), as the son, acting out his own life as it were, only underscores the depth of the feeling the film elicits. There’s nothing quite like watching someone playing themselves on screen and knowing: “this actually happened. To that person. Right there.”  There is, too, though, a kind of comfort in knowing Morosini somehow made it out of the situations we watch him in, and he lived to tell the tale. Or rather, lived to perform it.

 

I suppose not everyone is a fan of what we might call “discomfort-comedy”: watching people, out of their own hubris or missteps or increasingly bad decisions, work themselves into the most socially awkward situations, but there’s a deep sincerity and vulnerability in this film that makes the discomfort more human than cruel. That’s due not just to the reality the film represents, as I noted above, but also to the writing and the performances in the film: we equally follow the dad, played by Oswalt, and the son, as played by Morosini. And in this equality of depiction, it becomes difficult to judge either character too harshly for their decisions: however bad a decision it was for the dad to fake a persona and keep that persona up, the writing and performance help us understand it. And however naive it might seem, on paper, for Morosini to fall for a person he’d never met in real life, the writing and performance also help us see and empathize. Ultimately, it seems to me an extraordinary feat: to make a comedy that works as a comedy while also truly sympathetically exploring the really really really bad choices we human beings can make.

 

Morosini’s own statement about the film also gets at why the film works so well. He saw the comedy of the situation, but he wasn’t interested in a gimmick: he, himself, wanted to understand, through film, what had happened to him. He writes,

 

 

When I was 19 my dad and I got into a huge fight and I decided I was never speaking with him again. I blocked him on my phone, online, everything. Weeks later I got a friend request from a pretty girl on Facebook and I was thrilled. She was perfect. We shared the same interests, she was gorgeous… Things were looking up. Unfortunately, she was also my dad. He had created the account to make sure I was okay.

 

I wrote I LOVE MY DAD to try and understand why he thought this was a good idea… In retrospect, it might be the most loving and fucked up thing anyone’s ever done to me.

 

I’ve long been a fan of discomfort comedy. I laugh the hardest when I’m the most uncomfortable. A film about a father essentially catfishing his son could quickly turn dark, so we often found ourselves playing on a razor’s edge. We’ve all made questionable, impulsive decisions. By embodying the father’s avatar from the son’s perspective, I wanted audiences to be both cheering for and against this terrible plan. It was an exercise in empathy to try and get an audience to understand why someone could do something so wrong for the right reasons. Creepiness comes from not knowing, so as long as I could always make it clear why Chuck is catfishing his son, we’ll be on his side and almost shocked we’re rooting for him. Luckily, I also had a phenomenal cast to achieve this effect.

 

The son of a holocaust survivor, my dad’s a Jewish immigrant from Argentina and is the funniest and most complicated person I’ve ever known. I wanted to capture all of the pain and joy of our relationship together. The push and pull, the struggling to connect and understand… Within the heightened context of this bizarre, elaborate ruse.

 

If you were wondering, today, my dad and I have a great relationship. He saw the film for the first time when it premiered at SXSW. During the screening he leaned over and said, “this is a really good movie.”

 

This movie is for you, dad. I love you with all my heart.

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song:  To be fully honest, I thought I’d be fine with maybe never hearing the song “Hallelujah” again. I thought it’d been done to death. From its ubiquity in pop culture and covers, to videos of every earnest teenager posting videos of themselves online singing it, it was an earworm that I thought needed retiring. At least for a good long while.

 

But what I found in watching this documentary is something rather magical: what I’d perceived to be the uncomfortable overuse of a song, was deflated through the film by a reattachment of the song to Cohen himself and by a reattachment to that indefinable Something in the song that made it so beloved in the first place.

 

The film recaptures why so many people sincerely adore “Hallelujah” — their iterations of it are not necessarily without fault and the collective overuse might be at times tiresome, but the true passion for the song that the film reveals, represents something that’s hard to mock: a very human reaching for the eternal, or for that ineffable Something that so many want desperately to be in contact with and that Cohen’s song mysteriously and perfectly captures. The sincerity of the love is hard to dismiss. And the song itself, well, it does somehow reach down in the depths of one’s soul when you let it, and there is a true delight in watching the film trace the song’s journey into the collective consciousness, through the song’s various iterations and through various individuals’ rapturous receptions of it.

 

The film also covers some truly wonderful biographical stuff about Cohen himself, including utterly delightful tidbits of interviews (how does he so often manage to be so casually profound??) and things about his life I was unfamiliar with. A Jewish friend of mine noted to me he’s always wanted a “Leonard Cohen is my rabbi” bumper sticker, and the film helped me understand why: there’s nobody quite like this poet-philosopher-singer-songwriter. And maybe more people than I, knew about Cohen’s first reluctant appearance on stage, forced there almost, by Joan Collins, who saw something in his work that needed to be shown to the world, but I didn’t, and it — the telling of it, the clips of it — is utterly captivating.

 

It’s a film that lingered with me a long time after I watched it. It’s just that kind of film, capturing a truly unique soul.  (And did I add a bunch of previously unfamiliar Cohen albums to my phone’s playlist? Absolutely!)

Made in Hong Kong, directed by Fruit Chan, is the final film in our Made in Hong Kong series, curated and introduced by Sean Gilman. Over the last couple of months, starting with double features of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle, and then moving to Johnnie To’s Election and Election 2, Sean has introduced us to the disparate kinds of choices filmmakers made in the wake of handover of Hong Kong from British to mainland Chinese control: some, like Stephen Chow, chose close collaborations with the West; others, like Johnnie To, remained fiercely committed to exclusive Hongkongese production and to associations with Hong Kong’s pre-Handover golden age of filmmaking, and the differences among these filmmakers’ work, as Sean has helped us see, are clear. This last film, as Sean describes in his programming notes, reveals yet another path a Hong Kong filmmaker chose to take: “Shot on a shoestring budget with non-professional actors, Fruit Chan’s acclaimed breakthrough was one of the first great post-Handover films. Recapturing the spirit of the Hong Kong New Wave, Chan follows a trio of teenaged misfits as they try to navigate a world of crime, poverty, abuse, and inadequate health care, haunted as much by the ghost of a mysterious girl as they are by the lost ideals of Hong Kong and its cinema. Made in Hong Kong set a new model for independent production in Hong Kong filmmaking, outside the constraints of the old studios or Mainland censors.”

 

Join us on Monday evening, August 8, then, to hear Sean tell us more about Fruit Chan’s work and this film’s place in Hong Kong cinema. Under the direct supervision of Fruit Chan and cinematographer O Sing-pui, Made in Hong Kong got a brand new 4K restoration in 2017, so the film looks fabulous, too. It promises to be a wonderful night!

 

As always, see you at the movies, friends!

 

Melissa

LAST WEEK

Hello everyone!

 

Okay, okay, I know I say every week that it’s a good week for the movies at the Pickford, but if I am allowed to play favorites, I might just have to choose this one among the rest. Not only do we have Jordan Peele’s marvelous Nope returning–an immensely entertaining film that shows Peele’s increasing mastery of sound and image and a film that’s also densely and delightfully packed with provocative themes (check out Alissa Wilkinson’s fantastic spoilery analysis of Nope here in Vox)–we also have Fire of Love returning, one of the very best documentaries of the year (and I say that as someone who’s been watching many many many documentaries in preparation for Doctober!).

 

But we also have three films from three of the very best filmmakers working today: Both Sides of the Blade from Claire Denis, In Front of Your Face from Hong Sangsoo, and a restoration of Lost Highway from David Lynch. 

Both Sides of the Blade: There’s nobody quite like Claire Denis, and I find her films endlessly fascinating and compelling. From her gentlest films (like 35 Shots of Rum) to her most eviscerating (like Bastards) to her most deliciously opaque (like The Intruder), all of them leave me breathless, exhilarated, and, frankly, in awe. She a filmmaker’s filmmaker, with her inventive formalistic play of narrative and image, but she’s an actor’s filmmaker, too, and her films always make me fall a little bit more in love with actors and the craft of acting. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a single bad performance in a Denis film, and Both Sides of the Blade is, like all of her films, a testament to the stunning power of a good performance.
 
At a narrative and formal level, Both Sides of the Blade is deceptively simple: a woman, Sara, and a man, Jean, in a long-time, passionately loving relationship, find their lives and relationship suddenly unsettled when another man, Francois, — former lover of Sara and former best friend of Jean — reappears, and Sara is irresistibly pulled back to him, while still loving Jean. It’s a classic love triangle and a classically arthouse-French one at that. But as always, with the best filmmakers, it’s never just the “what” that matters but the “how”: Denis takes one of the most basic conflicts of a romance narrative–the triangle–and imbues it with such emotional nuance and complexity that the tension from moment to moment is taut, and one’s investment as a viewer reaches an almost fever-pitch, even when it’s perhaps clear where the story will have to end. It’s an exhilarating and often stomach-dropping emotional roller coaster that happens almost entirely in two or three locations, and the fact that every image feels truly cinematic is a testament to DP Eric Gautier (Ash is the Purest White, Into the Wild, The Motorcycle Diaries, Summer Hours) and to Denis’s commitment to the image as a primary vehicle of expression.
 
Longtime Denis-collaborators Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, and Gregoire Colin are in rare form here, too, with performances to die for, and Binoche particularly shines in her role, which demanded her involvement in (as I recall) every single scene. They are, truly, among the very best actors of a generation, and Denis gives them full freedom to show what they can do. They are fabulous. Both Sides of the Blade will stick around for only a week, so be sure to check it out while you can.

 

In Front of Your Face: Hong Sangsoo is an amazingly prolific filmmaker: he’s made 10 films just since 2015 and two in 2021, including this one. (His other 2021 film, Introduction, is also fantastic!)  And in terms of style and theme, there’s really nobody quite like him. His films are playful, metatextual, and similar, thematically, often exploring ideas about mortality, performance, social mores (and social embarrassments), and filmmaking itself, but as a critic friend of mine, Ryan Swen, notes, Hong has the “ability to spin endless, often radically different variations on similar themes.” 

In In Front of Your Face, an aging beautiful actress, Sangok (Lee Hye-young), who has been living in the U.S. returns to Seoul to visit her sister (Cho Yunhee), and she contemplates collaborating with a filmmaker (Kwon Hae-hyo) who adores her past work and with him, making a return to acting. That’s it. It’s a very simple plot. And as with many Hong films, the runtime is slim and the staging is fairly simple, too, but it is in the small, seemingly everyday interactions of the characters in ordinary situations that the layers of emotion and drama slowly begin to build. There is an important reveal near the end, too, that savvy audience members might predict, but the significance of it, whether the secret is guessed at or not, is beautifully rendered, and it imbues the everyday with the weight of eternity.

As serious-minded as Hong’s themes can be, however, his films never seem self-serious — the goofy comedy of humanity is never far from a scene, and I cannot help but love Hong’s habit of including characters in his films who are directors — directors who usually become drunk and rather ridiculous at some point. That’s the case here, too. What this particular drunk director does, relative to the main character, Sangok, I won’t give away, but it’s as equally full of heartbreak as it is funny and deeply human.

In Front of Your Face will be here for only three shows: July 31, August 2, and August 4, but I’m happy to say longtime friend of the Pickford and curator of the Cinema East series, Jeff Purdue, will be here to give an introduction to the film on the evening of August 4.

Lost Highway: It was absolutely delightful to see the community enthusiasm recently for the restoration of David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and so I could not resist booking this newest restoration, overseen by Lynch himself: Lost Highway, a film often called a neo-noir thriller, though it’s practically impossible to pigeonhole Lynch into any kind of category, isn’t it? He’s kinda a genre unto himself, and maybe that’s why so many of us who love film cannot get enough of David Lynch. 

As fraught as categorizing Lynch might be, Cole Kronman in Hyperallergic notes that Lost Highway might be a good candidate for an attempt to pinpoint Lynch’s “late style,” and it’s thus a good candidate for the new restoration in 2022. Kronman notes, “Excepting 1999’s The Straight Story (an audacious film in its own right), this time[, 1997,] marked a sea change in Lynch’s output. More than ever, his work became characterized by nonlinearity, intrepid formal experimentation, and interest in the subjectivity of the image. The dialog also succinctly encapsulates Lost Highway itself, an uneasy Möbius knot of a film that’s every bit as unreliable as its characters. A new 4K restoration of the film is touring theaters nationwide, allowing a new audience to untangle that knot — or get wrapped in it.

As with so many Lynch films, critics and audiences didn’t quite know what to do with Lost Highway when it came out (Roger Ebert gave it 2 stars) and it was something of a box office flop, but it has become known as a cult classic and is even regarded by some as Lynch’s masterpiece. Starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette (and with unsettling appearances by the likes of Robert Blake), I think it’s fairly impossible to approach any description of the film from the perspective of plot (much like describing the plot of Inland Empire is a futile exercise), so I think I’ll simply leave you with a snippet of a beautiful review from critic Lawrence Garcia (MUBI Notebook, Cinema Scope, Cineaste), whose elliptical style of writing here mirrors the experience of the film itself:

“Grimy, sordid, fractured and purgatorial—as if reels of film had been degraded then looped into a Möbius strip—a closed system of oppressive, unrelenting noir-infused anxiety and Los Angeles-set debauchery, with fragments of earlier films (the spectre of Blue Velvet, especially) and premonitions of later ones (Mulholland Dr., foremost). Ruptures, horrific and surreal, persist throughout, arriving decisively and unexpectedly. . . .  Subtracts the “perspective” that Blue Velvet and Fire Walk With Me offer, so characters gaze upwards, expectant, for deliverance (from God or the road) that never comes. And singular on a purely aesthetic, textural level: the inky, enveloping shadows of the Hollywood Hills home (owned by Lynch himself); writhing bodies on desert sand blinded by car headlamps; a warped hallway and an infernal room (anticipating Inland Empire); and Patricia Arquette’s blonde hair flowing in the wind.”

Finally, in addition to our wonderful auteur line-up of Denis/Hong/Lynch, we’ve also got a couple of special events this week:

National Theatre Live‘s Prima Facie arrives, starring the brilliant Jodie Comer (whom many of you, like me, may best know from her riveting character and performance on Killing Eve).  Prima Facie is a one-woman show, and it makes the play all the more extraordinary. Here, Comer, making her West End debut, plays, Tessa, “a young, brilliant barrister who loves to win. She has worked her way up from working class origins to be at the top of her game; defending; cross examining and lighting up the shadows of doubt in any case. An unexpected event forces her to confront the lines where the patriarchal power of the law, burden of proof and morals diverge.”

And we also have our last It’s Alive film of the year with the Spanish language version of Drácula. But the film is not merely a different language iteration of the same Dracula we know from Tod Browning. This version of Dracula was filmed on the same sets, with the same costumes, and with the same equipment Browning used, but its scenes were shot after Browning’s film had finished for the day and Browning and Bela Lugosi had gone home. It was directed by George Melford and starred Carlos Villarias as the titular count. A different language version of a film was quite common in the early sound era, and these non-English language productions (dubbed MLV’s — multi language versions) were often regarded as lesser versions of the real thing. Here though, as James McMahon of The Guardian notes, Melford’s Dracula, “may be an exception.” “Shot in half the time the Lugosi vehicle was allotted, and on a much smaller budget, [Melford’s] Drácula contains revealing differences. It’s 29 minutes longer the Browning’s film, with more dialogue – we see more of Dracula’s castle; and the framing of shots are arguably superior – thanks to Melford’s crew having access to Dracula’s dailies when they arrived at night, thereby being able to make revisions to lighting and camera angles.”

The film is also extraordinary in that the delicate original print was once thought lost to the ravages of time, like so many films from the early days of cinema. But a copy of it was found in Cuba in the 1990’s and we have the privilege of seeing it today, nearly a century after it was made, in 2022.

Isn’t it glorious?

See you at the movies, friends!

Melissa

THIS WEEK

Hello everyone!

It’s an exciting week at the Pickford this week, with two of our most anticipated films this year here for a full run: Jordan Peele’s new film, Nope, and the fiery documentary about two volcanologists, Fire of Love

Since Monday, I’ve been watching the very first reactions to Nope flood social media, and then the first formal reviews from critics hit on Wednesday. Those reactions and reviews have only made me more eager to — finally — see the film for myself, which I’m going to do at tonight’s — Thursday night’s — sneak peak preview. (I’m watching the ticket reservations click up, so I’m also looking forward to seeing many of you there!)

 

While there were some reactions to Nope that led passionate fans into rather wild and premature assertions of Jordan Peele’s talents as a director, I cannot help but sympathize with that deeply sincere reaction. Peele’s feature film debut, Get Out, was an extraordinary piece of work — tightly constructed and as thrilling as it was thematically rich — and his follow up, Us, while less tightly constructed and more thematically opaque, revealed Peele’s brilliantly ambitious and evolving talent and fabulous inventiveness. The images, score, and even dialogue in Us were almost instantly iconic (“there’s a family in the driveway” will stick with me forever), and together, both films demonstrated Peele is, at least, someone to be reckoned with. And, from the first reviews, it seems that Nope has only made that reckoning clearer.

 

While maybe, like me, you’re trying to avoid knowing too much about the film, so as to let Peele himself delight and surprise us, unfolding his images to us, fresh, in the darkened cinema with other rapt viewers, here is just a taste of what critics are saying:

 

The trailers for Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” one of the most feverishly anticipated movies of the summer, have raised some intriguing questions. Is it a western? A horror film? Science fiction? Satire? Will it fulfill the expectations raised by Peele’s first two mind-bending, zeitgeist-surfing features, “Get Out” and “Us,” or confound them? I can now report that the answer to all of those questions is: Yup.” ~A. O. Scott, NYT

This weird and wild Californian expanse is the thrillingly charged setting of Nope, a film that does for open skies what Jaws did for the beach, and The Wicker Man for Hebridean getaways. The third feature from Jordan Peele, the director of Get Out and Us, it repeats the winning recipe of those superb earlier works: a hugely entertaining surface with rich and troubling substance bubbling underneath. It’s a summer blockbuster which hauls the genre right back to its 1970s New Hollywood roots – a Close Encounters of the Third Kind with the Spielbergian warmth and wonder swapped for skin-prickling disquiet and mordant satirical wit.” ~Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

[I]f this smart, muscular, and massively entertaining flying saucer freak-out is such an old school delight that it starts with a shout-out to early cinema pioneer Eadweard Muybridge (before paying homage to more direct influences like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), it’s also a thoroughly modern popcorn movie for and about viewers who’ve been inundated with — and addicted to — 21st century visions of real-life terror.” ~David Ehrlich, Indiewire

Given all the surreally unnerving sights there are to see in Jordan Peele’s “Nope” — a debris-choked windstorm, a weirdly undulating tunnel, a circular is-that-what-I-think-it-is gliding in and out of the clouds — it seems fitting that one of the movie’s most arresting images should be of a pair of eyes. Those eyes, wide and terrified, belong to a Southern California horse rancher named O.J. Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), who peers up from the darkness of a stalled truck as something very big and very bad looms overhead. Until now, during much of the story’s slow, suggestive buildup, O.J.’s gaze has been downcast and hard to read, reflecting an indifference that verges on exhaustion. It takes a lot to shock those eyes wide open, but what he sees now gets his attention, to say nothing of ours.” ~Justin Chang, LA Times

One of the things I’ve loved reading best in the first reactions to the film is the repeated point, “It isn’t what you think it’s going to be.” I could not have predicted what Us would be based on Get Out, and if Peele has gone in an even newer direction that even the Nope trailer cannot spoil, count me in. In a cinema landscape that’s so often full of sequels and remakes and endless entries in known franchises, I think we all need a film that “isn’t what we think it’s going to be.”

Fire of Love, which is also getting a Thursday sneak peak, is a film I adore and cannot wait to share with you all on the big screen. As I noted in my notes last week, it is one of the best documentaries of the year, and it’s extraordinary for at least a couple of reasons: 1) the subject matter, volcanoes and love, and 2) the truly spectacular volcanic footage. The best documentaries so often reveal wonderful new aspects of our real world that I had no idea existed, and this film reveals just that. It tells the tale of Katia and Maurice Krafft, two scientists who were obsessed with volcanoes and who found each other. They fell in love and then spent their lives together, devoted to the earth’s fires and smoke, until they met their tragic deaths, unified in being swallowed up by the very smoke and fire they adored. But before their deaths, they’d also spent countless hours filming the fires they loved, and we have the benefit of that stunning footage in the documentary.  The images are poetic and awe-inspiring, revealing an intense and thrillingly dangerous closeness to fire and heat.  It is, truly, a mesmerizing film, filled with the beauty of the volcanic images and of the joyous faces of Katia and Maurice, whose lives as well as their deaths will stick with me for a long time.
 
In addition to Nope and Fire of Love, we also have one last encore screening of new PFC favorite The Race to Alaska (Saturday, 10:45 am), a new entry in our Great Art on Screen series, Botticelli, Florence and the Medici (Sunday, 11:00 am), and we have a very special event film from local filmmakers, Erin Joy Nash, Chelsea Murphy, and Sanjana Sekhar: Expedition Reclamation, Thursday, 6:30 pm.  

Expedition Reclamation, in the filmmakers’ words, “weaves together a tapestry of voices from 12 Black, Indigenous, and women of color who are redefining “outdoorsy” and reclaiming belonging in outdoor culture. This story begins with an honest exploration of how BIPOC communities have always been connected to the land, but how through the lasting lineage of colonialism, spaces of outdoor recreation have systematically excluded them. Our first chapter, “Homesick”, sees our characters reckoning with the reality of colonialism breaking ties to land. Moving into chapter two, “Expedition”, we see our characters rising up to reconnect with the outdoors and with their own roots. In “Reclamation” we revel in the story of finding belonging in the outdoors through resilience, healing, and joy. Finally, in “To The Trees,” we hear our characters’ dreams for an inclusive outdoor culture. Emerging from these interwoven experiences is a rally cry to the outdoor industry: to re-examine our understanding of the history of outdoor spaces, to commit to what inclusion really looks like in practice, and to create a better outdoor culture – one that empowers every individual to reach their fullest potential as humans and stewards of this planet and her people.
 
Expedition Reclamation offers us a wonderful opportunity to reflect deeply and honestly on the outdoor culture we love so much here in Bellingham and in the Pacific Northwest and to consider how the outdoor industry has so often shaped expectations about who belongs there and who doesn’t. And along with the film’s invitation to reflection, we are so pleased to say that filmmaker Erin Joy Nash, film participants Karen Francis-McWhite, Teizeen Mohamedali, and Aline Prata from Whatcom Peace and Justice Center will be joining us for a panel discussion after the film to help us dig even more deeply into the film’s stories and ideas. Opportunities like this, to engage with films and filmmakers and to foster new and deeper connections and discussion within our community, is one of the things I love best about the Pickford. We’ll look forward to seeing you here!
 
Melissa