This week was relegated dedicated to grinding through schoolwork watching films. It was a lost weekend, but not that sort. I was intrigued by this email that I received days ago...
..."Dr. Stringer will present an annotated history of video activism, tactical media and citizen journalism. The evening will include clips from Soviet film trains, Cuban newsreels, the US-based Newsreel group ACT UP, indymedia and others."
I headed over to the downtown UTSA campus for a 7pm screening. Though Professor Raymond's screenings are mainly attended by students, these periodic events are open to the public. With a new handlebar I raced down Broadway, but no sight of the mysterious backwards riding, beer drinking cyclist. A right turn on Travis took me west towards Santa Rosa hospital. A miscalculation brought me past El Mercado which meant a two block stretch on the I-10 access road, but it all worked out.
I arrived perfectly on time. Dr. Stringer began with a segment from a Chris Marker documentary The Last Bolshevik about the Soviet filmmaker Medvedkin who was the force behind the Soviet train films, a project in the 1920s where they would travel across Russia, going from town to town, village to village documenting the life of the worker. The train served as a rolling studio, with film processing and full editing capabilities. The turnaround time was quite fast, with film often being screened the next day, if not that night.
Medvedkin discussing the old days while standing next to the train.
I can't remember what's up with these guys. I want to say this was the film crew.
Next, in the march through time were the films of Santiago Alvarez. Alvarez made films for Castro in Cuba with no money and no time. In his first 40 years he didn't make a single film. In his last 40 years he made over 600. It's difficult to imagine a more prolific career. Sure, King Vidor (formerly from San Antonio) made films longer than perhaps anyone in Hollywood but its a different sort of comparison. I suppose I just wanted to mention King Vidor for some reason...
Alvarez made the most with the least. At times his style was frenetic, which is even more difficult to grasp when one considers the labor required to cut film by hand. Current digital non-linear editing systems makes rapid fire editing much more accessible, and the access to this technology very much is a major effect on the current style. So for Alvarez to pull this off under tight time and money constraints is fascinating.
A comparison to Stan Brakhage, holed up in a cabin outside Denver, editing his own rapid fire montages would be interesting but probably also not relevant. I suppose I just wanted to mention Stan Brakhage for some reason...
Next, we watched segments of a documentary about the "Battle in Seattle", the WTO protest of 1999. In this image, a delegate of the WTO discusses how they are blockaded inside their convention center.
In this image, protestors revel outside on the streets of Seattle. An interesting discussion began after this film. The fetishization of protest footage from these events seems to dominate both the mainstream media and independent guerilla video. The huge difference is in the perspective.
After the screening I biked over to Liberty Bar to meet people from the screening and continue the discussion. We headed east on Market and then took a left on Navarro. A right turn on St. Mary's took us past the Current office, which from there was only a short distance away from Liberty Bar. There was an opinion that the Liberty Bar's days are numbered at its current location because of a lease issue. I can't imagine any other business being successful there, much less getting a permit. I know the engineers have given the building a clean bill of health, but I feel like the place will somehow crumble if Liberty Bar leaves.
The Best Film of the Year?
No Country For Old Men, the new film by the Coen brothers. Its hard to imagine them returning to legitimate filmmaking after The Lady Killers (a flat out remake of a Ealing Studio comedy, but with the lame formula that Steve Martin seems to have embraced by pairing himself with rappers to increase the market audience and create dumb humor from 4th grade racial dynamics.) The George Clooney lawyer slapstick movie (I can't or don't want to remember the name) wasn't a great step for the Coens either. I'd even go so far as to say that their hillbilly movie was the first step downwards.
Anyway, No Country For Old Men, for the first 2/3 is pure tense action. There aren't special effects but a creepy cat and mouse game ensues that is probably the best filmmaking they've done yet. The last portion of the film seems like an add on, even though its where the films thesis is developed. When I hear a long speech I can never pay attention because it feels like a long speech and draws attention to itself. The film ends this way. I don't think it weakened the film but it took it a different direction. Tommy Lee Jones becomes the voice of the film, even if he isn't the heart of it.
I can easily see 5 to 6 Oscar nominations for this film, and I think they will win Best Picture. Javier Bardem will win Best Supporting Actor. Roger Deakins might win Best Cinematography.
One reason for the film's success might be that the Coens have returned to their roots. This film is much more like Blood Simple than anything else they've done recently. In some ways this is Fargo with desert instead of snow, but the caricatures are mainly gone, however that might be because West Texas ranchers don't really express much so the caricature is in its absence.
Next week I hope to see the new Sidney Lumet film. This too is being hailed as a return to form for an old master, even if Ethan Hawke is in it.
From the Taco Front
For the last two weeks I've had my normal Saturday lunch at Garcia's at 842 Fredericksburg road. Though I thought their brisket taco was the best taco in town, I think they've outdone themselves with another item not on their menu - the pork loin taco. I'd never had one before but, well...it's too much to describe. For something less than $3, I can't imagine anything tasting better. This truly is mastery at work.
And so goes another week on the streets of San Antonio. As always, to be continued...