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Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Embarrassment of Metro

posted by on June 17 at 17:25 PM

A final word on SIFF by Alex Deleon, a film critic from the land of Hungry:


With over 250 films of every kind to choose from, (mostly new or very recent, but some archival oldies as well), the Seattle Int’l Film Festival might be described as an “embarrassment of riches”, mostly gold but, inevitably, some dross and Fool’s Gold mixed in with a treasure chest as large as this. The main problem for the would-be writer is not filtering out the nuggets from the crap, the promising from the obviously to be avoided, but trying to navigate the city bus system between the widely scattered venues so as not to miss beginnings of important films, or making tooth-gnashing choices between unmissable movies scheduled at the same time, over-lapping time slots — or simply, too far apart geographically to get to both. The result is that you grab what you can and hope the ones you missed will show up at a press screening or anotherr festival somewhere down the line. A further result is that you often find yourself viewing some incredibly incongruous concatenations of films, which, in “real life” (which is to say non-festival life) you would never ogle in such weird juxtaposings).

Let's take an example. Two days ago (July 9) the third Saturday of the fest I managed to get to five different films at three different venues separated by time consuming bus transfers, and the films were in four and a half different languages -- to wit: English, Slovenian English (that's the half), Dutch, Indonesian, and French. The day's opener, an 11 AM screening at the Egyptian was "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema", one I was dying to see but had missed previously because of a scheduling conflict (with another flick I was even more dying to see). Next up was the 1944 Arabian Nights made in Hollywood extravaganza "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" starring the queen of Camp (before the word was invented), Maria Montez, and Turhan bey, the Turkish version of Sabu. A once in a lifetime chance to see a rare studio gem like this on the big screen with an appreciative audience. Not a hard transition from Capitol Hill near downtown to the Space Needle turf where Ali (John Hall) was about to Bab. However, one problem.

"Pervert's Guide" in which Slovenian Psycho-(ahem -"analytic") film philosopher and culture-theoretical guru, Slavoj Zizek disquisses in grammatically correct but perfectly outrageous English, on a hilarious range of sexual perversions and their possible interpretations in a broad variety of flicks from Hitchcock to David Lynch, via Kubrick and other collective
libido obsessives -- with cleverly selected excerpts from the "perverted" films sequences in question -- goes on and on for two and a half excsessive hours! (150 minutes). The first hour and a half was interesting, informative, revealing, psychologically insightful, and often highly amusing-- in a scatological vein -- but eventually I began to fidget when I realized this pyschoanaltic orgy was going to last far longer than bargained for, and was beginning to cut into my Ali Baba time.

By the third take on Dennis Hopper (one of the most disgusting psychos ever to disfigure a silver screen) in "Blue Velvet", I was beginning to get sick to my stomach -- even moreso as my illuminated Casio wristwatch revealed that I was missing the beginning of Ali Baba. Somehow I couldn't quite bring myself to stalk out before the end, but I did then scurry immediately over to the SIFF theater under the Opera House in time to catch the second half of Ali Baba -- which turned out to be the perfect antidote to the mental illness that had gone before at the Egyptian. Ah -- the divine Maria, the poor man's Rita Hayworth in fantastric pink turbans and fleecy harem robes, with her outrageous Dominican accent -- the slick haired Austro-Turkish matinee idol, Turhan Bey, (Universal's oriental answer to Tyrone Power who was away at war) -- John Hall, the poor-man's Errol Flynn as Ali, and to top it all off -- portly Cow-poke Andy Devine as the sword
slinging leader of the thieves in Ten Gallon Turban (!)! -- all in super rich three -strip technicolor, a lavish bejeweled sword-slinging romance for all ages, and the kind of film you would want to take with you to that desert island!

After catching my breath following Ali and Andy's liberation of Baghdad from the Mongol hordes -- talk about timely, the film ends with the raising of the banner of the freed people of Baghdad, a yellow crescent on a black field with a yellow Koranic inscription, no hassles between Sunnis and Shi'ites here! -- I settled down in the same comfortable theater for another Archival exhumation, Fons Rademaker's Dutch masterpiece "Max Havelaar" (The Netherlands, 1976, RT 170 minutes). Fons Rademaker was perhaps the greatest Dutch director and, based on this towering epic, clearly one of the greatest of all European directors. He died only a few month's ago and "Max Havelaar" is the festival's fitting tribute to his memory. Rademakers "Havelaar" is a magnificent sweeping epic, based on a novel of the same name, telling a tale of Colonial oppression in the Dutch East Indies -- today's Indonesia -- in the mid 1850s. Max Havelaar was a Dutch colonial administrator with a sense of justice who struggled against a corrupt local Raja and his own corrupt racist fellow officials in favor of the ruthlessly exploited local farmers. Other than Rutger Hauer in a small role, there are no name actors known outside of Holland, although Peter Faber in the title role is superb and firmly believable as Max, and the large cast of Indonesian actors, male and female, young and old, are completely authentic, unlike Hollywood's phony depictions of such "natives". In short"Havelaar" is a classic of world cinema whose nearly three hours of screen time flit by timelessly. However ...

Again a time problem. If I sat through all of Havelaar I was going to miss at least half of Milos Forman's new all-star picture, "Goya's Ghosts", at the Neptune in a different part of the city. As it turned out, Havelaar, most sensibly, had an intermission at the halfway point, so I thought I
might split then and catch all of Goya -- and maybe catch the rest of Rademaker's Indonesian colonial epic on DVD or whatever, later. However, at intermission time I realized that I was in the midst of a true masterpiece of world cinema and that it would be a waste not to see the rest of it now, on a perfect subtitled print. After all, the Forman will be around, right... So, I sat through "Max Havellar" until the end and left for the "U" District (two buses with waiting time at each end) at quarter to seven with the kind of warm glow inside you feel when you have just witnessed a great humanitarian work of art.

"Goya's Ghost's" had begun at 6:30 so by the time I disembarked at 45th and University the film was more than half over, but being there anyway, (I was really interested in catching the 9:30 show of the French "Mauvaise Foi" ) I decided to hop into the Neptune to at least get a taste of Forman's latest, the whole of which I could catch later at a commercial screen if I wanted
to. The Neptune let's you in late but shunts you up to the balcony, where I came in as famous paintings are being shown to an uncomprehending French officer, accompanied by belly laughs from the audience, and I was not surprised to see the theater packed to the gills. After all, this is one of the prestige films of the festival, the American Premiere of a film by Milos Forman, director of of "Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus, (The only big-name Hollywood director in the whole festival lineup) and the topliners of the film are big international stars -- Stellan Skarsgard, as Goya, Spanish superstar Javier Bardem as an evil inquisitor,(the only halfway believable
character in the entire cast) and American cutie-pie, Natalie Portman -- in a double role yet ... Well, to make a long story short, it took me about ten minutes to realize that, in stark contrast to the Dutch masterpiece I had just come from -- I was watching a big pile of expensive mierda, which I will not bother to see the rest of even if somebody offers me a free ticket.

One would be inclined to call this "Forman's ghastly misfire" if there were anything there to start with, which there isn't. Even though Milos Forman comes from central Europe he has no sense of European history, Spanish or other, except as material to poke fun at -- think "Amadeus". But, historical accuracy aside, the casting of this picture sinks it before it gets out of drydock. Swede Stellan Skarsgard is ridiculous as Goya (who was hard of hearing and is followed around in this pic by a post-modern sign-language interpreter) and as Spanish as Fumanchu, whereas as Portman looks like she's playing in two different pictures, neither of which has anything to do with 1800s Spain, and even Bardem, who at least IS Spanish, is made to act like a long-haired rock star on a cocaine binge, dressed up as a Spaniard. The only saving grace of this miscarriage is the Goya artwork shown here and there, and the best part of the picture is the end credits rolling over a montage of famous Goya images. A director who started out with wonderful Czech comedies like "Loves of a Blonde" and "Fireman's Ball" back in the sixties, Forman, once a talented young refugee from Communism now uses (make that "abuses") his prestige and Capitalistic Clout in the Business to grind out colorful expensive shlock.

The final film of the day "Bad Faith" (Mauvaise Foi) is a kind of "Guess who's Coming to Dinner", Paris style, featuring the new reigning princess of French cinema, the delectably beautiful Cecile de France as the French version of a "JAP" (Jewish American Princess) who falls in love with a local chap of Arab backround and becomes pregnant by him, which leads to the
expected complications when the young couple have to break the news to their respective Jewish and Islamic families. The male lead, Roschdy Zem is also the director of the film (his debut as a director) and author of the screenplay. This is a very successful light inter-ethnic comedy obviously calling for mutual understanding between ethnic groups who have been set at
each others throats by events far from France. Altogether enjoyable but, perhaps, hopelessly idealistic. De France was seen here recently in "Avenue Montaigne" (Fauteuils d'Orchestre) and appears opposite Depardieu in another festival film. This is an amazingly good-looking young lady well on the way to super-French stardom. Roschdy Zem, while not exactly another Omar Sherif in looks, is nevertheless a very appealing actor and an obviouisly talented filmmaker -- a new presence to watch on the French film scene. So, that was it -- Four and a half films in one hectic day -- two very long -- one schizzoid-documentarian lecture (Pervert's Guide), one Hollywood Arabian Nights camp classic from the archives, One Magnificent masterwork from Holland, one ridiculous all-star misfire from a world-class director, Milos Forman, and a light interracial French comedy with slightly serious overtones. A Day at the Races -- which is to say, the daily race to catch up with the films that need to be seen at Seattle, 2007.

Alex, racing around in Seattle
June 11, 2007

RSS icon Comments


Silly foreigners. That's what they get for not letting people drive in Europe. He should be happy that he wasn't one of the mandatory abortions they have over there.

Posted by It's the feminists and lesbians, stupid | June 17, 2007 5:33 PM

I sense some frustration in your writing. Could you please extrapolate?

Posted by Matthew | June 17, 2007 9:13 PM

Does this guy miss lunch, or is he actually from "Hungary"?

Posted by Sean | June 17, 2007 9:19 PM

apart from the press screenings, I went to siff cinema on only two days. It's a nice theater and all, but us carless people can't quickly get from there to the neptune, or vice versa (ah, it only the 74 ran late into the evening...).

assuming you catch the bus at the right time, you can actually get from the univ dist to bellevue in less than half the time it takes to go from siff cinema to the neptune.

Posted by stinkbug | June 17, 2007 9:24 PM

Apparently no one has heard of this cool invention called the bicycle. Works wonderfully for all but the Bellevue Theater. The wimpy among you can start the day on Capitol Hill and thus avoid having to beat a deadline by riding up the Hill (something I used to do a lot in my pre-fatherhood days).

Posted by Greg Barnes | June 17, 2007 9:35 PM

hey hunry transplant and stinkbug, too: stop criticizing us and our transit. We have the best transit in the world. We have the best transit in the world. We have the best transit in the world. If you actually try to use it and still criticize us, then go ride a bike, nyaah nyaah nyaah.

Posted by Joey | June 17, 2007 9:40 PM

i did use a bicycle at times, but in hindsight perhaps I could have used it a little more, especially since it was a mostly rain-free siff. but in the end, i still don't want to rush from something that gets out of siff cinema and have to cycle to something that starts in less than 30 minutes, especially when i'm hoping to get an ideal seat.

(also, see brian's rant on bicycle parking at siff

Posted by stinkbug | June 17, 2007 11:02 PM

Talk about burying the lead...

Posted by aep | June 18, 2007 3:43 AM

I'm assuming that if you can afford to attend that many siff films (and your scrapped for time (i will not defend metro, but will call you an idiot)), you can afford to take a fucking cab.

206 622 6500

Posted by seattle98104 | June 18, 2007 7:14 AM

a cab from SIFF cinema to Harvard Exit runs ~$10, approximately the price of a ticket. I know only because I faced with the challenge of making that trip with a non-busable time of 45 minutes yesterday afternoon.

The Harvard Exit -- Egyptian -- Pacific Place circuit is pretty walkable and all are on a direct bus line to the Neptune. As nice as it is for SIFF to have their own venue, SIFF Cinema is just a little bit off the grid.

Posted by josh | June 18, 2007 9:19 AM

SIFF Cinema is also a fairly crappy theater. It's really just a lecture hall. Its slope is too long for that small a screen. The sound is mediocre. Broadway Performance Hall was sorely missed this year.

Posted by DOUG. | June 18, 2007 10:11 AM

I happen to know Mr. Deleon and I will offer in his defense three important notices to clarify the situation.
First: The man is pushing 80, if not 90 so bicycling around the city, isn't exactly a cake walk (I sense some ageism igen?).
Second: Mr. Deleon is a critic, not a well paid one either, meaning that his attendance at so many screenings was a prviledge afforded to him for his ability to so eloquently discuss the matters he has in the form of a comped press pass. I will assure you that his wallet can't afford said cab from SIFF Cinema to the Neptune, and is no thicker than yours or mine.
Three: Alex Deleon is as American as grilled cheese. Most of his 80 some odd years have been spent living in this country, albeit his hmetwon is Philadelphia a city whose transportation is indeed actually quite good. Nevertheless I sugegst you avoid the jingoism in order not to make our city look so provincial.

Posted by apttitle | June 18, 2007 11:30 AM

combine all seattle theatres into one multiplex housed in the now-abandoned Key Arena.

problem solved!

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