Sunday, April 30, 2006

Prix De Beaute and "Hammer and Tickle"

Today was book-ended by two Tribeca movies. The first was Prix de Beaute, a recently rediscovered silent film starring Louise Brooks from 1930, featuring live piano music. The film was wonderful, charming, a delight. I can see why Brooks was so popular. It was also beautifully restored by the ever-reliable Cineteca De Bologna, whose restorations are consistently among the best films shown in the Tribeca Film Festival every year. The music was also lovely. I particularly liked the way the pianist played the "dream tango," with castanets as the "love theme" for Brook's character and her mysterious Count.
I really loved this movie and the whole experience of seeing it. Unfortunately, because the movie was so long and showed with a short, and because the screening started more than 1/2 hour late, I had to leave before the end of the movie. To do that, I had to climb arduously over a bunch of people in the Pace Schimmel Auditorium. I know I probably disrupted several people's enjoyment, but what was I to do? blow off my whole family? So, I've never been so pissed at the TFF staff. These late starts are a problem. Is it so wrong to expect to see a 108 minute movie at 11:00 am and be able to leave by 1:30? I hadn't expected to be able to stay for the Q&A, but it would have been nice to see the entire film, which I hope will later get a bigger theatrical release in the US, but knowing previous Cineteca restorations, I don't think it will. Maybe some day, I'll find out whether Miss Europe stayed with her husband, Andrea, or whether she went off with the dashing, but sinister? Count, and what eventually happened.

The second film I saw today was nowhere near as good nor as special. However, it was amusing, and about a subject near my heart: the use of humor as a form of political resistance. "Hammer and Tickle: The Communist Joke Book" was a collection of Soviet-era jokes knitted together with a (simplistic, cold war) narrative of Soviet history. The jokes were funny, the interviews were good (except for the excessively enthusiastic and heavily accented simultranslations) and the cartoon versions of many of the jokes were cute. Unfortunately, the film included an awful lot of Ronald Reagan telling Soviet jokes. I wanted to comment to the director at the end, "In the Soviet Union, you've described jokes as a weapon against propaganda. Do you think it's possible that in the United States, that jokes can be a form of propaganda?" All that uncritical Reagan footage just undermined the rest of the movie for me, but instead of asking that, I asked what jokes they were telling in the East now. Despite these flaws, you don't hear Soviet jokes that often, and it was nice that there were so many people from the former Soviet Union there, and they were quite enthusiastic about having their part in history restored. After all, hadn't we heard that it was the aforementioned US president who ended the cold war all with his Star wars plan? bleccch.
So far, the best films I've seen in the festival were this morning's "Prix De Beaute" and Lech Kowalski's "East of Paradise." Unfortunately for Kowalski, his film's audience was tiny, and when I voted enthusiastically for it, I tore the wrong side of my ballot, because they've reversed the meaning of the numbers from previous years. So much for his audience award. I saw Amy Taubin, Village Voice film reviewer at my family gathering. She says she's off to see "Men At Work" next. She also told me that Pereira Dos Santos' last three films have been far below his previous standard of film-making, so that sort of explains why Brasilia 18% was so disappointing.

1 comment:

Vanwall said...

Ah, it's too bad you had to leave early during "Prix De Beaute" - the ending is one of the most mesmerizing in all of cinema. Make sure you see it sometime.

Nice review of Tribeca so far, it's been a nice cointerpoint to the usual NYT'ers and such, especially illuminating for a left-coaster who won't make it there, likely ever.