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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/29/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 18
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, email@example.com HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, email@example.com Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
What is Dogma 95?
My review of the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT made reference to the fact that it was very nearly a Dogma 95 film, probably without even trying. In the September 13 NEW YORKER David Denby makes the same observation. In the most recent episode of Roger Ebert's review program on TV he said that JULIEN DONKEY-BOY is a Dogma 95 film. Now a correspondent has asked me to explain my take on Dogma 95. Well, I cannot claim to be an expert, but here goes.
Back in the 1960s an issue of MAD MAGAZINE talked about audiences who went to see foreign films. Their illustration was an audience watching a film and the image on the screen was of water with one arm, limp at the wrist rising above the surface. In other words they were watching something depressing. Even then there was the idea that European art films were serious, depressing, nihilistic affairs and American films were somehow lighter. There was probably some truth to this. Most were not as glum as the MAD image would indicate though maybe Andrzej Wadja's KANAL, which takes place mostly in a sewer, might be a candidate. Roberto Rosellini's OPEN CITY is very downbeat also. It is an anti-Nazi film shot secretly in Rome while it was still occupied by Nazis. (I picture Rosellini setting up on the street like we see the title character do in ED WOOD. But when he yells "run" his film crew really had something worth running from.) American films of the post-war era like John Wayne westerns were generally lighter fare.
Flash forward to the 1990s and there is still the division. We now have computer techniques to create visuals that are spectacular. Films have never looked better. On the other hand, there are very few films of much substance. The American film industry is catering in large degree to the public who spends the most money on films. That is people from age 15 to 25. That audience tends not to like a lot of deep thought in their films. So the formula is to aim films at that range, make them dumb if necessary but very visual, and if the film is not theatrically marketable, it can go direct to cable or cassette. There are not many films of any substance being made these days by the major American studios. It is too easy to make a nice looking film without much substance that will appeal to the affluent but not well discerning audiences. Compounding the problem is that good filmmakers like Paul Verhoeven make substantial films in their own country, then get seduced by the big budgets of the American film industry and never make a film of real substance again. A set of European filmmakers have said that they are not going to make artificial special effects driven films, they are going to make films in what appears to be the tradition of Roberto Rosellini. They will follow a list of ten rules drafted by Danish filmmaker Lars von Triers:
I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by DOGMA 95:
1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
4. The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
Films that already have been made following these conventions include BREAKING THE WAVES and THE CELEBRATION. Obviously the mystical number ten was important in the rules since even von Triers himself has never followed his own tenth rule. (Or perhaps is it just not that we know of.) THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, by chance, or perhaps inspired by the same concerns followed Rules 1 to 7. And that film's appeal is the immediacy of its action which is certainly one of the goals of Dogma 95.
The Dogma 95 directors are in a sense the puritans of the international film industry. This is not in the sense that they eschew sex and naughty words in their films, but they have reacted to what they see as excesses in the film industry by creating their own strict set of rules to live by apart from the mainstream. They want a more natural, less gimmicky and not by chance a less expensive mode of filmmaking. It itself is a gimmick and I am sure even the Dogma 95 filmmakers admire a great many films that break many of their rules.
Is Dogma 95 in itself a good idea? One might as well ask if Cubism is a good idea. It is a movement that will appeal to some and not to others. Most people I talk to do not like Dogma 95 films. A common objection is the use of the hand-held camera. This is not a device that a filmmaker like Rosellini used because it was not around in his time. But he undoubtedly would have appreciated the naturalism of filming with a box you hold in your hands. The over-use of hand-held cameras does lead to motion sickness in some viewers.
One thing certain is that Dogma 95 strips away from film a lot of the folderol that distracts from the theme and essence of a film. Like other forms of Puritanism it clearly is intended to elevate substance over style, which is probably a good thing. And it is not a movement that is going away after one or two films. I think it will be with us for a while at least. [-mrl]
A WIND NAMED AMNESIA (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This is a Japanese science fiction animated film set in the United States. While it has a few action fights, it is far less than most Japanese anime and it has a stronger plot. Unfortunately like an "X-FILES" episode it answers a few questions and leaves far more questions unanswered. The plot itself has similarities to THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and DAMNATION ALLEY. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
It is San Francisco some time in the 1990s. The human race has somehow been reduced to a brutal, animalistic state. The cities are full of animal-people looking for what food they can find. One unnamed wanderer about twenty years old seems still have his mental faculties. He encounters the mysterious Sophia who also seems to be immune to the mindlessness. The wanderer remembers living in Arizona when a strange wind came blowing across the land. The wind seems to have blown away the memories and minds of everybody. Humans become snarling animals. The big take from the small, the strong take from the weak. Most victimized are children.
The wanderer tells Sophia that he remembers the coming of the wind and the loss of all his intelligence and memory. He remembers fighting to wrest sausages from some young children. Then he stumbled onto a government defense facility where a dying scientist, Johnny, had been working on memory enhancement. He is able to restore the wanderer's ability to remember and even some of the memory. But Johnny dies shortly after the wanderer finds him. Sophia listens to the wanderer's story and dubs him Wataru, literally the wanderer. Wataru and Sophia set off on a road trip to see the country and the devastation that has resulted from the amnesia. Meanwhile we see what they so not, that government satellites are tracking their progress.
The story naturally breaks into episodes, but after the opening in San Francisco there is one episode in Los Angeles and one in the desert, perhaps Utah. Suddenly our characters are on the East Coast. One scene is in front of a pillared building, perhaps Washington, and then New York. It feels like there should be more episodes as they come across the country. We are not cheated of the climactic fight, but we are cheated of a lot of understanding of why the battle is being fought and what is going on. The filmmakers had some impressive scenes that they wanted to include but they did not care to sweat the details that would have made this a real story. Instead it is just a collection of related incidents. This problem is not uncommon in Japanese animated films.
The biggest problem with the plot is that it raises so many questions and then answers so few of them. Who brought the wind? Why did they do it? How does it work? How widespread are the effects? Is there a cure? How long will it last? Who is Sophia? Why is she here? Why is Wataru being tracked by the government? To be a decent story most if not all of these questions should have been answered in the writer's mind. Only one of those questions is answered and not really very well. At under ninety minutes the film does not seem to have time for explanations. Leaving so much unanswered should bother the audience, but in the age of THE X- FILES the bar seems to have been lowered on that expectation.
General opinion is that the actual animation techniques in Japanese animation is very good. That very simply is not true. It is a lot better than bad Saturday morning animation. I think what people are responding to is not the animation techniques, which are primitive, but the art direction which actually is quite nice, though it does not stand out from other anime films.
A WIND NAMED AMNESIA has really only one good idea and it is used up in the first fifteen minutes of the film and it still feels incomplete. Oddly, the song over the end-credits begins in Japanese and then lapses into English. I rate it a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE LIMEY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: But for a little bit of fancy editing, this could be a TV movie from the 1960s. Steven Soderbergh gives us fairly straightforward crime film packed nicely into about 90 minutes. A woman who had been living with a Hollywood music executive has died mysteriously. Her career criminal father comes from London looking for vengeance. Nothing extraordinary, but short and entertaining. Rating: (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
Steven Soderbergh is probably best-known for his SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE of a just a decade ago. That was an unconventional film. His KING OF THE HILL was certainly a fine effort though of late he has been doing more conventional work, albeit well. OUT OF SIGHT, in spite of some violence, was an amiable film. With the exception of a little strange editing, his latest could almost be a good 1960s TV movie. It is a plain, straightforward crime film whose only surprise is that there are no real surprises. It has a bad guy and an avenger who implacably draws ever closer to his prey. We watch fascinated like we would a fly caught in a spider's web as the spider moves in for the kill.
Valentine (played by Peter Fonda) is a successful Hollywood music producer with a nice-looking house and a string of better-looking young women living with him. One of the young women was Jenny Wilson (Melissa George). She got drunk one night and was killed in a car accident never completely explained. Jenny was a women who always had self control and her father (Terrence Stamp), an English career criminal, knows there is something very wrong with the official story about the accident. Just having been released from a 9-year sentence in prison he finds his daughter is dead and he comes to the US to find out the truth. The Americans who stand in his way continually underestimate Wilson and his determination to get revenge. Wilson had been alerted to the questionable circumstances of his daughter's death by a letter from a man named Ed (Luis Guzman). Now he recruits Ed to help him track down some answers. His entourage is completed by a friend of his daughter Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren). Wilson might almost be some sort of alien killing machine, which indeed he is.
Subtle humor is generated by Wilson's use of impenetrable English rhyming slang that Ed cannot understand. In one of the films two most memorable scenes makes a long speech to a DEA official who listens patiently without understanding a single word. The other memorable scene is Wilson's assault on some uncooperative characters involved in Jenny's death. Set in a warehouse the sequence establishes Wilson as an implacable enemy. Wilson is in this country so alien to him because he has a job to do. And he does it in a straightforward and businesslike manner. Adding to the 1960s feel of this film is the fact that it has given us three 1960s stars, Stamp, Warren, and Fonda. Stamp and Warren act very well together generating some chemistry in spite of the very different backgrounds.
Soderbergh tries a number of stylistic touches, most of which work. The primary exception is the intentionally confusing visual editing. The sound will be what one expects but visually he will be rapidly cutting scenes showing the Wilson's memories, his thoughts, and the present. Occasionally the conversation seems to be going on between the two characters at two different locations at once. Probably the effect is to show the rapid flitting of Wilson's mind, but it leaves the viewer bewildered.
Another of the stylistic touches that is getting positive comment is that footage for flashback sequences is taken from Ken Loach's 1967 film POOR COW which featured Stamp 32 years younger. Certainly this is more effective than trying to make up Stamp to look a lot younger or casting another actor. It is a clever touch, but it is not as new as people seem to think. 1962's WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? used clips of early 1930s films of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as films that the characters played by Davis and Crawford had made early in their lives.
This is a fairly violent film, but its use of gore is fairly reserved, certainly by 1990s film standards. This is an enjoyable tribute to the 1960s crime film, more entertaining than one might expect. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Quote of the Week:
I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult. -- Rita Rudner