Tag: art

Faces Places


Faces Places (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda and muralist JR (a pseudonym) travel across rural France to paste enormous photographic portraits on various surfaces: a brick wall, a passageway of a factory, a water tower, a barn, a bunker, among others. Each portrait is meant to capture and reflect a particular place’s people and way of life. It is a beautiful documentary, so full of life and energy, humor, and truths, occasionally painful, about how we perceive people, how we interpret art, and how our relationship with our own selves change over the years. It is perhaps chance that Varda and JR, co-directors of “Faces Places,” cross paths and decide to work together, but it is no accident that their over fifty-year difference in age serves as the soul of the project.

It is the kind of picture that is certain to make the viewer feel good. For instance, one of the stops involves meeting a woman named Jeanine who is the sole resident along her street. The houses are meant to be destroyed eventually but she insists on staying not only because it is her home, it also her ancestors’. The village is made up of miner families, you see, and its strong history can be felt from the way people of all ages recall their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers coming home from an excruciating day at the mines. At first glance, it looks like any old place. The film has a way of peeling away the metaphorical surface by, ironically, putting photographs on literal surfaces. No word is necessary when members of the community look up to giant pictures and the camera captures their raw thoughts and emotions.

In nearly every destination the picture works like this. We learn about a farmer who owns a 2,000-acre farm… and he works by himself. We go inside of his tractor and appreciate the technology that allows him to accomplish the monumental task of taking care of his farm by himself on top of other contract work. At times the visit lasts only between five to ten minutes and within this time span we not only gather surprising information but also have an appreciation of the subject’s way of life. It is a work that loves people of all ages, not just their portraits. Look at the way the camera transfixes on old people’s faces. It forces us to look at their wrinkles, the bags under their eyes, and the experiences behind them. And then note how it captures the expressions of energetic youths as their giant photographs are printed from a truck. You can tell they have never seen anything like that before; for them it is magical.

The work, too, is not afraid to show truths about its subjects. With Varda, a lifelong photographer of both still and moving images, it shows she has an eye disease. She claims that images are blurry and they tend to move even when they actually aren’t. We observe her getting a check-up. With JR, it acknowledges how he grew up with old people which ties into his attitude toward them. Varda and JR share wonderful chemistry; they are so comfortable with one another that eventually there is a recurring request from Varda for JR to take off his sunglasses. He finds a way to avoid it nearly every time. It is a part of his costume, his disguise. Why is it that he feels the need to hide his name from the world? Is it solely due to an artistic choice or something else?

I found the picture to be most compelling when it deals with the topic of mortality. The recurring theme is memories and how each place is defined by those who inherited it. Yet the residents we meet do not give the impression that they are shackled by traditions or old beliefs. They are simply playing the hands they are given. A lot of them seem to be happy and willing to share their own stories. When asked about death, Varda’s response surprised me. Her quote (which I choose not to include here because I urge you to see the picture, if you’re even remotely interested in it) is my exact attitude about death. Ironically, for some reason, it made me feel less alone.

Exit Through the Gift Shop


Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

A French thrift store owner (Thierry Guetta), fascinated with filming everything mundane and interesting, began to document street art and the artist themselves (Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader, and some unnamed others). Guetta was passionate and obsessive; the normally elusive artists decided to work with him because they recognized a familiar fire within him. But this wasn’t Guetta’s film because the Frenchman did not know how to condense thousands of hours into a concise nintey-minute feature. When Guetta showed Banksy his final product, Banksy was incredibly underwhelmed because the movie merely consisted of incomprehensible images devoid of meaning and purpose. The film should have been about the art and why the artists felt the need to make them despite the fact that street art was illegal many cities. Banksy took the footages and tried his best to make what Guetta should have made in the first place. Guetta became the subject of the documentary because he eventually decided to showcase his own street art in Los Angeles. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” was a fascinating film because it was essentially a collage of many thoughts and motivations by artists in an underground movement. It gave us interesting images such as a robot made up of television sets, a live elephant covered in pink paint, and even a terrorist figure set up in Disneyland. It was funny, sometimes thoughtful when the artist was given the chance to explain his work, and it offered some insight about the art world involving hardcore collectors and casual onlookers. Can street art and pop culture occupy the same sphere? Was the Frenchman really an artist if he had an entire crew dedicated to doing the Photoshop, painting, and cutting paper for him? He assisted by splattering paint on some of the canvas, but that does that equate to stamping his signature and passing it as his own work? Was he a bona fide genius or was he simply standing on the shoulders of far more talented individuals who deserved the accolades? I had myriads of questions about Guetta’s creative process. There were times when I was doubtful whether he really knew what he was doing, but then there were times when I was caught by surprise that I actually believed that he was a real artist when he attempted to explain the meaning behind some of his projects. Maybe his thoughts and actions just needed a bit more focus. Narrated by Rhys Ifans, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a magnifying glass of a man so inspired by street art to the point where he attempted to become what he admired. I wish it had been a microscope because he was a curious specimen. I was glad it challenged us to think for ourselves.

(Untitled)


(Untitled) (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

The first shot of the movie, at least from our perspective, showed a group of people looking at a painting. After a split-second, it was revealed that the individuals were simply waiting for the elevator in which the painting happened to be next to. I wish the entirety of “(Untitled),” written and directed by Jonathan Parker, was more like the opening shot because it took advantage of our expectations and what we were seeing. The film happened to hit good and sour notes. On one hand, I thought it was really funny. I laughed out loud at the scenes when the main character, Adrian (Adam Goldberg), would play avant-garde music with his band and the audiences in the picture were simply shocked with what they heard. Or worse, that they actually paid to listen to it. The music Adrian and company played was like a group of toddlers randomly banging kitchen utensils. It was painful to the ears and most people would just wish for it to stop. Another reason why I thought it was funny was because the lead character took himself so seriously. He had real insight about his place in the art world and I thought his ideas were revolutionary. On the other hand, the romantic angle between Adrian and the posh art gallery dealer (Marley Shelton) felt forced. Their interactions felt too convenient; it felt like an awkward tool that served to keep the plot running along. I thought it was odd that the characters talked about hating commercial work but at the same time the movie they were in, whenever it focused on the romance, felt exactly like a quirky romantic comedy. Instead, I wish the movie had spent more time exploring the sibling rivalry between Adrian and Josh (Eion Bailey). Not just because both men liked the same woman but also because of their style of art. It would have been more fascinating because Josh was everything Adrian was not. I was interested in their history such as the environment from where they grew up in and the various inspirations they embraced that shaped their respective artistic endeavors. As a satire, “(Untitled)” marginally succeeds. Unlike Duncan Ward’s insular “Boogie Woogie” that tackled essentially the same issues, “(Untitled)” was equally about the images and sounds we saw or heard and the people that produced them. Even though everyone was flawed, I understood where they came from and I felt the passion toward their work. There was a wonderful scene near the end when Adrian attended a concert and later he was inspired to actually make progress concerning his own project. The inspiring moments were small but they resonated. I enjoyed at film in a number of ways and I hope others will take a chance to see it.

Boogie Woogie


Boogie Woogie (2009)
★ / ★★★★

“Boogie Woogie,” based on the novel by Danny Moynihan, attempted to explore the many personalities of the London art scene. There was Gillian Anderson and Stellan Skarsgård as a couple addicted to purchasing art, Heather Graham as an ambitious blonde who wanted to run her own museum one day, Joanna Lumley as an older woman who was struggling to keep up with the bills so she decided to sell Christopher Lee’s valuable collection, Jaime Winstone who believed her video self-portrait was art, and Jack Huston who used his artistic persona to seduce women. Despite the many things happening in the film, Duncan Ward, the director, failed to balance the characters in a meaningful way and to convince me why it was worth investing my time to observe these colorful bunch of people. All of them were self-centered, lacked a sense of what was right or wrong, and they were proud of being predators. They were always out to outsmart each other in hopes of filling a void inside of them. They found themselves exhausted day in and day out but they couldn’t take a moment, do a bit of introspection, and perhaps to attempt to make an actual change. They left a bitter taste in my mouth and the distaste never went away. I hoped that as the film went on, my opinions of them would change but there was no redeeming factor in any of them. There was no element of surprise and I felt like there was a wall between me and the characters. Perhaps the most harmless was the girl who loved to rollerblade played by Amanda Seyfried. But even then I had no idea who she was and what she was doing in the film. Was she even interested in art? There were too many characters and not one character was fully explored, so in the end I pondered what the point of it was and couldn’t come up with any. As for the movie’s title, it referred to Piet Mondrian’s painting. The painting was rarely shown and we only saw about four characters (out of fifteen to twenty) to actually see it. And when they did comment on it, it was very shallow and their words felt meaningless. I thought the painting was the main element that could help to place the many personalities in the same room but it didn’t. In a nutshell, sitting through “Boogie Woogie” was a maddening and painful experience. It glorified money, sex, and drugs instead of attempting to explore why depending solely on these these things make up a life not worth living.

The Art of the Steal


The Art of the Steal (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Art of the Steal,” directed by Don Argott, focused on the struggle between what Dr. Albert C. Barnes indicated on his will regarding what would happen to his post-impressionist paintings that are currently worth over $25 billion and the Republican WASPs that controlled the city of Philadelphia. Many people, on either side, can bring up arguments about why we should or should not keep the highly valuable paintings in Dr. Barnes’ school located in the Philadelphia suburbs. But to me, the reason why the paintings should be kept at his property is as clear as day: it was stated in his will exactly what he wanted and it is unethical and immoral to not respect the person who earned the money and collected the paintings that everyone once thought were worth nothing. I loved the way the documentary was organized. Since I did not know much abour Dr. Barnes and his foundation, I was glad that the first fifteen minutes clearly explained who he was and his accomplishments. I thought it was fascinating and inspiring that Dr. Barnes came from a poor family but he put himself through school by taking jobs such as boxing. And even though he became rich due to certain medical breakthroughs he discovered, he welcomed the poor and the working class to view the paintings he collected. There was a certain poetry in the way the film eventually tackled the reason why Dr. Barnes learned to despise the rich republicans and key figures that led to the downfall of the Barnes Foundation. “The Art of the Steal” is a classic David vs. Goliath case only Goliath won in this story. By end of the movie, I did not quite know how to feel. On one hand, I thought it was empowering how Dr. Barnes was able to keep his art for so many years from money-craving individuals. On the other hand, it saddens me that people are willing to throw their morals and ethics out the window for money. The film could have been stronger if those that wanted to move the paintings to the city, even if they did not have big names, agreed to be interviewed. It would have been nice to hear their point of views and perhaps their insight could have added another layer of complexity to the issue. Ultimately, “The Art of the Steal” is a suspenseful documentary and it opened my eyes about philanthropic organizations and museums. I may not be an art connoisseur but I have a very good handle on what is right and what is wrong.

In the Realm of the Senses


In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
★★★ / ★★★★

Writer and director Nagisa Oshima tells the story of a former-prostitute-turned-maid’s (Eiko Matsuda) and her employer’s (Tatsuya Fuji) sexual obsession with each other. After Matsuda sees Fuji making love with his wife, something inside her changes–it is as if she has to have him no matter what the cost. When the two eventually sleep together, they begin to spend pretty much every minute in bed together as they experiment with their sexuality, sometimes in front of other people. I liked that this film really tried to push the boundary between art and pornography. While it did show certain body parts that a “normal” picture would not normally show, it was different from pornography because it had a story to tell: the repercussions of surrendering to one’s desires without ever having to think of the consequences. To me, even though this was released in 1976, it is still very relevant today, especially in college campuses, due to the high rate of casual hook-ups or one night stands. One can never really know what one is getting into by inviting another person into one’s life–may it be for sexual purposes or otherwise. Disease is one of the first things that comes to mind (or should come to mind) when one engages in random hook-up, but psychology should also come into the equation. I’m not saying that people with mental disorders are always violent (they are not). I’m referring to people’s fetishisms and what they are willing to do to maximize their pleasure. In this film, the two lovers eventually tried to suffocate each other for one reason: it felt good. Other issues that were explored include excess, sadism, masochism, traditional gender roles and transgressions of societal norms. While most people may get lost in its graphic portrayal of sex, one should really try to look at what’s underneath because it’s that much more rewarding. “In the Realm of the Senses” is indeed a classic and should be seen and remembered by film-lovers because it’s one of the first motion pictures that tried to tread the fine line between art and pornography and was successful at it.

Delirious


Delirious (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

“Delirious,” written and directed by Tom DiCillo, is a satire about paparazzis, tabloids and celebrities. Although it had a certain bite from time to time, it lost its way somewhere in the middle only to find its core once again toward the end. I really enjoyed watching Steve Buscemi as a photographer who wants to prove to everybody that he’s the best as what he does. There was a brilliant scene when he visited his parents’ house and neither the mom nor the dad approved of his job. Although Buscemi is convinced that what he does is art, that void inside him is never really filled because he always wants somebody (regardless of their overall importance) to tell him that he’s doing a great job. When no one feeds his ego, he goes off on rather amusing temper tantrums yet still retain a certain sadness to his situation. I also really liked Michael Pitt as an initially homeless aspiring actor who Buscemi takes under his wing and eventually rises to superstardom. Even though he eventually gains a status among celebrities and the media, he remains true to himself and that was nice to see. In most movies, characters like him get corrupted so it’s refreshing to see that change. As tension rises between Buscemi and Pitt, (Buscemi’s character declares that Pitt’s character is ungrateful for all the things he’s done when Pitt was homeless–completely unaware to the fact that he’s been nothing but a jerk/parasite) themes such as jealousy, envy, self-reflection and companionship are explored in meaningful ways. My problem with this picture is that a scene is either really good and focused or it’s really irrelevant to the overall scope of what it’s trying to satirize. If DiCillo had tweaked the middle portion a bit more (such as minimizing the “love” aspect between Pitt and Alison Lohman which felt superficial at most), this would’ve easily been a solid film. Still, this is an interesting movie with funny cameos and interesting subject matter. It’s not that I didn’t like it–I just think that it could’ve been a lot stronger with its smart script and talented actors.

Frida


Frida (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Frida” is a biopic that focuses on how Frida Kahlo emerged and evolved as an artist as well as a person who shines despite her many flaws and tragedies. Salma Hayek is simply electric; although pretty much everyone defines her for her beauty, I’ve always seen some kind of inner strength in each of her roles and I was happy that it was at the forefront in this picture. Frida’s relationship with her sister (the gorgeous Mía Maestro), husband (Alfred Molina) and father (Roger Rees) are fascinating because each of those three characters have shaped Frida’s many colorful (and very dynamic) personalities. Julie Taymor, the director, shows her audiences impressive visual effects such as when Frida’s paintings would become a real-life scene and how some real-life scenes would become paintings. I’m not at all familiar with Frida’s artwork but after watching this film, I want to look more into them because they are symbolic in the least. Now that I’m aware of what the events that prompted Frida to paint certain works, I think I’ll be able to appreciate them more. There’s a great atmosphere of culture that pervaded this film and it made me think of my own culture whenever there’s a wedding or a big gathering of some sort. Every actor is so into his or her own character and the film popped whenever they would talk about art, passion, politics and the uncertainties of life. The film then becomes more than a visual experience; it becomes a powerful emotional exprience that has a distinct resonance. However, I wish this film would’ve been entirely in Spanish (except for the scenes when the characters are in the United States). I thrown off a bit when I realized that everyone spoke in English despite living in Mexico. Also, as a Diego Luna fan, I wish he was in it more or was given more to do. Still, this is a very good (if not sometimes ordinary) biopic even though the second half could’ve been stronger by focusing on Frida as an individual instead of other characters that have more to do with politics.