Category Archives: Film Forum
May 16, 2019. “Walking on Water” is both the title of a new documentary about the controversial artist Christo, and the concept behind his 2016 project, the second without his working and life-partner, Jeanne-Claude, called “The Floating Piers.” Told in excruciating (but enlightening) detail, director Andrey Paounov follows the creative process of Christo and his team from before the beginning of construction to the (purposeful) end of the art project’s sixteen day existence.
The film, an unflinching portrait of an eccentric and cantankerous visionary, 81 years old at the time the film was made, gives us an extraordinarily intimate look at one of the most well-known artists of our day. Almost from the moment the film begins, we are introduced to someone who is difficult, demanding, and resistant to practical suggestions from his long-suffering operations director Vladimir Yavachev. But there are moments of joy, too. He enthusiastically explains his ideas to a somewhat receptive though bemused elementary school class, when, tellingly, the smart board fails and he ends up drawing on a piece of paper taped to the smart board – a technology with which he is clearly more comfortable. There are other amusing technical glitches – a Skype session that almost doesn’t work and a mic failure in a theater; all superseded, eventually, by the hard work of building a massive project in non-virtual reality. Read the rest of this entry
Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven.”
August 3, 2017. Director and actor Clint Eastwood’s 1992 quadruple Oscar winning movie (including Best Director and Best Picture), “Unforgiven,” will have a run at Film Forum, in a stunning 4K restoration, from August 4 – 10. “Unforgiven is a dark, violent western that explodes the mythology and violent glamour of the old west. It is a story which movies in directions that are unpredictable and which defy expectations of the western genre.
“Unforgiven” is a fascinating meditation on the nature of violence, specifically the ideal of a “shoot ‘em up” versus the reality of actually killing someone. The difference between the “good guys” and “bad guys” in this film all depends on whose side you’re on. In this regard, “Unforgiven” is reminiscent of the Italian westerns, called “Spaghetti Westerns,” in which protagonists were not necessarily the “good guys,” a genre in which Eastwood made his bones as an actor. This influence is particularly felt in the film’s final credit, “For Sergio and Don” – Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. Leone directed Eastwood in his Italian westerns – “A Fist Full of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). Siegel directed some of Eastwood’s movies state side, including the iconic “Dirty Harry” (1971), in which Eastwood plays a police inspector who lives by his own code. Read the rest of this entry
July 19, 2017. “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” New York in the 70s is a movie series playing at Film Forum now through July 27. The 70s, considered to be the last golden age of American cinema, is filled with some of my favorite movies, many of which were shot in New York. The titles in this series include “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” and many others.
On the one hand, this is a series tailor made for me. On the other hand, since I already own many of these movies on DVD, why should I pay to see them in a movie theatre? Still, as a practical matter, how often do I actually watch the movies that I have on DVD? I think it’s an existential issue. In other words, having lots of movies on DVD means that I have the possibility of watching them, even if the reality is that I rarely watch them. This is the dilemma presented to the movie aficionado in the digital age, in which almost everything is available at his, or her, fingertips. Had home video and all its variations – VHS, laser disc, DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming – not been invented, then Film Forum’s series would be a “no brainer” for me. Of course I would go. So, saying I wont see a particular film when it plays in a theatre because I have it on a DVD that I almost never watch, means running the risk of not seeing the film at all! Read the rest of this entry
November 30, 2016. This past Sunday, with the holiday weekend allowing me a break from my normal Sunday college teaching obligations, I finally made my way to Film Forum, Jr. Film Forum, Jr. is a film series for kids and their families which plays every Sunday at 11:00 am at Film Forum. The idea is to introduce a new generation to films, not necessarily what might be termed “kids” films, but great movies that kids would like. The program has a reduced admission price of eight-dollars per ticket.
The idea behind Film Forum, Jr. is a very important one to me, as a teacher. While I use movies extensively in my college sociology classes, I also use films in my work as a substitute teacher in the public schools. I show movies to students as young as Pre-K and as old as fifth grade – my preferred teaching range. I find that kids can use their intuitive intelligence to understand and appreciate so called “grown-up” films. Read the rest of this entry
November 30, 2016. On Sunday, November 27 Film Forum presented a program called “A Thousand Cuts,” based on the book “A Thousand Cuts: the bizarre underground world of collectors and dealers who saved the movies,” by authors Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph. The program consisted of rare film clips saved from oblivion by film collectors who found their footage in attics, closets, the trash and other out of the way places. When I use the term “film collectors” I am not simply referring to people who collect movies on DVD. “Film collectors” are a sub-culture whose members collect actual film.
The personalities featured in the featured clips included Alfred Hitchcock, Lena Horne, Ann Miller, the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo and others. The program was put together by co-author and collector Jeff Joseph, who presented the clips, spoke about them and took questions from the audience. Read the rest of this entry
June 27, 2016. From July 1 – 14 Film Forum will present a 4K restoration of the Coen Brothers’ tremendous 1984 debut film, “Blood Simple.” (“4K” is a high definition video format that is the current standard for film restoration. Simply put, it’s a really great copy of the movie, just as good, if not better, than when the film was released on actual film).
Often, when I attend Coen Brothers’ movies (brother Joel directs, brother Ethan produces, both write the screenplays), I feel as if there is a joke that everyone in the audience is in on…except for me. Fellow audience members seem to laugh at things which I just don’t get, or, if I do get them, I don’t find them to be funny. Maybe I’m just not “hip” enough (or maybe my fellow audience members are just acting “hip” since they are at a Coen Brothers’ movie and feel the need to act like a “hip, indy” type of audience). That having been said, maybe there is hope for me after all, because I really like “Blood Simple.” In fact, I will go so far as to say that “Blood Simple” is the Coen Brothers’ best film (“Big Lebowski” fans may start sending me their “hate” emails now). Read the rest of this entry
June 20, 2016. Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane’s new film “NUTS!” will have its U.S. Theatrical Premiere at Film Forum starting on Wednesday, June 22. J.R. Brinkley, the subject of “NUTS!” was a Kansas doctor who came to fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, for his claim that he had cured impotence by surgically implanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley also became a media figure through newspapers and as well as the new medium of radio.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Lane about “NUTS!” Our conversation mainly concerned the nature of “truth” (both in the life of her subject, J.R. Brinkley, as well as in her documentary) and the role of media in interpreting that which we see as fact. Read the rest of this entry
June 19, 2016. A wealthy man with no political experience running for office? A charlatan who defrauds his clients? A stolen election? No, this is not a story about current events, or even recent history. It is the story of J.R. Brinkley, who came to prominence in the America of the 1920s and 1930s, as told by documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon” 2013), in her new film, “NUTS!”
“NUTS!” is a funny, dramatic, engaging, intelligent and “off the wall” film which takes the documentary form in new and interesting directions. For me, as a college sociology teacher of mass media and popular culture, I found “NUTS!” to be a fascinating tale of a media personality. Read the rest of this entry
May 24, 2016. As a professor of sociology, I was intrigued by the new documentary “Unlocking the Cage.” The film, by famed husband and wife documentary filmmaking team DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (“The War Room,” among many others), is a compelling and fascinating portrait of animal rights lawyer Steven Wise who advocates for the freedom of cognitively advanced animals, in the case of this film, chimpanzees.
In my sociology classes, we talk about the term “cultural relativism,” which means looking at a culture from its own point of view. The opposite of “cultural relativism” is “ethnocentrism,” which means using one’s own culture as a yard stick against which to measure other cultures. “Ethnocentrism,” on the positive side, can re-affirm a culture’s values, but, on the negative side, it can lead to prejudice and discrimination. Of course, whenever I am discussing these, and other sociological terms, with my students, I have always assumed that we are talking about human cultures. “Unlocking the Cage” has given me a whole new perspective. As Wise points out, “Are you human? You have rights. If you’re not a human, you don’t, and we’re saying that’s wrong.” “They are autonomous creatures. They should be able to live autonomous lives.” This is “cultural relativism” on a whole new level.