Ebertfest 2011 - Wednesday

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Two movies.

First up, the most recently restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) with footage found in Argentina that had been thought lost and live scoring from the Alloy Orchestra. Metropolis has always been on my list of movies to see, but this was my first viewing. From the descriptions of the many ways it's been hacked about, I'm glad I waited. The movie is so complex and multi-layered that it's easy to see how you could excise large chunks of it and come up with vastly different genres of film - Biblical epic, science fiction, romance, action. What's astonishing is to realize that although there have been many significant advances and changes to the technology of film, the art of film has not advanced much at all. Fritz Lang's imagery has been borrowed by all sorts of people for all sorts of films. On this first pass, I found myself noting Charlie Chaplin (Modern Times, 1936), Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, 1997), Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, 1982), Alex Proyas (Dark City, 1998), Leni Riefenstahl, and various iterations of Frankenstein.

Many others have written about the astonishing quality of the imagery; besides that what really startled me was the quality of the acting - you are never in doubt for a second, just from watching Brigitte Helm's body movements, whether you are watching the real Maria or the machine simulacrum. We tend not to associate silent films with subtly nuanced acting.

I would actually like to see the movie again with the original or close-to-original score. As much as everyone loves the Alloy Orchestra and as perfectly matched as their score seemed to be, I'd like to hear what Lang heard.

Second, a late addition to the festival after Ebert saw it at SXSW: Natural Selection (2011). Bobbie Pickering's first movie tells the story of Linda (Rachael Harris), wife of a devoutly Christian man (John Diehl) who believes 1) that sex is only to be allowed for the purpose of procreation and 2) that Linda is unable to bear children. No matter what her wishes are in the matter, desires for sex must be subsumed into prayer. And then he has a stroke and Linda learns that for the length of their marriage he has been donating sperm at a clinic once a week. Well, you can see the logic: it's for the purpose of procreating. Armed with that revelation and with a request from her husband to locate the result of those donations, a son, Linda sets off on her own road movie, which hits (as Pickering said in the post-screening panel) the usual tropes of road movies: the car is always gone, the oddly assorted pair always visit an assortment of seedy motels and diners.

But the movie is also the story of the other participant in this road trip, a drug dealer who makes one of the grand cinema entrances, falling out of the collecting bag attached to a giant riding lawnmower in a triumphant escape from prison. He is more or less the exact opposite of the husband she's trying to please: young, profane, potent, and angry.

The movie is enormous fun and creates wonderfully detailed characters, and in the face of that it seems churlish to complain about the ending. I'm going to anyway (SPOILER) since it's in part because the characters are so fully realized that I find the ending frustrating. I'm glad that faced with two bad choices Linda takes neither of them. But this only raises the question: what is she going to do now? What kind of life is this woman, who is not shown as having any work experience and whose personal situation could hardly be worse, going to be able to make for herself? All the other characters seem to have their paths marked out for them, sad and rigid though those may be. But the 1970s feminist in me wonders whether this male screenwriter understood quite how much his heroine is going to pay for her glorious moment of birth into freedom. Time for a sequel?


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on April 29, 2011 6:04 AM.

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