Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grass: Untold Stories -- the background to 1926 Iranian documentary



By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou, an Iranian American who is a film scholar film critic and filmmaker wrote Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison in Iran in 1924. The documentary is about the Bakhtiari migration in search of grass from Angora to their lands in Persia. The Bakhtiari migration in search of Grass is an arduous trek that took place in Persia. The filmmakers followed the trip in particular the young Lufta and his father Haidar Khan – with 50,000 of his people and animals that crossed the Karun River – some on blown up goatskins, others on rafts, particularly the goats

Grass: Untold Stories
is an extraordinary document about Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison and how their lives intersect. Cooper was a combat pilot in France who was shot down and captured in a Russian prison. He reached out for help to a woman he had briefly danced with before in Poland, Marguerite Harrison who sent him food, and supplies and helped him to get out of prison. Harrison enlisted in intelligence service operations and lived in Russia

Cooper and Schoedsack, an army cameraman had previously made a film on Ras Tafari (also known as Haile Selassie) and “Grass” became their next project which was in part funded by Harrison. Shoedsack did not like that Cooper allowed Harrison on the trip but Bahman Maghsoudlou finds her an extraordinary person, a woman who inspired the character of Anne Darrow in King Kong from 1933 played by Faye Wray.  Harrison is often seen mounted on a donkey being led by a Persian, dressed in Western clothing and often posing for the camera. Cooper and Shoedsack remained behind the scenes in film that was physically exhausting and moved through difficult terrain.

The biography of the making of the film and its makers goes into great detail about each of these historical figures and is based largely on the writings of Harrison, the only one to keep an extensive written record of the film which she chronicles in There’s Always Tomorrow from 1938. Segments of Maghsoudlou's book is based on her memoirs.

Shoedsack left no memoirs but Cooper was working on his autobiography I’m King Kong, which is now part of the DVD box set of the King Kong films released in 2005. It is co-directed by Kevin Brownlow with archival footage of Cooper, Shoedsack and Harrison.

Merian Cooper has said that he wanted to make a film like Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty) though was unaware of that film until after he returned from Persia, which was what Iran was called until 1938 when Reza Shah Pahlavi changed the name. Pahlavi was a progressive head of state that allowed women to act in films and lifted restrictions on wearing the hijab.

The film premiered in March 1925 and the wording of the advertisement in New York World sounds like some of the dialogue in Kong for example the buildup of the area in Persia where the film is set : "the blood red sun withered the grass – seared the souls of 50,000 people and half a million beasts and –we started our epic".

Here now is Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou speaking about his book Grass: Untold Stories (interview follows the report).

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/07/17
Movie Magazine International

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"The French Had a Name for It" celebrates 4th edition in San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan



Beginning right after Halloween is the continuation of the by now legendary series in San Francisco
at the Roxie Theatre: The French Had a Name for It - 4,  with 13 examples of film noir from France.The series is presented by Midcentury Productions and curated by programmer Don Malcolm. That is 4 days of Noir from November 3-6, 2017.

Malcolm is interviewed later in the show for the noir series he has brought to life lauding the laurels of forgotten French films – films that were absorbed and cast aside when the French new wave came along with film critics turned filmmakers, such as Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut.

Malcolm tells us about how this was a hybrid period where the noir predecessors influenced the new wave who used some of their style – their mise en scène – lighting, setting, characters, sound and camera angles. France did not have a blacklist period as in America so a director like Joseph Losey associated with the American film noir made films on the seedy side of life. In his remake of M (1951) a lunatic played by David Wayne preys on young girls because he was made to feel rotten and was punished as a child. An organized crime syndicate led by Luther Adler, Martin Gabel and Raymond Burr becomes a vigilante groups to stamp out the vermin that preys on society without giving them a fair trial - a film whose seediness emanates from the treachery of the blacklist inquiries. But  French Noir had its own dark side.

The centerpiece program poster of the The French Had a Name for It - 4, the fourth year of programs at the Roxie. features the beloved Jeanne Moreau who died July 31. She stars in Mademoiselle in a role that was one of her darker portraits, directed by Tony Richardson after a play by Jean Genet, made in 1966. The British director, father of Joely Richardson and the late Natasha Richardson fell in love with Moreau while still married to Vanessa Redgrave a year before they divorced. The film is a salty tale of a sultry seductress who sets fires in a little French village. Suspicions are cast on a few Italian guest workers who come to cut timber. Mademoiselle is a school teacher from Paris and the young son of one of the workers is her student who she chastises for wearing short pants to school. She humiliates him mercilessly and at the same time has the little village in her grasp – educating the young, the femme fatale of the town setting fires with black lace gloves, ringing the fire bell, and all because of her repressed passion. It’s a project that Tony Richardson felt suiting for his mistress that never married him. 

A second film paying tribute to Jeanne Moreau is The Strange Mister Steve / L'étrange Monsieur Steve from 1957 who play the mistress of a gangster. Another impossible couple up to no good is Jean Gabin featured as a truck driver in Hi-Jack Highway / Gas-Oil Oil from 1955 with Jeanne Moreau as his girlfriend directed by Gilles Grangier. Gabin returns with, Danielle Darrieux, who lived to be 100 and just passed away October 17 in a film  made in 1958, The Night Affair / Le Désordre Et La Nuit also directed by Grangier.

Stéphane Audran and Bernadette Lafont in Les Bonnes Femmes


Veteran film director Claude Chabrol is featured in the program with Les Bonnes Femmes/ The Good Time Girls, starring the late Bernadette La Font from 1960. Together with Stéphane Audran, Clotilde Joana, and Lucile Saint-Simon, the women work in an appliance shop with a lecherous boss by day and take to the streets of Paris for good times after hours at night clubs. They are rey for the men at the clubs and somehow manage to get to work on time at 9am in the morning. The film shows that women are stuck in meaningless jobs and becomes a morality lesson on their loose morals at night. The predatory males are not held accountable in the male gaze of the film.

Bernadette La Font is also featured in Le Beau Serge ("Handsome Serge") directed by Claude Chabrol. One again La Font plays a go between for two young men in a small French town. François (Jean-Claude Brialy) has returned home after an absence and resumes his friendship with his friend who hates his wife and has become an alcoholic. These two films can be said to be clear predecessors of the New Wave. 

Also noteworthy in the program is the brilliant Maria Casares, who plays the immortal figure of death in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1951) is featured in The Ladies Of Boulogne Wood / Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne (1945)  directed by Robert Bresson.

Maria Casares in Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 11/01/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses at Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco



By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou is an Iranian historian, filmmaker, scholar film critic and producer. His most recent film Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses, (2016) is about the role of women in the Iranian film industry before the Islamic revolution (1979) The film was shown at the recent Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco in September ( Bahman, who lives in New York,  was able to take questions from the public via Skype.)

Magsoudlou's films have been selected for more than 100 major film festivals. The documentary begins with information about the history of the Iranian film industry which employed 10, 000 workers including 100 actresses before the revolution. After this, the government banned 90% of pre-revolutionary actors – especially women. The devastation to the film industry and to the actors was far-reaching including loss of employment benefits and housing. Were it not for this important film by Bahman Maghsoudlou, these actresses would vanish into obscurity and it is the strongest point of his film to remember them and pay tribute to their achievements.

Interviews with Iranian actress were conducted between 2002-2015 in Iran, Europe and the US and they are a strong testimony to the accomplishments of women in film. Maghsoudlou’s focus is on 21 actresses who had leading roles in more than 463 films.

The film begins with the History of Iranian Cinema from 1900 – 1979.  We learn that in the first feature length films of the 1930’s it was hard to recruit Muslim women. The first silent Iranian film and the first sound film,  Lor Girl, by Abdol Hossein Sepanta (1932), brought attention to the problems of Muslim women. In this film Sedigheh Saminejad (1916-1997) - screen name Rouhangiz Kermani - plays a gypsy girl in a film that was a box office success.

Kermani, who was the first Muslim woman to act in a film, was ostracized for not wearing her veil in public, for entertaining ‘strangers’ and she finally quit the acting business. Her family, friends and the Iranian public insulted her and she died in obscurity.  In a rare interview shown in the documentary Rouhangiz Kermani says she had to have three bodyguards because she was in pictures. 

Lor Girl was a film for Iranians made in India. Encouraged by the success of Lor Girl, the producer "Imperial Film, Bombay India" advertised for more Iranian actresses to act in India.  Silent film star Fakhr-ol-Zaman Jabbar Viziri (Fakhri Viziri) is the first woman shown in Razors Edge who starred in three of the first five talkies. She answered the flyer from "Imperial Film" and went to India.

Not until the 1960s did Iranian actresses made their presence known on screen. Even then their presence was met with hostility from friends, relatives and the public. The women in this documentary film speak about death threats, isolation, and ostracization. Most Iranian actors and actresses fled Iran after the 1979 revolution, especially if they had acted in sexy films before the revolution. The interviews in this film are rich documents of historical as well as contemporary actresses still working in films, some living in other countries like Susan Taslimi who lives in Sweden.

In November, Bahman will be back with us at MMI speaking about his latest book, Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison made in Iran in 1924. Marguerite Harrison was the inspiration to Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933) made by Cooper and Shoedsack.



© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/25/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

'Swept Away' and other films by Lina Wertmüller at the Castro Sept 23

By Moira Sullivan
Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini

In the annals of women and film history, Italian director Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Seven Beauties made in 1975. Four of her films and a documentary made about her will be screened at the Castro Theater on Sept 23, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute– in a tribute to this prolific director who made over 20 feature films. The films to be screened are the ones most known outside of Italy - “Love and Anarchy” (1973), “Swept Away” (1974) "Seven Beauties” (1975) and "The Seduction of Mimi” (1972).

All feature Giancarlo Giannini who today appears in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as a rogue cop –and as Inspector Pazzi in Hannibal.

“Behind the White Glasses”, made in 2015, will also be screened in the program, a documentary by Valerio Ruiz featuring interviews on Wertmüller with Martin Scorsese, Sophia Loren, Nastassja Kinski, Rutger Hauer, and Harvey Keitel.

Swept Away - its original title Swept away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August was a controversial film when it was released in the early 70s at the beginning of the second wave of the women’s movement. It is the story of a boat trip with upper-class Italians who are serviced by a crew of Southern Italian proletariats. Looking back at the film today many of the beliefs of the lead character Raffaella (played by the late Mariangela Melato) are important today – free abortion, divorce sanctioned by the Catholic Church and concern for overpopulation and pollution. However, in her frequent and chaotic outbursts she makes fun of working class Italians. In particular, she stirs up the wrath of Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini) who bides his time and endures her insults since the boating party will pay him and his colleagues a good wage when the yacht trip is over.

During the journey, Rafaella and Gennarino set out in a small dinghy at dusk so that she can find the rest of her party, but the boat breaks down and her friends do not look for them. They manage to get to a deserted island. Despite being marooned, Rafaella continues to lash out at Gennarino who finally snaps and refuses to share food with her that he catches from the sea. In order to "housetrain" Rafaella he has her wash his dirty underwear. The entire time on the island is a lesson in Italian Communism. He teaches her that many Italians are on a"strict diet called poverty". In between political lessons, he hits her. Eventually his domination results in her becoming so dependent on him that she eventually falls in love with him. The circumstances are typical of the "Stockholm Syndrome" where the abducted find alliances with their captors. When the marooned couple finally see a ship, they are reluctant to be rescued but eventually resume their places in the class society of Italy. For Gennarino he must resume his life as a poor fisherman in a loveless marriage; Rafaella returns to her privilege.

The screening in San Francisco when the film was first released was met by protests from feminist groups reacting to the treatment of Rafaella. Wertmüller's  preoccupation in the film is with class differences but it was a miss on her part to not understand the inequality of gender. It is for this reason that her films have not been popular with women.

Wertmüller's  style is audacious and colorful. Her characters are emboldened caricatures of Italian society that tradeoff between sexual politics and political engagement. In The Seduction of Mimi, a Sicilian miner loses his job because he refuses to back a Mafia politician. He leaves his wife to start a new life in Turin and abandons his political beliefs in the Communist Party much to the chagrin of his colleagues who despise him for being a coward. In Seven Beauties, Giancarlo Giannini plays a soldier who deserts the army and is sent to prison, a man with seven unattractive sisters who are forced into prostitution while he is incarcerated. To save himself he provides sexual favors to the female prison camp director. In Love and Anarchy Giancarlo Giannini plays an anarchist who lives in a brothel as he plans to assassinate Benito Mussolini.

Wertmüller's films are interesting today because of the political themes raised at the time, but also for her interesting and provocative film style.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 09/20/17
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, September 3, 2017

“Dead on Arrival” - modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

By Moira Sullivan
Billy Flynn as Sam Collins 

“Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.

“Dead on Arrival” (US 2017)  is a neo-noir thriller by Stephen C. Sepher. The opening scene is ripe with irritating events you should never have to experience– listening to bad news on your cell phone voice mail on a deserted Louisiana road, crippling stomach pains, and a “by the book” local sheriff that arrives on the scene who would rather see proof of identity than call an ambulance. Traveling sales executive Sam Collins (Billy Flynn) may have to wait before he makes it to the ER,  however, there are degrees of local law enforcement incompetence as is later shown with wayward cop Deputy Walker, played by Tyson Sullivan.

After this intriguing introduction, director Stephen C. Sepher launches into a “12-hour earlier”  flashback, the scene of a lavish New Year’s Eve party at a private mansion with single white women hired for the event to fraternize with the guests. We learn a couple of details in the flashback. The party bottoms out with a murder, and Sam is mysteriously poisoned.

Earlier that evening Sam meets the party host, Dr. Richard Alexander (Billy Slaughter), 30-ish with dyed white hair who works in the pharmaceuticals industry.  Party waiter Thomas (Travis Farris), later referred to as a “sexual weasel” and Richard have an obvious erotic connection. Bonnie, the party fixer (Scottie Thompson) and Richard note the bottle of champagne Sam brings to the event, certainly welcome at a small dinner party but not one with a local African-American brass band, black jack table and expensive cigars. Despite excessive spending, the interior of Richard’s house has a cheapness to it like the collection of unimpressive vases of various colors and size on a book shelf.  Richard freely dispenses alcohol to his high class low life guests including perv swinger and insurance agent Hans Dunkel (Chris Mulky). Almost everyone in the film seems to be unhappily married with lovers on the side. The 'party girls' work at a place called “The Fun House” as erotic dancers. 

Richard is harshly reprimand by one of his investors Vince (played by director Sepher) because of his slow turnout of cash return, and Sam Collins is signed to change his luck. Vince's home is better decorated apart from the hand sewn pillows with Santa and his reindeer.

Sepher packs noir ingredients with fall guy Sam Collins, and femme fatale Bonnie. New York mobster Zancer dressed in plaid (Soprano regular Lillo Brancato) and Conte (Anthony Sinopoli) sporting a heavy gold chain around his knit sweaters provide comic relief but the power structure that hires them to be "cleaners" keep them in check.  The momentum of the film is relentless and Sepher serves up one atrocity after another, particularly to women who have little agency and ability to influence the narrative. The entire spectacle transpires under the watchful blue eyes of Sam who is like a rag doll in the rough, a lost soul off his grid, far from his wife and children.

Denise Milfort and Christa B Allen

Part of the underbelly of the intricate crime tale is cryptically revealed by Jessy (Christa B Allen) , one of the hired party girls” – referred to as “a stripper with a heart of gold”: “Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.  It is also true that some of the sex workers are bisexual or lesbian. Jessy offers to help Sam by bringing him to a Vodou priestess Agrona (played by Haitian born Denise Milfort, former vocalist for “The Fragile” written and produced in New Orleans in 1999 by Trent Reznor of “Nine Inch Nails”). Both Jessy and Agrona are given limited agency to work through the excesses of the men they serve but like Thomas and others at the "Fun House" their existence is brutal.

“Dead on Arrival” is inspired by the 1950's classic film "D.O.A". starring Edmond O'Brien and stars Edmond’s daughter Maria in a bit part as a suspicious neighbor who lives in Dr. Richard Alexander’s neighborhood. Maria's character has good reason to be on the lookout.  In his weakened physically deteriorating condition, Sam scuffles through the village in a blood stained white shirt looking like the undead.

Cinematographer John Garrett (Man of Steel, Thor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) captures the decadent night life and beautiful shots of Blood River east of the Mississippi in New Orleans. His color palette includes striking dominant colors for interiors contrasted with boat life and water routes. Creole and multicultural roots – including a lesson on famous Armenians, blend with local mobsters, hangouts, decadent clubs and shady characters – a modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/06/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ruben Östlund's problematic "The Square" awarded Palme d'Or at Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

Terry Notary's problematic ape mimicry 
The Square by Ruben Östlund from Sweden won the Palme d'Or at the 2017 Cannes film festival. It is a film that will work best in Sweden since its provincialism will be better understood. Outside of Sweden it may seem like it is a provocative film because when the dialogue is translated it might make it seem better than it actually is. But I speak Swedish and was disappointed with the film for many reasons.

Let's start with the roles for women. Most of the women wear extremely high heeled shoes, even middle age women, and have minor roles as secretaries or assistants. The female executive director of the museum is ridiculed and called crazy. The major female role of the film, Anne, played by Elisabeth Moss is so ridiculous that it is hard to believe that she agreed to it. She plays a foreign journalist who lives with a chimpanzee shown in one scene applying lipstick to its nose, peripherally reinforcing Östlunds preoccupation with apes elsewhere in the film. Anne interviews the curator of a Swedish art museum, Christian (Claes Bang) and has only one question about the inherent contradictions of the current exhibition. Christian’s answer is over simplified and the example used to illustrate it condescending. Moss is briefly in the film for an acrobatic one night stand and forgotten about after than – an empty sign in a communication system composed of male artists. There is nothing innovative about the male gaze of this scene.

The actual goings on at the museum includes a character with Tourette syndrome who interrupts the face to face with the public and Julian, a visiting artist played by Dominic West, also briefly on screen. The cinematography is theatrical meant for the stage. The current museum run by Christian, called the "X Museum" is actually the Royal Castle of the Kingdom of Sweden. Some of the rooms are used for a heavy drinking party where Christian and Ann hook up, and also for a posh dinner. The second instance of the use of women as exchange objects occurs with the character of Oleg, played by Terry Notary who has done chimpanzee characters in blue screen for films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. You can clearly see Bright Eyes and Rocket in his role as a disturber at the dinner. Oleg hassles the guests such as Julian, but in particular a woman who is dragged by the hair across the floor in neanderthal fashion demonstrating his mastery over the female body, and is then attacked by the men in the room defending the white woman. (Oleg's ape mimicry is part of a video installation at the museum, not unlike the historic collections of apes and gorillas in collections).

The Square is part of an exhibition plan gone wrong where everything is allowed within the parameters of a "square" with "trust and care". The young media technicians hired to promote the exhibition decide to put a blonde child in the square and blow her up on YouTube. It  receives mega hits and causes a public outcry. This way of addressing the internal issues of Sweden by using indigenous Swedes (the young blonde child) to drive home the problems with immigrants is both shoddy and ostentatious. Östlund makes ample use of Rumanian gypsies in Stockholm as minor characters as well.

When Christian’s phone is stolen it is located in a suburb through a trite plot device - a "find my phone" app. To find the actual thief, he puts an accusatory and reprimanding letter in every person’s mailbox in the building demanding it be returned to a "7-11" near the central train station in Stockholm. A young immigrant boy shows up to demand an apology for the letter.

It turns out that The Square is far from the subject of trust and care and is more concerned with breaking boundaries and abuse within a trendy, clichéd art world told through the megamania of modern gadgets such as cell phones apps and YouTube. Östlund's problematic "imperial gazing"  of a culture ("white, Western, male, and heterosexual, privileging the gaze of the 'master subject' over others") looking at its own subcultures, his representation of women and his fascination with apes - Ann's pet, and Terry Notary's ape mimicry - the film's poster icon - is disturbing dramatic filler for a film awarded a Palme d'Or.

Östlund, Bang, Notary and Moss at Cannes in May.

When accepting his award at Cannes on May 28,  Östlund demanded that the cameras be directed toward the audience who he instructed to give a loud cheer.  Neither the cameras nor the audience did as he requested, at which point he announced, "I am the director, you have to do what I say".  They complied, however reluctantly, but it was an uncomfortable moment for many at the final ceremony of the 70th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

Östlund has been incorrectly compared to Bergman by critics who have not done their research,  for the only thing the two have in common is that they are directors from Sweden. However,  a Swedish director that comes to mind is Roy Andersson with his tableaux arrangement of vivid and unique scenes with organic unity. Andersson's  award winning films (Songs from the Second Floor, 2000) come from years of making television commercials. Alas, The Square is an attempt to refine staged scenes within a hubristic facade of thematic development.

Ruben Östlund's fascination with apes
© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/16/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hired Gun- new documentary by Fran Strine opens in San Francisco June 29



By Moira Sullivan

Fran Strine worked on his documentary “Hired Gun” for three years, where he interviewed 55 backup musicians to major artists such such as Alice Cooper Metallica and Pink. They are referred to as "Hired Guns" - assassins - and are the best around that go on music tours with major artists. According to one artist there are about 20 musicians - hired guns - on every single record that everyone ones. The reality of their lives and the ups and downs of their careers are captured by the filmmaker. It was Strine’s ambition to make a different documentary with profiles of the inner lives of these excellent musicians. Two of the interviewees are the drummer Liberty DeVitto and guitarist Russell Javors. Both of them worked for and were replaced by other musicians by Billy Joel –De Vitto had worked for him for 30 years. Nita Strauss, one of the hired Guns featured in the film, has played for Alice Cooper, Jermaine Jackson, Femme Fatale Critical Hit and the The Iron Maidens. She reports that you have to be "on point all of the time".

A hired gun is usually hired at the last minute and so Fran STrine emphasizes that these have to be the best - not only a great musician but someone with a personality that helps to make a great gig. And that means being great every time to keep getting gigs.

The documentary is unique in giving us a backstage view of "Hired Guns" -the unsung heroes who make major artists sound great. There has not been such a focus yet and Fran Strine hits a home run in his assemblage of these musicians that make rock gigs rock.

The film will be shown as special one day event on Thursday June 20 produced by FATHOM EVENTS in theaters across the US and her in the Bay Area it will be at AMC Van Ness in San Francisco and theaters in Daly City 20 and Century at Tanforan in San Bruno. But it is going to be an exceptional one day screening with the best sound theaters, with sound mixing by Lucas Skywalker Ranch.

Fran Strine was overjoyed when Lucas actually asked to mix the sound for the film and it was one of many aspects of this riveting rock spectacle that fell into place. Originally a photographer, Strine is an excellent videographer and was on tour with the heavy metal band "Five Finger Death Punch". That includes their extensive tours national and internationally.

The crystal clear image of "Hired Gun" on widescreen projection with photography by Gavin Fisher with super sound mixed by Skywalker Ranch is sure to be one of this year major rock music video events.

Here now is San Francisco local Fran Strine in an exclusive interview for Movie Magazine International. (interview follows).




Directed by: Fran Strine
Release Date: June 29, 2017
Run Time: 90 Minutes
Rated: RG
Country: USA
Distributor: Voltage Productions



© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/28/17
Movie Magazine International

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Frameline41 draws to a close

Jayne Mansfield in "Mansfield 66/67". Frameline41. Used with permission.

By Moira Sullivan

Towards the end of the Frameline are several films worthy of mention. On June 22 "Hot to Trot" will be screened at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley. The film is directed and produced by Gail Freedman. This is a look back documentary at four international dancers as they enter same-sex ballroom dance competition at the 2014 Gay Games: the Costa Rican Ernesto, Russian Nikolai New Zealander Kieren and the American Emily .

On June 23 is "Signature Move"  at the Castro Theatre and June 24 at Landmark Theatres in Piedmont directed by Jennifer Reeder. Zaynab Qadir , a Muslim lawyer is involved in lucha libre-style wrestling. She is a member of Chicago’s Pakistani community and unbeknownst to her family is a lesbian. Next door neighbor Parveen tries to match Zaynab with a husband, afer spying on her with binocularsAt the same time Zaynab meets the former Chicana wrester Alma (Sari Sanchez) and a real romance is brewing.

On June 24 at the Roxie, the best feature film at the 2016 TIFF film festival will be screened: "Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves", directed by Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie. This is a fictionalized account of the aftermath of the 2012 “Maple Spring” student protests in Quebec. The activists used anthrax hoaxes, public defacement, and homemade explosives to get their message across.

Back by popular demand is Season 1 – episode 195 Lewis 0 of the popular TV series BKPI . It will screen as "Woke Women MixTape" on June 24 at the Roxie. The cast includes Mo (Hye Yun Park),  a lesbian Korean American health aide, Dawn (Celine Justice), an African American MTA worker, and Iram (Dina Shihabi), an Arab American bodega owner. The trio works to solve crimes within the immigrant population in Brooklyn.

A new documentary on Jayne Mansfied - "Mansfied 66/67" directed by P. David Ebersole & Todd Hughes on June 24 at the Castro features interviews with Peaches Christ, John Waters, Kenneth Anger, Tippy Hedren and more. The film also looks at Mansfield’s relationship with San Francisco’s Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and circumstances that might have led to her death.

Playing about the time of the Dyke March on June 24 The Devil is in the Detail short film program by international artists on lesbian themes.

Closing Night Film "After Louie" – is the debut feature of Vincent Gagliostro. The film's protagonist Sam (Alan Cumming) hails from the onslaught of HIV/AIDS and is skeptical of a younger generation of gay men and their lack of political commitment or conviction but when he meets the young Braeden, he becomes open to possibilities.  Alan Cumming will be the recipient of the 2017FRAMELINE AWARD on June 25.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/21/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Frameline41 San Francisco LGBT Film Festival June 15-25



By Moira Sullivan

The largest ongoing LGBT film festival in the world, Frameline41, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, will take place June 15-25, 2017. This year there are films from over 19 countries and the good news is 40 percent of the films are made by women directors. Here are some highlights:

The OPENING NIGHT Film and Gala on June 15 is THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN  directed by Jennifer Kroot. This will be the Bay Area premiere. Armistead Maupin will be in attendance and is warmly remembered for his Tales of the City. The film includes interviews with Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis and others.

AFTER LOUIE - Closing Night Film, on June 25, the debut feature of Vincent Gagliostro in a West Coast Premiere. The film's protagonist Sam (Alan Cumming) hails from the onslaught of HIV/AIDS in the 80's and 90's and was an ACT UP activist. He is skeptical of a younger generation of gay men and their lack of political commitment or convictions but when he meets the young Braeden, he becomes open to new ways of thinking. Alan Cumming will be the recipient of the 2017 FRAMELINE AWARD.

CENTERPIECE features include BECKS by Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh. When Becks' lover leaves her for a younger woman she moves home with her ex-nun mother played by Christine Lahti  - and when she least expects it finds romance in the Midwest. Plays on June 21

CHAVELA is a documentary directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi about the famous Costa Rican Mexican singer Chavela Vargas who died in 2012. She was in several of Pedro Almodóvars films and sang the soulful "Paloma Negra" (Black Dove) in Julie Taymor’s 2002 film "Frida". Screens June 19.

I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE (Sueño en otra idioma), which won the Audience Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival concerns a fifty-year feud between speakers of a a dying indigenous language in Mexico. June 20

Other noteworthy films are THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON by David France, which investigates the 1992 death of transgender pioneer Marsha P. Johnson. In the course of making the film interviews her friend and comrade Sylvia River both instrumental in the modern trans rights movement. June 22.

THE FABULOUS LIFE OF ALLAN CARR, by Jeffrey Schwarz, is the story of the successful producer Allan Carr who was behind productions such as "Grease" and the Broadway hit "La Cage aux Folles", but who screwed up when producing the 1989’s Academy Awards ceremony, which is considered one of the worst Oscars. Walt Disney sued when Carr paired Snow White (Eileen Bowman) singing with Rob Lowe among other blunders.  June 18

For Whitney Houston fans WHITNEY. “CAN I BE ME”, by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, is a stark portrait of the late artist with never before sceen footage of her life. June 20

One classic film not to miss is LOOKING FOR LANGSTON, by Isaac Julien, a digital restoration of the 1989 poetic treatise of the Harlem Renaissance. June 19. Another is Donna Deitch's classic lesbian romance DESERT HEARTS from 1985 in a new digital restoration.

GIRL UNBOUND, by Erin Heidenreich takes a look at a high ranking female squash player in Pakistan who has been playing since here teens but had received death threats from the Taliban but who refuses to stop. June 18.

There are many more films at the festival that deserve mention and these are only a few of the excellent choices made by programmer Des Buford who is planning to retire from the festival after many years of service and go on to new opportunities.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/14/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rare Noir at the San Francisco Roxie


Silvana Mangano and Doris Dowling in "Bitter Rice"

By Moira Sullivan
The second series of A Rare Noir is Good to Find screens at the Roxie May 5 through 8. Programmer Don Malcolm brings us 11 films on international noir from the 1950’s. Countries include Egypt, Eastern Europe, Latin America the Far East and Western Europe. During this postwar period, there are many commonalities in these films that are evident in classic noir.

On May 5, CAMINO DEL INFIERNO (The Road to Hell - 1951, Mexico) features a femme fatale Mexican actress Leticia Palma as Leticia. She wants expensive jewelry and furs and is lovers with Tony who works for gang boss León. There are many twists to the plot including betrayal, and a missing hand.

No film better addresses the excesses of lawlessness than IN THE NAME OF THE LAW (In Nome Della Legge - 1950, Italy) screening on May 6. Directed by Pietro Germi the film stars Massimo Girotti as the newly installed judge in a small Sicilian village - Guido Schiavi. The people are described as descendants of ancient customs that outsiders don’t understand but several captains patrolling the area with guns on horseback are not hard to figure out. This film surely influenced Coppola’s The Godfather II starring Al Pacino. Pietro Germi is a skilled director and the film is one of the best at this series of noir films.

On May 7, STRANGE ENCOUNTER screens (Estranho Encontro - 1958, Brazil) directed by Walter Hugo Khouri. This is another film that pulls you in instantly. Marcos (Mário Sérgio) driving on a country road is stopped by the figure of a woman, Julia (Andrea Bayard). falling on top of the hood of his car, her heels sliding from underneath her feet. She seems to come from nowhere but is actually the girlfriend of a man with an amputated leg she wants to escape, that she met in the clock shop where she works – Hugo (Luigi Picchi) .

Also on May 7 is BITTER RICE (Riso Amaro - 1949, Italy) directed by Giuseppe De Santis. the most handcrafted and compelling film of the series starring Silvana Mangano as the femme fatale Silvana and Doris Dowling as Francesca. The film is set in the North where every year women arrive to plant rice and take home some of it to their villages. They are paid workers and class differences between paid workers and scabs or the illegals are made clear. Yet the women tend to unify. Silvana refuses the advances of Marco (Raf Vallone), a soldier she grew up with and Francesca has fallen in with the petty thief Walter (Vittorio Gassman.)

On May 8 films from Japan and South Korea known for high quality technical achievements make for excellent noir.

CASH CALLS HELL (Gohiki No Shinshi - 1966, Japan) is directed by Hideo Gosha. Tatsuya Nakadi, plays a broken man who had it all – the boss’s daughter, the company car, a pension, a good salary and a lover who grabs the steering wheel sending him into a swerve that mow down a man and his daughter. While in prison he is contracted to kill three men when he gets out.

THE HOUSEMAID (Hanyo - 1960, Korea) is by Ki-Young Kim. The head of nuclear family reads in the news about a housemaid that seduces the master of the house and brings him to ruin. This foreshadowing continues and puts his family on the edge. 

These and more films at the Roxie 5-8 May.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/03/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Agitprop - Noir with a Message - at the Roxie


By Moira Sullivan

The organizer of several excellent special programs on film noir at the Roxie in San Francisco,  Don Malcolm,  hosts films he calls Agitprop and says we can learn from especially given the political climate of today. (Part of the A Rare Noir is Good to Find series). Prior to the present administration where human rights are at stake films like these were relics from the past reminding us that social justice was abused by the discriminatory legislation and institutions that defied human rights.

Racist and anti-Semitic vigilante groups that worked to meter out abuse is the subject of the film Open Secret, directed by John Reinhardt, a B film noir classic from 1948 starring John Ireland. A newly married couple Paul and Nancy Lester bunks down in the apartment of an old friend who never returns. They become embroiled in discovering there is a clandestine operation that seeks to snuff out Jews from the community and make their life difficult with constant harassment. Photographs taken by the old friend are incriminating evidence developed by a Jewish shopowner across the street and a roughhouse gang will do anything to get their hands on them. Nancy (Jane Randolph) can be counted on to scream at just the right moment, and Paul (John Ireland) is determined to get to the bottom of this. The claustrophobic set design has people living nose to nose with neighbors. There is also a nosey landlady Miss Trissdam (Anne O’Neal). It is interesting to note how the shady gang manages to keep hidden in a dark basement seated around a table making dastardly plans lead by Carter, played by versatile veteran character actor Arthur O'Connell. The crusaders of justice are the newlyweds, and Detective Sgt. Mike Frontelli played by Sheldon Leonard.

Also in the program is an episode of the TV series from the early 60’s The Defenders, (1961)  about a father and son law firm - Lawrence and Kenneth Preston-  starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed. Reed has little to do in this trial where a physician Dr. Ernest Montgomery (Robert Simon) is in custody for performing illegal abortions. The women who are called as witnesses have either had abortions or were counseled against having them including the underage Sarah played by Kathleen Widdoes. Lawrence Preston as chief counsel for the defendant is an intelligent bold and shrewd lawyer whose case is heard by the sympathetic and humanitarian Judge Burton Henshaw (Judson Laire). The emphasis is on the young women who volunteer to be witnesses and speak on behalf of their doctor.

Edward Dmytryk, who grew up in San Francisco made I in 194,  the third film in this special series. Dymtryck was later blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to cooperate with the House on Un-American Activities (HUAC), and was one of the Hollywood Ten. The film concerns the murder of a Jewish Man Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene), which is investigated by Detective Findlay (Robert Young). Findlay’s sleuthing leads him to a witness who is crucial for the defense played by Graham. Robert Mitchum plays Sergeant Kelley. The film is an important example of film noir because it brings into question whether noir is really noir if it has a message.

May 2 though 8 the Roxie Theater hosts more films from the A Rare Noir is Good to Find series and will be reviewed next week on Movie Magazine International.

© 2017 - Your Name - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/26/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

70th Edition of the Cannes Film Festival


By Moira Sullivan

The 70th Edition of the Cannes Film Festival runs from May 17 to 28 with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar presiding as President of the Jury of the Official selection. Also noteworthy is the Mistress of Ceremonies for the event, a gender title which sounds unworthy of Italian actress Monica Bellucci.

The festival poster this year is Italian actress Claudio Cardinale dancing on the rooftops of Rome in 1959. Already stirring controversy is the airbrushing of the poster that diminished the waist and thighs of the actress. This didn’t bother Cardinale who identifies as a feminist and said that she is proud of her body image in which she dances film-- this is just a representation she said Presiding over the Camera d’or jury as president for a director's first work jury is Sandrine Kiberlain French actress who has worked with the French director Laetitia Masson where she won the most promising actress at the 1995 French Cesar wards and in 2013 and 2014 she won Cesars for the best actress.

In the official selection three women are among the 22 directors – Sofia Coppola The Beguiled, Lynn Ramsey, You Were Never Really Here, and Naomi Kawase Hikari (Radiance). All three directors have been invited with their films previously into the official selection.

Coppola's film stars Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning Nicole Kidman, and Colin Farrell. Set during the civil War in Virginia in 1864, a wounded Union officer arrives at a Confederate girls school and charms all the women. The film has previously been made by Don Siegel in 1971 starring Clint Eastwood as the soldier, which was not a particularly noteworthy film but Coppola must have her reasons for doing it again, as we shall see.

Naomi Kawase was nominated for the Palme d’or in 2014 for Still the Water, and this year Hikari is about a photographer with a wandering eye who meets a socially reclusive woman.
Lynn Ramsey, You Were Never Really Here Stars Joaquin Phoenix as a war veteran who tries to stop a young girl from becoming a victim of a sex trafficking ring.

Male veteran directors to Cannes this year include Michael Haneke, Le RedoutableTodd Haynes Wonderstruck, Greek Director Yorgos Lanthimos The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and François Ozon L’amant Double.
Other sections of the festival include Un Certain Regard whose jury is presided over by president Marthe Keller Swiss actress, the director’s fortnight, and a special section called ACID –the association of independent filmmakers that has been created to give visibility to lesser known directors in hopes of theatrical distribution.

In a festival that is usually 70% men, it is with great anticipation that French director Agnès Varda will present a new film, Visages Villages out of competition. Another special event with be Vanessa Redgrave's directorial debut Sea Sorrow on the refugee crisis.

Special 70-year anniversary events include: Jane Campion and Ariel Kleiman’s Top Of The Lake: China Girl, The Second Season starring Elizabeth Moss, and also Nicole Kidman, the late Abbas Kiarostami's 24 Frames, and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Also highly anticipated is Kristen Stewart’s short film Come Swim that already debuted at Sundance.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/19/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hadas Ben Aroya's “People That Are Not Me” wins jury prize special mention at Créteil


By Moira Sullivan

The title of “People That Are Not Me” by young Israeli filmmaker Hadas Ben Aroya is intriguing for so many young women are like Joy, viscerally played by the filmmaker. Winner of the Jury Prize, special mention at Créteil Festival International de Films de Femmes 10-19 March, 2017.

The precociousness of youth is and is not wasted in this film, along with the spirit to experiment with stability and freedom in relationships.  Joy has just broken up with her boyfriend and becomes friends with Nir (Yonatan Bar- or ) and isn’t against dating other men. The focus of the film is on the passage of time by youth before establishment and also is about gender differences. The film comes close to not passing the “Bechdel Test” designed by Alison Bechdel. A film to pass the test requires two women with names who talk to each other about something other than men. In the scene that makes the film pass the test, Joy meets a woman at the bar of a nightclub she has frequented with Nir. Michal introduces herself to Joy, played by Israeli dance-theatre artist Hagar Onosh. Both women more or less have slept with Nir. Yet “People That Are Not Me” puts this test on alert because the film is overwhelmingly a stark portrait of a woman, and men are minor characters.

The “free” Nir seems fairly nerdy and it’s hard to see what Michal or Joy see in him. He is either busy on Facebook all day or working on his dissertation and spending time at the local nightclub. The fine print is that he is incapable of commitment which he willingly shares.

Joy works part time somewhere and spends her time on video art, and she can play a few chords on the guitar. Otherwise Ben Aroya’s film is a naked portrait of a frustrated woman whose emotions can be detected in every shot, a woman set up for failure in relationships, an engaging woman who is both tough and vulnerable surrounded by malcontents. The uncompromising intimacy scenes shown with regularity are raw and candid, just as every inch of Joy’s gestures and face - in every scene of the film.

The filmmaker has stated that the film is about the “non-unicorn” lives of her friends but they seem fairly common today in major cities such as San Francisco, Paris , London and Stockholm. The young people spend time in bars, have sex with each other, study and work in the modern arts or in web design. It is a universe of the youth scene in Tel Aviv that international audiences will be interested in learning about especially the introduction of this bold Israeli filmmaker.

Cinematographer Median Arama makes clean and uncompromising shots of interiors. Many of the scenes are along pedestrian lanes lined by cars and apartments, Joy’s apartment and the neighborhood nightclub. Arama’s use of confinement captures the mis en scène to convey just the right amount of distress for the characters, including a scene where Joy cathartically wrestles in bed with her ex-boyfriend. Editor Or- Lee Tal carefully arranges the shots, and it can be inferred that Hadas Ben Aroya stands for the production design. All three are students at the Steve Tisch School of Film at Tel Aviv University.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/05/17
Movie Magazine International

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Sami Blod" examines historical discrimination of the Nordic Sami



Lene (Cecilia Sparrok) and Njenna (Mia Erika Sparrok) 


By Moira Sullivan

Sami Blod (Sami Blood – English) won the Jury Prize for best film at the Créteil International Film Festival that ran from 10- 19 March. The film was directed by Amanda Kernell in a co-production with Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Kernel attended the Danish Film School.

Sami Blod begins in modern times where retired teacher Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi) reluctantly attends the funeral of her sister in Northern Sweden with her son and granddaughter. When she arrives she distances herself from the people who are Sami’s and refuses to speak their language. She walks off to a hotel and refuses to live with them and to participate later in reindeer herding. Then there is a flashback to the 1930’s in Sweden where two sisters are sent to boarding school to learn Swedish customs. Elle Marja ( Lene Cecilia Sparrok) and Njenna (Mia Erika Sparrok) – both sisters in real life undergo blatant discrimination in the form of heckling by the villagers, and are subjected to race biology examinations, a series of photographs and measurements to ascertain Sami differences from ethnic Swedes.

Christina right away takes issue with this and instead tries to ignore her heritage and her sister to blend in with the Swedish society. She is willing to go to any lengths for this to happen. First she attends a dance and becomes interested in a young Swedish man, finds out where he lives with his parents and asks to spend the night while he is away. Even in her attempt to suppress her identity she is subjected to further scrutiny by young students such as being ask to “yoik” – that is sing the traditional and sacred form of song of the Sami people.

Lene Cecilia Sparrok stands out in this role as Christina or Elle Marja. Her ability to authenticate the feelings of this young 14 year old women – the eagerness to belong and the shame from feelings different is heart breaking. This is Sparrok’s film debut and there is every reason to believe from this authentic and talented performance that she will be offered future dramatic roles. Kernell is correct involving Sparrok in nearly every scene of the film for it is through Elle Marja’s evolution into Christina that we witness the sadness of a beautiful and bold group of people that is put to ridicule by the dominant culture and how its specialness is wiped away as the young woman turns away from her people and from herself.

"Sami Blod" is an homage to the Sami people, the indigenous people that live in Sápmi - the Northern Scandinavian countries and coast of Russia, and their colonial appropriation to conform to the dominant culture. The modern day Sami were not allowed to speak Sami in school and were often shamed. Yet, archeological evidence from the Viking and early medieval period demonstrates that “the relationship between the Sami and Nordic populations was based on cooperation and mutual respect rather than exploitation and harassment” (Odner 1983, Hansen and Olsen 2004).

Shot in seven weeks it was usual for Kernell to have 13 takes for each of the scenes, primarily to make the film authentic for the Sami people.


 © 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 03/29/17
Movie Magazine International