Authors Posts by Brooks Robards

Brooks Robards

372 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

by -
0
"Foxcatcher" stars Channing Tatum as a wrestler trying to find success. — Photo by Scott Garfield

Foxcatcher, the gripping story of two wrestling brothers and their wealthy would-be mentor, comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. Directed by Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher is based on the true story of Olympic gold medal winners Mark and David Schultz and their relationship with multimillionaire John du Pont.

Unlike many sports films, Foxcatcher makes wrestling the backdrop for an intense study of far more complex issues, like the controlling power of wealth and the nature of male camaraderie and familial relationships. The film opens with a capsule life of Mark Schultz, who won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Los Angeles, played by Channing Tatum. In the aftermath of his Olympic success, Mark leads a solitary, sad-sack existence — working out, living on a diet of ramen noodles and occasionally giving pep talks to high school students. Trapped in his musclebound body as if it were a cage, Mark depends emotionally on his older, more easygoing, gregarious brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo.

While Mark remains damaged by his unhappy blue-collar childhood, David acts as his protector and father figure. David’s more normal life includes his wife Nancy, played by Sienna Miller, and his two children, in addition to his wrestling career, while Mark remains obsessed by the need for success as a wrestler.

More than any other sport, wrestling suggests an erotic-tinged intimacy underlying the action between two competitors. The director, also responsible for Capote and Moneyball, explores in Foxcatcher the relationship between the two brothers through close-up scenes of their workouts. Once this sporting world is established, it is turned sideways by the appearance of multimillionaire John du Pont, himself a would-be wrestler, who uses his money and influence to set up a training center for wrestlers at his Pennsylvania estate. As portrayed by comedian Steve Carell wearing a prosthetic nose, du Pont is a stunningly awkward eccentric who entices Mark, along with a group of other wrestlers, to live on his estate and train for the upcoming Seoul Olympics. With his proboscis perpetually in the air and his halting speech patterns, du Pont proves even more isolated than Mark. Vanessa Redgrave, playing du Pont’s disapproving mother who raises horses and dismisses her son’s wrestling as a “low” sport, fleshes out the intricacies of du Pont’s psyche.

Once du Pont replaces David as his brother Mark’s mentor, the more corrupting aspects of the relationship emerge. The millionaire introduces Mark to cocaine, and trains him to give speeches describing du Pont as his hero. Eventually du Pont transfers his obsessions to David, and persuades him to move his family to the du Pont estate. From there, the situation spirals out of control and into disturbing and destructive behaviors. Foxcatcher’s shocking finale brings into the foreground the dark undertones of a story that can only be described as heartbreaking. Mr. Miller’s capable direction, combined with accomplished and nuanced acting by all three of the principals, has created an exceptionally strong film.

Foxcatcher, Friday, Jan. 16, and Saturday, Jan. 17, 7:30 pm.; Sunday, Jan. 18, 4 pm. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.  

by -
0

This week at M.V. Film Center and Entertainment Cinemas.

Photo by Anne Marie Fox

With a Golden Globe nomination and multiple regional wins under her belt, Reese Witherspoon strips away her movie-star image to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in “Wild.” Already playing at Edgartown’s Entertainment Cinemas, “Wild”opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, Jan. 9.

Like “Tracks,”the story of a woman who crosses the Australian desert with four camels and a dog; “Into the Wild,”where a college grad hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wild; and “All Is Lost,” about a shipwrecked sailor’s struggle to survive alone, the appeal of “Wild” comes from the challenge an individual faces to survive on her own in the wilderness. Adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed’s popular 2012 memoir of the same title, “Wild” follows the trek of a young woman grieving the loss of her mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern. Cheryl travels from the Mojave Desert near the Mexican border to Washington State.

Cheryl has led a life of dissipation, taking drugs and having promiscuous sex, after her mother’s premature death from cancer. As the movie, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée — also responsible for “Dallas Buyers Club” opens, Cheryl has decided to change her ways by hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Her goal is to recapture the person her mother believed her to be. She begins carrying a backpack so large she can hardly hoist it. Other hikers along the trail call her bag the “monster,” and eventually she is able to relinquish some of the paraphernalia that as an inexperienced hiker she has packed.

Filmed in Oregon, “Wild” follows Cheryl through breathtaking landscapes. Her hike brings plenty of challenges. She loses one of her too-small hiking boots down a ravine, throwing the other one after it in frustration. Using duct tape, she modifies a pair of sandals to wear until she’s able to get new boots. In the 94 days she spends on the trail, she meets a number of other hikers, mostly men. A reporter interviews her for his story on hobos, even though she insists she’s not one. A rancher who at first seems threatening takes her home for a hot meal provided by his wife. Two hunters she encounters come close to molesting her, but other hikers along the way are friendly and helpful. Her ex-husband, played by Thomas Sadowski, supports her by providing mail and supplies at prearranged sites. As Cheryl moves along the trail, she writes in her diary and enters fragments of poems by Emily Dickinson and others into the trail records. Flashbacks return the viewer to the life Cheryl experienced with her always cheerful single-parent mother and her brother as she grew up. Taking up almost a third of the movie, they also fill in details of her earlier drug-taking and sexual misadventures.

“You can always quit,” her best friend Aimee, played by Gaby Hoffman, tells Cheryl, but that is not a choice this determined woman wants to make. At times it is hard to ignore the movie-star sheen Ms. Witherspoon’s natural beauty evokes, and as her mother, Ms. Dern can be a little too perpetually positive. But as a journey of self-discovery, “Wild”is an entertaining and satisfying excursion for the moviegoer.

At M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven: Friday, Jan. 9, and Saturday, Jan. 10, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Jan. 11, 4 pm; Thursday Jan. 15, 7:30 pm.

For tickets and information, mvfilmsociety.com.

At Entertainment Cinemas, Edgartown: Thursday Jan. 8, 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

For tickets and information, entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown/.

by -
0

A retrospective in Island cinema.

"Freedom Summer" was a highlight of 2014. –Photo courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival

Not many communities the size of Martha’s Vineyard are lucky enough to provide such a variety of films to moviegoers. In addition to the Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown, which programs popular Hollywood blockbusters year-round, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (TMVFF) in Chilmark and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven, along with the Summer Jewish Film Series of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, now based at the MV Film Center, bring the Island the best in independent filmmaking. Another film event growing in popularity is the annual African-American Film Festival, held in August in Oak Bluffs. Across the board, 2014 was an especially good year for provocative and insightful films.

Film festival-goers. – File photo by Ralph Stewart
Film festival-goers. – File photo by Ralph Stewart

Chilmark’s TMVFF addressed a variety of gender issues, including bisexuality in Appropriate Behavior, and gay marriage in The Case Against 8, civil rights in Freedom Summer, and food-industry abuses in Fed Up. In addition to its annual March festival, Chilmark’s TMVFF expanded its venues, bringing movies to Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown, and outdoors to Owen Park in Vineyard Haven and the Menemsha public beach, in addition to its regular screenings at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown and at its home base at Chilmark Community Center. Oriented toward documentary films, TMVFF brought a number of filmmakers and principals connected with the films being screened for discussions. Many films, including Stanley Nelson’s Freedom Summer, Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank with an appearance by Mr. Frank, Fed Up attended by producers Katie Couric and Laurie David, and Divide in Concord with plastic-bottle-ban advocate Jean Hill, earned standing ovations. TMVFF brought a number of free events to its members, such as Frozen, Mission Blue, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, and The Wizard of Oz.

Cinema Circus is a fun component to the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival. –Photo By Eli Dagostino
Cinema Circus is a fun component to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. –Photo By Eli Dagostino

Also free for the first time this year was TMVFF’s signature children’s program, Cinema Circus, which expanded from Chilmark to include events in West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs. In addition to screening children’s films, Cinema Circus offered circus events and classes in filmmaking for kids. Managing Director Brian Ditchfield and Education Coordinator Hilary Dreyer will lead new education programs in 2015 at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the West Tisbury School. TMVFF will also expand its outdoor film series in 2015.

MV Film Center

The MV Film Center screened 165 feature-length movies this year, as well as 60 to 70 shorts, and stayed open every week for at least five nights. The center’s most popular films were Boyhood, Chef, Whiplash, Gone Girl, Le Chef,Ida, Land Ho, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, The Past, and Philomena. Guest appearances featured the late Mike Nichols with The Graduate,  Rory Kennedy with Last Days of Vietnam, and Kate Davis with Newburgh Sting.

People gathered to share drinks and music after a show at the film center in Vineyard Haven. – Photo by Michael Cummo
People gathered to share drinks and music after a show at the film center in Vineyard Haven. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Special events at the Film Center included the MV Hebrew Center’s Summer Jewish Film Series, a program of Oscar-nominated shorts, The Manhattan Shorts series, Wednesday-night classic films, Green on Screen films with the Vineyard Conservation Society, the The Charles W. Morgan with Sail MV, the NY Film Critics series, a New Year’s Eve party, and the annual Oscars party.

Two new events will join the MV Film Center roster in 2015: a documentary week, and a Memorial Day weekend mini-festival on the environment, with cooperation from the Vineyard Conservation Society.

by -
0
'National Gallery' and 'Force Majeure' premiere at the MV Film Center this week.

In his 39th documentary, Frederick Wiseman applies his considerable cinematic skills to interpreting art with a three-hour trip through one of the world’s great museums. National Gallery plays Friday, Dec. 19, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. It’s an exhausting and exhilarating excursion. Opening this weekend is Force Majeure, a domestic drama about a Swedish family’s ski trip.

Throughout Wiseman’s career, this master of cinema vérité or observational film (terms he avoids) has used the camera to explore the nature of institutions. One of the earliest films of the Boston-born lawyer turned filmmaker, Titicut Follies (1967), portrayed Bridgewater State Hospital patients in such graphic detail that it was banned in Massachusetts. More recent films include Boxing Gym, Crazy Horse, and At Berkeley.

Now 84 years old, Mr. Wiseman opens National Gallery with a Rembrandt painting, then moves outdoors to a shot of the lions that grace the entrance to the world-famous London museum. A cinematic anatomy of the National Gallery follows, alternating cleaning staff, viewers, docent lectures, administrative meetings, and conservators at work with shots of individual pieces in the collection.

These cinematic images are selected with such care that the film audience can absorb far more than any three-hour excursion through the museum would offer. Mr. Wiseman taps all of the devices that film uses to communicate — cuts, montage (editing), close-ups, establishing shots, to name a few. The soundtrack is the one exception, with the filmmaker relying entirely on the natural sounds and dialogue occurring as the camera moves through the museum exploring its many facets as an institution.

Administrators debate how or whether to market the museum in ways that will draw a wider and different audience. Docents trained in art history talk about the symbolism of a distorted skull in a 16th century Hans Holbein painting and the background behind the 18th century painter George Stubbs’s choice of horses as a subject. The camera looks in on several live-model classes of artists drawing nudes. A group of blind visitors is given Braille-like reproductions of a painting to study and discuss. Museum staff explain the care that goes into hanging paintings in a new exhibit and the way paintings “talk” to one another.

If the film’s length seems taxing, National Gallery presents the audience with as much richness as an entire course in art appreciation. Not to be forgotten is the way Mr. Wiseman animates an essentially static subject through the many cinematic techniques at his command. He reinforces that message in the closing sequences by showing how other art forms, including video, poetry, music, and dance interact with art. And last but not least comes the capacity of film to find inspiration in an art museum.

Avalanche rules Force Majeure

A family on a ski vacation in France provides Swedish director Ruben Ostlund with the opportunity to poke fun at marital trials and tribulations in Force Majeure. The term in the title is a legal one. A little like “act of God,” force majeure is a contract clause that frees the parties from liability for an unavoidable accident. The force majeure in the film is an avalanche.

Tomas is taking time off from a demanding job to spend time with his wife, Ebba, and two children, Harry and Vera. A family-portrait photo op on the slopes opens the film and signals what the subject will be. Soon after, the camera watches Harry from behind as he pees into a bathroom waterfall, suggesting that the mood will be comic. After the scene has been set, day two of this Scandinavian vacation finds the family about to eat lunch on a deck overlooking the slopes. A massive avalanche arrives, looking as if it will bury everyone, and Tomas abandons his family to seek safety inside.

More than a little irritated with her husband’s cowardice, Ebba recounts to friends over dinner what happened. Tomas claims he saw events quite differently from his wife. The avalanche frames the battle of the sexes that follows and incorporates the two children.

Mr. Ostlund captures life at a ski resort and domestic strife with style and sophistication. He peppers the story with an understated humor that perhaps epitomizes a Swedish take on family life. If Force Majeure doesn’t inspire belly laughs, it does offer plenty of chuckles.

“National Gallery,” Friday, Dec. 19, 4 pm.

“Force Majeure,” Friday, Dec. 19, and Saturday, Dec. 20, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Dec. 21, 4 pm.

by -
0

In a true-to-life story that is as frightening as any fictional thriller, Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour tells the story of how intelligence analyst Edward Snowden exposed widespread surveillance by the U.S. government. The film opens Friday, December 12, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, and it is a must-see for anyone who cares about civil rights.

In the aftermath of 9/11, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have supported a wholesale spying operation — not just on foreigners, but on all Americans. The government’s justification is that it needs every piece of information it can acquire to prevent further acts of terrorism. Major corporations have cooperated by providing wholesale access to information most of us would consider no one else’s business. Issues of privacy were considered secondary to this massive gathering of intelligence.

The film tracks Edward Snowden’s decision to leave his position at the CIA, where he was on loan from the National Security Agency, and enlist the media to make public the extent of the government’s spying on its citizens. Aware of how retaliatory the government might be, Mr. Snowden took care to prevent his employers from locating him. He left his longtime girlfriend in the dark, saying only that he was away from their Hawaii home on business. He adopted the code name of “Citizenfour” and moved to Hong Kong, where he felt he might be safe from arrest.

He contacted Ms. Poitras because she was working on a film about surveillance, the third in a series about post-9/11 America for which she had already been subjected to government surveillance. With the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere of a spy novel, the two set up a series of meetings over eight days to transmit the evidence Mr. Snowden had gathered on how the government was collecting emails, cell-phone conversations, bank accounts, and other forms of private electronic communication. Ms. Poitras trains her camera on Mr. Snowden as he is interviewed by journalist Glenn Greenwald, the author and former Salon columnist whose series of articles on Snowden and surveillance for The Guardian subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize. British intelligence journalist Ewen MacAskill also participates in the interviews, and Ms. Poitras includes William Binney, another whistleblower, who designed NSA’s surveillance network before misgivings led him to quit.

The film raises crucial questions about whether the government’s need to protect the nation from acts of terrorism justifies the violation of the individual’s constitutional right to privacy. For those not fluent in the language of electronic communication, Citizenfour can be a challenge, but even if a viewer doesn’t always understand the details of what Mr. Snowden explains about how the government listens in on individuals, the larger message comes through loud and clear.

As well as riveting interviews with Mr. Snowden and others, Ms. Poitras builds a highly effective film through a subtle but powerful electronic soundtrack, and recurrent shots of buildings and skylines in the cities where the principals live that visually evoke the nature of the story. Ms. Poitras lives in Berlin, Mr. Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Snowden (currently) in Moscow. The interviews took place in Hong Kong.

Mr. Snowden emphasizes that he has no desire to become the focus of the information he is sharing with journalists, something he sees as a danger in our celebrity-obsessed culture. Nor does he wish to provide information that would compromise national security. He seeks the cooperation of Ms. Poitras, Mr. Greenwald, and other journalists in the belief that they can better judge what information should be released.

Ms. Poitras builds the case for Mr. Snowden’s sincerity by amassing facts that shock and surprise. The payments for rent of his home don’t arrive, and his landlord begins eviction proceedings. German leader Angela Merkel criticizes the U.S. government for listening in on her cell phone conversations. Mr. Greenwald’s reunion with his male partner is turned into a circus by scoop-hungry media.

Why would the government want to collect information on ordinary citizens, the viewer might ask. How could such masses of information be useful? Anyone of the wrong class, color or ethnicity who has been held for interrogation at an airport or arrested mistakenly knows that if mass surveillance takes place, the right to privacy has been violated, and with it goes the loss of freedom. Citizenfour tells a story that is one of the most important of our era. Don’t miss it.

Citizenfour, Friday, Dec. 12, 7:30 pm; Sat., Dec. 13, 4 pm; Sunday, Dec. 14, 7:30 pm; Thursday, Dec. 18, 7:30 pm.

by -
0
A scene from "Dear White People." —Photo courtesy of Sundance Films

Opening this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center is Dear White People, a college satire that hits home for all ages as accurately as a stealth missile. Also opening this weekend is Awake: The Life of Yogananda, a documentary about Paramahansa Yogananda, who introduced yoga and meditation to the West.

The setting for Dear White People is Winchester, an Ivy League college where Sam White (Tessa Thompson) blogs her thoughts about race relations. Forget about her last name for the time being or the double entendre of her blog’s and the movie’s title — Sam is a black activist. The pleasures of first-time writer/director/producer Justin Simien’s film come in the contradictions its characters are busy exploring.

For starters, Sam’s black ex-boyfriend is Troy (Brandon Bell) who yearns to improve his position as BMOC (Big Man on Campus). Troy’s dad is Dean Fairbanks (Dennis Haysbert), whose long-time rivalry with Winchester’s white President Fletcher (Peter Syvertsen) echoes his son’s ambitions. Sam’s latest squeeze is Gabe (Justin Dobies), the white teaching assistant in her film class. It’s a relationship that contradicts her activist black politics as well as acceptable teacher-student relations. Just to complicate matters further, Sam also has a semi-romantic relationship with the more acceptably black activist Reggie (Marque Richardson).

Is your head spinning yet? Add to the confusion that Troy’s current girlfriend is Sofia Fletcher (Brittany Curran), the President’s very white daughter. This rich conundrum of relationships fits perfectly into the world of Winchester’s college campus. Plot, however, takes a bit of a back seat in Dear White People. A clueless President Fletcher insists that racism doesn’t exist at Winchester and decides to randomize housing assignments, eliminating the all-black enclave of Parker/Armstrong. An angry Sam runs against Troy for house president, and to everyone’s surprise, wins.

When Kurt Fletcher, the President’s snarky son, and his honchos try to stake out territory in Parker/Armstrong’s dining hall, Sam ousts them. Meanwhile Lionel (Tyler James Williams) a friendless black gay with an over-sized Afro, bounces around a number of dorm settings, puzzling blacks and whites alike because he doesn’t fit any of the usual stereotypes. The same can be said for Coco (Teyonah Parris), the black wannabe who straightens her hair and eagerly seeks to do whatever is necessary to star in a reality TV show. This cast of college kids slips in and out of traditional stereotypes, raising questions about the way we all categorize each other.

Once Kurt and his fraternity brothers decide to hold a black-face Halloween party — much like a real-life party that took place at UC/San Diego in 2010 — campus unrest reaches a boiling point. Viewers will find themselves challenged to think about how American culture deals with racial issues on both sides of the color line, as well as with issues of media, capitalism, and class. Dear White People, which premiered at Sundance, won a Special Jury Prize for Mr. Simien and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize there. Like life itself, the film is messy and complex, an invitation to think seriously.

Awake: The Life of Yogananda

Directors Paola Di Florio and Lisa Leeman sketch out the life of the man responsible for introducing the spiritual teachings of the East to the West, the U.S. in particular. Archival footage, reenactments, and interviews with a variety of Yogananda advocates ranging from the Beatles’ George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to Deepak Chopra and Harvard scientist Dr. Anita Goel. That Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi was handed out at the memorial service for Apple founder Steve Jobs suggests the kind of influence he has had.

Living in the U.S. from 1920 to 1952, Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles and in India a school for boys that combined education with yoga training. He died in 1952 after giving a speech at a dinner in Los Angeles for the Ambassador of India.

It’s a challenge to try and cover all the bases in Yogananda’s life, and at times Awake feels as if it glosses over too much. But viewers who are interested the spiritual aspects of yoga and meditation will still find it informative and can move on to Autobiography of a Yogi.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda,” Friday, December 5, 4 pm; Sunday, December 7, 7:30 pm. “Dear White People,” Friday, December 5, and Saturday, December 6, 7:30 pm. All films screened at M.V. Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For information and tickets, see mvfilmsociety.com.

by -
0
—Fox Searchlight Pictures

Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu pulls out all the stops in his latest film, “Birdman,” which plays at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center over Thanksgiving weekend. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan, an over-the-hill movie star. Coasting on the success he encountered portraying a comic book superhero, Riggan tries to revive his career by mounting a theatrical production of a Raymond Carver story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

We meet Riggan as he meditates in his dressing room, literally levitating before a window. On occasion he can move objects telepathically, fly, or cause explosions. His persona as the superhero Birdman sometimes speaks to him or makes an appearance. One character after another joins Riggan — his lawyer/producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), his lover Laura (Andrea Riseborough), his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), lead actress and old friend Lesley (Naomi Watts), his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and Mike (Edward Norton), who replaces a male lead in the play who gets beaned by a klieg light.

One by one these characters feed Riggan’s various crises de conscience in “Birdman,” which Iñárritu has archly subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence.” Will Riggan’s Broadway production at the St. James Theatre revive his career and redeem his belief in himself as a serious actor? Will method actor Mike take over and steal the spotlight, as well as seducing Riggan’s daughter?  Can Riggan atone for having been a neglectful father? How has his success as the feathered Birdman affected his sense of himself?

“Birdman” is filled with excursions into magical realities, as well as making sophisticated literary references appropriate to the theatrical world, from Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag to Jorge Luis Borges. Brilliant camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki creates the illusion of a single, extended take, à la Hitchcock, as characters move through a claustrophobic rat’s warren of backstage corridors and stairways in the St. James. These inside scenes of the theater — as well as those on the building’s rooftop — serve as metaphors for the inner workings of the actor’s world.  At one point, Riggan accidentally locks himself out of the theater, and, when his robe gets stuck in the closed door, he is forced to march through Times Square’s crowds dressed in nothing but his underpants.

Not far from the surface in this exploration of the actor’s psyche are real-life aspects of the career of Mr. Keaton, who played Batman in several Tim Burton movies starting in 1989, and that of Mr. Norton, who did a turn as the Incredible Hulk. “Birdman” draws relevance from the preponderance of Hollywood actors as varied as Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco making appearances on Broadway and helping invigorate New York’s theater scene. Riggan even goes head to head with putative N.Y. Times theater critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), who is contemptuous of his superstar career and threatens to denounce his play without even seeing it.

“Birdman” provides a kaleidoscope of the connections between Hollywood film “products” and the pretensions of live theater as the more serious art form. Backed by an imposing cast of supporting characters, Michael Keaton’s Riggan takes the viewer on the roller-coaster ride that is the inner workings of an actor’s career. The ride is both exhilarating and dizzying.

by -
0
"Whiplash" and "Princess Kaguya" show at the Film Center this week.

Two very different but equally powerful films will play at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. Whiplash follows the harrowing trial by fire in the education of a young drummer, while The Tale of the Princess Kaguya recounts through eloquent animation the story of a magical Japanese beauty.

Whiplash        

Director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash began life as a short at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Short Jury Award and then received funding for a full-length feature. The movie begins with Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller, who has played the drums from the age of 15) practicing on his drums. A beginning student at a Juilliard-like music school, he is driven by ambition to become a world-class drummer. He soon clashes with his macho, egocentric, even sadistic band instructor, Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons).

Fletcher singles out Andrew in rehearsals, then prods him with relentless, over-the-top performance demands. Fletcher’s speech is peppered by the foul language of a drill sergeant. While other students fall by the wayside, Andrew takes on the challenges implicit in his mentor’s vicious taunts. He finds himself in and out of favor with Fletcher, but continues to practice his instruments to the point of exhaustion, bloodied fingers, and more.

Fletcher denounces the phrase, “good job” as a despicable compromise in the search for his particular view of excellence. He offers a chilling view of how to inspire students to give their best, and his tactics come close to turning him into a horror-film monster. In the process, the film raises questions about the nature of ambition, the value of obsession, and the relationship between mentor and protégé. Justin Hurwitz’s powerful score re-enforces the intensity of the director’s engagement with musicianship and aspiration. Expect to see Oscar nominations for both Simmons and Teller, as well as the director.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which is hand-drawn, announces its 10thcentury fairy tale roots in the beginning scenes, where a bamboo cutter, voiced by James Caan, discovers a tiny princess inside a luminous bamboo cane. Magically, the Princess Kaguya transforms herself quickly from infancy into young adulthood.

Inspired by the discovery of gold and silk fabrics, the bamboo cutter and his wife move to the capital city of Kyoto, where they hope to give the princess a life in keeping with her station. The princess finds herself attended by a courtier who names her Kaguya after the moon-like light she radiates. She also falls under the tutelage of Lady Sagami, a governess who wants to enhance her natural beauty by artificial means and tries to educate her in the ways of the court. Dazzled by her beauty, a number of suitors, including the Mikado or emperor of Japan, woo the young princess, but Kaguya misses her simpler life in the country and has no use for the elaborate gifts her suitors try to tempt her with. Instead she remains attracted to the young hunter, Sutemaru, whom she grew up with in the country.

Director Isao Takahata’s animation richly evokes the beauty of the princess and the world she inhabits in a tale thought to be Japan’s oldest recorded. As one of Studio Ghibli’s co-founders, the director celebrates the natural world and brings a fluid freedom to the animation. In addition to James Caan, viewers may recognize the voices of Mary Steenburgen as the bamboo cutter’s wife, Lucy Liu as Lady Sagami, Beau Bridges as Prince Kuramochi, and Oliver Platt as Lord Minister of the Right Abe. Like Whiplash, look for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya in the ranks of Oscar nominations.

“Whiplash,” Thursday, November 20, 7:30 pm; Friday, November 21, 4 pm; Sunday, November 23, 7:30 pm.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguyi,” Saturday, November 22, 4 pm.

All films at M.V. Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For information and tickets, see mvfilmsociety.com.  

by -
0
Cindy Kane's New York exhibit pays tribute to war journalists. —Courtesy of Cheryl McGinnis Projects, Photo credit: Richard Kranzler

The Helmet Project, Cindy Kane’s evocative multimedia installation created in 2008, is finding new life this year in New York City’s Flatiron Building. The artist, a year round Vineyard Haven resident, collaged 50 military helmets with the notes and memorabilia of war correspondents in a tribute to the journalists who risk and sometimes lose their lives covering wars worldwide. New York curator Cheryl McGinnis has titled the revived exhibit “Eyes on the Ground –– Journals of War.” An opening reception at the Flatiron Building is planned for Tuesday, November 18, and a number of the journalists who contributed to the project will attend.

“This is its fourth incarnation,” Ms. Kane said in a phone interview with The Times last weekend. The Helmet Project first went on exhibit in September 2008 at the former Carol Craven Gallery in Vineyard Haven, and it has since been on display at the Cheryl Pelavin Gallery in New York and Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The artist calls the display in the Sprint Prow Art Space at the historic building “like a street exhibition. This show is really all about the space. It’s such a public space.” She points out that it’s the first time thousands of people will see the installation.

The decorative helmets are on display at the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. —Courtesy of Cheryl McGinnis Projects, Photo credit: Richard Kranzler
The decorative helmets are on display at the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. —Courtesy of Cheryl McGinnis Projects, Photo credit: Richard Kranzler

Ms. Kane and Ms. McGinnis discovered each other on Facebook, and Ms. Kane also visited the Cheryl McGinnis Gallery. Six months later, after seeing images of the Helmet Project on Ms. Kane’s website, the curator phoned the artist and said she wanted to exhibit it in the Flatiron Building.

Ms. Kane’s first response was that it was not a good place for such a tactile, personal installation, but she soon changed her mind. “I didn’t understand the nature of the space,” she said. “A good curator gives the artist an understanding of it.” Located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, the Flatiron building lies at the nexus of downtown Manhattan, with foot traffic that ranges as high as 500,000 people.

“It’s a gift to New York,” Ms. McGinnis says of the exhibit. She hung it with two assistants from Cheryl McGinnis Projects. “We touched each helmet, with its history and the journalists. It feels so sacred and valuable. I’m honored to have Cindy’s exhibit.” The curator has mounted a number of shows at the glass-enclosed space owned by the telecommunications giant Sprint. Scaffolding from construction on the building has partially obscured the space, which Sprint has also used for advertising, but it is due to come down shortly.

Ms. Kane purchased the helmets, which date from World War II, the Vietnam War, and more recent conflicts in the Middle East, at online military sites. She started by approaching journalists who live on the Island, including Ward Just, Nelson Bryant, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and Tony Horwitz. In addition to field notes, journalists have contributed photographs, foreign currency, passport pages, band-aids, and ear plugs.

“The unexpected juxtaposition of an anonymous military helmet and deeply personal memorabilia provides a profound comment on the universality and particularity of war,” Geraldine Brooks, the noted author from West Tisbury, has written about the exhibit.

On her website, Cheryl McGinnis calls the collaged helmets, poignant conceptual portraits of individual writers… The intimacy of each pockmarked, bullet-ridden helmet is visible throughout the day and night, adding to the emotion and power of the exhibit; a constant reminder of the cost of war.” She provides links to each journalist on the Cheryl McGinnis Gallery website. The Flatiron installation is dedicated to the memory of participating journalist Anthony Shadid, who died in Syria in 2012.

Ms. Kane, who exhibits on Island at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury and the A Gallery in Oak Bluffs, will also have a collaborative installation of her painting with Pam Flam’s quilts at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. It will run from Tuesday, November 25, to Monday, December 29.

“Eyes on the Ground––Journals of War,” Cindy Kane, Sprint Flatiron Prow Art Space, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. Through January 15.    

by -
0
A screenshot from "Annabelle Lee" shows familiar Martha's Vineyard cliffs.

The Chilmark Library will screen a rare, vintage silent movie next week, large portions of which were filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. Annabell Lee will play Wednesday, November 12, at 5 pm. Directed by William J. Scully, the script for the 1921 film was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” although the film’s narrative goes in a very different direction from the poem.

A classic romantic melodrama, Annabell Lee tells the story of Annabell (played by Lorraine Hardy), a young woman from a well-to-do family who falls in love with a young, working-class fisherman, David Martin (played by John B. O’Brien). Annabelle’s father, Col. Lee (played by Louis Stern), disapproves of the match and advises the couple to separate for a year. During that time, David captains the triple-mast schooner Hope and hunts for the treasure-laden ship whose sinking killed his father. David hopes that salvage from the shipwreck will make him a more acceptably affluent suitor.

Although Arthur Brilliant’s screenplay paraphrases lines from Poe’s celebrated poem, the story has a very different outcome. David encounters numerous misadventures while at sea, as Annabell waits on the Island for his return, fending off suitors much like Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. Annabell becomes increasingly close to David’s mother (played by Florida Kingsley), whom she invites to live at the Lee family estate, Pine Cove, set on the Vineyard’s north shore. In addition to prevailing attitudes about socio-economic status, Annabell Lee also addresses issues of racism through the Chinese cook onboard, named Joe Ling (uncredited), who becomes David’s companion.

Produced in the style of the era’s silent films, Annabell Lee frames much of the action in iris (circular matte) shots and uses titles to help advance the story. The actors’ careers did not survive the transition to talkies, although Mr. Scully continued to work through the 1930s as an assistant director.

Much of the pleasure viewers will find in the film comes from its footage of Menemsha Harbor in an era well before the 1938 hurricane that leveled the fishing village. Schooners sail in and out of the harbor before its jetties were built, and there are shots of many buildings, including the Gay Head lighthouse keeper’s house, that no longer exist. Footage of the Gay Head cliffs and the Aquinnah shoreline also appear.

Library director Ebba Hierta first learned about the film when Martha’s Vineyard Museum curator Bonnie Stacy included still shots from it as part of a slide lecture at the library last August. The photographs, some of which were taken during production, are part of the museum’s collection. “Old films are turning up more than ever as people realize the need to preserve them” Ms. Stacy says.

The Steamship Authority has stills from the film displayed on the Island Home ferry, and one appears in Paul Schneider’s book of Vineyard history, The Enduring Shore. Wednesday’s screening is sponsored by Friends of the Chilmark Library.

Annabell Lee, Wednesday, November 12, 5 pm., Chilmark Library. Free. For more information, see chilmarklibrary.org, or call 508-645-3360.