Blog Directory CineVerse

Sex, truth and videotape

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In his directorial debut, Steven Soderbergh hits one out of the park with" Sex, Lies and Videotape," a brooding reflection on relationships, secrets, and insecurities that still packs a wallop in 2017. Much food for thought was generated last evening during our dissection of said motion picture. Here are the highlights:


WHAT DID YOU FIND DIFFERENT, UNEXPECTED, AND SURPRISING ABOUT THIS MOVIE?
There is hardly any nudity or graphically adult content, there’s not much plot, and the film moves slowly and subtly; instead, this is a film mostly about words and people talking, primarily about sex.
o In this way and others, this is a bold and groundbreaking motion picture that explores places previous movies depicting and about sex avoid. Criterion Collection essayist Michael Dare called the film “brave,” “especially when you compare its sexual values against any other American movie. In most films, the characters have lives around which their sex lives revolve. But in sex, lies and videotape, the characters have sex lives around which the rest of their lives revolve. It’s much closer to reality than most of us would like to admit.”
Regardless of past roles or professions, the four main actors cast in this film acquit themselves very nicely – James Spader and Andy McDowell in particular won wide critical acclaim; the former typically played small side characters or villains in 80s fare, while the latter was known for being a pretty face model.
For being an “idea” movie heavy on thematic content, and despite being built around the premise that sex deserves to be talked about, all this talk does little to clear up the mystery that revolves around sexuality, sexual attraction, eroticism, and perversity. Arguably, the film raises more questions than it answers.
Some critics found the ending to be predictable and slightly moralistic – with the cheating husband getting his comeuppance the sisters mending fences, and Graham getting the camera turned on himself. In a movie that can defy your expectations and which starts out unpredictably, a case can be made that it concludes as one would expect.
There is no main character or hero. Dare further wrote: “Graham, Ann, John, and Cynthia, the four main characters, have got so many hang-ups that the film basically has no protagonist. There’s not a single character whose struggle we can endorse whole-heartedly. Are we really expected to identify with the woman who can’t have an orgasm, or her sleazy husband who has nothing but? Are we supposed to identify with the barmaid who is secretly undermining her sister’s marriage, or the guy who is only impotent in front of other people? Though these individuals are all fascinating, none of them are particularly appealing. We’re left with nothing to empathize with but the single thread they share in common, that life is a whirlpool of compromises, full of pain and unique surprises. You can walk out of this film feeling a little bit better about yourself; after all, if these people can work out their problems, your problems should be a snap.”
The film features crossover narratives, as well as visuals and audio, that overlap. Blogger Jason Fraley suggested: “…it’s normal for Ann’s therapist session to become the voice-over for images of John and Cynthia’s sexcapades. This approach also allows for economic transitions, like the sound of a doorbell before the bell-ringer even arrives on the front porch, as well as clever jumpcuts, like Cynthia asking a question to John, then cutting to Graham answering the same question from Ann.” In another example, we see Cynthia engaged in hanky-panky with John while concurrently hearing the voice of Ann say, “Can I tell you something personal?”
Consider that this film has a distinctive relevance that resonates today in the multimedia era where so much of our lives is captured by and reflected via video. A character like Graham, who believes he can more effectively relate to the opposite sex using video is one that perhaps many of us can understand or empathize with more today.
THE FOUR CHARACTERS SUGGEST INTERESTING MATCHING PAIRS AND OPPOSING PAIRS. CAN YOU NAME SOME OF THESE PAIRS?
Graham and Ann are honest, truthful, introspective and introverted, and more excited by foreplay and the thrill of the chase versus Cynthia and John who are dishonest, socially extroverted, and more excited by the actual act of sex.
Ann and Cynthia, of course, our sisters, but they share very little in terms of values or character traits. Arguably, the only thing they have in common is John.
John and Graham are both interested in women but sexually attracted under different circumstances – one by sex and the other by talking about sex.
Graham and Anna are at first contrasted in their wardrobe colors, with the former wearing black shirts and blue jeans and the latter donning white/lighter clothing; as the movie progresses, however, she comes around to wearing black tops and blue jeans, suggesting that she has an affinity and empathy for Graham.
WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN THIS FILM?
Voyeurism and our inherent human curiosity in watching and eavesdropping on people doing and saying private things.
Honesty versus dishonesty; truth versus lies; documenting (in the form of taping, which doesn’t lie) versus talking (which can be filled with lies).
Arguably, the most erotic and erogenous organ is the brain. As Roger Ebert put it, “the argument in sex, lies a videotape is that conversation is also better than sex – more intimate, more voluptuous – and that with our minds we can do things to each other that makes sex… More troublesome. There are moments when it reminds us how sexy the movies used to be, back in the days when speech was and erogenous zone.”
This movie could be suggesting that film is an art form that needs to have a mutual, reflexive relationship with the viewer. Assume that Graham is a surrogate for the director/filmmaker; Graham is more comfortable remaining behind the camera, but he doesn’t get “out of his rut” and grow/progress as a person until he steps in front of the camera and becomes part of the very process that he has been trying to control/document. The message here could be that the artist/filmmaker needs to be in tune and connect with his subject/audience, and that for art to progress and have relevance and truth, there has to be a stronger connection made between the art and its subject – or, in this case, the filmmaker and his audience.
WHAT SYMBOLISM IS USED IN THIS MOVIE?
The suggestive imagery of characters walking in and out of doorways or standing in doorways/thresholds, which insinuates the act of sexual penetration.
Potted plants insinuating either a growing weed of infidelity and lies or a healthy, vibrant, blossoming libido that hangs over the couple’s bed and relationship. Consider that Cynthia and her home are associated with plants and floral imagery.
WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE?
Hannah and her Sisters
Rear Window
American Beauty
Films about kinky sex like Eyes Wide Shut, Secretary, Crash, and Nymphomaniac

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The videotape may be dated, but the sex and lies sure aren't

Sunday, January 15, 2017

CineVerse continues its examination of Fresh-Faced American Independents with part 3: “Sex, Lies and Videotape” (1989; 100 minutes), directed by Steven Soderbergh, scheduled for January 18. Plus: Enjoy a trailer reel featuring various works by Soderbergh.

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Pharmaceutical outlaws

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Drugstore Cowboy" is one of several key American independent films that set the cinematic world on fire back in 1989. Other standouts from that year include "Do the Right Thing" by Spike Lee and "Sex, Lies and Videotape" by Steven Soderbergh. But the former remains memorable for several reasons, not the least of which are it's refreshingly non-judgmental take on drug use and a fine performance by Matt Dillon. Other observations on this movie reached by our CineVerse group last evening include the following:


WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, DISTINCTIVE AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
It’s not preachy or political about drug use or trying to send an anti-drug message; in fact, detractors argued that it actually glorified drug use.
o However, director Gus Van Sant disputed this criticism. He was quoted as saying: “Not being a drug addict myself, I was making it for myself, and for the lay public, as a way of experiencing the life of a drug addict…It was like an anti-war film that has a lot of killing in it. My position on drugs comes through if somebody is really looking for it, and though my position is admittedly lightly ambiguous, it was never my intention to make a pro-drug film…A lot of people in Hollywood said this is ‘an immoral film’ that promotes drug use. The movie may make a junkie want to go out and take drugs, but the movie isn’t a political statement about drugs.”
It was made and released on the heels of the “Just Say No” era of heightened awareness about drug use, yet the filmmakers chose to place the story in 1971, when drug use was perhaps more fashionable, accepted, and ingrained in the subculture. Setting the story in this earlier era possibly frees the film from any burden to provide a contemporary moralistic message or story.
It adopts both a realistic and surrealistic tone, look and feel; there’s a gritty documentary-style authenticity to it, yet we see fantastical scenes like images of floating objects that give us the junkie’s perspective.
Despite its dark subject matter, the filmmakers also employ a comedic and freewheeling tone.
o Critic Emanuel Levy wrote: “A comedy of the absurd, with visual touches of expressionism and tonal notes of surrealism, Drugstore Cowboy is humorous rather than grim, as it could have been in the hands of another director. Van Sant succeeds in making the story less bleak without sacrificing the spirit of the original source. The text’s offbeat sense of absurdity largely derives from his insights into the peculiarities of the junkie subculture, and from the director’s idiosyncratic approach."
o New York Times critic Stephen Holden also posited: “Because the characters are so self-absorbed and their lives so totally unproductive, there is an element of comic absurdity in their continual desperation.”
The characters written and portrayed here are likeable, interesting and multi-faceted; these aren’t stereotypical hoodlums and low-lives, For example, Bob lives by a very eccentric code of superstitions and doesn’t want sex as much as his wife; Rick is a walking contradiction of moods and behaviors, ranging from sober to silly, steely to soft; and Nadine appears like an immature child just trying to fit in. 
The actors cast are also attractive and crowd-pleasing, resulting in more sympathetic characters.
The color green becomes a motif in the movie, reoccurring as the dominant hue in many objects and scenes—consider the green furniture and walls and Dianne’s wardrobe, the floating gun, the suitcase, the car and truck, and the green “get clean” house.
Levy also theorized that Drugstore Cowboy “was an antidote to the naïve John Hughes youth movies, such as “Pretty in Pink,” “St. Elmo’s Fire” and others, starring the brat pack. It was also a counterpoint to such yuppie films as “Less Than Zero,” made in the late 1980s, about rich upper class youths.”
WHAT THEMES STAND OUT AFTER WATCHING THE FILM?
Dysfunctional families take many forms. The foursome depicted here serve as a nuclear family of sorts, with Bob and Dianne as the skewed parents and Rick and Nadine representing younger and naïve surrogate children, according to Levy.
Even anti-heroes live by a code: For Bob, that means abiding by superstitious beliefs and irrational rules of good vs. bad.
Additionally, living by a code or set of rules doesn’t guarantee success or fulfilment. Bob learns that his lifestyle and the rules that apply to it is the wrong choice.
Subcultures and outsiders can lead pathetic, insignificant, peripheral lives when they pursue a destructive path. 
OTHER MOVIES WE ARE REMINDED OF AFTER VIEWING DRUGSTORE COWBOY
Films about outlaws on the run like Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands
Films about addiction like The Panic in Needle Park, Requiem for a Dream, and Trainspotting
OTHER FILMS BY GUS VAN SANT
My Own Private Idaho
To Die For
Good Will Hunting
Elephant
Milk

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"Cineversary" fires up with a bullet of a bigscreen favorite

Monday, January 9, 2017

Mark January 14 on your calendar; that's the day we introduce Cineversary, a new once-a-month event on select Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. in the downstairs theater at the Oak Lawn Library that celebrates a milestone anniversary of an artistically, culturally and historically important motion picture, hosted by CineVerse moderator Erik Martin. The format is similar to CineVerse—we’ll watch the movie uninterrupted, take a short break, then talk about it in a group discussion format. On January 14, join us to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Reservoir Dogs” (1992, 99 minutes), directed by Quentin Tarantino.

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Lassoing up the late eighties

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Make plans to attend CineVerse on January 11 for part 2 of our Quick-Theme Quartet series focused on Fresh-Faced American Independents: “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989; 102 minutes), directed by Gus Van Sant. Plus: We’ll kick off the evening with a movie trivia game for a chance to win DVD prizes.

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"Cineversary" series mentioned on WBBM newsradio segment

Friday, January 6, 2017

CineVerse moderator Erik Martin was interviewed by WBBM Newsradio and featured in an on-air segment today in which Martin talks about his upcoming Cineversary series at the Oak Lawn Public Library.

To listen to the recorded segment and read a brief related article, visit tinyurl.com/wbbmcineversary. 

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An indie ambush from Jarmusch

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Arguably, the new wave of American independent filmmaking that began in the 1980s kicks off with Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise," a quirky and idiosyncratic study in negative space that shook up the cinema world. Here's what we learned about this decidedly different movie after watching it last evening:

HOW IS THIS MOVIE DIFFERENT, DISTINCTIVE AND UNEXPECTED FROM YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
There is no real plot or intricate narrative structure. Not much happens of consequence, which puts more of an emphasis on the characters, dialogue, and look/visuals of the film.
It plays as a series of interconnected vignettes or episodes, many of which could also stand on their own, although it also functions as a 3-act play with three titled chapters.
Each episode is an unbroken take without cuts/edits—allowing us to soak in the atmosphere and study the actors in a more cohesive, even spontaneous environment and misc en scene without editing manipulation. In total there are 67 single-shot scenes, demarcated by black film.
Additionally, the camera mostly remains stationary, failing to move, pan, dolly, track, zoom or otherwise—not relying on fancy camerawork, lenses or visual acrobatics to pull us in.
It’s shot in gritty black and white on 16mm film, not 35 mm film. 16mm produces more grain and less detail, but provides a rougher esthetic look, which can suit low-budget indie productions and give it more “street cred.”
The visual esthetic is also gritty. Critic J. Hoberman commented: “Stranger Than Paradise is resplendent with the love of industrial ugliness. Our introduction to Cleveland is a rundown Greyhound terminal by a whitewashed box optimistically called the Nite Life Café; Eva works at a hot dog–selling eyesore that looks like a miniature airplane hangar half-limned in neon. Even in “paradise,” the film’s unlikely deus ex machina is purchased in the most desolate gift shop imaginable.”
The humor is more low-key and subtle here, called “bone dry humor” by Criterion Collection essayist Geoff Andrew.
It has both an American and European cinematic feel to it—it’s a quirky character road movie (American), yet artsy and narratively/visually aloof (European).
Director Jim Jarmusch described the film as “a neorealistic black comedy in the style of an imaginary East European director obsessed with Ozu and The Honeymooners.”
WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THIS FILM WAS CONSIDERED A LANDMARK MOVIE IN INDEPENDENT CINEMA AND WHY AND HOW DO YOU THINK IT INFLUENCED OTHER MOVIES THAT FOLLOWED?
Because it broke many rules of conventional Hollywood moviemaking in its choices to use uninterrupted long takes, short vignettes strung together, side tracking shots, and a focus on minor details over major plot points.
By using the song “I Put A Spell on You,” it, like previous films by Scorsese, Kasdan, Lumet and others, employed a significant popular musical theme to comment on the action.
Just as pioneer indie filmmakers like John Cassavetes, David Lynch and Bob Rafelson influenced Jarmusch and other young indie directors, Jarmusch has had a major influence on many of his peers, including Tarantino, Soderbergh, and Richard Linklater.
Writer Vincent Wayne wrote: “(Jarmusch) focuses on the underdogs, the outcasts and the outsiders of society. Jarmusch has a sympathy for this type of character, and nearly all of his characters are outsiders in some way. The film is also full of deadpan humor, and all of Jarmusch’s films are comedies in some sense. Visually, the film is influenced by European arthouse directors like Antonioni and Bresson, and the crisp black and white photography has a low-budget charm to it. It is also influenced by Japanese filmmakers, specifically Ozu in the way that the film is made up of longer, mostly static shots, which fade to black. And lastly, in terms of form, the film is largely plotless, more just a series of events and small moments that create an interesting whole, which could be said of most of his films. The plotlessness does make the film seem aimless at times, but as I said before, something interesting always happens before boredom sets in. And that really nails one of the things that makes Jarmusch movies so cool and enjoyable to watch, without being hollow: he is anti-pretentious. For the most part, his films don’t aspire to be anything more than they are, which is an assortment of interesting moments and characters, all in service of a unified laid-back aesthetic. They’re an opportunity to hang out with a bunch of bohemian musicians and actors for a while, and maybe see some cool visuals, good dialogue, and interesting music on the way. Simple pleasures.”
WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN “STRANGER THAN PARADISE”?
As familiar as our environment and culture may seem, it can actually be quite foreign and mundane to us if you take a closer look.
Existential angst can stem from the most seemingly benign factors: boredom, ennui, repetition, and disillusionment, which are all experiences and emotions that each of us have felt and can relate to. "Jarmusch is more concerned with people who are in the thick of the mundane details that make up most people's existences (as well as the odd details that could only come from New York). In his Paradise, it's the lack of anything to do that causes all of these details to push against his players, that dislodges them from their comfortable seat. The lack of any great catalyst provides the frustration. It's the drama of inner turmoil, lacking in violence or histrionics," suggested reviewer Jamie S. Rich.
The myth of the American dream and our inability to realize it.
Negative space and anti-matter. Just as Seinfeld was a “show about nothing” that turned out to be infinitely interesting, “Stranger Than Paradise,” by “being an exploration of nothing…it’s also about everything,” wrote film scholar Jason Fraley. Jarmusch was quoted as saying “the beauty of life is in small details, not in big events.”
OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND YOU OF STRANGER THAN PARADISE
Midnight Cowboy
Eraserhead
She’s Gotta Have It
Slacker
Clerks

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When indies attack

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Join CineVerse on January 4 for the kickoff of a new occasional series: Quick Theme Quartet. Once a quarter (every third month) in 2017, CineVerse will explore four movies tied together by a theme. Our first quartet is Fresh-Faced American Independents, which will focus on four talented directors who changed the face of American independent cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. Part 1: “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984; 89 minutes), directed by Jim Jarmusch, chosen by Dave Ries. Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel featuring various works by Jarmusch.

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January-February 2017 CineVerse schedule is now posted

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Admit it--you're dying to know what's scheduled for January through February at CineVerse. Well, your wait is over. The next two-month calendar is now live and ready for viewing/downloading at http://tinyurl.com/janfeb17cineverse.

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