Monday, March 07, 2005

Capsules: Facing/Faking Reality with Herzog and Nessie
Call it the aftershock of The Blair Witch Project if you like (not that anyone's thought much about that film lately): With Incident at Loch Ness director Zak Penn (a screenwriter on such big-budget projects as X-Men 2 and Elektra) turns the Blair Witch aesthetic into a witty commentary on self-referential filmmaking, Though it flirts with self-indulgence, Incident is redeemed by the fact that the man at the helm of the film-within-a-film crew is Werner Herzog, no stranger to grand projects and artistic ordeals. Herzog plays himself – engagingly, as always – venturing to Scotland to make a film about the susceptibility that allows people to create myths like the Loch Ness Monster. As Herzog talks about the will to believe in the nknown, the film also investigates a more familiar form of mythmaking: When the crew begins to notice strange things in the water, Herzog’s immediate suspicion is that it’s the work of Penn, trying to make the project more commercial. . Echoing the brilliant Burden of Dreams, Les Blank’s documentary about the making of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, Penn’s film plays on film-set emotions and Herzog’s reputation as an eccentric and driven visionary, bogging down only at the end when his shaggy-dog story of a film crew reaches the point of its payoff. And even then Herzog’s warm presence adds much,to the film’s credibility, lending a streak of authentically romantic vision to what might otherwise have been a colossal in-joke.
(Incidentally, Burden of Dreams will be released in May in a shiny new DVD edition from Criterion!)
And speaking of mockumentaries (is that what we were doing?), the long-delayed Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch, finally seeing the light of day thanks to anticipation of the Broadway opening of Spamalot, is a mixed blessing at best. Though there are amusing new interviews with Bonnie Raitt, Steve Martin, Conan O’Brien and others, the film is essentially a remake/re-edit of the classic All You Need is Cash, making liberal use of the earlier footage but not really doing much to expand the original Beatles parody in any noticeable way. If you’ve never seen All You Need is Cash, you’ll probably take a more generous view.
Lenny Bruce: Take Two

Filmmaker Fred Baker takes exception to my recent review of his film Lenny Bruce Without Tears. I may have more to say about this later, but for now I'll let his remarks stand on their own:

"Gotta say this to you man!......

I think your 7 Deadly Arts review of "Lenny Bruce Without Tears" fairly bogus in its carping about "it's not the real Lenny--the heavy Lenny" or whatever it is you're actually not saying in the review as to what is "heavier" about Lenny than depicted in my film--or whatever you think so many of his enthusiasts (your readers) think his "depth" was that they will miss seeing in my film!..That's pretty personally relative, isn't it? You know it's a film man--it's not a collage of phonograph recordings & still photographs you can listen to or look at while listening--that period was not yet a videotaping era, his club work and concerts were not on film, unfortunately.

But what I did do & faithfully tried and succeeded doing--a lot more than you seem aware of or, at least willing to give me or the film credit for--was to give it's viewers every fucking piece of live footage ever done that I could find on our very funny very persecuted friend. Of course his were guarded performances on TV-but they were his live working performances man--and brilliantly funny in their mimicry and social awareness of all of the shams going down. Ferreting out every inch of his arrest footage, courtroom footage, police photographed death footage, all unearthed in this film and this was the film to find all that. It/I made interviews with heavyweight thinking people of that era (Hentoff, Garbus, Muggeridge, Tynan) who saw into his persecution and his inate comedic genius much deeper and politically meaningful than what I think you think--but can't seem able to express in words, nor can anyone else I might say--was "heavy" about Lenny. Because what he sp[oke of was personal and each one of us felt his weight albeit can't express what that is.
I hope you are not saying, oh heaven forfend--that for you "the real Lenny" are the (tee hee)"smutty" words that he could not use on TV, or chose not to use in or outside courthouses?

I certainly hope that's not where you're at in your somewhat shallow, carping review of my film? I think you can do better than that."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Time Captured! Love Lost!

Okay, give me a moment to boast. After more false starts than I can remember, I recently finished reading Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” and am now recovering from a post-reading madeleine-induced literary hangover. Coincidentally, on the same day I finished reading the final pages of “Time Regained”, I ran across this article in “Slate” about troubles facing the recent Penguin translation. (Incidentally, I read the 1981 revised translation.)
But while following the adventures of the obsessed Marcel and his high society friends, I’ve let a few other reviews fall by the wayside. I’ll try to get most of them placed in this spot over the next few days, starting with this:

Like many people, my knowledge of the story of Abelard and Heloise was limited, brief - and largely incorrect: Gifted medieval teacher falls in love with student; Angry family members force them to separate and punish the teacher by castrating him. She goes into a convent, he to a monastery. End of story.
The details, as revealed by James Burge in “Heloise & Abelard: a new biography” are much more complicated and compelling than the shorthand version that simply places the pair on the list of Western cultures Great Doomed Love Affairs. Abelard was a prodigious philosopher and, according to Burge, the most famous man of his time (at least within the world of French religious philosophy). Heloise, his star pupil, was nearly his equal. And despite the scandal and misfortune, Abelard continued to have a prosperous career, at least until his own egotism brought him into disfavor with better-placed figures within the church. Despite the relatively sparse information available about them, their intense love affair and later efforts to reconcile their indignation over personal tragedy with the demands of religious life upholds the story’s reputation. In Burge’s account, one gets a sense not only of historical perspective but of a personal drama reconstructed from a respectful distance but passionate nonetheless.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the story is that after years of separation (Abelard appears to have forced Heloise into convent life after their marriage, even before being assaulted by her relatives) the pair actually ended up living and working together. But rather than reaching a peaceful and happy ending to their story, Burge’s account reveals a recognizably modern sense of frustration in the couple’s history. Abelard comes off as a bit of a self-righteous prig, while the ever-faithful Heloise, rising to prominence within the cloistered life, seems almost desperately looking for some confirmation that their romance was the most meaningful experience of their lives. Alas, it was never to come. Burge’s book gives us a new perspective on the oft-told story, giving us a version that is neither romantic nor tragic (although it contains traces of both) but unexpectedly modern, a story about a displaced and unattainable desire.