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The opening credits, actually, but it works.

The second of our Tuesday night doubleheader (which happened to be the third and final film I saw at QFest) was a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a street poet turned world renowned artist.  By 25 he was the greatest known of the Neo-expressionist art movement that launched in the 70s and 80s.  By 27 he was dead, as the fame he had crushed him under a weight of drugs and personal loss.

Parts of the documentary were culled from an interview conducted by Tamra Davis when Basquiat was 25, around 1986.  A personal friend asked him questions, revolving around his life from when he left home until that point in time, when everyone knew he was taking drugs, but did nothing to try and deter him.  He seemed calmed, collected, even though he hated the presence of the video camera in his face.  He was able to open up, especially when it came to questions about his family and how he was raised.

The rest of the documentary pulls various clips and interviews from varying sources.  Growing up in the late 70s/early 80s, Basquiat lived in the period in which the earliest forms of hip hop and new wave were crashing the scene.  He hung with the likes of Deborah Harry, Madonna (whom he dated at one point), Fab 5 Freddy, and Andy Warhol, whom he collaborated with on an art show that proved critically disastrous.  It was Warhol’s death, actually, that drove Basquiat deeper into drugs.

Of obvious curiosity is the artwork, which at first was a major head tilt.  My reaction early on was that of possibly the museum curators that rejected Basquiat’s artwork while he was still alive.  Where exactly does this fit as art?  As time went on though, the artwork got better, more creative, more personal.  Knowing the artist behind the painting helps to understand why the art takes its shape, and makes the audience more appreciative of the work.  With Basquiat, his artwork was childlike for a reason.  An anatomy book, Gray’s Anatomy, provided further inspiration.  The result became his legend.

The documentary is easy to follow and quite linear (Tamra Davis is a seasoned filmmaker).  As of right now, I’m not sure of any further release for the film, though it did make its debut at Sundance before showing up at QFest.  It’s worth a look whenever it does come around.

http://6140productions.com/

There’s an official trailer on the website.  Check it out.

Actually, here, youtube:

The first of a double bill that Liz and I did on Tuesday evening at QFest, The Four-Faced Liar definitely turned out much better than expected.  It’s a sort of romantic/dramatic comedy, set in the Greenwich Village section of New York City.  A couple, Molly and Greg, just moved into the city (well, the boyfriend did, the girlfriend’s been there for a while it seems), and head off to a bar, which is the title of the film.  There they run into Trip, his girlfriend Chloe, and Trip’s roommate, Bridget.  Both couples seem stable enough, though everyone has their own problems with commitment.  Still, the two couples and the fifth wheel (honestly, Bridget isn’t one, she’s just there to look for someone to sleep with) hit it off well, and they become fast friends.  Bridget and Molly bond over Emily Bronte, and soon find they have sexual tensions between them.  Bridget, never one to fall in love, seems to be doing just that, while Molly is finding herself drawn into Bridget while keeping her attraction a secret from Greg.

The surprising part of this movie is how well it deals with the normal cliches inherent in this genre.  The writing is tight, with snappy dialogue between the characters, and a proper enough build up for each of the characters to grow with each other and out of each other.  Greg, a country type guy, is too tight and controlling in the city, unsure of what to do but not wanting Molly to get away.  Molly is stuck between two worlds and doesn’t know how to tread both of them at once.  Bridget, once she figures out she’s falling in love, wants to reform herself in a way to make herself more appealing to Molly.  Trip has relationship issues of his own: he likes Chloe, but he has an inner urging to not want to be tied down.  He forgets anniversaries, play dates, etc., while also going after other women, often times in full view of Chloe.  Chloe is the only one I don’t seem to get, mainly because she really doesn’t have much to get: she somehow puts up with Trip’s tomfoolery when other women walk away, and she does in fact leave at one point, and for good.  She’s strong and independent, thankfully.

The film is nicely film as well.  Probably the best sequence occurs in the bar during New Year’s Eve.  Everyone is drinking, and the music is full blast.  The camera moves in close repeatedly, stuttering quickly and drifting slowly from one face to another, from one couple to the next.  Molly and Bridget constantly eye each other, avoiding the unknowing gaze of Greg but all too knowing gaze of Trip.  They play a quick game of “Never Have I Ever” (a mainstay throughout the film), and both reveal to each other a deep truth, a carnal urge.  Credit the actors for doing a great job with the sequence, but also Jacob Chase, the director.  This is his first full length feature, and he handled that sequence brilliantly.

After the viewing, the writer of the film, Marja Lewis Ryan (who plays Bridget) came out for a Q&A about the film.  It was rather insightful: four of the five actors (the actress who plays Chloe is the exception) all went to NYU together and graduated in 2006, becoming friends along the way.  Ryan originally wrote this as a one-act play and presented it in Los Angeles.  A producer suggested to her to make this into a feature length film, and that she did, expanding the cast from two central characters to five central characters.  She explained the troubles of getting filming permits and finding places to film for free to reduce costs (the film has an unlisted budget, though I imagine it was extremely small).  The outdoor shots and bar scenes were done in New York City, while the apartment scenes were built on a sound stage in California (Ryan joked: “Do you really think NYC apartments have enough space for what we wanted to do?”).

Luckily, and incredibly, for this film, the producers reached an agreement with several companies for DVD release rights, international release rights, and VOD release rights.  The DVD, Ryan told us, would be coming out in December, with the VOD release coming around the same time.  Take the time to check it out whenever it does.  The movie was a pleasant surprise.

From what I can tell, there is no official trailer for this movie. I’ll update this post whenever an actual trailer does come to light. For now, this is what the QFest website provided for a trailer.

Speaking of QFest, welcome to my first ever film festival. As you can see, QFest involves the promotion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered films. I’m not sure of the exact count, but there are well over 100 full length and short films. Obviously I won’t see them all, but I’m going to see a small sampling of films from the festival, hopefully providing a glimpse of what the festival has to offer.

First one is Howl, which made its debut to mixed reviews at Sundance.  The movie is a biopic of sorts, involving Allen Ginsberg’s four-part poem and the obscenity trial that resulted from the publishing of the poem.

The movie is definitely a mixed bag, though it’s decent enough to see and enjoy. The movie can be broken down into three loosely linear story lines: Ginsberg explaining the writing of the poem, the obscenity trial, and a reading of the poem through live action and animation.

The best of these is the first, which is possible by James Franco and his portrayal of Ginsberg. Franco, at least to me, is severely underrated as an actor. Between this, Milk, and even Pineapple Express, Franco has shown a repeatedly ability to become the person he portrays. Hopefully he’ll get more roles like these, or even bigger ones, like he got in the Spider-Man films.

Ginsberg here is filmed in his apartment during the trial, being interviewed by a journalist about the writing of the poem. Ginsberg is rambling, but coherently, taking about various loves, his homosexuality, his mother, and just the world at large and how it has forsaken his generation. The sequences in the apartment are filmed in color, while the flashbacks are done in black and white, with random color splashes to make things stand out differently and uniquely: the sky is red, a painting in an art museum is a swirling mass of colors, all of it referencing Howl.

The trial is standard fare: supposed experts explain to the judge about the validity of the poem. The insight is interesting, and the acting is fine, but compared to the rest of the film, it seems lacking, especially since we already know of the outcome of the trial.

The mixed bag is the animation during the reading of the poem. Ginsberg, in the live action portion, is reading the poem in an underground coffee shop or bar to a live audience. They cheer and scream out when he condemns the industrial machine and sympathize with him when he laments about his mother. Meanwhile, the animation is used to help drive and explain the poem through a variety of images, many of them sexual and many more rallying against the system. The style is unique and expressive, but it doesn’t help explain some parts of the poem, and more troubling, it’s also rather distracting. There were times when I wanted to listen to the poem (read marvelously by Franco, by the way), but I couldn’t because of what was happening on the screen. A shame, a least to me, because the poem was really something else.

So, not a terrible film by any means, but it’s not the greatest either. Just decent, but it’s enjoyable.

Note: Wikipedia lists the film as having a domestic release in the fall. I don’t imagine this going beyond a limited release, but I would urge people to see this anyway, because it still is a somewhat interesting film.