Viewing Habits: Colin Healey (Fifth Edition)

ColinHealey-blog-5A director reveals his most recent Fandor film adventures.

When you want to change your life, change your diet. I make films, but for a filmmaker, I don’t watch many. Now, I’m watching Fandor films every chance I get (until I shoot my next film or fail to pay the internet bill, whichever comes first). I’m doing this to make myself a better artist, and to help guide you across the vast Fandor buffet. This is the re-education of one independent filmmaker.

HOLY HELL it has been too long since I got to sit down and watch three movies. I’ve basically been at people’s weddings. Sorry, Fandor! A lot’s changed: I moved apartments, all these people got married, Donald Trump is president, and I watched 17 Girls, Asparagus, and The Point:

17 Girls (2011) dir. Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin
17girls

“Sixteen years’ difference is ideal – we’ll understand them.”

The whole point of this column is that I’m improving my knowledge of independent film as I prepare to make my second feature. My first feature is called Homemakers and it’s great. The next one, which will be greater if I can only watch enough Fandor, is inspired by one of those I-can’t-believe-that’s-real, headline-grabbing true stories. Just like: 17 Girls, inspired by a situation a few years back in which a bunch of high-school girls decided they’d all get pregnant together. The movie version is set in France but in Real Life this all went down in the town of Gloucester, in my home state of Massachusetts, which is the best state. Back off, Connecticut.

Directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin (who are probably either sisters or married) spend a LOT of time on barely-clothed, nearly-mature bodies. But unlike if a Hollywood director shot it and cast women in their twenties, these actual teenagers seeking out sex and independence never feel sexualized in the gross way – rather, they’re celebrated exactly as they are: burgeoning, awkward, ambitious, a little desperate, a little hopeful, a little clever, biologically amazing and all up in a crossroads.

17girls-altSometimes 17 Girls is very fun, and it will tug hard on your sympathies if you’ve ever known any teenagers or ever were one. The adult-defying ringleader Camille makes a decent case that these girls have only been presented with two options for their futures: motherhood or an ambiguous something-else that no one in their town seems to like that much. Louise Grimberg does a good job as Camille, but Yara Pilartz’s performance as Clementine, the youngest looking and freckliest of the girls, rung truest and stole the show for me.

WAIT, SHOULD I WATCH IT THOUGH? Oui! It gives great dimension to a news story that you might dismiss as “crazy” or “a sign of the end times” if you didn’t want to examine closely. It’s also funny, and brings us all – even those of us incapable of giving birth – back to a time when our new adult bodies were full of mystery and possibility and controversy, and everyone seemed to have an opinion on what we did about them.

IT’S IN FRENCH, BUDDY! If you don’t speak French, someone wrote all the stuff they’re saying at the bottom of the screen in English.

FUN FACT: The state bean of Massachusetts is the baked navy bean. The first U.S. subway system was the T in Boston. One time, in Massachusetts, a bunch of high school girls made a pact to get pregnant together.  And our state muffin is the corn muffin.

Asparagus (1979) dir. Suzan PittasparagusPlease note: This movie has no discernible dialogue. If I could, I’d definitely quote the part where the lady comes home to foreplay with giant asparagus stalks. BUT THAT WOULD BE A SPOILER.

Asparagus is a short film. This film is only one-third of one hour long. It’s a breeze! It’s also an animation, which means no human actor had to do any of the wacky crap that happens in the movie, like poop out a stalky green vegetable.

asparagus-altHere’s the plot: There’s a lady in a house. Outside her window, there’s a menagerie of sexual-ish plants and other stuff she likes to look at. Inside, she’s got a bunch of furniture and house stuff. Oh, and then she has to go, so she gathers a bunch of tricks and magic charms in a bag and puts on a mask, because I guess she can’t leave the house without wearing a mask. So, then she goes to a boring play, opens her bag of tricks, and then the play is better. That done, she comes home, takes her mask back off and gets down and dirty with the landscape outside.

As you can probably guess, this is not a conventional, “plot-oriented” action thriller.  Actually, it’s an art-house classic that used to screen in front of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (streaming in the U.S. via Fandor’s Criterion Picks, kids). I’m not gonna interpret it for you — there’s some great writing about it in the world of Internet — but it’s full of brilliant color and design and a mix of animation styles, and it has a lot to say about sexuality, domesticity, repression and identity… if you open your mind to it.

WAIT, SHOULD I WATCH IT THOUGH? It’s twenty minutes. Live a little.

I STARTED IT AND IT SEEMS WEIRD. It is!  Gloriously weird. That feeling of weird is your brain expanding.  Have an amazing twenty minutes, allowing yourself to make connections you’re nervous to make between this silent woman’s movements, her magical furniture flying around and the highly sexualized asparagus popping up all over the place.

OK I WATCHED THE WHOLE THING AND YOU WERE RIGHT IT’S GREAT. Told you.

THE POINT (1971) dir. Fred Wolf
…but totally conceived by the adorable and melodious Harry Nilsson
thepoint-alt

“I’m startin’ to think that the Pointed Man, nice as he was, was really about the only pointless person we’ve met in this whole Pointless Forest.”

I’ve wanted to watch The Point forever. I remember in high school someone was like, “you haven’t seen The Point?” and I was like, “no, what is that?” and they were like “you don’t even know what it is?” and I was like “no, what is it?” and they were like “dude, you’re, like, a bad person if you haven’t seen The Point.”  And it’s haunted me ever since.  I was supposed to watch Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives this week, but then I saw that The Point was on Fandor and I just had to remedy this old wound.

The Point stands on ridiculously solid moral ground. It’s the animated story of this kid Oblio who lives in a society where everyone — EVERYONE — has pointed heads. Except Oblio, who is “pointless” with a round head.  Everyone’s job is just making everything pointy.  The sports can’t really be played without anything but a pointy head. This town is so point-oriented that even the round-headed kid names his dog “Arrow”.  And legally, you’re required to “have a point.”

thepointMost folks personally like Oblio, since he’s played by Bobby from The Brady Bunch, and they let his round-headedness slide, but then this right-wing nutjob comes to power and Oblio gets exiled to go live in the “Pointless Forest”. It’s pretty clear that “being different is OK” is the theme from the start, but when Oblio goes on his forest adventure, the point of The Point expands, suggesting that everyone has purpose. It’s heartwarming. The secondary point is that narratives can grow out of an original cultural purpose (“or point”) and be co-opted and turned into rigid doctrine, leading to cultures that exile the outliers and free thinkers who are mocked for “missing the point.”  It’s terrifying and true.

The kid who gave me crap about not seeing The Point may have missed the point of The Point, but this movie probably does make a lot of great people out of the kids watching it.

WAIT SHOULD I WATCH IT THOUGH? Yes, especially if you have kids with you!  It’s the most gloriously Po-Mo kids’ movie. They should really, really see it. Also, Ringo Starr is the narrator. Don’t pretend you don’t like Ringo Starr.

ISN’T THE POINT ALSO SOME KIND OF MUSIC ALBUM?  Sure is. It’s a great music album by the late, wonderful, humorous soft-pop 1970’s music star Harry Nilsson, who looks a LOT like my dad. He (Harry Nilsson, not my dad) conceived of this magical little fable, and wrote the music for the film, and released an album of it. My favorite song is called “Everything’s Got ‘Em”:  

FUN FACT:  Mama Cass of the Mama’s and the Papa’s and Keith Moon of The Who BOTH died in Harry Nilsson’s house. I guess that’s kind of a downer, but it’s only because he was a legendary host.

What do these films have in common?  They’re all in this article.  Also, they’re all true stories – albeit in very different ways. 17 Girls is a literally true story that caught the world’s attention precisely because it was a situation we needed to examine to learn more about ourselves and the young women growing up in our society. Asparagus is a true story because it’s built out of a single artist’s unchallengeable dreamlike associations – and its strength lies in the fact that what you get out of it is your own truth. And The Point is that most powerful of stories: a parable that finds a universal truth and that can be used to understand many situations… including the same brutal patriarchy machine that makes the other two films possible.

So excited to be dining on Fandor again.  Stay “pointless”, weirdos.

You should follow Colin @realColinHealey because it would help him feel nice. Colin’s first feature film, Homemakers, is available on Fandor. If you think Colin would like a movie, tell him in the comments and he’ll watch the hell out of it.

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