A 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.
Hey there, fellow indoor kids! I’m joking. I went outside just yesterday.
As you may know, Fandor gives me access to their secret island warehouse full of films, and I watch them to make sure my next movie is even better than my amazing first feature, Homemakers. I’m proud to say that that next movie is called For Entertainment Purposes Only, and with no small thanks to my Fandor education, it’s gonna be great. If we have enough money to make it. Maybe you can help: We’re raising funds for it right now on Kickstarter, and the campaign ends at noon on Thursday the 25th! If you’ve enjoyed these columns, maybe tip me out so I can feed my cast and crew and get this thing on Fandor?
Also, watch these three films:
I’m gonna confess: I need to watch this movie again before I can flippantly paraphrase the concepts involved, but you shouldn’t be looking to me to explain what Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek could explain far better. Just click on the movie and watch this beardy-man call They Live “one of the masterpieces of the Hollywood left”. Guys, it’s brill. This dude,Žižek, is a frickin’ freight train of psychoanalytic knowledge and you will be better for the time he spends explaining to you what your favorite movies really mean. His goal is to explain what ideology is, and where to find it in what you’re watching, and he does so through clips of The Sound of Music, MASH, Jaws, Brazil, Titanic, and many other cinema classics you’ve probably already seen. It was a strange feeling watching part of The Dark Knight on Fandor. It was stranger watching a clip from a Nazi propaganda film called The Eternal Jew.
Director Sophie Fiennes deserves to go through life without having her famous siblings mentioned all the time, so I won’t do that. Her primary innovation here is brilliant: Žižek does all his explaining from sets that blend perfectly, seamlessly, with the clips from all of these famous films. The lighting crew deserves serious edible arrangements for this one.
WAIT, SHOULD I WATCH IT THOUGH? Did you not understand the word “brill”? Žižek’s enthusiasm is contagious, and this movie will help you enjoy other movies more. Unless you hate understanding the media you ingest.
THIS GUY JUST STANDS AROUND IN MOVIES AND TALKS OVER THEM? Sometimes he’s lying down.
FUN FACT: When I first read Slavoj Žižek’s Wikipedia, I thought it said he had been married thirty times. This is, in fact, false. He has been married three times, and when you finish watching this movie you will feel like you are the fourth.
Keep the Lights On is about a very nice blonde man with some facial hair (but not much), who never really yells or anything, and whose name is Erik. We meet this nice man in the 1990’s (remember those?) when he is using a phone sex hotline, and through that sex hotline he meets a then-closeted lawyer man named Paul, who likes drugs quite a bit. Paul and Erik date on and off for years, but director Ira Sachs and editor Affonso Goncalves wisely chose to show you only the most important 101 minutes of their relationship, from beginning to end. This film does a great job showing the ups and downs of a long relationship, and it’s painful to watch Erik struggle with how he should handle Paul’s habit of disappearing on drug-fueled benders.
I admit I wept a little and remembered some painful moments from past “relationship lives”. One particular moment of holding hands, that I won’t ruin for you, is unforgettable. It’s a beautiful, gentle film, with compositions that capture your attention even when there’s very little going on, and a great soundtrack with tunes by the late, great cellist Arthur Russell.
WAIT, SHOULD I WATCH IT THOUGH? If you have a soul.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL ENVIRONMENT FOR WATCHING THIS MOVIE? This movie has a lot of brief sex scenes and the editing is such that you don’t see them coming (I resisted re-spelling a word in that sentence). So turn the volume up, and make sure that the construction workers currently refinishing your building are close to your open window. Just like I did.
FUN FACT: I told my girlfriend I watched a movie called Keep the Lights On and she said something like, “oh, that sounds scary, I don’t even want to hear what it’s about.” It would be a great title for a generic summer slasher movie for teenagers to watch while they make out.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) dir. John Cassavetes
“What’s your truth is my falsehood. What’s my falsehood is your truth, and vice-a-versa.”
I saved this for last because I loved it, because I love Ben Gazzara. I know I’ve already gone on and on about him in Opening Night, but I had no idea there was a movie where I get to see him run around with a gun. Gazzara (did I mention he’s in this?) is a nightclub owner who likes to dabble in a little gamblin’. Turns out, if you gamble bad, you owe people money. Who knew? Well, he didn’t, and when the gangsters he owes money to figure out he’s good at shooting people, they decide he can kill someone for them, or be killed by them, more or less.
It’s Cassavetes, so of course, the acting is impeccable, naturalistic, and dripping in booze-soaked machismo. It’s about as action-movie an indie can get, unless you’re Wes Anderson – and it even features Seymour Cassel and his facial hair, who did three movies with Anderson. Cassavetes and Anderson have completely opposite approaches to camera and design, but by gosh, do they do indie action and Seymour Cassel right.
WAIT, SHOULD I WATCH IT THOUGH? I dunno, do you like good movies where people have to make impossible moral decisions and then grapple with the consequences of those decisions? Or Ben Gazzara?
WHAT ROLE SHOULD GENA ROWLANDS HAVE PLAYED? The World’s Greatest Actress Gena Rowlands would have been great as one of the mobsters, but she’s too damn likable, so maybe she could just come in at the end and explain the moral of the story for us.
FUN FACT: This movie straight-up bombed at the box office in 1976. Cassavetes re-cut it and re-released it in 1978. This is the 1978 version, which is kind of a classic (although I’d still direct you to start with either of the two other Cassavetes films I’ve written about).
What did I learn this week? Well, I think I learned what I summed up when talking about The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Great movies are about impossible decisions, whether that’s “how can I save Paul from himself and not ruin my own happiness in the process?” or “should I kill someone so I can keep my nightclub?” The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology touches on how some of these decisions are so big-picture that we miss them: Žižek argues Leo has to die at the end of Titanic, because the class-defying love between Jack and Rose would have destroyed both their lives. So THAT’S why she just let him drown for seemingly no reason. Slavoj Žižek said she had to.
You should follow Colin @truecolinhealey because it would help him feel nice. Colin’s first feature film, Homemakers, is available on Fandor,and you can read more about his latest project in an article just published over at Filmmaker Magazine. If you think Colin would like a movie, tell him in the comments and he’ll watch the hell out of it.