IF YOU WANT to make people uncomfortable at your next family get-together, stream Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate (available on IFC Films on Demand until June 15). Poyser’s first feature skimmed slightly above the radar at this year’s Sundance and SXSW film festivals and went straight to VOD, which may be the best place to watch it. The sibling rivalry narrative is likely to get under the skin of even well-adjusted brothers—and some sisters and wives as well.
Disconcerting in both form and content, Lovers of Hate begins like a drab version of a Seth Rogen mismatched rom-com, then veers into stalker-horror before slacking off into . . . but no, I don’t want to entirely give away its apposite inconclusiveness. The film’s title derives from the novel on which older brother Rudy (Chris Doubek) has long claimed to be at work, although, like Jack Nicholson’s blocked author in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)—clearly on Poyser’s mind—he may not have gotten past the opening page.
Rudy is first glimpsed attempting furtively to hose the sweat off his droopy body at the local gas station. He’s been living in his car since his wife Diana (Heather Kafka) kicked him out. When younger brother Paul (Alex Karpovsky) arrives in town on a book tour and discovers the breakup, he puts the moves on Diana. Rudy confronts them, and his humiliation-fueled rage gives the movie a charge of negative energy that director and actor sustain almost to the end. But Rudy’s resentment of his facile, opportunistic sib predates Paul’s poaching of Diana. Although the children’s books that have made Paul the American near equivalent of J. K. Rowling bear the dedication “For Rudy,” Paul has never publicly acknowledged that they are based on narratives and characters that Rudy invented to entertain him when they were kids.
Rudy follows his brother to a sprawling, snow-covered Utah vacation house where Paul has gone—ostensibly to write, but actually to tryst with Diana. Skulking unseen behind half-closed doors, Rudy is mesmerized by the sight of his brother and his estranged wife fucking themselves blind: They fail to notice his presence for days. Since Paul and Rudy are both, each in his own way, total shits, it’s fitting that Rudy employs a toilet as his instrument of terror, his regressive maneuver recalling acts of aggression by and against various nuclear family members forced to live in intimate conditions with people they are supposed to love but in fact loathe. As in The Shining, the oversize digs only reinforce the sense of psychological claustrophobia.
The movie opens in Austin, home of SXSW, then repairs to Park City, where the ski lodge that the Austin contingent shared at the 2009 Sundance festival became the principal location. Production values are barely existent, but the camera placement and editing, particularly in relation to Rudy’s s/m voyeurism, are brilliant. Ditto the script and the performances. Doubek, Karpovsky, and Kafka should be commended for making their characters thoroughly unappealing while eschewing villainous flourishes. The horror in Lovers of Hate is all too familiar—or, as Freud would have termed it, Heimlich. It’s rare, however, to see it depicted with such disgusting specificity on the screen.
Lovers of Hate is available on IFC Films on Demand through June 15. For more details, click here.
IN THE AGE OF AIDS—its losses, its stigma, and the militant defiance that tried to stem these in turn—silence is a charged phenomenon. As the famous activist slogan has it, SILENCE = DEATH; an equation rendered a matter of fact by the government inaction that exacerbated an already rampant pandemic throughout the 1980s. In Ira Sachs’s eight-minute film, Last Address, however, silence evinces a different valence.
Here, in the string of poker-faced facades—the last residences of seventeen New York artists who died of AIDS between 1983 and 2007—the film invites reflection on the lingering absence of some of the city’s most dynamic cultural personalities. The barely discernible agitation of leaves against 542 LaGuardia Place and the chirps of a few birds are the only hints that the camera is rolling film, and not simply shooting a still image of Keith Haring’s old building. By contrast, the procession of cars along Bleecker Street offers up a less solemn memorial to the last address of Cookie Mueller and Ron Vawter. Charles Ludlam is evoked through the synecdochal image of his building’s doorway; to its glass the reflections of passersby lend an involuntary lyricism. Occasionally, the camera homes in on a seemingly fateful detail (a potted plant on a windowsill; the froth of leaves in the wind). In most instances, though, Sachs fixes his camera and lets the city run its fingers over the screen. Its unwitting indifference to the memory of these individuals constitutes the film’s most haunting melancholy.
Last Address, which premiered at this year’s Sundance and Berlin film festivals, represents Sachs’s return to the short format, which he pursued to great acclaim in his work Lady (1993). The film will play in conjunction with a public installation of photographs in the exterior windows of the Kimmel Center on LaGuardia Place (on view through the end of May), which offers further biographical information on the figures commemorated in Last Address.
Ira Sachs, Last Address, color film, 8 minutes.
On May 6, Ira Sachs’s Last Address will play every fifteen minutes from 6 to 8 PM at the Tisch School of the Arts on Broadway in New York. For more details, click here. The exhibition “Last Address” is on view at the Kimmel Center in New York through May 31.
Gregorio Rocha, Los rollos perdidos de Pancho Villa, 2003, black-and-white and color film, 49 minutes.
WITH LOS ROLLOS PERDIDOS DE PANCHO VILLA (The Lost Rolls of Pancho Villa, 2003), Gregorio Rocha has constructed a fascinating document of the intertwining histories of cinema, politics, and culture. The film grows out of a surprising contract made in 1914 between the Mutual Film Corporation and Pancho Villa, in which the leader of Mexico’s Constitutional Army granted the company exclusive rights to film him in exchange for 20 percent of the profits from any resulting movie. From this odd agreement came The Life of General Villa, 1914, a heroic portrayal of Villa’s life that included select footage of the Battle of Ojinaga. In subsequent American movies, after Villa’s troops invaded Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916, he was portrayed as a villainous bandit from across the border.
Rocha’s film documents his exhaustive search for the original Villa footage. In it, the Mexico City–based filmmaker travels to New York, London, and Amsterdam, only to return home empty-handed. His funds depleted, Rocha begins to audition actors for a new Villa picture when an anonymous phone call inspires a change of direction; he heads to Texas, where, in a dusty garage, he discovers a remarkable, patched-together film.
Decades before reality television warped our vision of truth in media, a father-son team, Félix and Edmundo Padilla, fused artifice and history to make La venganza de Pancho Villa (The Vengeance of Pancho Villa), 1937, a clever pastiche of newsreels, clips from The Life of General Villa and graphic footage excluded from that film, scenes from the patriotic American movies The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Liberty (1916), and new footage shot in Texas. The Padillas renamed fictional Mexican towns and heroes in the American movies after their original counterparts, and they re-created Villa’s assassination. The film turns stereotypes—principally those of the Mexican bandit and the innocent American girl—on their heads, and returns Villa to heroic revolutionary status. A phenomenal example of early appropriation, it had languished in a bin until Rocha unearthed it on camera—not unlike the Padillas’ film, his own merges cinematic activism with engrossing narrative.
João César Monteiro, Come and Go, 2003, still from a color film in 35 mm, 179 minutes.
THOUGH FAR LESS of a household name, João César Monteiro was for Portuguese cinema what Luis Buñuel was for Spanish, a gleefully caustic satirist and libertine whose targets may have been the usual suspects of sexual, religious, and political propriety, but whose means of attack against them were highly unusual. Whereas, for example, his compatriots of the Cinema Novo swore by realism and the techniques of direct cinema, Monteiro’s vision was alternately baroque and crude, rigorous and anarchic, the work of a man fascinated by the purity of depravity.
Also unusual is that the most renowned period of Monteiro’s career was his last, a period in which he hadn’t so much settled into a style as begun to express the bottomless absurdity of his id. Starting with Recollections of the Yellow House (1989), the director himself starred in a series of related features as signature protagonist “John of God,” a drily pessimistic and puckish man on the wrong side of fifty with a penchant for beautiful young women and bizarre, Bataillean erotic fetishes (meticulously collecting pubic hair, soothing the posterior of an underage lover by having her sit on a horn-shaped basket of eggs, etc.). But while Recollections achieves a sustained poignancy for unsentimentally pitting “John” and his insatiable libido against the indignities and absurdities of aging (his frail, skeletal frame forming a striking contrast to his self-deprecating burlesques), in subsequent films like God’s Comedy (1995) and God’s Wedding (1998) such dark humor is literally run into the ground: By the time of the 2003 swan song Come and Go, in which “John” is recast as “John Vuvu,” Monteiro was confronting the specter of his imminent death—he passed away that same year—with gallows humor less lecherously surreal than self-parodically “naughty,” his overly deliberate line-readings and extreme long takes rendering “John” a dirty old man amid enervating caricatures of high-art tableaux.
Less celebrated earlier films prove more rewarding. Monteiro’s debut, Trails (1978), summons comparisons to Sergei Paradjanov as both an avant-garde picaresque of theatrically staged folktales and a quasi-ethnographic study in the storytelling tradition of rural mountain communities. Silvestre (1982) similarly discovers the modernist sensibility of timeworn legends, with a knight-disguised pubescent girl navigating a violent and unreal medieval world of seducers, dragons, and warriors (indeed, his depiction of female desire is more complex in these films than in the “John of God” era). Always interested in the artificial and Bressonian (Silvestre employs beautifully strange projected backgrounds and effective anti-naturalistic acting), Monteiro went as far out as a director can go when, in 2000, he revisited the heritage of myth in Snow White, a hard-core challenge composed almost entirely of black leader and a chorus of sober, disembodied voices enacting the fairy tale as reimagined by Swiss writer Robert Walser. Is it cinema, and is it worth the effort? Monteiro obviously didn’t want his films to make anyone comfortable, but the surprising thing about Snow White is that, given the director’s obsession with the corporeal, its abrasive asceticism evokes an intensely earned, intensely experienced pleasure.
Scott Crocker, Ghost Bird, 2009, color video, 85 minutes. Production stills.
BACK IN 2005, a couple of birdwatchers kayaking through the swamps of rural Brinkley, Arkansas, managed to capture on their digital video camera the fluttering white wings of a distant woodpecker. After reviewing the images, the amateur ornithologists claimed it was the first confirmed sighting in sixty years of the once-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. American birders—and there are more than fifty million of them—were stunned.
News outlets quickly seized on the story, as did scholars at Science, who published a detailed analysis of the footage and concluded that, yes, the ivory-billed was still alive. Tourism in Brinkley skyrocketed, followed by everything from ivory-billed museums to woodpecker-themed hotels. The US government, after also verifying the footage, shifted millions of dollars from other bird conservation programs to fund a revival of the ivory-billed habitat. Bird experts headed south to spend a couple weeks out in the swamp. Here, some prominent birders quickly became skeptics: They found little evidence of woodpecker presence, and became convinced that the area was not remote enough to explain the six decades of silence. It was these skeptical scientists who returned to the original footage and, after seeing far more white on the bird’s wings than black, agreed that this was not an ivory-billed but a pileated woodpecker. Publicly questioning the conclusions of both Science and the federal government, these dissenters became the pariahs of the mainstream birding community.
In his film on the subject, Ghost Bird, director Scott Crocker proves shrewd in his slow reveal of the hysteria that descends on Brinkley in the months after the ivory-billed discovery. Beginning in the magical silence of the swamp, he unveils a network of crass commercialization. For the Brinkley Chamber of Commerce, there’s a hefty price tag attached to this rare bird. Crocker also lines the film with statistics about other endangered birds, implying that conservation funds are being siphoned away from species in need. But if Ghost Bird begins as a portrait of a quirky wildlife debate, it ultimately concludes that truth itself is under attack in Brinkley. After the Science article is published, Cornell University and the feds announce their verdict on the amateur video, and all scholarly debate grinds to a screeching halt. And when a handful of renowned academics attempt to present contrary evidence, they are not only ignored but shunned.
Far more haunting than the images of profiteering are the larger implications that truth itself has become subjective. To illustrate his point, Crocker abruptly pauses the narrative to turn to well-worn archival footage of former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld as he plays a calculated rhetorical game of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” with the press, deflecting blame for military complications during the Iraq war. Apart from an endangered bird and an equally endangered town, Ghost Bird considers the ways in which collegial debate, intellectual rigor, and a collective desire for objective truth are in danger of extinction.
Ghost Bird opens April 28 at Anthology Film Archives in New York. For more details, click here.
IT HARDLY SEEMS like a fair contest. Of the four artists whose recent works in film and video comprise the spring group exhibition—really four concurrent solo exhibitions—at Toronto’s Power Plant, three are represented by pieces of a generally measured and meditative nature.
The fourth, on the other hand, offers content that is brash, energetic, vulgar, and unabashedly tricked-out. The works, which resemble a mash-up of Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” cycle, MTV’s Jersey Shore, and a meth-induced psychotic breakdown, are inevitably divisive among Power Plant patrons who may not be prepared for such an onslaught. Any guesses as to which artist dominates?
Ryan Trecartin takes up a lot of space, both in terms of how much square-footage the Power Plant devotes to “Any Ever”—the first Canadian solo exhibition by the prolific Texan-born, Philadelphia-based video artist—and in terms of the brain-scrambling effects of the works themselves. For that reason, visitors might consider saving his work for last. They wouldn’t want to run out of the patience required for Joachim Koester’s “Hypnagogia”—a trio of silent black-and-white 16-mm film loops that point to the Danish artist’s interest in physical manifestations of altered states of mind—or Peter Campus’s “Reflections and Inflections,” which consists of one vintage interactive piece and one serene new landscape-based work by the American video-art pioneer. Likewise, it’d be a shame not to give full attention to Sharon Lockhart’s Podwórka, 2009, another of her single-take studies of people and their places; this time, she directs our gaze toward groups of Polish children who enliven a series of grim urban locales in Lódz.
But after some polite (and rewarding) contemplation, a foray into Trecartin’s multiverse can feel like assault and battery. Occupying a series of stylized environments that are thematically appropriate to the videos themselves (think: a dorm like the kind used by hopefuls on America’s Next Top Model), spectators can spend minutes or hours viewing loops of Trecartin’s four-part “Re’Search Wait’S” series or three-part “Trill-ogy Comp.”
Each episode runs anywhere from twenty-seven minutes to nearly an hour. They are all dense with overlapping storylines and characters, many of them played by Trecartin amid a cast of friends, fellow artists, and teenagers who clearly relish the chance to utter lines like “Yes, I was raped by my dad’s career—totally my fault!” These sagas are too complex to synopsize but the commercialization and “brand integration” of every aspect of daily experience is one abiding theme in his dense, gleefully dystopic scenarios. What with the grotesque makeup and décor, the constant barrage of hyper-accelerated edits and zooms, and the shrill Chipmunks-style voices and house beats that comprise the sound design, the contents of “Any Ever” would just be exhausting if they weren’t so hilarious and ingenious.
If the powers that be at MTV had any sense, they’d put Trecartin in charge of programming right now. This has to be better than the next season of The Hills.