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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

SIFF-ting through cinema, Pt. 1

By Dennis Hartley

The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so over the next several weeks I will be sharing highlights with you. SIFF is showing 263 films over 25 days. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. Yet, I trudge on (cue the world’s tiniest violin). Hopefully, some of these films will be coming soon to a theater near you…

Tab Hunter Confidential- Actor. Pop star. Teen idol. Equestrian. Figure-skater. Closeted. It’s certainly been a long, interesting ride for Tab Hunter, profiled in this documentary from Jeffrey Schwartz. Using a wealth of archival footage and assembled in a visually playful manner recalling The Kid Stays in the Picture, Schwartz largely lets Hunter tell his own story (he’s quite the engaging raconteur), with co-stars, close friends and film historians cheering from the sidelines. The candid Hunter (now retired from showbiz) recalls his life, loves and career; it’s interesting to get his take on that “chalk running backwards” phenomenon of becoming a movie star before becoming an actor. The film ultimately comes off a wee bit hagiographic (it was co-produced by Hunter’s long-time companion Allan Glaser), but Hunter (still impossibly handsome at 83) is so self-effacing and “sunny-side up” that it’s nearly impossible to not succumb to his charm.

Rating: **½  (Plays May 16)

Alleluia- Belgian director Fabrice du Weiz’s shocker (inspired by the “Lonely Hearts Killers”) morphs the hallucinatory bloodlust of Natural Born Killers with the visual poeticism of Badlands. A con artist Lothario (Laurent Lucas) meets his match when one of his victims (Lola Duenas) turns the tables by stealing his heart. Then, she offers to become his partner in crime. If he only knew what he was in for! Not wholly original, but Duenas’ performance is electrifying.

Rating: ***  (Plays May 16 and 23)

Best of Enemies- In their absorbing documentary, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon recount ABC’s 1968 Democratic/Republican conventions coverage debates between William F. Buckley (from the Right!) and Gore Vidal (from the Left!), culminating in an apoplectic Buckley’s threat (live, on national television) to give Vidal a right, and a left (after calling Vidal a “queer”). You’ll witness not only the birth of TV punditry, but the opening salvo in the (still raging) “culture wars”. This one’s a must-see.

Rating: ***½  (Plays May 16 and 17)

Fassbinder: To Love without Demands- An oft-quoted ancient Chinese philosopher once proffered “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long”. He could have been prophesizing the short yet incredibly productive life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. By the time he died at age 37 in 1982, the iconoclastic German director-screenwriter-actor (and producer, editor, cameraman, composer, designer, etc.) had churned out 40 feature films, a couple dozen stage plays, 2 major television film series, and an assortment of video productions, radio plays and short films. When you consider the fact that this prodigious output occurred over a mere 15 year period, it’s possible that the man actually died from sheer exhaustion (hell, I got exhausted just from reading all his credits and realizing I’ve managed to take in barely one-third of his oeuvre over the years). In just under 2 hours, Danish director Christian Braad Thomsen does an amazing job of tying together the prevalent themes in Fassbinder’s work with the personal and psychological motivations that fueled this indefatigable drive to create, to provoke, and to challenge the status quo.

Rating: ****  (North American premiere; Plays May 19 and 23)

Beats of the Antonov- In the harrowing opening sequence of Sudanese war journalist Hajooj Kuka’s documentary, members of a refugee camp frenetically scatter for cover as one of them exclaims “The plane is coming! The Antonov! It’s here!” The obviously unnerved cameraman swerves his lens skyward, where a solitary, seemingly benign prop plane lazes overhead. Then suddenly, a massive explosion…followed by shocked silence for a few seconds as the camera surveys the damage; several huts engulfed in flame. Then, as the smoke clears, a most extraordinary sound; the last thing you would expect to hear: the laughter of children. “The laughter is always there,” a resident explains, “People laugh despite the catastrophe because they realize they are not hurt...laughter is like a new birth.” This pragmatism has become a crucial coping mechanism for the people of the Blue Nile and Nuba mountain regions of Sudan, an African nation in perpetual civil war since 1956. Kuka goes on to illustrate how it’s not just the laughter, but non-stop communal singing and dancing that keeps their spirits (and culture) alive. Most interestingly, there is zero demarcation between performer and audience. Anyone can pick up an instrument and join in, or improvise a verse; it’s Democracy in its purest form.

Rating: ***  (Plays May 21 and 22)

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