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Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Eye of the Navel 2007 …

The thing about top 10 lists is they tend to be relevant only at the moment they are compiled. A couple of weeks ago I sent in such a list to a poll conducted by the Village Voice/L.A. Weekly and in the brief time that’s followed it has gone AWOL. While nothing catastrophic has occurred in the time in-between, I can say with some certainty that the list to follow isn’t consistent. It’s not radically different but …

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. For me this was the best film of the year. The story of the editor of French Elle who was struck down with “locked in” syndrome; rendered mute and still managed to communicate via blinking his eyes. The film thankfully never feels like the “conquering adversity” genre though it is an element of the narrative. What’s striking about the film is the manner it captures credibly what cannot be known – what’s running through the mind of the protagonist. It employs a fair amount of subjective camera yet rather than cinema verite, the result is arguably surreal and unquestionably artistic and emotionally potent.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The word going in was that the film was a mess; a vanity project gone awry. However, from the outset it was evident rumors had obscured judgment. On a simplistic level it’s the western legend of an icon and his stalker with caveats. Casey Affleck as Ford definitely wants to get close to and share the spotlight with the idealized Jesse James (Brad Pitt in top form). Proximity only tarnishes his hero worship with the outlaw emerging as a very dangerous sociopath. Brooding and visually majestic it manages to evolve a more realistic approach to both men and enhance the myth.

Into the Wild. The film is the saga of Chris McCandless, a young man who dropped out and set out on an odyssey that took him to the wild of Alaska back in the 1990s. Though the story has tragic results it’s not a tragedy. The young man had an ineffable skill at touching the souls of the people he met – a South Dakota farmer, a hippie couple in the Southwest, an army careerist waiting for the end. It’s a life affirming road movie told with a passion that cuts through a complexly structured script.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. On the surface this film from Romania is about an abortion in a country that not long ago banned the practice. However, it has considerably broader and more disturbing socio-political resonances about family and friendship. Told from the perspective of the woman helping out a friend one knows from the start is too self absorbed to appreciate the gesture it has a quite, unfussy authority. Exquisitely made and observed it manages to turn a dinner with her fiancées parents and friends into a type of emotional torture not sanctioned by the Geneva Convention.

Lake of Fire. It’s likely true that the filmmaker’s ambivalent feelings (initially or as he proceeded) on issues surrounding abortion largely accounted for a production history that spanned more than a decade. Ultimately it’s neither an endorsement nor a condemnation but a rather unflinching and exhaustive examination of the rationale and hysterical perspectives and everything in-between. It’s also a visually stunning and artistically crafted documentary that regardless of one’s bias on the issue is guaranteed to put those beliefs into question.

The Lookout. A noir for the new millennium, The Lookoutmarked an assured directing debut for screenwriter Scott Frank. The protagonist is a young man who has memory lapses following a rather wicked car accident. A former whiz kid one can palpably feel his frustration at grasping a situation that in the past involved no more than a snap decision. He becomes embroiled in a heist taking on the role of the title and must adapt to trusting his instincts when the situation cannot be rationalized.

I’m Not There. The Bob Dylan psycho-biography is certainly one of the most audacious movies of this or any year. It’s a portrait of the artist as a young man, a woman, a movie star, a black boy, an outlaw. One’s hard pressed to identify the inspiration for this; the decision to cast six different actors to inhabit the myriad perspectives and the options afforded by using original and interrupted work from an extensive songbook. It’s bold and brash and if you don’t get it no amount of explanation will suffice.

Once. A deceptively simple tale of a street musician in Dublin trying to jump the chasm and the Eastern European woman that becomes his muse. It’s a rather forthright non-romance and a beautifully realized examination of people who have an easier time communicating through their art. The truth is in the music though most will appreciate the charm of the performers and the grace of the filmmaking.

La Vie en Rose. The brunt of the attention in this biopic of French songbird Edith Piafhas gone to Marion Cotillard’s transcendent performance but it has other considerable attributes. The filmmaking is pristine top to bottom and the casting flawless. The material is obviously emotionally wrought but it’s not contrived or embellished. Piaf is all extremes incapable of moderation and we can only marvel at the talent as it rushes headlong to the finish.

Away From Her. The tale of a woman gradually but irrevocably losing her mind carried with it a humanity that allowed the material to be grim and funny. Sarah Polley directed and adapted the Alice Munro short story impeccably and the casting of Julie Christieand Gordon Pinsent as the husband grappling with the pain of losing someone unaware of the loss was ideal. In its own way it’s a perfectly realized film.

I should also mention a handful of other films that may or may not creep into the top 10 at some future date: Lust Caution, Redacted, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Control and The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Also the performance presentation ofBrand Upon the Brain with orchestra, narrator and foley crew that was unquestionably the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in years.

As for the flip side, there are too many films to site but a special spot in hell must be assigned to Sleuth (I liked the earlier, funnier one), Silk, The Bucket List and Michael Clayton.

December 25, 2007

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon