Monday, October 5, 2009

Milwaukee Film Festival Day Three 9/26/09

Film #5 - The Beaches of Agnes
Film #6 - Art & Copy

*Movie reviews at the bottom of the post*

A relatively short day today - since Art & Copy put the kibosh on the mid-evening film I wanted to see, I'm just seeing two films today, with a full day ahead on Sunday. I'm really bummed because, while the last thing I should be thinking about is going to more movies, the Times Cinema is hosting the Manhattan Short Film Festival this weekend. Unfortunately, I've been looking forward to this event for several months now, and of course, voila, I can't go. Now I'm available tonight and they don't have a 9pm show. Grrr.

Sitting before the first film, The Beaches of Agnes, I am acutely aware of a couple of things: despite the relatively small crowd, there is another odor problem in the theater, and that perhaps the people in the aisle across from me should have invested less money on movie tickets and more on Lever 2000. (They've been very pleased to tell anyone in a 4 foot radius that they have purchased tickets to several movies!) Also, the enormous bowl of cereal I ate for breakfast in order to hold me over until the evening is kicking in and consequently I am starting to get drowsy... not good considering it's 2:30 pm. Damn you Cap'n Crunch!

Not exactly enamored with the film, I decided to treat myself to a soda to cheer myself up before the next movie, Art & Copy. So far, the highlight of my day had been watching two 12 year old boys giggling while they took pictures of the marquee reading "Jennifer's Bo" with their cell phones. The low point, even below the lackluster first film I'd seen, was that 3 minutes later, a grubby child with a death wish crashed into me and spilled orange soda all over my arm. Luckily, when I returned to the theater I was able to see that there was a huge line developing for the film, so I was going to be experiencing it with a good crowd. When I actually settled down in the theater I only had two complaints: the high school chick sitting in front of me who must have been there either on a dare or for extra credit who wouldn't put her phone away- (and of course, she was at the perfect angle where I was the only one who would be bothered by the constantly lit-up screen while she texted her little fingers off) -but this problem solved itself as a result of she and her friend leaving halfway through the film. (???) The other thing was a theme that I had noticed throughout the festival, that the presenters rarely, if ever, announced that there was going to be a short film preceding the feature. There will be more about notable events occurring as a result of keeping the audience in the dark about pre-features in future posts, but it would just be a good practice for the presenters to re-adopt because it just lead to confusion for the most part.

Director: Agnes Varda
France - 2008 - French with English subtitles
Previous Screenings:
Venice Film Festival 2008
Toronto International Film Festival 2008

The Beaches of Agnes is an autobiographical documentary of filmmaker Agnes Varda, a strong player in the French New Wave movement with films such as Cleo From 5 to 7 and The Creatures. Varda was heavily involved in film making and surrounded herself with other artists and filmmakers of the time (Alexander Calder was a friend) and was married to director Jacque Demy. (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)

Knowing all of this, I went into the film excited to see what I thought would be a profile of a really interesting woman - I mean, this woman was a radical who directed a film about the Black Panthers in the 1960's that I studied in film school! - but instead it was a heady, hypnotic and surreal overview of Varda's life, directed by Varda herself. The conceit was, admittedly, an interesting one; Varda hired actors to stage several moments in her life, and she would film them, along with archival photographs and voice-over narration from Varda. Indeed, many of the people she worked with over the years did appear on screen, either via a current interview or historical footage, so we were able to hear from Godard, Piccoli and even Harrison Ford (??? I know.) but there was just something lacking for me.

The Beaches of Agnes is certainly imaginative, but I felt it was somewhat boring, probably because I am pretty straight forward when it comes to documentaries. Though creative, I looked hard to see a little more informative content rather than disparate scenes from Varda's life, and there were many times when I was unclear what was real and what was recreated, which admittedly may have been intentional. This is a Cesar-winning film, and I can see its value, and I know that it will appeal to a certain audience, but I wasn't in it.

2 stars out of 5

Director: Doug Pray
USA - 2008 - English
Previous Screenings:
Sundance Film Festival 2009
Seattle International Film Festival 2009

Art & Copy is an intensive study of the advertising industry and the minds behind some of the most famous ad campaigns in advertising history. Billed as a look at the "real Mad Men" of the business, the film is an exquisite behind the scenes look at this influential industry.

With Art & Copy, name the iconic ad and you will get the story behind it, and probably an interview (and, if you're lucky, a primer on how the creative process works) with the people who created it. Some of the visionaries featured are Lee Clow (Apple Computers' 1984 and the current iPod campaign), Dan Wieden (Nike's "Just Do It" campaign) and my personal favorite, George Lois (Tommy Hilfiger, among others). These men (and some women) exhibit incredible creativity, vision and foresight, and the net result is usually something incredibly simple like, "Got Milk?" that can make people slap their foreheads and wonder why they didn't think of it first.

Hearing the stories behind the ads is a wonderful thing to witness, and are at times funny and poignant. When discussing his inspiration behind the "Just Do It" campaign for Nike, Chow reveals that he actually heard about Gary Gilmore, who, while in the electric chair was asked for final words which were "Let's Do It", which obviously struck a nerve. Within the same campaign, while promoting women and girls in sports, the filmmakers played Nike's "If you let me play sports" commercial featuring young girls telling the camera the benefits of female sports participation, and there was barely a dry eye in the theater.

Personally, I would have found this film fascinating even if it weren't as well done based on my profession. Being in Marketing, I considered everything I was seeing as a learning experience and sage advice. One favorite tip: "I never work with a committee. People have a committee in the first place to share the blame." Though most of them have different personalities, most are colorful (especially Lois, who garnered the most laughs with his dark humor and sailor-like vocabulary) but all have the passion for their profession in common. Watching Art & Copy is a sublime experience, and in doing so, it partially follows a philosophy that is postulated during the film: It's not about the product, it's about people wanting to be part of the group that "gets it", whether it be humor or whatnot. In this case, the product was outstanding and I wanted to be part of their group.

4 1/2 stars out of 5

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