Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milwaukee Film Festival Day Nine 10/2/2009

Film #18 - Outrage
Film #19 - Crimes and Misdemeanors

Going into the last weekend of the Milwaukee Film Festival, I was excited about the evening's screenings. Not only was I going to be seeing a documentary that was on my short list of films I wanted to see this week, but I was going to be watching one of my favorite Woody Allen films in the presence of its star, Martin Landau. Landau was in town for the weekend, attending two screenings of Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the world premiere of his latest film, Lovely, Still, and sat down after the screening Friday night to talk about his experiences on this film, and on acting as a whole.

"Only bad actors try to show their feelings. Good actors repress their feelings." I hope that budding actors and filmmakers were taking notes during the talk back, because he certainly uttered some gems. A member of the Actor's Studio (he was accepted the same year as Steve McQueen) he was accepted after his first audition, an almost unheard of feat. He currently is serving as the head of the Actor's Studio in California. Landau was incredibly lucid and well-spoken, intelligent and charming. He answered the many questions with relish, even seeming to want to continue after almost 45 minutes. I had to laugh to myself at one point when he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Milwaukee Film Festival, because I was thinking about Woody Allen's character in Crimes and Misdemeanors, clinging to his award he received for documentary film making at the Cincinnati Film Festival as his wife retorts, "They gave an honorable mention to anyone who showed up!" Landau is a man who has won many awards, including an Academy Award, but his acceptance of the award given to him by the Milwaukee Film Festival was full of humility and humbleness. And I don't think it was just his great acting chops.

Kirby Dick
USA - 2009 - English
Previous Screenings:
Tribeca Film Festival 2009
Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival 2009 - Award Winner

A film that investigates allegations and censored media coverage of homosexual scandals involving politicians such as Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, among others, Outrage is a no-holds-barred look at how the progression of gay rights is being continually undermined, sometimes most vociferously by notoriously closeted politicians.

I screened this film with at least 200 other people, an admirable crowd for a late afternoon matinee on a Friday, and though I will admit that at first I was just having fun finding out which hypocritical politicians and pundits are allegedly gay, Outrage quickly became something much more important, which surprised me. Personally, this film was not a hard sell for me. I am, and always have been a very strong supporter of equality for gay rights, so I didn't feel like I was going to learn anything new, or be moved beyond what I may already have been moved by in the past. However, I not only learned about and, (true to the title) was outraged by the voting records on gay rights by these men - they are among the worst in the entire Senate and Congress - but began to question my thoughts on "forced outings" of politicians. I used to be categorically against it because I feel that is a personal and private decision, but the arguments made for this practice on gay Republicans was a compelling one; namely, how can someone support a party that is against everything they stand for?

Outrage is full of footage that support its thesis, and contains interviews with several openly gay politicians, including Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin (whose presence on the screen received a round of applause from the audience). One of my favorite politicians, Barney Frank, who, in response to allegedly gay Republican Rep. David Dreier's (another anti-gay rights bully) insistence that he was turned down for a job due to his "moderate" views, practically snorted as he quipped, "Yes, in the sense that I marched in the moderate parade last summer and went to a moderate bar." However, the most compelling testimony was from former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who recounts his experience of coming out of the closet and though it not only tore his family apart and sank his political career, he felt like himself for the first time, and the sense of relief and enlightenment was profound. Hearing this from a guy who seemingly lost everything was really eye-opening.

Director Kirby Dick has an uncanny ability, not unlike the guys over at The Daily Show, to not only find fantastic archival footage, but footage that completely contradicts something that is said years later. No one is safe; even my beloved National Public Radio (NPR) is taken to task for censoring a review of this film. In Outrage, Kirby kicks Washington's closet door open and the result is an incredibly powerful film that is emotional without resorting to name-calling or being maudlin.

4 out of 5 stars

Woody Allen
USA - 1989 - English

Crimes and Misdemeanors is really two films within one. In one part, Judah Rosenthal, (Martin Landau) a well-respected doctor and philanthropist with a charming wife and two children finds himself with a mistress that he can't get rid of, without resorting to extreme measures. In the other part of the film, Cliff Stern, an unsuccessful documentary filmmaker is asked to film a profile of his brother-in-law Lester, (Alan Alda) an ego maniacal television producer who produces popular trash. Though married, Cliff falls for Halley, (Mia Farrow) the producer of the documentary series. The two sides of the film only meet once, near the end of the film, but similar themes are examined throughout each portion of the film.

This has always been one of my favorite Woody Allen films because it was a couple of years before his implosion when he went through his personal problems and took out his frustrations in a misogynistic frenzy on his female characters in subsequent films. I say all of this as a strong Woody Allen fan, it of course just needs to be acknowledged that he had a "dark" period. And not dark in a good way. Crimes and Misdemeanors is dark in a good way, as it is very thought-provoking and frustrating at the same time. Judah is such an unsympathetic character that it's hard to care about his situation, but one can't help it because Landau somehow makes everything seem like such a surprise; like he can't believe that he's done any of what he's done. Meanwhile, the Cliff side of the coin, certainly the source of the comic relief and sweetness injected into the film, is in the same boat, marriage/adultery-wise, but he is much easier to relate to. Where the two sides meet, we see that redemption comes for one and not the other, which makes the film that much more dark and introspective.

Warmly lit like Hannah and Her Sisters, another Allen film of this era, Crimes and Misdemeanors is a wonderfully intimate film that I think is often overlooked. It also contains one of my favorite scenes of any Woody Allen film; the scene where Cliff reveals his finished documentary to Lester gives me a headache from laughing so hard. It's scenes like that one, inter cut with terrifyingly dark behavior from Jonah, a seemingly genial man who is a pillar in his community that make Crimes and Misdemeanors a complicated classic.

4 stars out of 5

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