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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TIFF 09 - Day 10 - Party on !

The makers of Copycat Criminals hosted the free to the public celebration of the end of TIFF at Yonge Dundas Square on a cold chilly night in Toronto. A blending of music videos and small clips from the top films of all time were splashed on the screen to the background music of loud rap and dance with booming bass.

At the end of it all the TIFF host organizer whose presence has been seen at the square through all the free screenings every day said "See you next--" and stopped there.

Indeed, see you next.

Monday, September 21, 2009

TIFF Day 10 - /* why me */ - Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

The Cadillac People's Choice award winner for TIFF 09 - why are we not surprised? This movie will not be everyone's cup of tea - it definitely wasn't ours - but the lure of the free ticket and the reputation of last year's winner drew people in - the crowd stretched in front of the Elgin on Yonge Street around the corner down Church Street and up Victoria Street waiting for the magic hour of seven when the tickets were given out.

With all the pull that only Oprah can bring - this film Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire is surprisingly a very tough watch but laced with moments of humour that bring Precious out of the darkness.

It's a survivor's tale - with no spoilers here - a harrowing childhood and a lazy, abusive mother on welfare and a father nowhere in sight - Precious's life in the toughest part of New York is contrasted by her MTVshaped escapist fantasies. The director Lee Daniels employs little indie canera tricks to mask this motion picture. Heavyweight names behind the characters surrounding Precious's life - including Mariah Carey as a social worker and Lenny Kravitz as a male nurse - subsume their star identities into the characters of their roles, almost becoming unrecognizable. Despite being suspended from school for her second pregnancy Precious's principal recommended her to an alternative school "Each One Teach One". The teacher - almost too good to be true - driven by her love of teaching - encourages her students to write in their journals - drawing Precious out of her shell and pushing her rudimentary reading skills along and to write her story.

This is the type of movie where if the Academy saw only one film would swallow hook line and sinker. It has every element of an Academy Award winner - a winning tale - a heroine who fights the odds - surrounding characters who keeps things interesting and amusing despite their situations - last year the Cadillac People's Choice Award winner was a little movie made in India by Danny Boyle called Slumdog Millionaire - a similar fate may not be out of the cards for Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

Friday, September 18, 2009

/* Don't think twice */ - Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound

Piers Handling the head honcho of TIFF hailed Joan Baez as the voice of a generation before introducing her onstage for the free concert at Yonge Dundas Square. The concert and the Mary Wharton documentary mounted beforehand (to be shown later on PBS' American Experience series) were well attended, a packed crowd straining for a look at the star. Baez's career has spanned fifty years and shows her vulnerability, and plenty of footage of Bob Dylan who had appeared earlier in the Square that day baezin the Don't Look Back documentary.

Baez was caught in the conundrum of trying to be available to everyone, not holding anything back while at the same time trying to come to terms with herself in identity. An avowed pacifist, going back to the days of Dr Martin Luther King and the marches - a pacifist, she fought the war in her own way, trying to bring young men out of the lines before they went into the recruiting stations and getting arrested for her efforts, and after spending time in jail going right back to the front of the protest and doing it all over again, her times in jail only made her a "stronger pacifist"singing the folksongs and hits she created "The Night They Tore Old Dixie Down", bringing Bob Dylan and his songs into the movement in her own way, but holding onto Dylan too tight, unable to shape him, their breakup captures on film during Don't Look Back although it may not have been readily apparent at the time, continuing to fight the Victham War, and seeing her husband taken off to jail for resisting the draft and giving birth to her son during that time, coming back into Dylan's fold with the fun of The Rolling Thunder Revue, and finally coming to a place of peace at last.

Despite the chill of the night, the crowd hung on - getting to hear the voice on God Is God, and a few other tunes including "Don't Think Twice It's All Right" riffing on Bob Dylan's voice for a few lines. which perfectly captured the spirit of the night.

TIFF Day 9 - /* the times they are a changin' */ - Don't Look Back - An American in London

D A Pennebaker's documentary on Bob Dylan's tour of London and area in the year of 1965 when he was the rising "folk singer" - a pigeonholing he reruted to the press - his acoustic career was ascending into the media spotlght on a scale of the madness of Beatlemania.

Shot in black and the camera captures it all on the grainy footage following Dylan everywhere from backstage of concert venues to his travelling limo or the hotel rooms to the front of stage itself. Playing solo on stage in front of a church hall or the Royal Albert Hall - it was a time for all mod cons. Marianne Faithful watching on as Dylan played at the piano, Joan Baez on the sofa with Dylan typing away on an old manual, the ever hovering Alan Grossman, his manager, trying to land a deal with the BBC - Alan Price, Donovan - and the ever presence young girls following Dylan, eyeing his hotel room from ground level - or chasing his car after concerts. The madness of a carrer and not that we knew it the beginning of the end of his relationship with Joan Baez who he did not bring on stage with him even though she was invited to accompany him. Plenty of cigarettes and alcohol in a room and the incident with a glass being thrown at a limo driver that seems to be escalating and fueling Dylan's anger.

Of course the beginning of the film is hallmarked by its homestyle flip card video of Subterranean Homesick Blues with Allen Ginsberg in the background lookingly bemusedly on at the shooting.

Don't Look Back belies its title - it is worth the look back

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TIFF Day 8 - /* it's a musical journey */ - U2: Rattle and Hum

Man, do these cameras ever fly. For 1988 what makes Philip Joanou's rockumentary of U2's Rattle and Hum tour is the way these cameras move and move fast to really capture the action. As opposed to D A Pennebaker's cameras were really crammed into the pit with their lenses trained on a spot on the performer and focusing in and out - and even in Monterey there was some crude form of steadicam with a 16mm camera attached at the end of a long harness - the cameras of Rattle and Hum really move and maintain a rocksteady focus during concert but can swirl during a performance of Desire. Desire showed U2's integraton of the roots of American rock and roll into its sound - Rattle and Hum captures another period of the band's history, distinct from Live at Red Rocks. U2 were becoming even bigger anthemic rock stars and showmen - stopping traffic in San Francisco for a rock concert - protesting the internecine rivalries in his native Ireland that culminated in the explosion in Inniskillin that claimed eleven lives - the whole film is a helter skelter of experiences from the top end of Harlem for I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For to the heart of Memphis to record in Sun Studios with the real producers and musicians of the time and a visit to Graceland itself where Larry Mullen Jr. evocatively rides aboard Elvis's bike. The segment with BB King is classic meets today blues.

Finally landing into the colour spectrum U2 Rattle and Hum again shows the obvious connection between band and audience - the Tempe Sun Devil Stadium bursting into life for the anthemic Where The Streets Have No Name - and songs such as Unforgettable Fire's Pride (in the Name of Love) and Joshua Tree's With Or Without You are hallmarks of an era that U2 don't try to follow up anymore constantly on their current 360 tour shedding a lot of the past to their current infatuation with studio experiments. U2 RATTLE AND HUM is a nice way of remembering U2 when they were at the absolute top.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

/* I will follow */ - U2 at Skydome - night one

What a difference four hour makes - from waiting beforehand in the chill air of Skydome waiting for Snow Patrol to open up at the super early hour of 7:15 and then four hours later as U2 brought their two hour plus set to a close - what a strange stage.

TIFF - DAY 7 - /* the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning */ - The Band tangle up with Scorsese in The Last Waltz

The Band started at The Winterland - and came to a close at The Winterland.

Sixteen years was enough for Robbie Robertson - envisioning 20 years on the road was beyond fathoming for his. The Winterland show - the castle of promoter Bill Graham - would be The Band's "last waltz" “the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning.” The time go get out was now, because the road had claimed too many victims: Hank Williams, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Jimi. So they brought together a few of their mentors, idols and friends and Scorsese's camera crew highlights their last kick on and off stage, stopping in between songs for interviews that set up the moments to come...

Shots of the crowd are at a minimum save for the beginning shots of the crowd lineup to get into the theatre, or wide shot taken of the stage that show it was a general admission floor, and photographers vying to get their pictures with old Pentax cameras.

At The Last Waltz - auch talent never to be assembled, talents at the top of their game, and then gone on to icon or legendary status - Neil Young, Joni Mitgchell, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond.

The Last Waltz reflects a worndown band away from the stage trying to get a measure of their place in time and looking to the future - but once on the floorboards, they show their greatness and their songs with an exuberance - and playing along with the likes of Eric Clapton or Bob Dylan a reverance and joy.

The music took us everywhere physically, spiritually, psychotically...

Scorsese lends his weight to the tone of the film, setting up the key moments and bringing in the talents who were maybe not on the floor of Winterland but shows the scope of The Band's influences and their musical range bringing in gospel choirs or Emmylou Harris on Evangeline.

The Last Waltz is simply just a great film. Like all great documentaries, The Last Waltz captures the sense of a generationk, a whispering, definitive moment in time that will never be repeated,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIFF Day 6 - /* If you're going to San Francisco */ - Monterey Pop - all you need is love

Three days of sun and rain way back in June 1967 at The Monterey International Pop Festival - D.A. Pennebaker's band of cameramen rolling miles of film in am indulgent manner yet getting locked into camera shots without external coverage - a vintage slice of history - audiences then and now coming to life and gasping at the powerhouse performances of Otis Redding and Janis Joplin come burst into life on the screen, the flower children The Mamas and the Papas, the psychedelic Jefferson Airplane and the blackest blues voice of Eric Burdon and The Animals - the whimsy and the mayhem of The Who performing My Generation and the utter look of shock on the young girl's faces at the destruction of Pete Townsend's guitar - only to be topped by The Wild Thing himself - Jimi Hendrix - who performs last rites for his white Fender before setting it ablaze then throwing the smashed pieces to the crowd. Just as interesting as the stars on stage are the visages of a young nation and innocent generation who came to Monterey - flowers painted on their faces, bell bottoms and floral dresses and long tresses of hair - Mickey Dolenz in the crowd giving Ravi Shankar a standing ovation along with everyone else. Then again there were the Hell's Angels of California in attendance too which worried the police chief. And would worry other people later on.

TIFF DAY 5 - Whip it!

After the public screening of Jonathan Demme's fantastic MCMLXXXIV film of the iconic Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense, things started to stop making sense...

Dexter dancers and Whip It! girls - and Australian broadcasters and snakes...

.../ more

Friday, September 11, 2009

TIFF DAY 2 - /* Shut up and sing */ - Dixie Chicks fighting mad

It was a welcome sight to see The Dixie Chicks back on the screen again in a new light - although the war overseas is still going on - but now redeemed with the removal of George W Bush from the presidency. We saw this back at TIFF 2007 in a packed Ryerson theatre - and many in attendance became a Dixie Chicks fan on the spot.

2003 seems like so long ago when Natalie Maines made her infamous remarks about the President - “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas - and the Dixie Chicks backlash so yesterday's news - but it had a definite impact on their career then - and forced them to open up to wider markets - and found themselves at the CMA feud forefront again despite their 5 awards win at the Grammy awards in 2007, country radio still isn't ready to make nice with the chicks.

The Dixie Chicks won in that year of 2007 record and song of the year for their tough declaration comeback song “Not Ready to Make Nice.” The Grammy also gave the band the award best country album, despite the fact the girls don't consider themselves a country band anymore. However, at the peak of the night Natalie shouted: “I’m ready to make nice!” as they accepted the album of the year award. “I think people are using their freedom of speech with all these awards. We get the message.”

Way to go Dixie Chicks!