Rightwing Film Geek

And yet Mugabe’s still alive … there is no god

One of the best films of recent years that the-editorial-‘nobody’ has seen is MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN, and I learned some sad news from ex-colleague Sonny Bunch yesterday. The man at the center of that film, Zimbabwean farmer Mike Campbell, already an old man when the MUGABE documentary was made, has died from events contained in the film. According to the family Campbell died from the long-run health effects that a vigilante beating by Mugabe’s thugs will have on a man in his mid-70s. (These are news obits and they necessarily contain spoilers for the film.)

Sonny thought MUGABE was the best film he saw at SilverDocs that year and he placed it in his Top 10 overall for the year. I don’t think quite THAT highly of it, but I graded it an 8 and wrote the following about it.

MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN (Lucy Bailey, 2009, Britain)8 — Follows a family of white farmers in Zimbabwe resisting expropriation of their land by dictator Robert Mugabe, partly by standing up to government-backed gang-invasions, but mostly by filing a case in a regional Southern African court, accusing Zimbabwe of racial discrimination. Sometimes looks like ass without extenuating circumstances (you gotta do what you gotta do to get footage in Zimbabwe, but there’s no reason for the Namibian airport to look like it was shot on a Securiticam). Plus this sort of legal crusade for justice story will never sit too well intellectually with Victor the Hard-Eyed Realist. Those caveats aside, otherwise brilliant. It’s a very simple formula — find a great story, put the right people at center of it, let them tell it, and get the footage yourself to show it. Even more than DEVIL, you find yourself in disbelief that this footage exists — a confrontation with a government minister’s son, who comes to take over the farm, calling it his and starting a live on-camera argument over history, whether whites have any place in Zimbabwe and everybody’s bona fides is as tense as unstaged realism gets (Skandie plug should this film find the distribution it deserves). Also, film doesn’t shrink from farmers religiosity, regularly showing them praying, reading the Bible and seeing God’s Providence.

The film, now available on DVD and via Netflix streaming, was generally well-reviewed  (97% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) but one of the few criticisms made, though it often WAS made, was basically that it was about white people’s POV rather than blacks and about how this white farming family was being oppressed without any “context of colonialism” or similar. In a generally favorable review, Roger Ebert unbelievably concluded with the grotesque claim that “Apart from skin color, the difference between Mike Campbell and Robert Mugabe is that Campbell wants to run a farm.” (I can think of at least a few more and more-salient ones myself.) When Lucy Bailey showed the film at Silver Docs a couple of years ago, she was asked a similar question about not mentioning colonial injustices and she said, close as I can recall, that “this is not a story about colonialism. This is a story about a post-colonial injustice that has its own integrity.” I had to restrain myself from applauding.

In general, “context” is whatever you want it to be to excuse a wrong, while the wrong that you don’t want to excuse simply “is” (see also, the Middle East; even colonialism itself). Indeed, if we want to talk about context, why shouldn’t MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN detail the role liberal-activist Americans and Europeans played in bringing Mugabe to power and celebrating it? For example, one favorite song on my iTunes is Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster,” from late 1980 just after Mugabe’s election in which Wonder sings, as joyously as only he can, that “Peace has come to Zimbabwe / Third World’s right on the one / Now’s the time for celebration / Cause we’ve only just begun.” Just as much as colonialism, that’s a true fact that has “relevance” to today (more so for Europeans and Americans than Africans admittedly) since Stevie Wonder appears on the way to sainthood. The answer to this graf’s first question, of course, is “It shouldn’t because that is not the story MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN is telling.” Neither is colonialism.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Lucy Bailey, Politics, Silverdocs 2009 | 2 Comments

FilmFestDC schedule*

Washington’s principal film festival FilmFestDC began earlier this evening, with the kind of premium-price-ticket hoity-toity gala that I never go to. And, as per FilmFestDC custom, the film being shown (POTICHE) will not be otherwise screened, which is a shame as POTICHE is a very good film (7). Maybe I’ve been spoiled by (the early years of) Toronto, which Mike Leigh called “a people’s festival” when introducing ANOTHER YEAR there a few months ago, but I really don’t see the point of acknowledging a film that will only be shown to the $40-and-champagne-reception set. Power to the proletariat, workers unite, you have nothing to lose but …

err … umm … OK

I am not taking any time off work, which excludes a couple of nights completely and limits the number of weekday films I can rely on getting off work in time for, meaning 8-or-9pm-hour shows are OK; 6-or-7pm-hour shows are not. And the festival’s first Saturday was completely taken away by a once-in-a-lifetime and one very unexpected big-screen opportunities at AFI Silver. So I’ll only be able to see 10 films. To be honest, I am not terribly crushed by this. Unlike the past couple of years, the lineup doesn’t look terribly exciting. Besides POTICHE, there is only one film I’ve already seen and I really can’t recommend AFTERSHOCK (here’s my 4 review from Toronto; incredibly, it actually already played a week in DC commercial theaters back in November). There are only a couple of high-buzz titles (that I’m aware of; corrections accepted) and none that I regret having to miss — I severely doubt I’ll rue not seeing Patricio Guzman’s PINOCHET IS BAD, PARTE TREINTA.

So here is my schedule for the next week and a half — all tickets bought and paid for, so changes not too likely.

Friday, 8 April
630 Goethe-Institut THE ROBBER (Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria/Germany)
830 Avalon HELLO, HOW ARE YOU (Alexandru Maftei, Romania)

Saturday, 9 April (not FilmFestDC, but WTH)
100 AFI Silver SHOAH, PART 2 (Claude Lanzmann, France, 1986)
700 AFI Silver LE AMICHE (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1955)

Monday, 11 April
845 E Street THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (Lee Jeong-beom, South Korea)

Tuesday, 12 April
830 Avalon HAPPY HAPPY (Anne Sewitsky, Norway)

Wednesday, 13 April
800 Goethe-Institut ARMADILLO (Janus Metz, Denmark)

Friday, 15 April
630 Gallery Place THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER (Eran Riklis, Israel)
900 Gallery Place CIRCUMSTANCE (Maryam Kesharvaz, Iran)
1100 E Street OUTRAGE (Takeshi Kitano, Japan)

Saturday, 16 April
500 Avalon WIN/WIN (Jaap Van Heusden, Holland)
700 Avalon THE NAMES OF LOVE (Michel LeClerc, France)

* Also … I need to get Vanilla Ice off the top of my site.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | DC 2011 | Leave a comment

White Elephant Rap

COOL AS ICE — David Kellogg / Vanilla Ice, USA, 1991, 11

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

In order to get to make his cinematic magnum opus, COOL AS ICE, one of the staggering masterpieces of the cinema, Vanilla Ice had to rise from the ghetto, where he and his homey Luther Campbell were hanging, smoking endo, sipping on gin and juice, laid back, with their mind on their money and their money on their mind. His autobiography “Ice by Ice: The Vanilla Ice Story,” chronicles his life in the various street gangs of Miami (FL), to his successful drag-racing career, and even to his brief yet torrid affair with Madonna (or was it Tiffany?), this masterpiece is a must-read for any self-respecting, red-blooded american, whether literate or not. It really doesn’t matter. The book is that good. yup yup.

After shaking the foundations of music in 1990 by inventing hiphop with “Ice Ice Baby,” the first rap hit to reach #1 on the Billboard charts, Mr. Ice went on to conquer the world of movies the next year with his smash-hit masterpiece COOL AS ICE, proving that he was every bit as great an actor as he was a rapper.

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

Let’s start with the box, which right away indicates what a major achievement COOL AS ICE is. For starters, it only comes in a “Special 2-Disc Edition,” a sure sign of quality. The tagline describes the superhuman powers Mr. Ice will possess: “when a girl has a heart of stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add Ice.” And in homage to the tradition of early silent films, Dogme, Carl-Theodor Dreyer and other cinematic giants, the box features no general cast or credit list. The back of the box does, however, mention “cameos from Naomi Campbell and Bobby Brown” and Mr. Ice’s landmark role in “famously sampling Queen and David Bowie’s UNDER PRESSURE,” which brought those artists to a new generation of music fans and assured they would be remembered to this day.

In a similar way, Mr. Ice updates, and thus makes more relevant, elements of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and THE WILD ONE, following in the tradition of James Dean and Marlon Brando. He plays a misunderstood outsider from nowhere who dresses different from The Squares, and is devoted to The Girl as he is kind to Negroes, and rides a motorbike. In COOL AS ICE though, the star adopts a more heroic role, winning the nice girl, rescuing her brother from kidnappers by beating up two ex-cops with his fists single-handedly, and persuading her father that he shouldn’t be suspicious of him. Then he leaves with The Girl, for some unknown period, they know not where, and they never even had a chance to thank him. Mr. Ice’s performance rivals Mr. Dean’s and Mr. Brando’s in its laconic quality. Can you imagine Mr. Dean and Natalie Wood doing better with this exchange?

Ice: So, how long you lived here?
Girl: All my life.
Ice: So, what’s it like?
Girl: What do you mean?
Ice: Y’know, having parents and all that stuff, a brother, all that stuff.
Girl: It’s nice … You can always depend on them.
Ice: I guess … So, whaddya wanna ask me?
Girl: Nothing. Where are you from?
Ice: Around.

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

Mr. Ice is totally at home with dialog that, I tell you, Hemingway himself couldn’t match. There’s also Lubitschian bon mots like “See ya later, Dick,” to a character named “Nick” and “Drop that zero and get with the hero!” And dialogue that states a personal credo, like “You ain’t being true to yourself, you ain’t being true to nobody. Live your life for someone else and you ain’t living. Straight up fact.” Since this dialog blazed across the screen in 1991, you can hear its influence everywhere. Being true to yourself and ignoring others above all has since become the Credo of youths born into the world Vanilla Ice created. In addition, look at the speech patterns — you can almost hear the hashtag in that last sentence, as if Mr. Ice is anticipating the fractured, truncated speech rhythms of the Twitter generation of which he was an avant-garde definer #word

COOL AS ICE also tackles such hot-button issues as racism and classism. The Girl is dating a guy who drives a white Corvette convertible and who is a rich square who just wants to destroy a homey’s motorbike for no reason at the lame-ass Sugar Shack club. Fortunately, Mr. Ice also easily topped Brando and Dean in the category of menacing badassness and whips four guys at once. While bustin a dance move or two — influencing Brazilian capoiea. COOL AS ICE also raises awareness about date rape in a scene where the Bad Boyfriend said “All you’ve been saying lately is no,” and The Girl says “Well, no means something.” COOL AS ICE also makes a timely statement about police abuse — The Girl’s father is in the witness protection program, now hounded by the two crooked ex-cops he fingered. Fortunately, Mr. Ice kicks their asses too. And to top it off, the closing credits contain the line. “B kool, stay in skool,” something very relevant to being good and stuff.

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

The power and influence of Mr. Ice’s performance goes down to such things as his jacket — emblazoned with messages like “Down by Law” that cover the whole jacket, influencing tattoomania, the cars and jumpsuits of NASCAR drivers, the T-shirts and trunks of every UFC fighter, and the entire wardrobe of documentarian Morgan Spurlock. The jacket also serves as a symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom. Only he doesn’t have to tell us that #cuzthatshowhehangs

But COOL AS ICE is a musical, and this is its center. After an overture number at a Music Factory (featuring Miss Campbell’s singing) the first musical number is when Mr. Ice and his posse go into the Sugar Shack and see that the music ain’t down and happenin, and so Mr. Ice races to the stage. His charisma stops The Girl cold and his mad skillz is so awesome that the film has to crawl to a stop to accommodate it. Why’s he so awesome? The title says it: he’s the people’s choice. (I found out, thanks to this song BTW, about a Rhythm & Blues  group from the Olden Days called Sly and the Family Stone and their cut “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again.” I gotta look up their stuff some day.) The “People’s Choice” number I can only praise by adding it to a short list: Whatever Ice is doing while he performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in “Gilda” and Marilyn Monroe did in “Some Like It Hot,” and I didn’t want him to stop.

Mr. Ice’s performance and music are for the ages. His music paved the way for some performers as Snow, New Kids on the Block, and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. And his cinematic and TV career went from strength to strength along the path blazed by COOL AS ICE — TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2, CIRCUS OF THE STARS, JUGGALO CHAMPIONSHIT WRESTLING (Mr. Ice’s influence on John Cena can hardly be denied), THE HELIX LOADED, THE NEW GUY, THE SURREAL LIFE, DANCING ON ICE and he became his own auteur in THE VANILLA ICE PROJECT

All right stop collaborate and listen. Ice is back with another new invention. Take heed cause he’s a thespian poet. Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it.

The cinematic virtuosity on display in COOL AS ICE also staggers the imagination. The movie is lensed by Janusz Kaminski, kicking off a decade of greatness that would include two Oscars for Best Cinematography. From the ultra-modern sans-serif fonts on the opening title-credits to the plastic-pastel colors — bright orange jackets, shocking yellow motorcycles, the Pee-Wee’s playhouse bike-repair shop with Belinda Carlisle-video globes — Mr. Kaminski and the production designers here vividly create a pop-art world of suburban ennui.

Director David Kellogg’s extensive experience with Playboy playmate and calendar films serves him well with this project — smoke and haze in the background to make cheap sets not look like sets and other clever workarounds. For example, lacking a ramp or other device to launch a motorcycle into mid-air and jump Evel-Knievel-style over a fence and (later) a Corvette, he simply stages the scenes without any physical means the better to underline Mr. Ice’s superhuman powers. He also brilliantly combines the music and the narrative by having Mr. Ice figure out where the kidnapped boy was being held by using his keen ability to hear things hidden in the background of tapes. The editing strategies in COOL AS ICE are as radical as Godard’s. For example, there is a scene where the phone cords — having been ripped out of the wall by the ex-cops while kidnapping the girl’s little brother — have been restored and repaired in time to later have the father call 911. Kellogg goes beyond BREATHLESS’s jump cuts within a scene to jump cuts that CONTAIN a scene.

But sometimes, it all does comes back to Beavis & Butt-head …

Continue reading

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Blogathons, David Kellogg | 4 Comments