Blog Directory CineVerse: January 2018

Take a load off, Annie, and come to CineVerse

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"A Block of Roc Docs," our current CineVerse Quick Theme Quartet, hits a high note on January 31 with “The Last Waltz” (1978; 117 minutes), directed by Martin Scorsese.


The day the sixties died

Thursday, January 25, 2018

It's hard to turn your eyes away from a train wreck, airplane crash or terrible car accident. Such is the viewer's fascination while watching the ultimate bad vibe epic "Gimme Shelter," which chronicles the build up to and dark unfolding of the Rolling Stones' free concert at Altamont Speedway in December 1969. Our major discussion points of this film during last night's CineVerse meeting included the following:


  • It carries with it a negative legacy based on the event it chronicles: the free Altamont concert, during which four people were killed and many injured. There’s a feeling of foreboding and doom from the very start because we know what’s going to happen by the end of the movie. 
  • It’s very meta – constructed as a movie within a movie; we see Mick Jagger and other bandmates watching footage of the concert, which makes for a strange dynamic and perspective. 
    • “The film takes as its subject not only the events it covers but the experience of watching those events on film, and thereby implicates the viewer in its tight mesh of art, crime, and evasion,” wrote Godfrey Cheshire in another Criterion Collection essay. 
    • “By using the structural device of having the Stones witness the footage, the filmmakers break the illusion of seamless omniscience -- an illusion they're skillful enough to maintain if they want to -- and raise the question of their own complicity. Why are they showing this chronicle to the Stones? Are they themselves looking for the Stones' approval -- and our blessing? "Gimme Shelter" is a self-reflexive movie in the best sense: While presenting a chronicle of a catastrophe, it implicitly asks the audience to keep one eye focused on the chroniclers,” wrote Salon’s Michael Sragow. 
  • Despite being remembered as a film that documents the Altamont show, the actual concert only takes up the second half of the film. The first half is devoted to the Stones’ triumphant Madison Square Garden performances a few weeks earlier, recording sessions for their album Sticky Fingers, and the planning and buildup to the Altamont gig. 
  • Arguably, the filmmakers and the Stones (who presumably had to approve of the final cut) chose to begin the film with the MSG concert footage and Sticky Fingers sessions footage to show the band in a happier, more creative light; this helped balance a movie otherwise weighed down with the darker second half. It also provides a more positive contrast to the negative vibes of the actual Altamont footage. 
  • Other than the opening songs of the film shot at Madison Square Garden, the actual music and performance isn’t as important the understanding and appreciation of this movie; arguably, the viewer becomes more consumed with what’s going on off the stage or peripheral to the music then the songs or the concert performances. This is in contrast to the effect produced by the Woodstock or Monterey Pop films. 
  • There are no direct interviews and no narration via text or voiceover. This picture was considered part of the “direct cinema” movement of the 50s and 60s; followers of this movement attempted to chronicle events as they happened organically instead of examining the subject matter via interviews, voiceover narration, reenactments or other traditional documentary tactics. 
  • Despite the sentiment of many that the event tainted the Rolling Stones’ legacy and underscored the band’s culpability in the violence, this movie tries to remain objective. 
    • Criterion Collection essayist Amy Taubin wrote: “Gimme Shelter neither blames the Stones nor lets them off the hook, although compared to the Angels and the kids crowding the stage, stoned on bad acid and speed, they seem like the good guys. “It’s so horrible,” says Jagger toward the end of the film, watching the shot of Hunter’s murder running forward and backward in slow motion on the editing table, as if—as was believed of the Zapruder film—it could show us the truth. There is a multiplicity of truths in Gimme Shelter; putting them together is up to us.” 
  • Consider that the Maysles brothers responded to Kael by saying: “The filmmakers were not consulted and had no control over the staging and lighting at Altamont. All the cameramen will verify that the lighting was very poor and totally unpredictable.” 
  • The filmmakers were paid by the Stones to film their intended free concert, which got moved to Altamont Speedway, and would have had no idea that it would be such a disaster. They were merely ready to capture what they saw by virtue of having many camera and sound recording personnel on hand. Then, they leave it up to us the viewer to judge what happened and who was responsible, especially by filming the band watching the disturbing footage weeks later. 
  • The end of an era: Altamont marked the literal end of the 1960s and the figurative end of the peace, love and counterculture movement for many people, suggesting that the consciousness raised and socio-cultural gains made in the previous years – which seem to reach an apex at Woodstock months before – were dashed. 
  • Hubris: the arrogance and naïveté of the band to think they could top Woodstock, beat that film to theaters with this movie, and get away with hiring the Hells Angels as security – a motley crew that they likely presumed would help sustain their bad boy outlaw image – with no negative consequences. 
  • The human fascination with disaster and chaos. Not only are we fixated on this mess and its aftermath, but so are the Stones, who we watch watching the footage. 
  • Some scars never heal: consider the infamous freeze-frame final shot of Jagger as he stares at the camera, suggesting perhaps his guilt, remorse, indifference, shame, or otherwise. That image is for the ages, and it has become the central image of the movie poster. 
  • Salesman 
  • Gray Gardens 
  • Running Fence 
  • Muhammed and Larry
  • Islands


"I mean like people, who's fighting and what for?"

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On January 24, CineVere's Quick Theme Quintet rolls on with “Gimme Shelter” (1970; 92 minutes), directed by Albert and David Maysles. Plus: excerpts from “Let It Be” (1970), directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg


We've got to get ourselves back to the garden...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What's the king of rock documentaries? It's hard to argue against "Woodstock," the epic three-hours-plus cinematic spectacle documenting the 1969 festival that got the whole world's attention all over again when it was released in 1970. Why and how was this flick important to the subgenre? The evidence is ample, as discussed by our CineVerse group last night. Here's a highlight reel of our talk:

  • It uses the clever technique of two to three split screens to be able to show multiple events/angles/storylines concurrently, thereby saving time otherwise spent showing footage each screen in a back-to-back-to-back linear fashion. 
    • This decision condensed eight hours of chosen footage into a three-hour-plus movie. 
    • Roger Ebert posited that the split screen is used as “counterpoint, as ironic commentary, as a way to see the same performers from several different points of view. (Director Michael) Wadleigh also uses it to compress his narrative, showing the sky clouding up on one screen, while people hold down a wind-blown canvas on another.” 
  • It was projected using 70 mm film, which is a wider and higher resolution film format than traditional 35mm film and enables projection onto larger screens; a “70mm film” in 1970 was and continues to be a rare occurrence reserved for special event films, like Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, West Side Story and others. 
  • It was shot on 16 mm film using lightweight handheld cameras, allowing filmmakers to reload film magazines swiftly, swap out lenses fast, and get in very close to the action, often accomplishing tight close-ups and intimate portraits with the performers. 
    • In fact, 16 cameras were utilized, generating well over 100 miles of footage. 
  • It shifted aspect ratios, going sometimes from 1.33:1 to 2.4:1, providing constant visual variety for the eyes. 
  • It was less a pure concert film than a true documentary, blending live performances with cinema verite style interviews, crowd shots, and fly-on-the-wall captures of behind-the-scenes happenings. Some performances, in fact, are interrupted by interviews mid-song. 
  • Unlike previous “concert films,” in which the camera was often a fixed instrument looking forward at the performers, this movie included reaction shots from the crowd, extreme close-ups of faces and hands on the instruments, and alternate angles from many different cameras. 
  • It doesn’t show the festival in an accurate linear timeline; it intersperses performances from different days and times to best suit the mood and flow of the film. 
  • According to Roger Ebert: “Few documentaries have captured a time and place more completely, poignantly, and for that matter, entertainingly. It has a lot of music in it, photographed with a startling intimacy with the performers, but it's not simply a music movie. It's a documentary about the society that formed itself briefly at Woodstock before moving on…The remarkable thing about Wadleigh's film is that it succeeds so completely in making us feel how it must have been to be there. It gives us maybe 60 percent music and 40 percent about the people who were there, and that is a good ratio, I think. Wadleigh and his editors allowed each performer's set to grow and build and double back on itself without interference.” 
  • The songs chosen for the film also weren’t necessarily the most popular, radio-friendly numbers by those respective artists; “this isn't a "greatest hits" doc,” Ebert added. 
  • This movie put the concert film on the map and demonstrated that it could be very profitable; Woodstock; it was the fifth biggest moneymaker of 1970 at the box-office. 
  • Based on the sheer number and variety of performers, this movie (and the festival itself) transcends a mere “rock concert.” Therefore, it appeals to a wide variety of music fans and tastes, and also provided many with their first glimpses of some of their favorite acts. 
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “Musical acts and individual songs were included in the final cut based not on their pop status but on their lyrical contribution to the whole -- even at three-plus hours, Woodstock has a strong through-line instead of lurching from performer to performer.” 
    • Erickson added: “For us kids that were seeing their radio favorites for the first time, the live-performance personalities in Woodstock were a revelation.” 
    • It also introduced viewers to new or up-and-coming musical stars, like Crosby Stills and Nash, Ten Years After, and Santana. 
  • The end of innocence and an era: This was seen as the crystallization and apex of the hippie movement and the peace and love culture of the late 1960s. It demarcated, for many, the end of their dream and of the sixties, and the death of innocence in rock and roll; rock would become more crass, commercially driven and profit seeking in its product and its concert films henceforth. Consider, too, how the vast majority of attendees are young adults; we know that they changed, politically and otherwise, in the years that followed. 
  • Miracles are rare, but they do happen. The picture is endlessly fascinating as a time capsule event that, as dated as it can appear to be, is amazing in the way it captures the miracle that was the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival: the fact that 400,000 people descended upon this location and coexisted peacefully for three days, despite lack of food, water, medical care and transportation; no major violence, crime or tragedy occurred (although two people died). 
  • Peace, love and understanding is possible, even against formidable odds. 
  • There are multiple sides to every story: Yes, the vibe is positive and the attendees and viewers are rewarded with great music, but the film isn’t afraid to show dissenting views from local natives about the disruption the event caused and their objection to what the Woodstock generation stands for.


"Breakfast in bed for 400,000"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

On January 17, week 2 of CineVerse's Quick Theme Quintet continues with the conclusion of “Woodstock” (134 minutes).


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