Monthly Archives: September 2009

Police Blotter — Roman Polanski Arrested by LAPD

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office, in a move that surprised everyone, arrested Roman Polanski at Zurich airport while he was on his way to a Swiss film festival that was honoring him with its annual Golden Icon Award. An award that was given last year to the somewhat less imaginative Sylvester Stallone, but at least he got to accept the award in person. Festival representatives released a note saying that they did not worry in the least about something like this happening to this year’s honoree, and they are sorry that it has. At least I think that’s what it says, I don’t speak German. Why the Los Angeles DA chose to arrest Polanski on this day and time is a bit of a mystery, seeing as he travels around Europe regularly on far less public business, but it seems they took the opportunity to bring him to trial after recent efforts by Polanski’s lawyers to have the case dismissed.

The case is a legendary one at this point, brought by the LAPD against Polanski in 1977 after the 13 year-old girl he had had sex with, apparently in Jack Nicholson’s LA home, charged him with statutory rape. Polanski fled the country after the charges were made, leaving behind two fine films, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, that he had written and directed from Hollywood’s overly-permissive den.

Is Polanski’s case an exemplary one, especially since statutory rape as a practice appeared to happen in circles where artists and filmmakers congregated? There is visual evidence of Melvin Van Peebles’ son, Mario Van Peebles, having relations with a mature woman in his father’s 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song, at the age of 14, which is questionable parenting to say the least. This fact should trouble us, not help to exonerate the perpetrators, about the ways that sexuality and the submission of minors and women were combined and used for experimentation in the 1960s and 70s. What is even more troubling is how these events, and the fact that a respected film auteur is on trial for such an act, figure into the timeline of artistic expression that has produced some of the art we view today. There are certainly black spots that cannot be ignored.

Flashing Forward: And ABC Does Comedy Too

New ABC programming is being featured at the New York Television Festival this week, an event sponsored by a number of backers that include talent agents, the City of New York, and the ABC and Fox networks. ABC screened previews of three shows in its fall lineup — comedies titled Modern Family, the egregiously named Cougartown, and a drama called Flash Forward.

I did not see the first two (again…Cougartown?) but the consensus at the end-of-day cheese and Stella (proving its target market are 18-35 year-olds) reception was that Modern Family was a structurally superior product to the latter. Surprise? Well I don’t know. ABC hasn’t done a comedy well since the 60s, so they really have a lot of legroom here.

If ratings matter, and they definitely do on the surface, then ABC has done well. Whether out of a thirst for new comedies or just sheer exhaustion, 12.7 million viewers watched Modern Family and an amazing 11.4 million tuned in for Cougartown, according to Nielsen.

This made the anticipated preview of Flash Forward, a big-budget primetime drama that is aiming to grab the attention of millions of religious Lost followers, who are enjoyable people for their spunk and willingness to forestall closure week after week after week, but good lord, they don’t ask for much in terms of plot, characterization or layered comedy.

Flash Forward stars Joseph Fiennes, a welcome addition to primetime, but he’ll have to work at being far less cagey in his movements, maybe channel some Jack Bauer and some Dr. House and let it all hang out, as an FBI agent who learns that he is investigating a plot to overpower the world’s population before he even knows that such a plot exists. He learns this at a point in the show when, in an exercise in fatalistic and prophetic storytelling that I found to be admirably unprecedented, the entire earth’s population drops and loses consciouses for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. In this time they all experience a vision of the future. Their own experience on a date in 2011. During this time in Mark Benford’s (Fiennes) vision he is pacing around his office working on this case. Anticipating that this show is piggybacking on Lost, or is at least playing in the same playground, I will not expect to know who the specific people, groups or organizations involved in the root of this case are or what their motives are for quite a good many seasons. That could be a problem.

The opening scene is all apocolypse and terror, which dispels quickly when the gaze turns to Benford and his not yet believable quest to keep things at an even-keel in his life.

Real senses of place and layered characters are eschewed in ABC dramas like Lost and Gray’s Anatomy and now Flash Forward, in favor of larger pictures and themes – like what would a plane-wrecked group of people do on a mysterious island, or what wouldn’t it be crazy if everyone on earth blacked out for the same two minutes (The book Flash Forward by sci fi writer Robert Sawyer was published in 2000)? It would be cool, is the answer. I find the ideas wonderfully cool. But ABC has to put a show behind that.

-Heather Struck

My Queue in my Pocket

I am somewhat late to the mobile networking revolution. The idea of having the internet in my pants still blows my mind and often results in me mindlessly pulling out my iPhone and loading an arbitrary webpage just to wow my easily bemused self. I tell you this so those among you who have been happily jacked into the mobile internet hive mind for years and have grown callous to its wonders can filter this post appropriately. Also note that this post is iPhone-centric…so you know, there’s that and all of its commentary baggage.

There is an iPhone app that has been responsible for single-handedly tripling my Netflix queue, and I want to pass its media sage-like divining properties onto you. It is called i.TV (That’s “i dot tv.” What copyright issue? There’s a dot), it is free for the iPhone, and it is my everything. The 2.0 version was made available in the iTunes store last month after its initial launch last year. Primarily, it serves as an entertainment hub whose features include TV listings relevant to your particular service, movie theater locations and listings, and current/future movie trailers. You can even remotely program your TiVo, which is irrelevant to me since my TiVo is in a box somewhere buried under many other boxes in my apartment. But i.TV’s key feature, for the purpose of this post, is Netflix queue management.

Now I know there are other apps that do the same thing, and some of them are even free, but screw those. They lack the complete package. This bad boy allows me to steep myself in all the media I so desire while still having Netflix at my beck and call. I search for a movie or TV show, and BAM, there it is both as my local TV listing and as an option to add to my Netflix queue. Brilliant little piece of software. Recommend to anyone like me who has the memory of a goldfish when it comes to recalling a movie to add to their queue that they totally thought about that one time while wandering around Barnes and Noble.

Travis Wannlund

Why Do We Watch Documentaries?

Michael Cieply wrote this in the New York Times yesterday about a panel on documentary filmmaking at the Toronto International Film Festival:

“The report found that documentarians, while they generally aspire to act honorably, often operate under ad hoc ethical codes. The craft tends to see itself as being bound less by the need to be accurate and fair than by a desire for social justice, to level the playing field between those who are perceived to be powerful and those who are not.

That often means manipulating “individual facts, sequences and meanings of images,” said the report, if that might help viewers to grasp the documentary’s “higher truth.” Deception in pursuit of a good story is acceptable to some. A number said that corporate executives and celebrities were entitled to less protection as interview subjects than more sympathetic individuals.” (9-14-09, B5)

This is interesting in light of documentaries that seek to redress ignorance of a subject or a false impression created by a public view based on mythology or ill-informed sentiment. Interesting because the claim seems to be true. Yet the documentaries, in presenting archival and new images, voices and subjects, remain crucial to our perceptions of our own time and history.

Those documentaries that do not seek equitable ends, however, are available for different reasons. In watching the documentaries about individual lives and events and the interaction between the two, we appreciate small gems of human creation that emerge in life as parts of “non-linear” (a word that Drew Barrymore used to describe the Mayles’ brothers documentary Grey Gardens and the subsequent HBO film adaptation during a recent Letterman appearance) stories.

You could consider a film like Comedians of Comedy, a documentary that follows four stand-up comics as they embark on a cross-country tour, playing in small venues and clubs. It is one film among many that seeks to find unique moments in the backstage lives of stand-up comedians, and it resembles films like Comedian (which follows Jerry Seinfeld and a couple of younger comics on tour) and even the verbally filthy doc, The Aristocrats, in which 100 comedians are interviewed by the documentarians (the comic team Penn and Teller), about what has become an inside joke in the industry (which is more about the art of telling a joke than the joke’s subject; no two comics tell it the same way). The Comedians of Comedy, though, brings about a little shining light of talent whose serious approach to comedy glows through the film’s silly cuddling and wrestling between its subjects, which also include Patton Oswald, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford. All funny, talented, family-oriented people, and all who provide a dependable back-drop for Zach Galifianakis, not yet of Hangover fame, whose enthusiasm for creating funny performaces is abundantly present thorughout the film. His talent is seen in his thirst for the spontaneous and in his willingness to risk the whole game to achieve some real pop art in that spontaneity. He does it a few times, one of those times involving a street-singing jazz duo in New York who, after he meets them in midtown singing for change, he offers $20 to show up later during his set. They do, and he spends several minutes on stage just standing and loving what they are doing. That love is something we don’t easily see in a Hollywood film. The doc shows us that it’s there in real life.

Heather Struck