Film Club Of The Air: “Antichrist,” “Good Hair,” “Bronson,” “Beaches Of Agnes,” And Halloween
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Is provocateur Lars von Trier's newest film the most disturbing movie of the year? Does Chris Rock's documentary "Good Hair" shed light on cultural standards of beauty for African-American women? Who is Agnes Varda and why is her work important? We'll answer these questions and more on our monthly Film Club of the Air. Also, stick around for some recommended horror films for your Halloween weekend.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Lots of Halloween horror movies are heavy on the gore, but we have two serious films that are soaked in blood to present as part of the KPBS Film Club of the Air. The movies about a couple descending into madness and about a prisoner descending into primal violence are, whether you like them or not, not your average shock-schlock. Luckily, there's some relief on this bill, even comic relief, with Chris Rock's contemplation on the angst over African-American hair, and then, the film autobiography of a true 20th century bohemian. And, since it is Halloween, we'll suggest some traditional horror movies, although they may seem pretty tame after this Film Club. I’d like to introduce my guests for the Film Club of the Air. KPBS film critic Beth Accamando, the author of the blog Cinema Junkie. Beth, welcome.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And film critic Scott Marks, author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com. Scott.
SCOTT MARKS (Film Critic): Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Hi. Well, we’ll start with the movie…
MARKS: She’s laughing uncomfortably already.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we start with a movie that made some people get up and walk out of its screening at Cannes and yet won a Best Actress award at the same festival. “Antichrist” is the sexually graphic story of a married couple whose grief over the loss of their son opens the door to acts of unspeakable violence, torture, and mutilation. In this short scene, Willem Dafoe, who plays the husband of French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, explains the unorthodox therapy he’s chosen to cure his wife’s grief.
(audio of clip from the film “Antichrist”)
CAVANAUGH: “Antichrist” is written and directed by Lars von Trier. And, Beth, well, the last time we met you said that you wanted something the opposite of the romantic film “Bright Star.” I think you’ve found it.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah. “Antichrist” anti-romance, it’s…
CAVANAUGH: What happens to this couple over the course of the film?
ACCOMANDO: Don’t start. Well, you know, it’s difficult with a film like this because the plot is almost separate from what it’s about in a certain sense but basically it begins with this couple having sex and while they’re having sex their child, their son, ends up falling out of a window and dying. So the wife feels incredible guilt and then the husband, who’s a therapist, decides that he wants to treat her. He doesn’t want her on drugs, he doesn’t want her on this medication. So they go off to a place called Eden, how appropriate, where he decides that he wants to cure her, but the film is really about guilt…
MARKS: Yeah, go ahead.
ACCOMANDO: …guilt and…
MARKS: What is this film about?
ACCOMANDO: …guilt and loss and madness and wanting to shock the audience. And, you know, I think that’s – those are all things that are chief on his mind.
CAVANAUGH: So, Beth, some critics are calling this the most divisive film of the year. You know, there are some people who like it, others who are just half-crazy in their dislike of this film. So what is your take on this? Is this a form of pornography? Is it a film that should be viewed with some respect? What is your take on this film?
ACCOMANDO: In a way it’s both. I mean, in a way it’s kind of this art house torture porn, you know, the art house answer to “Hostel.” I mean, he is a talented filmmaker. I think the biggest problem I have with the film is I’m not – I have a hard time figuring out if he’s dead serious through the whole film or if the whole film is being put up as some kind of joke. And – and I don’t know if it should make any difference to me what – which of those possibly could’ve been his intent, or both. So, I mean, I did come out of this film with a sense of confusion. I liked the fact that he did go to some extremes. I mean, I like it when a filmmaker does provoke and shock. There’s a certain value to that, I think. And it does jolt people and it does get you out of a certain complacency but I do have a problem with him because I just don’t know when we’re laughing at him and when he’s encouraging that laughter.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, have you – do you have the same sort of problem with this film, “Antichrist?”
MARKS: No. I laughed all the way through it, and I don’t think I should’ve been. And that’s – You know, when you read interview with him, he said that he hit a peak of depression for the first time in his life a couple of years ago and this film was kind of born out of this, you know, wave of depression. And I – I’ll go along with a lot of things but when you see a disemboweled fox suddenly turning to the crowd and yelling ‘chaos reigns,’ I defy you to keep a straight face. And it’s moments like that throughout this film that make me wonder is this the emperor’s new clothes? Is this a guy who is really trying to make an artistic statement or is this this year’s equivalent of “Showgirls?” Because I laughed a lot during this film. And…
MARKS: …Beth, at the end of this film, she had a post-coital glow you couldn’t even believe. I wanted to offer her a cigarette. She had a look of contentment after this movie because it was so aggressively anti-romantic even though von Trier says he wanted to make a romantic horror film.
ACCOMANDO: Well, in a sense it is in a very perverse sort of way.
MARKS: I don’t…
ACCOMANDO: I mean, because the relationship stems from – I mean, the husband does want to help his wife. I mean, there is – he doesn’t want to lose her. He doesn’t want to lose her to madness forever.
MARKS: And how does he want to help her? By taking her, at this horrible point in her life, let’s go to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and just talk about everything that frightens you and things that terrify you. This is not help. But what’s amazing about this movie, artistically speaking, is the shift in character sympathy because at the beginning of the film you hate him. I hated him for what he was doing to her. He was like, you know, Marcus Welby on crack, I mean, the most meddling, just mean…
ACCOMANDO: Pretentious and so smug and…
MARKS: Yeah, pretentious. And by the time it’s over you feel sorry for him and you hate her.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I have heard that there are almost like two different movies. There’s the bulk of the movie and then there’s the last bit of it. And some critics – some critics say when you see the toolbox come out, it’s time to…
CAVANAUGH: …leave the theater. Now I wonder, does that feel – does the end of it feel sort of like it doesn’t belong in the same movie?
ACCOMANDO: No, no, I think it’s…
MARKS: Oh, that’s not the end.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, at the ending…
MARKS: That’s about halfway through the ending…
ACCOMANDO: It’s even weirder.
MARKS: …is when he really tries to turn it into a horror film by bringing in a bunch of witches, and then it lost me.
ACCOMANDO: I don’t know if I’d call them witches.
MARKS: Well, what are they?
ACCOMANDO: I thought they were more like specters or something, like these ghosts of these women past or something.
MARKS: But she is studying witchcraft…
MARKS: …throughout the film, so that’s…
MARKS: …why I kind of assumed that they were witches.
ACCOMANDO: I don’t know. We were confused.
CAVANAUGH: Well, the director, von Trier, he is known for making provocative films…
CAVANAUGH: …and tell us a little bit, Scott, about the other films he’s made and how “Antichrist” fits in, if it does.
MARKS: Well, “Breaking the Waves” is probably my favorite of his films and it’s a film about a man who winds up in the hospital and he can’t move and he tells his wife to go out and have sex with other men and come and describe it to me. There’s a lot of misogyny running throughout his films. This, “Antichrist,” has a credit at the end was it misogynist researcher? There’s a woman who’s giving credit to research misogyny and, first of all, you just should’ve called Brian De Palma. I don’t know why he didn’t – I think he puts stuff like that in there and all these references to Handel and Strindberg to kind of – to confuse the audience and take away some of the blame from himself because in a lot of ways…
ACCOMANDO: But is he taking away the blame or is he just kind of trying to tweak our sensibilities on this? Because, I mean, that’s why I think that some of the stuff that you laugh at is intentional because I think he does try to like go to you like that person who baits you into an argument and wants you to get all riled up and annoyed, and he’s sitting there kind of chuckling to himself going, like, see, I knew if I dropped that in there that you guys would be all riled up. I mean, there’s a part of me that thinks that’s in him.
MARKS: There’s this great Charles Addams cartoon that I think of every time I go to a movie like this where everyone in the audience is weeping and shocked and has – they have the most horrified look on their face and there in the center of the frame is Uncle Fester laughing. This was me watching “Antichrist.”
CAVANAUGH: I wonder, though, Beth, when I was reading about it because I don’t like horror movies of any kind, okay?
CAVANAUGH: I don’t like a lot of blood on the screen, never have. And so – But I’m wondering what is the difference then between this movie and, let’s say…
ACCOMANDO: “Saw VI.”
CAVANAUGH: …”Saw,” yeah.
ACCOMANDO: Well, at some points, probably people would say not much. But, I mean, I think there’s – Well, first of all I think Lars von Trier is a much better filmmaker.
MARKS: Yeah, he’s an artist.
ACCOMANDO: He’s an artist.
ACCOMANDO: And, I mean, the film looks amazing.
MARKS: Gorgeous to look at.
MARKS: The photography and the lighting are just sumptuous.
ACCOMANDO: And it’s compelling. I mean, you – you – For me, I found it hard to take my eyes away from the screen even when it was brutal and painful just because he did create this amazing – and it wasn’t just the images, too, I mean, it was the use of sound and music. I mean, it was…
MARKS: And slow motion.
ACCOMANDO: …the slow motion. And it just sucks you in. And it is very much like this weird sort of dream realism where you get stuck in there and it’s like when you’re in a dream, too, and you want to wake yourself up and you want to get out of the dream but you can’t quite but you’re still kind of riveted to it because it does feel kind of very visceral. I don’t know. Like, it’s a – I’m wondering if I can like hate and appreciate a film at the same time.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. And the performers, Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg. It sounds as if – I mean, these people went as – just about as far as actors can go in a movie.
ACCOMANDO: This is what they always call brave performances.
MARKS: Yeah. Yeah. Poor Willem Dafoe, first Marty crucifies him in “Last Temptation,” and now he gets a millstone screwed onto his leg. Oh, the poor man. And Charlotte Gainsbourg is asked to do a lot of things that I don’t think a lot of actresses would be up for. I was talking to Chris, the guy who runs Landmark, and I said, you should have ushers posted at the door because you’re going to get people walking out and asking for their money back because they are – I think 10 minutes into this film they’re going to be so shocked and offended they’re going to walk out. Or put a sign on the box office saying, you know, this does have scenes – it’s not pornography, though, because pornography is there to titillate and I don’t think this film is supposed to titillate. I think it’s there to shock and that’s – that’s where I have a problem because, I mean, a film like “Death Wish” is there to shock and…
MARKS: …I think those are terrible films. So I don’t know if shocking is enough but I do think…
ACCOMANDO: But I don’t think it’s the only thing that’s in there.
MARKS: No, and this film does have a certain pedigree, a certain degree of artistry involved in it and it’s a very handsomely made film, and the acting is terrific.
MARKS: It’s just – it’s so aggressively depressing and off putting that I like it. I mean, I like films like that. I like films that can do that to me, and, really, you know, alienate 80% of the audience and for once I’m in the minority and I like being in the minority. This pleases me.
ACCOMANDO: But I think when you have a film called “Antichrist,” I think people should be fairly aware that there’s the potential to be offended.
CAVANAUGH: What is the meaning of the title of the movie? Does anyone know?
MARKS: I don’t know. I have no idea. No idea.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, all I can say is that I think because it does have a charge to it and, you know, the film is kind of the, I don’t know, the antidote to the Hollywood film on so many levels that I think, again, it’s to push some buttons.
MARKS: They should’ve made it plural though.
MARKS: Yeah, because they’re both – they both adopt that role throughout the course of the film.
ACCOMANDO: But, I mean, yeah, this did remind me of a film that we both appreciated, which was “Irreversible,” which, again, is a film that really puts you through a grinder and most people walked out on that film. But I think – I mean, I appreciated “Irreversible” more than “Antichrist” but both those films, I think, do have an artistic vision behind them that make them more worthy of some consideration. I mean, you can talk about ideas in these films. You can’t really do that with “Saw VI” to a great degree. Except that you want to kill both pair.
CAVANAUGH: Are there ideas that stick in your head a long time after the movie is over, though? I read a review with Willem Dafoe and he said, you know, I had a hard time getting this movie out of my head. And I wonder if it’s – For the sake of the people listening, are these things you want in your head…
CAVANAUGH: …for a long time afterwards?
ACCOMANDO: …as one of my teen critics said after going to “Zombie Strippers,” you know once you see something, you can’t unsee it.
CAVANAUGH: Amen to that.
ACCOMANDO: So – so, yeah, you might want to consider, you know, whether or not you want to go to this film and have some images stuck in your head but I think if you do appreciate filmmaking and you want to be challenged and you want to be provoked to see how you can push those boundaries and push them pretty far and just to see a film where you do have something to talk about, well, this one definitely will give that to you.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, you seem – you seem as if you’re surprised by your reaction to this film.
MARKS: Oh, no. Oh, forgive me. Oh, no, no, no, I’m not surprised at all. I know me when it comes to films like this. No, I’m not surprised at all. I mean, I was – Oh, boy. I gotta tell you when I see a film where they kill a kid in the first five minutes, I’m delighted because so many films just try – they use children and they’ll kill a child on screen to really pull cheap sentiment out of an audience. I was talking to someone in the green room before the show. I said at the end of “Men of Boys Town” when they throw the dog underneath the wheels of the truck, that is the worst thing. I mean, it is so hokey and you’re killing a dog just so everybody’ll go, ohhh, you know, to make that sound. This is not that film. This is not that type of film. He really – the reason I like this is because von Trier really enjoyed showing you these things. He really had a good time taking you through this. And that’s why – Maybe his tongue is in his cheek but when you read the interviews, I don’t know because no one else in the audience was laughing.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, no, there were a few people laughing.
MARKS: Everybody laughed at the – at the…
ACCOMANDO: At the fox.
MARKS: …disemboweled fox. That got a huge laugh. But other things, I don’t think people were laughing. And then I think of the texture of this film, the slow motion objects of nature falling throughout the entire film. I mean, that’s just sumptuous to look at. And it is a recurring motif and, therefore, in many ways it does advance the narrative. But this is a film that was I able to – it’s not a question was I able to shake it, was I able to come to terms with it for what it is, and I still haven’t been able to do that and I want to see it again.
CAVANAUGH: Well, for those who are prepared and who want to come to their own conclusion about it, “Antichrist” opens at Landmark’s Ken Cinema on November sixth. We have to take a short break. When we return, something completely different on the KPBS Film Club of the Air on These Days here on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m here with Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. The next movie we’re looking at is “Good Hair,” comedian Chris Rock’s documentary about the issues and industry of black hair. Rock uses humor and honesty in examining why the issue of African-American hairstyles consumes so much time and effort, and how much money is being spent in trying to straighten, lengthen, and weave black hair. And “Good Hair” was directed by Jeff Stilson. Scott, you had a good time at this movie. What did you like about it?
MARKS: Well, first let me tell you what I didn’t like about it. I half expected a documentary about African-American hair and I think that there should’ve been a little more room for that. Talk about what the Afro meant to the ‘60s revolutionaries. Talk…
CAVANAUGH: Like the history of…
MARKS: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, talk about conking and Marcel, you know, and things like that. So that wasn’t in there, and I was not crazy about the whole beauty show bracketing of the film. You know, I mean, I thought that was a little too easy. That said, this was a film that really kind of told tales out of school, like Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.” And that fascinated me and I laughed pretty much consistently throughout this film. I think a lot of the characters that he shows you have enough good cheer and enough of a sense of humor about themselves – It all started when Chris Rock’s youngest daughter came up to him and said, Daddy, you know, when am I going to have good hair? Will I ever have good hair? And this kind of prompted the whole, you know, that was the impetus for this film. And this is a really funny documentary, a very, very amusing film. The scene in the barbershop where they’re talking to men about wouldn’t it just be simpler to date white women because during – when you’re making love to them you can, you know, touch their hair, you can pull on their hair, and you’re not allowed to do that with a black woman. I never knew this. So there were a lot of things that, as a Caucasian with an izro, which is an Israeli afro, right – I really got a kick out of this film. This film delighted me in a lot of ways that were quite unexpected.
CAVANAUGH: And, Beth, what about you? What did you think of “Good Hair?”
ACCOMANDO: I liked it, too. I thought it was slow to start. Chris Rock I don’t think is the best on-camera person sometimes when he’s interviewing people and asking questions but after about a half hour, it really kind of kicked into high gear and I thought it was great. And then when he becomes more like part of the conversation in a scene, he’s much better than when he’s kind of sitting there trying to ask direct questions because he’s not really a good interviewer. But, yeah, I thought it was fascinating. And he, you know, he got some people on camera, too, some celebrities to talk about their hair and their weave and how much they spend on it. And you got…
MARKS: That was the biggest shock.
MARKS: This is like a drug addiction.
ACCOMANDO: It’s like a thousand to $3500 to…
MARKS: To – to go to the barber.
ACCOMANDO: And if he…
MARKS: My God.
ACCOMANDO: And we’re talking about people who are not just celebrities who are doing that. And…
CAVANAUGH: Schoolteachers and…
ACCOMANDO: So, yeah, it was pretty amazing. And I think, yeah, that barbershop scene towards the end…
ACCOMANDO: …and when he gets people to open up and talk about, you know, their hang-ups like that, it was great.
MARKS: And Rock shows a tremendous amount of restraint. He never – he resists making fun of these characters, and in a lot of cases you don’t have to.
MARKS: You just turn it on. There’s this one guy at the end and he like saved the best for last. It was the man who invented the Jheri curl…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah.
MARKS: …and for about 35 seconds, this man is seated in a chair. It’s the incoherent ramblings of a lunatic, and I just wanted to hear more from this guy. This guy was on fire. And he just put the camera on him and he didn’t make any – there was no judgment passed or anything, and I think that that showed a tremendous amount of class and restraint on Chris Rock’s part to…
ACCOMANDO: Well, I’d give a little credit to the director, too.
MARKS: Yeah, Jeff Stilson, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: We have a guest joining us for this discussion of “Good Hair” and it’s Zenibou Davis. She’s a filmmaker and professor in the Communications Department at UCSD. Zenibou, welcome to These Days.
ZENIBOU DAVIS (Filmmaker): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Now you’ve been working on a film about African-American hair for a couple of years. What did you think of this documentary, “Good Hair?”
DAVIS: I was pleasantly surprised by it because I wasn’t quite sure what his angle was going to be with it, and when you look at the trailer on YouTube or what have you, it’s a pretty raunchy trailer. But I was pleasantly surprised at the different subject matter and how he approached the subject matter. I expected it to be even more kind of lighthearted than it was, so I was very pleased to see that he did actually get people to open up and discuss things that, you know, usually people don’t talk about outside of their families or close friends.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, Zenibou, how is this film different from yours?
DAVIS: My film really focuses more on natural hair care and also kind of a history and look back at how certain hairstyles emanate from different cultures in Africa. So I focus more on the Afro, which is what Scott was kind of missing from this film, and more on African hairstyles and braiding, dreadlock, and also there’s a very important person here in San Diego by the name of JoAnne Cornwell, who teaches at SDSU and has developed a hairstyle called Sisterlocks, which is kind of a combination of dreadlocks and braiding and that’s currently the style that I wear my hair in right now.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Zenibou, doing this film, you know what a weave is because you’re doing a film on African-American hair. Tell the rest of the world who hasn’t seen Chris Rock’s movie yet, what is a weave? It’s fake hair that’s weaved – woven into your own hair, right?
DAVIS: Yes, yes, and that actually was a revelation for me as well because I had no idea that weaves cost…
DAVIS: …the amount of money that they do. And I do want to just make a clarification. I do think that there’s a big difference in getting a weave in California as opposed to getting a weave in maybe New York City. I think that the price differential depends on what kind of salon you’re going to, what neighborhood you are, so on and so forth. But it’s basically a process where your hair is braided closely to your head, which is a style called cornrowing and then artificial hair or somebody else’s hair is actually sewn into your scalp so it’s kind of hanging off of the braids that are anchoring your hair onto your head so that you have a fuller head of hair with more body to it.
MARKS: And this is not something that’s exclusive in the African-American community.
DAVIS: Oh, heck no.
MARKS: Jessica Simpson has a line of…
MARKS: …fake hair out there, too.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we actually have a scene from the film. It talks about how much a weave costs. In this scene, Chris Rock is in a beauty parlor. He’s surrounded by customers, and he starts by picking up a weave and asking the owner about it.
(audio of clip from the film “Good Hair”)
CAVANAUGH: And that was the Reverend…
ACCOMANDO/CAVANAUGH: …Al Sharpton...
CAVANAUGH: Now, Zenibou, do – tell us how big an issue hair is in the black community, if you would.
DAVIS: Oh, it’s definitely a very – it’s a subject that gets a lot of discussion in certain corners. It’s not something that – I mean, obviously, by Chris Rock having this particular film come out has definitely opened the doors to a lot more people but I’ve been in San Diego for 10 years and we’ve programmed a number of film series at the Malcolm X Library and every time we have films about black hair, it – the room is packed with 200-plus people. Black filmmakers have been making—and particularly black women filmmakers—have been making films about hair as early as 1982. There was a woman who’s one of the first animators Ayoka Chenzira did a film called “Hair Piece,” and there’s also another film by a African filmmaker who resides in Detroit named Andrew Dosunmu who did a film on the hair wars set in Detroit, which is called “Hot Irons.” So there are numerous films about this particular topic because it is such a – it’s a subject that pushes some buttons for some people and it’s also a subject that people are really passionate about.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you all briefly, starting with you, Beth, does Chris Rock, who made this documentary, “Good Hair,” does he have a position on this topic that you can tell from this documentary? Does it influence the film?
ACCOMANDO: He does have a position because he has two young girls and I think the sense you get from him is that he would much rather that they just keep their natural hair and be happy with the way they look. But he doesn’t really force that opinion on the audience throughout the whole film. I mean, he kind of comes at this as almost this kind of amused observer coming in, going, okay, my kids are asking me about good hair, what are they talking about? I thought they looked gr – they look fine to me. And then he’s going in and finding out – when he’s interviewing some of these actresses, Raven, I think he says, you know, said do you have a weave? And she like wiggles it on the top of her head and you…
MARKS: And it’s really uncomfortable to watch.
ACCOMANDO: …and he looks at her and his eyes almost, you know, pop out. I mean, basically every single – almost every single one of the women except, I think, Tracy Toms, has a weave, of the women that he’s interviewing. And the reaction he gets from each one – I mean, the reaction of Chris Rock to each one is kind of like, really? You know, I…
MARKS: And none of the men.
ACCOMANDO: …was surprised.
MARKS: All of the men have the – with the exception of Al Sharpton, all have short, close cropped haircuts. This is something that’s almost exclusive to women in the African-American community, which I find kind of ironic, too, that the men want no – maybe they can’t afford it because they’re…
ACCOMANDO: They’re paying for the women.
MARKS: …they’re paying so much for the women. I mean, which is something that they talk about throughout the course of the film.
CAVANAUGH: Zenibou, you have two daughters, so this is an issue that must be close to your own heart, too. Do they want to straighten their hair?
DAVIS: Oh, yeah. My older one definitely. There’s a lot of peer pressure, I think, from school and she’s only eight years old and – and she doesn’t say she wants to straighten her hair she just tells me, Mommy, that I would like to have my hair long. Or, I would like that look – I would like to have it like Hannah Montana or Ashley Tisdale or whoever it is. And, you know, there’s all…
CAVANAUGH: So would I.
DAVIS: …these kind of painful conversations. Well, sweetie, your hair can never really look like that. And it’s going to be different. You can style your hair different ways. She currently has like cornrows and a lot of beads in her hair right now and she’s happy with that because it’s, you know, it’s got bling in it in a different kind of way, so she’s all right with that. But I am going to buy a copy of “Good Hair” and save it so when she comes up about whether you want to put some relaxer in your hair, I will fast forward to the chapter with the chicken burning – the chicken skin burning and the Coke can disintegrating…
DAVIS: …and promptly show them what can happen to your scalp.
CAVANAUGH: Zenibou, thanks so much for joining us for this particular movie on the Film Club of the Air.
DAVIS: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Zenibou Davis, filmmaker and professor in the Communications Department at UCSD. One last word about “Good Hair.” I read that it’s sort of more a celebration than a polemic, would you agree, Scott, that…?
MARKS: Oh, sure. Sure. Sure.
CAVANAUGH: And it’s a fun film.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, it’s definitely a fun film. But, I mean, there are some things – I mean, they do go to India to show where they’re getting all this hair from.
ACCOMANDO: So, I mean, there’s some interesting issues that it raises and social concerns as well but it’s fun.
MARKS: But the African-American community really isn’t making as much money off of…
MARKS: …this process as you would think. I mean, there’s a lot of Korean people, there’s a lot of middle men who bring the hair over to the United States, so it’s just – But it’s just – it’s bracketed by this like “American Idol” type haircut showdown…
MARKS: …that they have every year.
ACCOMANDO: Which wasn’t really necessary.
MARKS: Yeah, and that really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot for me but everything else in the film – I think this is a film that’s well worth seeing.
ACCOMANDO: The thing with the – I mean, the interviews with the people and when they’re actually talking with the actresses and also just in the barbershops, that stuff is great.
CAVANAUGH: And the – Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” is playing around San Diego in theaters. And let’s move on to “The Beaches of Agnes.” We have a few minutes before our break, and let’s start our conversation about this movie. It’s an autobiographical film by Agnes Varda. She is one of the original French New Wave directors and the only female one. Varda, now in her eighties, celebrates her life as a director and artist, remembers the famous people she’s known and reveals the enduring pain of the loss of her husband, director Jacques Demy. Beth, Agnes Varda is sometimes called the grande dame of the French New Wave. Give us a sense of her life and her work.
ACCOMANDO: Sure, I mean, she was the only female among those New Wave filmmakers and, I mean, I’ve always liked her sensibility and the fact there’s – even though some of her films have been very serious as well, like “Vagabond,” I’ve always found that she’s got this playful way of approaching cinema and of how she mixes elements and mixes reality with, you know, some stylish flourishes. And recently she’s been doing more documentary work. She did “The Gleaners and I” was her most recent documentary, I think, before this. And in this film there’s just really this very playful sense of approaching a self portrait. I mean, she opens the film with all these mirrors on the beach and, you know, playing with this notion of, you know, these mirrors being a self portrait of her and turning these mirrors around on all the people that are working on the film as well and you get this real sense of her still – and, I mean, a lot of these New Wavers are like this. I mean, she’s in her eighties and she’s still experimenting and she’s still trying to find new ways of telling stories and I think that’s just really inspiring.
CAVANAUGH: In many ways Agnes Varda’s life is sort of a documentary of the Bohemian lifestyle of the second half of the 20th century. Tell us the kinds of people that she’s known and places that she’s been.
ACCOMANDO: She’s traveled a lot. I mean, she was married to Jacques Demy, who was another one of the French New Wave filmmakers and, I mean, in part, you know, this film, I think, is her way of reconnecting with him. He passed away – How long ago did he die?
ACCOMANDO: In 1990. So, you know, I think they had a, you know, a very strong relationship both creatively and emotionally and so, in a sense, this is her way of kind of remembering him and reconnecting with him. And this film is really a lot about revisiting a lot of these people from her life and many of them who have passed on. So, you know, I think that’s part of what this film is about.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, are you a fan of Agnes Varda’s work?
MARKS: You know, I’ll be honest with you, after watching this film, I was shocked by how many Agnes Varda films I haven’t seen and how many of them look terrible. This “101 Nights,” have you ever seen that?
ACCOMANDO: I haven’t seen that one. I haven’t seen all of her films.
MARKS: Man, does that look bad. That looks – And what caught me is Robert De Niro’s in a film and I haven’t seen it? This thing looks so pretentious and so silly and I was talking to Duncan Shepherd when it was over and he said her career is really uneven. Maybe just the great ones like “Vagabond” and “Cleo From 5 to 7”…
MARKS: …maybe those are the ones that come to the United States. I also get a little frightened when I hear a director is making a film about themself because it’s like have you run out of artistic statement and now let’s just become self-reflexive because it’s easy. But this is a very charming, very well made film. That stuff on – with the mirrors on the beach, the framed mirrors, that is so beautifully filmed.
MARKS: I mean, I really want to see the opening 10 minutes of this film again. And it’s a very charming film. She has made a documentary about Jacques Demy, “Jocquot de Nantes.” I think that came out in the, what, late ‘90s or something like that.
MARKS: She has made a documentary about him. This is just a very lovely tour of her life and she’s very open. She’s adorable to look at. You know, I mean, you see her walking barefoot on the beach and she talks…
ACCOMANDO: She looks like an imp.
MARKS: Yeah, I mean, she has that kind of quality and in some shots her hair is pink, in some shots it’s brown. I mean, she’s still – she’s still experimenting and for – it’s so refreshing to see—I don’t want to use the word older but for lack of a better term—an older filmmaker still experimenting…
ACCOMANDO: Yes. Oh, yeah.
MARKS: …still finding new forms of expression, new ways to say things. I mean, I really – I applaud that.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a short break. When we return, we’ll hear a clip from the film “Beaches of Agnes” and continue the Film Club of the Air here on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and my guests are Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. We were just talking about the new movie from the French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda. It’s called “Beaches of Agnes.” And we have a clip from that film. Here’s a scene where Anges Varda is talking about her life in filmmaking.
(audio of clip from “The Beaches of Agnes”)
CAVANAUGH: That, a clip from Agnes Varda’s new movie called “Beaches of Agnes.” It’s a film autobiography. And as we were talking earlier, I get the sense that you were both somewhat charmed by this film.
CAVANAUGH: But, Beth, I want you to follow up on a reaction Scott talked about and that is sort of like a film autobiography, does it seem at all pretentious? Does it seem as if she’s run out of ideas as a director by doing a work on her own life?
ACCOMANDO: No, not in her case. I mean, the thing about this is it’s – it doesn’t feel like she’s, you know, complimenting herself or something, like look at all the great films I made or building her ego. I mean, it’s this very – She’s got a very easy, relaxed style. It’s about examining the things in her life, not trying to make herself seem important or how she may have influenced filmmaking or anything like that. And it’s very much this remembrance and also combined with this almost an exploration of the creative process as well, you know, going through her life, going through the people she’s met, going through the things that have influenced her. There’s clips from her movies and people that she’s known. And you start to see how real life influenced her films and films influenced her real life and how they – so, to me, it was very fascinating to watch and I didn’t feel like I was watching this pretentious, very full of themselves autobiography.
CAVANAUGH: “The Beaches of Agnes” opens this Friday at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. The final film we’ll look at in depth on our Film Club of the Air is the film called “Bronson.” It’s like a prison movie set in an English music hall with lots of “Fight Club” thrown in. It’s based on the true story of Michael Peterson, Britain’s most violent criminal whose most violent acts have actually taken place inside prison. After years of being shuttled between various jails and mental asylums, Peterson takes the name Charles Bronson, after the American actor, and through a series of senseless prison assaults renounces hope of ever having a life outside prison walls. This is directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. Winding-Refn. I don’t know exactly…
ACCOMANDO: I have no idea how to say his name.
ACCOMANDO: It’s a Danish name. Yeah, we’ll call him Nick.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, this has been called, Beth, a very different kind of a bio pic. Would you agree? And tell us why.
ACCOMANDO: Yes, it is.
CAVANAUGH: You do.
ACCOMANDO: It’s different because it doesn’t put this biography out there as, oh, we’re – like “Amelia’s” out also right now. We have this like we’re going to chronicle this person’s life in this very fact-based kind of way. It’s a very stylish portrait of this man and the fascination that the director seems to have for him is, what drives this guy to be so violent even though it’s to his own detriment all the time. He can’t – it’s like he just can’t control himself. So he’s fascinated by him, and he gives him this stage and, literally, he gives him a stage. I mean, he puts him out on a stage where he’s narrating his story and we come back to this kind of performance art in the film. And it’s just so – it is this big, stylish flourish which matches who he is. I mean, he starts the film saying I want to be famous and that’s what I want to be. And the film kind of gives him that fame that he wants and whether you approve of that or not is something else but I think as a film it’s riveting to watch.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, what did you think of “Bronson?”
MARKS: I don’t know what I think of this movie because basically it’s 90 minutes of watching a guy beat the crap out of people. But – And it’s not “Fight Club.” “Fight Club” is a much better film than this. But there’s something fascinating about watching this actor go through the motions. Some of it doesn’t ring true. I mean, these cops walk into the jail cell and it’s almost like “Billy Jack.” Take a number, stand in line, and I’ll systematically mow every one of you down. You would figure that they would’ve thought up a different way to come in and attack this guy. His performance, as I said to you earlier, I think this is a much better performance than Heath Ledger in “Dark Knight.”
CAVANAUGH: And we’re talking about Tom Hardy, the actor…
CAVANAUGH: …who plays Bronson.
MARKS: In fact somebody suggested, I think it was on Cinematical, that he should play Frank Sinatra in the new Scorsese bio pic. Huh? No, no, no, no, no, big mistake. It’s a great performance. There are moments of almost expressionistic glee…
MARKS: …in the filming of this production. I don’t know if this is everyone’s cup of tea but it was – Again, it’s so aggressively off-putting that I found myself having a good time watching this movie.
CAVANAUGH: I think we do have a scene from this film and I think it might give listeners an idea of the kind of tone that’s set in – for a lot of it. Tom Hardy is this prisoner Charles Bronson. In this scene, he tells us how his involvement in an inmate riot got him released for a short time from the Broadmoor Prison for the criminally insane.
(audio of clip from the film “Bronson”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s Tom Hardy as prisoner Charles Bronson from the film “Bronson,” and when he’s saying this he’s on a musical stage…
CAVANAUGH: …and he’s done up in makeup and so it’s – as you say, it’s a very stylized kind of film. You seem unsure about your reaction to it as well as Scott is, Beth.
ACCOMANDO: No, no, I think I was much surer of my reaction to that…
MARKS: Oh, she was much surer…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah. No, I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it.
ACCOMANDO: I thought it was riveting and the guy, the performance was mesmerizing and, I mean, you know, it’s a film where it – you really don’t want to categorize it as a bio pic because it just doesn’t feel that way. It feels so much more energetic and exciting than that because these bio pics tend to be so weighted down by this necessity to – by this necessity filmmakers seem to feel to cover everything and kind of be reverential towards the material. But, you know, this is a character who doesn’t merit reverence.
MARKS: It’s a man who’s spent 34 years in prison, 30 of which is in solitary confinement…
ACCOMANDO: In solitary confinement.
MARKS: It’s going to be very hard to find enough to make him reverential.
ACCOMANDO: So, and, I mean, some of the shots are just – there’s – the music selection is amazing, too, and there are these slow motion, elegant tracking shots following him on these just wild binges of, you know, violence within the prison. And, like I said, I just was riveted to it and thought the performance was great and the approach that the filmmaker took, too.
MARKS: I just had one question. What does Charles Bronson have to do with “Bronson?” And that’s really not answered. Charles Bronson is the greatest guilty pleasure or one of them in cinema. “Death Wish III” is one of the greatest bad movies ever made, and if you look at this film, this guy has more dialogue in this film. If you took every film Charles Bronson made from 1970 on, they still didn’t give him as much dialogue as this guy.
ACCOMANDO: Well, he was fascinated by “Death Wish” though. That was the whole reason why he got a – the prisoner himself, that Peterson was obsessed with Bronson from “Death Wish” and wanted to like be that guy.
MARKS: I guess I wanted a little bit more…
ACCOMANDO: I don’t think he thought it through himself about…
MARKS: Well, maybe I’m putting more thought into it.
MARKS: Because Charles Bronson was really an inarticulate lug and a terrible actor. And if you think about it, you – Charles Bronson makes Clint Eastwood look so much better because Clint Eastwood could have been Charles Bronson. He could’ve taken the easy route and just made “Dirty Harry” films the rest of his life like Charles Bronson just made “Death Wish” films throughout the course of his career. So I wanted a little bit more of an insider’s look as to why Charles Bronson? Why not Clint Eastwood? Why not Jean-Claude Van Damme? I mean, there’s a million of them to pick from. Why not Charles Bronson? But that’s just my own little peculiarity because I get such a kick out of Charles Bronson.
ACCOMANDO: I don’t get the impression he saw a lot of movies so it might’ve just been that was the only one he saw.
CAVANAUGH: I think that’s very true. In this “Bronson” movie, I think one of the allures of it is to see how someone with apparently no impulse control whatsoever and a very violent streak just gets sucked into this system, into the bowels of this system to where he ends up in this cage that is just about the size of his body and he’s almost turned into an animal and it’s, you know, that – I think that part of it is kind of – not the kind of part that’s in the musical. It’s…
ACCOMANDO: No, and, I mean, real – there’s almost a sense of celebration of his uncontrollable nature through the course of the film until that end. So, I mean, it’s almost as if he lets you get this rush of, you know, from this guy’s, you know, uncontrolled violence and his aggressiveness and you kind of get buzzed off of it just because he’s so, you know – it’s such a ferocious kind of performance. But then at the end, he gives you these little kicker like, okay, if you thought that there was anything, you know, positive about this or anything, you know, you should take away from – then he throws you that little end shot that kind of just was a real like wake-up call.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.
MARKS: So if you like films where the testosterone is thicker than paste, this is the film for you. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Well, “Bronson” is currently playing at Landmark’s Ken Cinema. You need to see it tonight or tomorrow. After that, you’ll have to wait for the DVD. Now, I told everyone that we would end this with our Halloween picks, either DVD or a movie that’s currently playing. So I wonder if there’s anything currently in theaters that might provide a Halloween scare, Beth?
MARKS: Not “Cirque du Freak.”
ACCOMANDO: No, no. There’s nothing in theaters right now that I think is very scary. I mean…
MARKS: Oh, come on.
ACCOMANDO: What? What?
MARKS: You don’t think “Paranormal Activity” is scary.
ACCOMANDO: No. I think it was well made for a…
MARKS: The end of that film didn’t jolt you?
ACCOMANDO: A little. But it wasn’t…
MARKS: If it jolts Beth a little, trust me…
ACCOMANDO: Well, yeah.
MARKS: …they’re going to be scraping the rest of you off the ceiling with a spatula.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, the teen critics I took with me to the film, they all decided to go home together and spend the night all like at one person’s house because nobody wanted to go home by themselves. So…
ACCOMANDO: …it does scare people. And I thought it was well made. I mean, I was impressed. I thought it was a well-made film that handled a lot of things well but it didn’t really like ‘scare me’ scare me.
CAVANAUGH: And so “Paranormal Activity” would be your pick, though, Scott.
MARKS: Of a – of a…
ACCOMANDO: Of all the ones, yeah.
MARKS: …of a current film playing, yes.
MARKS: But in all fairness, I haven’t seen “Saw VI” yet, and I will because I like that franchise.
CAVANAUGH: All right. Now, DVDs, Beth.
ACCOMANDO: Well, because I’m doing a zombie nursery this Halloween, I wanted to…
ACCOMANDO: I wanted to pick something with babies in it. So I would recommend “Rosemary’s Baby” or “It’s Alive.”
MARKS: What about “The Brood?”
ACCOMANDO: “The Brood,” that’s too…
MARKS: Yeah. That’s a good…
ACCOMANDO: …that’s a larger…
MARKS: There’s some good baby stuff in there, too.
ACCOMANDO: …that’s a larger group of young’ns and they’re…
MARKS: Oh, they’re a…
ACCOMANDO: …they’re a little older. But they’re older.
MARKS: Oh, you want babies.
ACCOMANDO: I want babies. I want babies.
CAVANAUGH: Babies, okay.
ACCOMANDO: No, it was too old. He was walking.
MARKS: Oh, okay, I was…
CAVANAUGH: And we’re talking DVDs now…
MARKS: Tough crowd.
MARKS: Tough crowd.
ACCOMANDO: No, I just had to narrow it. That’s all. There’s like thousands of movies out there I love but I was just thinking “Rosemary’s Baby” really was creepy and scary. I remember seeing that when I was young and…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, it is. You tend to forget that. It is a terribly creepy and scary movie.
MARKS: Look at who made it.
MARKS: I couldn’t resist.
ACCOMANDO: And “It’s Alive” is cheesy. It’s totally cheesy.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve never seen that movie.
MARKS: All three of them are good.
ACCOMANDO: Fun but cheesy.
MARKS: I like all of them. I like all of them.
MARKS: I guess my pick would be “Eyes Without a Face,” the Georges Franju film.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, that’s good.
MARKS: Came out in 1960, about a guilt-ridden surgeon who accidentally disforms his daughter in a car crash so he goes out and seeks young women to slice their faces off for a replacement face for the daughter. This thing – To me, the most important thing in a horror film is atmosphere, and this thing is drenched in atmosphere. You hear those dogs bellowing in the bowels of that dungeon, oh, man, is this film creepy. And consistently creepy throughout and, again, I don’t think it’s there to shock you. It’s like “Repulsion,” that’s another film I love. Again, Roman Polanski…
MARKS: …that is – it just really like attaches itself to your central nervous system and you cannot shake this film.
CAVANAUGH: And, I wonder, Scott, do you – I know what an old movie buff you are, do you have any…
MARKS: I’m not that old.
CAVANAUGH: No, no, no, no, no.
MARKS: Fifties, you know.
CAVANAUGH: For older movies. Do you have any from the classic movie – classic Hollywood…
MARKS: Yeah, I just watched James Whale’s “The Old Dark House.”
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MARKS: Which still delights me. And the Universal horror films from the thirties, “Bride of Frankenstein”…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, all of those.
MARKS: …is terrific. Yeah. And a more contemporary one – I think the most humane monster film since “Bride of Frankenstein”—and I know you love this film, too—was “The Host.”
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yes, I love South Korean films.
MARKS: It’s a great film. It’s a Korean film about a…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, the one about – about…
ACCOMANDO: A creature.
CAVANAUGH: …the creature, yes, yeah, I remember that.
MARKS: A mentally-challenged man who has to save Korea and his daughter from a biologically engineered monster.
ACCOMANDO: Monster, yeah.
MARKS: Boy, is this thing great.
CAVANAUGH: I just wanted to slip in “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” I kind of liked it.
ACCOMANDO: That’s good.
ACCOMANDO: I thought that was fun. A French…
CAVANAUGH: French movie, 2001.
MARKS: That scared you and “Paranormal Activity” didn’t?
ACCOMANDO: No, no, no, I’m not saying it scared me.
MARKS: Oh, okay.
ACCOMANDO: It was a good film.
CAVANAUGH: We have to leave. Thank you both so much. Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. And author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, Scott Marks. Thank you both. This has been the Film Club of the Air on KPBS.
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