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Exodus shocker -- the latest Hollywood Bible cartoon isn't very realistic

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 17, 2014 09:06am | Post a Comment

The other day I found out that some people are outraged by the casting in a Hollywood film -- in this case Ridley Scott's latest effort, Exodus: Days of Future Past (or whatever its full title is). They're apparently so upset that they're boycotting it, which is something I do with all but one or two Hollywood films every year although I refer to it simply as not paying to see it.

The problem that the boycotters have, it seems, is that Exodus is almost completely historically inaccurate (It's safe to guess that most of the Egyptian and Jewish characters are most portrayed by Anglo-Saxons and presumably speak Modern (if pretentious) English with a modern British accent, or approximation of one. Without having watched a trailer I'd guess that there aren't a lot of apparently Middle Eastern Africans portraying Middle Eastern Africans and the actual actors of African descent are used entirely for background color and supporting roles). 

Apparently these scandalized and offended won't-be viewers have never seen a Hollywood film before... or assumed that they'd somehow completely change their raison d'etre. Even at Hollywood's artistic peak in the 1930s, racial sensitivity and historical accuracy were not exactly hallmarks of Hollywood films -- making loads of money was, and that's what they did and they did it well. At one point Hollywood made loads of money with elaborately choreographed, brilliantly scored, escapist musicals. Nowadays Hollywood makes loads of money with loud CGI superhero cartoons. Sometimes -- rarely -- art slips through the cracks. Much more often big, dumb-looking movies like Exodus get released that look rather like the big, dumb movies that Hollywood was mostly pumped out for the last 90 years.

Sometimes these big,dumb movies made by Ridley Scott, a once-briefly-interesting filmmaker more than three decades ago made two excellent films (Alien and Blade Runner) and one not-great-but-enjoyable one, Legend. After a few years of light fun with gender (White Squall, GI Jane, and Thelma & Louise), Scott made the Gladiator, a truly old fashioned sword 'n' sandals epic in which Anglo-Saxons with British accents played sanitized, dehomosexualized Romans. It made no efforts at accuracy (no one spoke Latin, the statues were all unpainted, there was nary a priapus to be found, the meaning of thumbs up and thumbs down were reversed, &c). It was also, as a film, not good -- but it made loads of money and apparently convinced Scott that he could be this generation's Cecil B. DeMille. Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood followed -- neither of which looked any good and both of which I thus ignored, sorry, "boycotted."


So setting aside the fact that you're a grown-ass adult who apparently was considering watching a film based upon a book of the Torah, my question to the boycotters of Exodus is this: Why would you expect anything more or different from either Ridley Scott or Hollywood? Were you somehow misled? Did you see the trailer for Exodus in an arthouse, film festivalforeign language cinemagrindhouserevival housemuseum, on MUBI or somewhere else that good films are routinely screened -- or was it before some dumb, loud movie you watched in a multiplex? [I'm not not suggesting that I'm somehow above magical thinking. Every autumn morning in Los Angeles I put on a sweater somehow thinking that I'll will it to cool off and possibly snow but when it's hot by noon I curse my own stupidity and not the predictable weather.]

More importantly, If you want to see an historically accurate or artistic film set in Africa and depicting Africans then why on Earth are you turning to an industry whose best known "African films" were shot on a Culver City sound stage and starred Johnny Weissmuller? If you want African food do you go to Souplantation and wait for the chain to one day change their menu or do you go to an African restaurant? If you want African music, you go to the African music section (or store). So why, if you want racially sensitive or accurate portrayals of African history or culture wouldn't you go to the source?


If you want realistic, artistic African films depicting Africa then why don't you watch African films?
 If you really have your heart set on Biblical films, with the slightest effort you'd have come across Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La Genèse is a widely available at all finer video shops and is a good Bible film made in Africa by an African director and an all African cast. La Genèse was released on video in the US by Kino Video, who've released a lot of African cinematic masterpieces. Other widely-distributed, English-subtitled African classics are available from New Yorker Films, Facets, and Film Movement. If you live in a respectably diverse city, you could also try an African market. I'm just saying, maybe if you want to see sensitive, intelligent cinematic depictions of Africans, watch more African films than just District 9.

In case you need to be reminded, there are about 196 sovereign countries on our planet today and of them, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, ChadChile, China, Colombia, CongoCosta Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the UK, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam are all have film industries and/or filmmakers who regularly produce films that quite often are more intelligent, more artistic, more honest, more insightful, and more culturally sensitive than their Hollywood counterparts. 

It is 2014 and you have options. Assuming that you're reading this on a computer and not a print-out, you have electricity which means you have internet and are not required to rely solely (or at all) on Redbox. There is no reason you'd have to watch a Hollywood film unless you're a film reviewer or your friend is involved in the production. This should be cause not for complaint but for celebration. 


*****

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Happy 30th, Criterion -- May your next 30 be even better

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2014 11:18am | Post a Comment
Criterion is, without a doubt, the most loved video-distribution company in the video distribution game. No one (outside Korea) packages their films so beautifully and today they released a lovely, book (just in time for Christmas) of their "covers, supplemental art, and never-before-seen sketches and concept art" featured on their releases over the years called Criterion Designs. They're also beloved for their supplemental special features, which are similarly rarely paralleled, and the high quality of their restorations. There are podcasts, and subreddits, and completists devoted to the label. My only problem with them is over the films which they release -- or rather, those that they don't. 


Criterion Designs (image source: The Criterion Collection)


Criterion was launched back in 1984, when Joe Medjuck, Aleen Stein, and Robert Stein founded the company in New York City. From the get go Criterion chose films from Europe, North America, and Asia for their lovingly attentive treatment. I only became aware of the company around 1999. I recognized a lot of their films from introductory film school classes -- the canonical status of which was usually advertised by the stamp of Janus Films. At the same time, couldn't help but notice the glaring omission of ANY films from South America or Africa. When I pointed this out to Criterion loyalists and asked for their thoughts I got the following replies: "Do they make films?," "You mean like Tarzan?," and "You mean like Superfly?" My answers to all three were, "Are you *censored* kidding me?"

While Cinema EpochFacetsFilm MovementFirst Run FeaturesKinoNew Yorker Films, and Zeitgeist all regularly release films from less-exposed corners of World Cinema, none of them enjoy the loyalty, and thus power, that Criterion does. For many film fans, Criterion is unfortunately the first and last word in foreign and art film. In the minds of Criterion's completists, the fact that Criterion ignores entire continents means there's nothing there for aspiring film lovers. 

Three decades later and Criterion have still yet to release a SINGLE film from South America. It only took thirty years and the involvement of Martin Scorsese for the label to release its first (two) African films, Touki Bouki and Trances, both among the six films in that director's collection, Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. Next year Criterion are set to release their first ever South American film, Lucrecia Martel's La Cienaga (2001).

Criterion have long been more open to Asian Cinema, especially if the film in question is from Japan. Japan has accounted for nearly 90% of Criterion's Asian films whereas only five films from China have been deemed worthy. Meanwhile, mo more than two films each in the collection come from IranKorea, or Taiwan. Criterion have released no Turkish films which means no films from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

If you need a graph to see what Criterion's bias looks like, here you go:


Of course there are acclaimed directors from Africa and South America, directors like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Abderrahmane Sissako, Souleymane Cisse, Ousmane Sembene, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Carlos Diegues, Gaston Kabore, Youssef Chahine, Andres Caicedo, Anselmo Duarte, Carlos Mayolo, Daoud Abdel Sayed, Eliseo Subiela, Farid Boughedir, Fernando Meirelles, Glauber Rocha, Hussein Kamal, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Juan Jose Campanella, Luis Ospina, Med Hondo, Mweze Ngangura, Oussama Fawzi, and Raja Amari, to name a few.

So whilst bells, whistles, and shiny wrapping paper are all nice -- but how great would it be for Criterion to broaden their scope to include great films from around the world? Mark Cousins's documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which came out in 2011, was surprisingly encompassing and in 15 hours did more to correct western bias than Criterion has in its first thirty years. Let's hope that we won't be saying the same 30 years from now.

*****

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Los Angeles's Secret, Foreign Language Movie Theater Scene

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 7, 2013 01:18pm | Post a Comment

Los Angeles is a film town -- maybe the film town. Like the Hollywood district contained within it, the name "Los Angeles" a metonym for American film industry in the minds of many. "La La Land," "The Entertainment Capital of the World" and all that. I love movies; however, in my mind, the Hollywood film thing actually ranks pretty low in the long list of what makes Los Angeles the greatest city in the world. This is possibly (probably) shocking to hear/read if you're a cog in the blockbuster factory or a celebrity worshipper but better you find that out now than never. Luckily, Los Angeles doesn't just make movies, it also shows them. There are few cities in the world with as robust a film culture as Los Angeles.

For those who love celebrity-driven, gazillion dollar CGI superhero franchises you're in luck; there are multiplexes in every mall and Redboxes at every 7-11. Thankfully for other varieties of cinéastes, there's a lot more to Los Angeles’s mise en scène than that. There are architecturally beautiful picture palaces, romantic drive-ins, dingy dollar theaters, high profile revival houses, low profile smut houses, and actual art house chains. Additionally there are all sorts of special screenings and festivals that take place every week of the year.

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سكر بنات Sukkar banat Caramel dir. Nadine Labaki.

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 15, 2008 06:23pm | Post a Comment

In a Beirut beauty salon, the lives of five women from different backgrounds interweave as they share, support, confide in and bicker with each other. The “caramel” of the title refers to the candy, which they use as a depilatory. My guess is that it's supposed to be some kind of metaphor for tearing away secrets or something.

Labaki's video for Nancy Ajram's "Akhasmak, Ah"

First, Rima (the spittin’ image of Jerri Blank from Strangers With Candy) is a secret Sapphist, which is primarily conveyed through her enjoyment of washing a woman’s long tresses. Nisrine, a bride-to-be, isn’t a virgin but is marrying a traditional Muslim who expects her to be, so she goes to the doctor to get surgery. Jamale is an aging former television actress whose attempts to seem young (from taping her eyes up to staining maxi pads with red nail polish) come across as so shrilly hysterical that she earns unintentional laughs instead of sympathy as she competes, in vain, against younger, prettier women. Layale (played by the writer/director) is bitchy and snobbish and she stubbornly pursues an affair with a married man, going to amazing lengths to please him, even though he continually blows her off except for their brief romps in her car. Rose is a seamstress who gains the attractions of an dapper, older American whose suits she tailors. He asks her out but she chooses to devote all of her energy and time to her senile sister -- who was a voice to which nails-on-chalkboard is preferable. The message seems to be that women have to turn to each other, not men, no matter how stupidly they behave.  And, girl, men have no idea what they go through.

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