Yesterday, I watched the movie “Radioactive” (a part of Siskel center membership). It’s a great movie, but watching it at that moment and in my current state of mind was a terrible idea.

It’s such a tragic story, of which I knew almost nothing. On a personal level, it elevates the fears I am trying to dismiss. I cried a lot while watching…

Film Center from Your Sofa: Mephisto

To be precise, it didn’t need to be a Siskel Center member to watch this movie online. But one of the reasons I love Siskel center is that they make me aware of the great movies I might never hear about otherwise. 

I believe the Mephisto was the first film directed by Istvan Szabo I ever saw, and I can’t even describe how much it impressed me! Often, when you watch the movies made in the 60s-70s-80s, you can’t but notice some “old” ways. Not the case here. The film feels so up to date! 

Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Szabó’s most celebrated film features a mesmerizing turn by Klaus Maria Brandauer that Roger Ebert called “one of the greatest movie performances I have ever seen.” Brandauer plays Hendrik Hoefgen, a German provincial actor who starts out in the 1920s with high ambitions and fashionably leftist ideals. His signature role is Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, but he proves to be more temptee than tempter when the Nazis take over and cultivate him as an all-too-willing tool of the regime. MEPHISTO is more than just a showcase for Brandauer, as Szabó crafts a rich and vivid picture of both the Nazi and theatrical worlds, whose shared reliance on sham and spectacle exposes the slippery slope between artistic self-absorption and moral/political corruption. 

Gene Siskel Film Center

When I was watching the film it felt like I heard it just yesterday: I am not interested in politics! I am an artist (scientist, writer)! I am doing things which are more important to mankind than politics. And I need to be here, to preserve theater, science, art for future generations! And by the way, <put the name of a political figure here> is way better than others! He is smart, and he cares about art-science-theater, you name it…. Great movie…

And yes, I am planning to watch the other two!

“I wish I knew” – Documentary

Yesterday, I watched a documentary, “I wish I knew.”

Widely considered China’s most important contemporary filmmaker, Jia (STILL LIFE, ASH IS PUREST WHITE) focuses on the city of Shanghai in this ambitious documentary, never before released in the US The city’s present in captured in stunningly composed widescreen images that emphasize the juxtaposition of decay and progress, often incorporating the hazy expanse of the Yangtze River. The past is explored through interviews with the survivors of such upheavals as the Civil War and the Cultural Revolution, their stories often marked by violent death and exile (the latter subject occasioning side-trips to Taiwan and Hong Kong). As in his other major documentary 24 CITY, Jia blurs the line between fact and fiction, with his muse Zhao Tao serving as a recurrent presence wandering through the city. In its latter stages, much of the film concerns China’s cinematic past, with excerpts and interviews (including Hou Hsiao-hsien) evoking the often contentious relationship between art and politics. In Mandarin with English subtitles. New DCP digital widescreen restoration. (MR)

Siskel Center website

I found this documentary to be very depressing, although Igor disagrees with me. The filmmaker’s work is outstanding, but it shows China not how we are used to seeing it. In this “mixture of decay and progress,” we are not really used to the “decay” part.

For me, there were too many allusions to the history of the Soviet Union, both in the excerpts from the propaganda movies and the specific language, the way of saying things by survivors/witnesses.

Also, I was thinking about the Soviet documentaries from the time we were not friends with China. At that time, the Soviet correspondents would search for Chinese dissidents, and film interviews with them (half-face covered by black stripe). And these dissidents were saying, how things were horrible in China: hunger, shortage of everything, no freedom of speech… how ironic!
I’ve already mentioned some other Soviet documentaries when they would interview people in England or the US during the 1970s economic crisis. The funny thing – is was all true! The workers would emotionally tell how prices are up every day and how their salaries are not matching up… You do not need to photoshop the reality, you do not even need to cut and paste the pieces of film, it’s all in the commentary on the background…