Thursday, July 30, 2015

Film Fest Day 7

Yesterday is the reason why I keep volunteering at the film festival - not the free tickets, although those are nice. What the film festival offers is a chance to see movies I would never see otherwise. Today's post was going to feature reviews for End of the Tour and Love 3D - however circumstances changed, and I had to usher a completely different set of movies. Movies I would have never seen...

Women He's Undressed
This is a docudrama by Australian director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) about the life and career of Orry-Kelly, the famous Hollywood costume designer. Who the hell is Orry-Kelly? Here's a brief list of just some of his credits: 42nd Street, Now Voyager, Casablanca, An American in Paris, Oklahoma and Some Like It Hot.

Incarnated onscreen by actor Darren Gilshenan, Orry-Kelly acts as a guide and commentator as Armstrong's film charts his journey from the back of nowhere, Australia to the glamour of Hollywood. A series of talking heads, from critic Leonard Maltin to Jane Fonda,  offer their own insight and stories.

There are two major strands to the film, which make Orry-Kelly's life so fascinating. The first is  Orry-Kelly's contentious relationship with Hollywood star Cary Grant. Questions about Grant's personal life have lingered for decades, and this film blows the closet wide open. The one-time lovers were forced apart by Grant's desire for stardom and (in 1934) the sudden imposition of a new, repressive morality in Hollywood (embodied onscreen by the Production Code).

The other thing the film is very successful at, is pinpointing Orry-Kelly's genius for designing clothes that both flattered the sometimes unconventional body-types of his leading ladies, while augmenting their portrayals of their characters. The stories of his collaborations with Bette Davis, and his work on turning Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis into Daphne and Josephine is truly worth the price of admission.

I believe it is going to have a wider release in arthouses, so look out for it. It's great!

Red Amnesia
A mix of surrealism and social realism, this Chinese thriller is a fascinating story. It is rare that you see a movie featuring an OAP as protagonist - even more so that the OAP is a woman.

Red Amnesia tells the story of Deng, an elderly widow who becomes the victim of a series of prank calls and other harassment. Slowly, the mystery is unravelled - taking in Deng's past during the Cultural Revolution, her relationship with her gay son, and the mountain hamlet where she used to live.

I'm not going to spoil it. This is a very quiet, understated film. There are no obvious genre tropes or plot turns here, and yet it remains (largely) involving. There are a few dull patches in the middle, but the story and central character are so interesting that I was able to remain invested.

Lu Zhong is terrific in the lead. The character manages to be both incredibly sympathetic and unsympathetic, often simultaneously. It's a hard balance to strike, and it takes an incredible lack of arrogance to take on a role like Deng. She's really the selling point of this film, and the main reason to check it out.


A Poem Is A Naked Person
A rarely seen look at 70s music legend Leon Russell, this documentary was shot by Les Blank over the course of 1972-1974 but never released. 

Finally available, this is a fascinating time capsule of early 70s America, specifically the South and youth culture, and the music business. With no guiding voice-over, this is a vaguely coherent assemblage of various scenes: Russell rehearsing and performing; various band members discussing the meaning of life; pranks; locals and various scenery.

I enjoyed this, although I was not able to see the first 20 minutes or so because I was helping latecomers into the theatre. What I saw, I enjoyed. As a fan of this particular period in American Rock, it's good. As a sample of the atmosphere of the times, it's really great.

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