September 14

One interesting change this year is that there is a lot more digital projections. Pictured at left is the new Djgital Theatre projector sitting at the back of the theatre at the ROM. 10,000 ansi lumens no less (ergo, really bloody bright). The image is very good, but there is still a little bit of pixellation. By next year, it should look really good for video source material.

It's not film. It doesn't look like film. But it does look clear and bright, fine for most things. It's not like Farelly Brother's movies depend on a 70mm look. Then again, Farelly Brother movies hopefully will never play the festival.

Jumping back in time, a film from the late days of silent films screened yesterday. Last year's fest saw the premiere of Shadow of a Vampire. This year, the Toronto Symphony and the fest joined together to present Murnau's original Nosferatu at the Elgin. The orchestra sat in the pit, while the film played on the screen. It was my first time to see the film, and I can't think of a better way to see it. The print was in remarkably good condition considering the age of the source material. Over the top and campy at times, there is nonetheless a tremendous amount of craft and skill evident in the film. It wasn't as shockingly good for me as Caligari was, but the presentation alone made the film a tremendous pleasure to view.

Canadian Shorts:

Self: (Portrait/Fulfilment) A Film By the Blob Thing

Directed by: Brian Stockton

A four minute introspective first-person diatribe from the perspective of a play-dough green mound with big eyes. Ridiculous but amusing.

Grade: B

In Memoriam
Directed by: Aubrey Nelson

This year's Canadian Film Center short, this clever 20 minute piece shows strong story writing and cinematographic skills. Well paced, an amusing and intelligent piece.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Normand Bergeron

An affable film about a failed marriage. The short struck a good balance between humour and pathos, as a man finds out just why he was left by his wife.

Grade: B-

A Fresh Start
Directed by: Jason Buxton

A terrible, terrible film from the Maritimes. Overwrought acting and high-school film project production values make for a painful half-hour. Both boring and insufferable.

Grade: F

Directed by: Graham Tallman

A fun riff on divorce and the manipulation of the children from the marriage. Some subtlety was achieved through the use of the costume's colour scheme, as each parent tries to shape the child's perspective to match their own.

Grade: C

The Topic of Cancer
Directed by: Ramiro Puerta

A funny (!), warm look at the bowels of colon cancer. We are treated to funny vignettes intercut with actual intestinal surgery and video of a colonoscopy. The film comes across as a little bit preachy, but it's clear it is the product of someone going through the cancer that the lead acts out - there is a great sincerity and sensitivity in the portrayal. The film could really resonate with a lot of people.

Grade: B+

Universal Clock - The Resistance of Peter Watkins B-
Directed by: Geoff Bowie

This film brings the total amount of time I have devoted to Peter Watkins this festival to 7 ½ hours.

That's just nuts.

A Canadian doc, this is much less a making-of film than it is an expose on televisual documentary form. The film uses global devastation as a metaphor for cultural hegemony. Desert scenes mix with the Cannes Television festival where docs are bought and sold, both areas bereft of life, it seems.

The title refers to a set amount of time that broadcasters require for a doc, so that stations around the world can program for a set duration. This "globalization" of content is distressing to some, a positive step for others. Clearly, Watkins' film does not fit the mold of the Universal Clock, a point emphasized over and over by this doc.

Universal Clock derides the push for standardization, saying it doesn't allow for something with the scope of La Commune. The point fact that ARTE in France put it on television late at night is also meant to challenge the status quo. However, no one suggests when a good time to show the film might be - this, in fact is a glaring omission of the doc, as it is content to be critical without being itself progressive or positive in its arguments.

If La Commune is an artistic and creative success at 6 hours, it's certainly not a popular or populist success. There is nothing revolutionary about being really long - to swing the masses, you can't regale in intellectualization and diatribes. To reach more people, Watkins' film could have fit the Clock, a subversive cancer in the programming system, fitting the mold while criticising it. As it is, La Commune reveals itself to be a film-geek movie, while the documentary about it comes across as a petulant footnote to the larger work.

Mirror Image C-
Directed by: Hsiao Ya-chuan

A semi-romantic, semi-comedic film about the claustrophobia of relationships and the operation of a pawn shop. The characters are somewhat fun to watch, but the story doesn't really go anywhere very interesting. The strangely abrupt ending comes, thankfully, some 80 minutes into the running time.

Grade: C-

Directed by: F.W. Murnau

This seminal Horror film is presented at the Elgin in all its tinted, gory glory. It's clear to see why this moody, stylized film won the acclaim it did. To see it for the first time under such conditions, while the Toronto Symphony played the underscore, was a privilege. The accompaniment sounded wonderful, but there were some moments where the score was obviously meant to be synchronized with the picture, and was either late or early. This criticism aside, to see Max Schreck's shadowy arm clutch around the heart of his victim In a beautiful theatre like the Elgin was amazing.

Grade: A

Ichi the Killer A+
Directed by: Takashi Miike

Who would have thought that this would be my first (and probably only) A+ film of this year's fest?

Well, Colin, maybe.

Let's start with the fact that we were handed out Ichi barf bags before the film started. Always a good sign.

This is a strange Frankenstein-meets-Yakuza film, where the monster is a child-like boy with an almost accidental rage. The violence is so supremely brutal, so comic-book over the top that it simply becomes rediculous. There are meat hooks and razorblades and weapons in boots, walls soaked with blood, and body parts slewn throughout a room. But there's also a sweetness, a child-like innocence, and a sense of regret with all the violence. Ichi is being used, and he knows it, but cannot seem to stop his nature.

Philosophical? Hardly. Think about this one too carefully and it'll simply be sick. But as a ridiculous release from a country that has significantly less problems with physical violence than we here in the west, Ichi works wonders. A stunning gore flick, exemplary in one primary respect - I was exhausted when the screening started, and I didn't nod off once during the screening, and I felt less tired after it was all over. The sign, in the end, of a perfect MM film.