David Bordwell's website on cinema   click for CV




Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

On the History of Film Style pdf online

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online


Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay


Rex Stout: Logomachizing

Lessons with Bazin: Six Paths to a Poetics

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema


Book Reports

Observations on film art

A film festival for all seasons

Friday | September 29, 2006   open printable version open printable version

David here:

Screening over 300 films across 16 days, the Vancouver International Film Festival is a banquet for movie lovers. I’m here for about half of the event.

Gorgeous weather, a lovely city (mountains + water = hard to beat), and cheerful, hospitable people have already made this a lot of fun. Arriving in the afternoon, and fortified by a quick Japanese meal (soba; more on this later), I went off to several hours of moviegoing and socializing.

The festival is particularly strong in Asian cinema, programmed by the indefatigible Tony Rayns; the festival also gives the “Dragons and Tigers” prize to young Asian filmmakers. It was while serving on that jury last year that I came to fall in love with this festival. There are over 40 Asian programs this time, including Ann Hui’s My Postmodern Aunt (starring Chow Yun-fat), Tsai Ming-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Hana (his last film was the very touching Nobody Knows). A special treat is Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, already a cult monster movie that has Hollywood studios fighting for the remake rights.

Vancouver is also very strong in Canadian cinema, as well as documentary, experimental, and international work. Like all great festivals, it’s actually several festivals in one: No way you could see everything you want to see. It was so exciting last year that I determined to return and try to see even more new films.

Festivals are important to us film lovers, because you want to keep up with creative work being done all over the world. Living in the US makes it hard, because so many wonderful films–sometimes masterpieces–don’t get released theatrically. Marketing a film in a country as large as the US requires massive amounts of money, and many interesting films just won’t attract a big enough audience to pay back costs. Also, I’m afraid that some Americans are narrowing their tastes in movies, so that they won’t give a “foreign film” or a “little movie” a chance. Festivals exist to do just that.

So I’m happy to report that my first day yielded real riches. Yokohama Mary is a documentary about a mysterious bag lady who walks the streets, sleeps in the corridor of an office building, eats at Burger King, and paints her face a blinding white. Urban legends have grown up about her. Was she a celebrated prostitute? A woman grieving for her lover? She has become an icon of the city, inspiring novels, books of photographs, and a play. But now she’s disappeared. The filmmakers assemble a rich array of documents, including surveillance-camera footage, and they interview people in the neighborhood to try to understand how she lived and why she vanished. Mary’s life is a capsule history of the seedy side of postwar Japan, and the film is at once gripping and poignant, with a wonderful ending in which the filmmakers find out her fate.

Walking on the Wild Side is a picture of contemporary China that couldn’t be more unflattering. Three young day laborers drink, molest schoolgirls, and generally raise hell before they set out on a path of petty crime. These are the most unlikable protagonists I’ve seen in a long time, but the movie, shot on low-def video, is fascinating in taking us behind China’s economic miracle.

Back to Japan for my final movie of the day, the thoroughly peculiar Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast-Food Grifters. Directed by Oishii Mamoru, best known for his animated Ghost in the Shell, it invents its own urban legend, that of spectral figures who haunt fast-food restaurants. Oishii traces the history of postwar Japan through the changes from soba shops to burger joints, visited by a series of ghostly figures out of mythology and pop culture. The animation, mixed with documentary footage and still photos, is unlike anything I’ve seen before, at once photo-realistic and curiously flat, with soft edges and abrupt, spasmodic action. Again: No way you’ll see this at the Multiplex.

Today promises to be no less exciting. It starts with a panel discussion with Bong Joon-ho about The Host and includes, I hope, a Brazilian film, Kore-ed’s Hana, and more Asian shorts. Will post again soon.

For more about the festival, and the films I’ve mentioned, check here: www.viff.org

Comments are closed.

David Bordwell
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