PDXFilmDaily

“Notfilm,” or how Buster met Beckett

A new documentary reveals the fascinating story behind Samuel Beckett's only movie, "Film," which starred silent comedy icon Buster Keaton

A documentary more than two hours long about the making of a 24-minute movie might seem like overkill, but director Ross Lipman’s “Notfilm” isn’t your typical making-of doc, nor is its subject anything close to a typical movie.

In 1964, five years before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, playwright Samuel Beckett conceived and wrote the only motion picture of his career. Simply but pretentiously titled “Film,” it starred silent comedy icon Buster Keaton. That collaboration (more of a collision) between these titanic talents of the 20th century, who share a minimalist bent despite laboring in entirely different arenas, is enough to make “Film” a grade-A cinematic curiosity.

By the Brooklyn Bridge, shooting a scene from FILM BY SAMUEL BECKETT taken in the summer of 1964. Beckett is seen on the far left in his only trip to America, specifically to shoot the film. Director Alan Schneider is wearing the baseball cap and glasses and Buster Keaton is wearing his porkpie hat.

By the Brooklyn Bridge, shooting a scene from FILM BY SAMUEL BECKETT taken in the summer of 1964. Beckett is seen on the far left in his only trip to America, specifically to shoot the film. Director Alan Schneider is wearing the baseball cap and glasses and Buster Keaton is wearing his porkpie hat.

As Lipman’s serious, engaging study (or “kino-essay,” as he calls it) reveals, the connective tissue binding Beckett’s effort to his own past and future work, as well as to the history of movies, is intricate and beguiling. The producer of “Film” was renegade publisher Barney Rosset, who had brought D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller to American readers. The cinematographer was Boris Kaufman, younger brother to Russian avant-gardist Dziga Vertov and Oscar-winner for “On the Waterfront.” And its star, of course, embodied a comically stoic response to an absurd world as much as Beckett’s best-known creations did in “Waiting for Godot.”

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PDX Film Daily for April 7: Two inspiring documentaries

Two nonfiction films tell stories of triumphs over adversity, in the American criminal justice system and in conflict-wracked Africa

A pair of inspiring documentaries share the stage of #PDXFilmDaily for Thursday, April 7, one with regional roots and one from halfway around the world.

The Northwest Film Center presents Idaho filmmaker Gregory Bayne’s “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man” as part of their Northwest Tracking series. It tells the story of Kirk Bloodsworth, who was convicted of the 1985 murder and sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland and sentenced to death. As the title indicates, he didn’t do it, and in 1993 he was released from prison after DNA evidence confirmed his innocence. He was the first death row inmate ever to be ultimately freed based on DNA (although his sentence had been commuted to life in prison, so he wasn’t technically freed from death row).

Kirk Bloodsworth at the time of his arraignment in 1985.

Kirk Bloodsworth at the time of his arraignment in 1985.

Bayne has crafted a worthy entry in the burgeoning true-crime documentary genre, even if his film doesn’t offer the tantalizing lack of closure that made the podcast “Serial” and the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” such sensations. Bloodsworth, who now works as an anti-death-penalty advocate, is an appealing and genuine protagonist, and the movie moves skillfully back and forth on a literal timeline between the present day and the events that cost him nine years of his life. It serves as further proof that the criminal justice system is not and can never be a perfect instrument, which makes the existence of state-sanctioned killing a continuing stain on our nation’s conscience. “Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man” screens at 7 pm tonight at the Northwest Film Center.

The band Songhoy Blues on a street in Bamako, Mali.

The band Songhoy Blues on a street in Bamako, Mali.

Kirk Bloodsworth got a raw deal, and so did the Malian musicians profiled in “They Will Have to Kill Us First.” In 2012, Islamic fundamentalists took over much of the northern part of the African nation, including the ancient city of Timbuktu. As they have elsewhere (and as depicted in Abderrahmane Sissako’s marvelous film “Timbuktu”), the jihadists forbade music, causing many musicians to flee to southern Mali or to the neighboring nation of Burkina Faso. Director Johanna Schwartz traveled there to chronicle their stories, including the staging of the first concert in Timbuktu following the radicals’ takeover. The film does a great job of explaining the political background to the conflict, profiling the courageous artists who refuse to be silenced, and providing a killer soundtrack. “They Will Have to Kill Us First” screens at 7:30 pm tonight at the Hollywood Theatre, and begins a week-long run tomorrow, April 8, at the Liberty Theater in Camas, Washington.

PDXFilm Daily for April 6

Romanian animation, Daniel Day-Lewis' breakthrough role, and a soccer-style "Magnificent Seven"

Just another Wednesday in the world of Portland’s independent movie houses, which means a tantalizing trifecta of titles is on tap.

Humpday is the home base for Church of Film, which sashays into a second month of its “Folk Supernatural” series with the 1965 Romanian animated feature “If I Were…the White Moor.” Director Ion Popescu-Gopo adapted the 19th-century book “Harap Alb,” which was itself inspired by traditional Romanian fairy tales, into this visually striking tale of a king’s son who travels to visit his uncle in a far-off land. Where do they find these things? “White Moor” screens at 8 pm at the North Star Ballroom.

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#PDXFilmDaily for March 18: “Men in War,” “The Omega Man,” and more

The Northwest Film Center presents a series of restored classics, while the Hollywood serves up a thick hunk of Chuck Heston

The Northwest Film Center kicks off a series of ‘Treasures from the UCLA Film & Television Archives’ with an underseen effort from one of Hollywood’s most overlooked filmmakers. Anthony Mann made Westerns, films noir, and historical epics, and regardless of the genre, he brought an integrity and verisimilitude to everything he touched. That’s supremely evident in his 1957 Korean War movie, which bears the suitably universal title “Men in War.” It’s a simple, even primeval, tale, with Robert Ryan as the leader of a platoon of American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Aldo Ray, Vic Morrow, and L.Q. Jones co-star, but the most haunting performance in this nearly nihilistic flick comes from Robert Keith (Brian’s father), who plays a shell-shocked colonel the platoon encounters. The novel “Men in War” is based on was set in World War II Normandy, but tells such a basic tale of conflict that it’s easily transferable to Korea. It’s amazing what a talented filmmaker can accomplish with a small cast, a bunch of military surplus, and the arid California hills to work with.

The UCLA series continues through Sunday, March 27, featuring an array of American cinema both beloved and neglected. Check future editions of #PDXFilmDaily for details.

Robert Ryan in Anthony Mann's 1957 film "Men in War."

Robert Ryan in Anthony Mann’s 1957 film “Men in War.”

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element” starts a weeklong run at Laurelhurst Theater, and Wes Anderson’s delightful “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” does the same at the The Academy Theater. Both are visually spectacular in their own way, even if Besson’s space opera is both more childish and less child-friendly than Anderson’s endearing Roald Dahl adaptation. Melissa Rauch, star of “The Bronze,” isn’t the only “The Big Bang Theory” cast member with a movie opening this week. Kaley Cuoco heads up the cast of “Burning Bodhi,” an ensemble indie piece playing at the Kiggins Theatre that’s billed as “The Big Chill” for a new generation: a group of twentysomethings reunite for a friend’s funeral. Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen co-stars.

 

Last but certainly not least, the one and only Charlton Heston plays the one and only man left on Earth in the dystopian 1971 sci-fi cult classic “The Omega Man.” It screens on 35mm at the Hollywood Theatre for one night only on Friday.