Rough Cut Film Review – Beasts of the Southern Wild

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally dipping my little toe in the world of the web series. Myself, along with two other film critics, Austin and Hodge Hermann, are starting a film review and discussion web series called Rough Cut.

The purpose for Rough Cut really sprung from the need we saw for more critical, thoughtful and analytical film discussion than most entertainment web series’ currently offer. So, while many of them will continue to be interested in, for the most part, superficialities of the cinema, the three of us are committed to discussing movies critically and on a much deeper level.

I should mention, we’ve only just begun this endeavor and so while our discussion may not be very flashy with slick animations and unnecessary movie clips, I assure you, we care way more about the art of criticizing, analyzing and discussing the movies you’re paying to see.

In our first episode of the series, we discuss the film Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin, it’s worthiness in the Oscar race, and whether the claims of it being a “Republican fantasy” are founded. I hope you enjoy!

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Filmmakers to Watch: Noel Paul & the Work of That Go

Noel Paul may only be directing music videos and commercials right now, but he’s got a cinematic style and unique artistry to his work that will serve him for a long time. One half of the filmmaking team known as That Go, Paul and Stefan Moore have made some of the more interesting music video art in the past few years. Some of them (more recently) are even short films, which is nice to see the progressive expansion of their film body moving in that direction. I’m not trying to say I know that Paul or That Go has any intentions of making a feature film one day, but I’m simply saying I know that he could make a pretty damn decent one if he wanted. One of the signs of a good, blossoming filmmaker is the consistency in their work, the progression in their work and the common themes and imagery in their work. Noel Paul has displayed these qualities and I, for one, will be keeping an eye on him for future projects. Here’s a select retrospective of his video work with some of my thoughts and comments (in a sort of chronological order).

Back in 2009, one of Paul and Moore’s early music videos, “Jerk It” for Thunderheist, started them off with a bang, winning a Grand Jury Prize at SXSW. Co-directed by Moore, it’s main attraction is the obvious slyness of the imagery coupled with the song and song title, and it all works very well and is fun to watch. Paul would carry at least one of the themes from this video forward, and that’s the theme of the female muse in a studio setting where there’s no telling what may happen to her. Though most of his later work appears a little on the darker side than this one, there’s still a strain of eerie-ness to “Jerk It” which is hard to shake off after a viewing.

The video “Carry the Deed” for Angel Deradoorian shows Paul maturing in his use of the female form in a studio setting. There’s also a couple of types of imagery (the beach setting, the fairly creepy digital pupils, and the stroboscopic and 360-degree profile shots) which will crop back up in future work as you’ll see below. Paul also has a unique ability that almost feels as if he’s blending fashion photography with cinema that I also think is very well honed. You could easily picture him creating a commercial for some Alexander MacQueen women’s fragrance or something one day.

Their videos for the band Röyksopp, “Senior” and “The Drug” are really one in the same. “Senior” is basically a short film and “The Drug” appears to be a sort of shorter re-edit of the former. Moving this time from the studio to a dilapidated industrial-side somewhere in Detroit, Moore and Paul expand on some of their themes while also weaving in a Fish Tank-via-Gomorrah-esque group of young girls and a “Come to Daddy”-via-28 Days Later barrage of sparseness and creepiness. Shown below here is the “short film” version for the track “Senior.”

Paul’s video for The Dø’s “Slippery Slope” expands on the style of videos like “Carry the Deed”. “Slippery Slope” has an oddly M.I.A. kind of feel to it, and the video combines classic Japanese style horror imagery and taiko drumming and the usual female form in a color splashed studio setting.

That Go’s video for Alex Winston’s “Sister Wife” features Mark Romanek “Criminal”-era spotlighting and even more creepy imagery than their previous videos. This one is chock full with shadow lovers, angry ghosts (or just a indoor tornado maybe) and alternate reality puking cats. An homage to the Japanese horror classic House, maybe?

Noel Paul’s video for Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is maybe the most narrative work to date for Paul. I won’t give away the faint plot line or sort of surprise ending, but I will say that it’s a great use of both his skills with stark and dark imagery, atmospheres and the singular female form in distress.

Paul’s first video for Bat for Lashes, “Laura,” is fabulous. It’s simple in concept and tone, not too over the top and actually feels like it has a lot of story behind it. The storyline may not feel completely original, but it is most certainly inspired and connected to the lyrics of the song in a unique way. It’s a great match up of words and imagery.

Paul’s video for Thousands’ “At the Edges” is again simple in concept and tone, but effective. It utilizes the digital pupil theme Paul seems to like playing with (there’s definitely a thing with eyes in most of their work). The best part about it though, is how dark it is (both visually and thematically), and how vintagely processed the film is (originally shot on Super 8).

Paul’s second video for Bat for Lashes, “All Your Gold,” is again nearly flawless. The combination of music and imagery is pitch perfect and simple, artistic use of the iridescent neoprene bodysuit Natasha Khan wears is a unique and great touch. If you watch it long enough, it’s almost like she’s liquid gold.

And finally, there’s Paul’s third video for Bat for Lashes, “A Wall.” A little more narrative than the other two Bat for Lashes videos, it’s still strong and a great example of the cinematic style and creative use and blending of fashion, photography, music, film and art for which Noel Paul and That Go should be recognized.

A Stunning Video Short from Filmmaker Alma Har’el for Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur Píanó”

What is it about Sigur Rós music that just makes you want to add visuals to it? It’s literally made for scoring a film it seems. So it makes sense that the Icelandic avant-rockers would hold their own little film festival of sorts for their new album “Valtari.” It’s a two-fold project (called The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment) consisting of a number of filmmakers whom have been invited to direct a video for one of the songs on the album, and an open call to all other filmmakers (in the form of a contest really) so they can also make their own videos for one of the songs on the album. Sigur Rós releases one new video a week on their site from the collection of filmmakers they’ve collated.

So far, they’ve gotten about half way through and they’ve all been pretty minimalist and droll, unlike most anything you’ve ever seen from a Sigur Rós video previously. Then there’s “Fjögur Píanó.”

Truly an infuriating piece of filmmaking for me, I am torn between the things about it I love and those things about it which I loathe. Let’s begin with the love. Shia LeBoeuf’s performance will for a long time be indelible from my mind. I watch a lot of films in my work and I have a weird habit of not liking to know too much about what I’m about to see before I see it. So unless I’m trolling for something specific, if I find a film to watch I initially intentionally avoid looking at anything about it except maybe who the director is, and in the case of music videos, the musical artist. Initially, when I viewed this short video, I thought he looked familiar but couldn’t put a name to the face. I was so compelled by his performance as “Man” though, that I when I saw who it was playing the role, I couldn’t believe it my eyes.

LeBeouf’s performance is heart-rending and real. When he smashes his hand through a glass frame, I found myself wondering if he actually smashed his hand though a glass frame and cut it. The award-winning director Alma Har’el seemed to truly be able to connect with these characters. The female lead who plays “Woman” is also phenomenal. Both of them together have a similarly cosmic and combative chemistry that is completely engaging.

The story is conceptually strong and metaphorically powerful, while not being blunt or compromising any artistry. Man and Woman start off having a close, connected and intimate relationship, when all of a sudden – quite literally – the winds of change blow through and force them down a path that tries their love at its very core. While the film takes a sillier turn at this chapter, it quickly redeems itself and regains traction as the couple finds themselves locked in an unforgiving downward trajectory of anger and repulsion.

Eventually, and almost subconsciously expected, Man ultimately kills Woman and then realizes what he’s done as something permanent and life-altering (it’s a little hard not think of Sid and Nancy here, but the unique touch Har’el adds at the moment of impact quickly snaps you ou of it). The fact that they lived in a bedroom of deceased and well-preserved butterflies, is almost a slap in face admitting that one of them should’ve seen this coming – for they were always trying to hold on to something that would forever leave them one day anyway. How many butterflies must be caught before the captor realizes they’ll never stop being another one out there to catch?

Even more interesting is the disjointed narrative which essentially depicts at the onset of the film, as Man and Woman dance gracefully with each other like winged insects themselves, that none of the preserved butterflies are on the wall and there are faded shadows resembling the ghosts of where there used to be something beautiful, caught, pinned and on permanent display. I assume it’s post-death of Woman when we open with this scene, maybe a memory Man has captured for a moment in time.

What’s wrong with this short film is the sloppy detour it takes mid-way through the story. I like the realistic depiction of a metaphor, and I like the aggressive etherealness of their dream-state, but the direction of this segue and the look of it was jarring and overblown. Finally, I wish there was more collusion with the music, but honestly this was the first Sigur Ros video I think I’ve ever seen where I cared less about the song than I did about the video. I think the beauty and fragile artistry of both mediums in this case worked against each other and one is lost for the other. I’d love to see this film with a less notable “soundtrack” and watch a video for “Fjögur Píanó” with a less engaging narrative.

George Kuchar (1942-2011)

Underground / experimental filmmaker George Kuchar (one half of the Kuchar Brothers) passed away September 6th. If you like the work of Guy Maddin, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, and Kenneth Anger, you no doubt feel the ripples of this great loss to avant-garde cinema as much as I do. For the uninitiated, but cine-curious, this doc is a great starting point…

There is an awesome obituary from the New York Times on him here.

Liam Bachler

Filmmaker Liam Bachler’s videos are gloriously soft focus 70s throwbacks with pretty women doing mischievous things… What’s not to love!? Check out the best below and as soon as I can find his short film Time Machine I’ll be sure to put up a review and/or post it here.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Little Blu House”



Computers Want Me Dead “Letters and Numbers”

Still from Time Machine

The State of Music Videos Today

I can’t wrap my mind around this new music video. The artist’s name is SBTRKT and the song is titled, “Wildfire.” It’s stylistically like a blend of Asian horror and David Lynch, topped with homages to Barton Fink and Apocalypse Now. I want to like it, but I feel like maybe I’ve just been tricked when it’s over. Music videos these days all have this thing now where they want to build you up to something without ever giving you a payoff.

On the other hand, not too long ago there was a superb video which had much of the same style and feel (maybe even storyline?) which also had a pretty big (however, depressing) payoff.

Next up is Zola Jesus’ “Night.” Let’s be honest, this is essentially a music video remake of Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet crossed with Orpheus (oh, if he only had access to color film back then).

Lastly, there’s the new video for the Girls’ track “Vomit.” Seriously? I shot stuff like this when I was in high school and first started driving – I just didn’t have the HD camera and rock music score. How is it that a music video for a rock band can actually be boring? Don’t get me wrong, I like a shiny ’68 Mustang just as much as the next guy, but I don’t need three minutes of slow dolly shots around the fender. This is just an abomination. Hey Christopher Owens, next time you want a music video, give me a call and I promise I’ll give you something more exciting and original than whatever this drivel is. It almost hurts me to repost it here, but here goes…

Why does nobody make music videos that are original or inspiring anymore?

Kiss Napoleon Goodbye

Kiss Napoleon Goodbye despite all its inane depravity is indeed hard to look away from – it’s like a punk rock car wreck. A short art film by artist and filmmaker Babeth (aka Babeth Mondini vanLoo), there’s not much substance to be had. Henry Rollins, (self-admittedly) not the greatest actor, basically fucks and fights his way through the film – and he’s not overly great at either act. In fact, for a ripped, Oak tree trunk of a guy his most menacing moment is the reveal of his now infamous “Search and Destroy” back tattoo.

The story is filmed and edited with an obvious and direct influence on the post-punk, spoken word craze that was happening in the late 80s/early 90s. For a great sampling of some of the spoken word art that Rollins, lead actress (and writer) Lydia Lunch and the other male lead, Don Bajema, put together around that same time, check out this link over at the Brunski Beats blog and download an entire out-of-print spoken word compilation from Lunch’s own Widowspeak label, crica 1990.

If you are convinced you want to take a chance on the super low-budget, poorly acted and edited, but impressively set designed and photographed slice of cinema, see it for the gloriously warped and creepy music by Jim G. (aka “JG”) Thirlwell. Digging up the soundtrack to this film on vinyl (if it even exists) would be a real prize. You get the impression this film was supported and saw the light of day probably because Babeth (a Warhol alum) was chummy with the veritable who’s who of underground angsty artists of the 80s, she inserts randomly placed scenes which seem to do nothing more that linger on their characters in (sometimes) ridiculous poses or scenarios. The only reason this film retains any cult stature is because of who’s in it. Pass.