tangerine-poster-695x1024There’s a sense of liberation in indie writer/director Sean Baker’s follow-up to his 2012 film Starlet, a film that felt weighed down by its intentions (Film Review: Misguided ‘Starlet’ fails as wannabe transcendent drama). Compared to his previous film, which suffered from contrivances and weak performances that reached for something grand but never went anywhere, his new movie, Tangerine is a sea change. It never tries to be anything more than it is, even while featuring a timely element of today’s contemporary culture: the transgender person. In doing so it becomes a grounded, human story with a consistent sense of humor that may just blow you away.

Though Baker still can’t seem to contain an over-the-top, sometimes self-conscious acting style, it works in Tangerine. Some have compared the film to the work to what Andy Warhol did with his cast of characters at The Factory, and it’s a perfect comparison, except there’s a definite plot and even a smart sense of story-telling. This is also a production by the Duplass brothers, who were pioneers in presenting comedic dramas featuring chatty characters working through their positions in life in films that were sometimes preciously self-aware, and that ethos is also present. TangerineBaker’s main characters are two transgender prostitutes working the streets of Los Angeles one warm Christmas Eve. After her release from jail, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) joins Alexandra (Mya Taylor) at a doughnut shop to catch up. Soon into their conversation, Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee’s no good boyfriend/pimp cheated on her with another prostitute, what she calls “a white fish … vagina and everything.” Much of the film follows Sin-Dee on a rampage trying to find out who the other woman is and then hunting her down. Meanwhile, a parallel story unfolds about Armenian taxi driver and family man Razmik (Karren Karagulian). Just like Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Razmik harbors his own deeper knowledge of the streets. While Sin-Dee’s out searching for her vengeance, Alexandra passes out flyers for her open mic performance later that night. Meanwhile, Razmik picks up one quirky fare after another, including a couple of drunk dudes during one of the film’s funniest moments of gross-out slapstick.

This is a comedy, but it’s also more. It’s a sincerely human and confrontational film that arrives at its insights with a brazen sense of humor and a light touch. The worlds of these people will collide in manners both visceral and profound. All the while, Baker never loses his grip of the humor that holds it all together. Though transgender characters have been treated way more seriously in earlier foreign films that I’ve written about (see this review and this one), Tangerine brings a human dimension to its characters that’s still lighthearted and dynamic. TangerineIt helps that the film has a kinetic energy, shot using iPhones. The movie opens with a sprightly, symphonic version of “Toyland” played against the white script opening credits that appear over a curiously scuffed and scratched brilliant yellow surface. Then two pairs of large, black hands appear, revealing the yellow backdrop was a worn table. The hands show a flash of wear in their own way. The fingernails are unclean, but one wrist features ornate costume bracelets. One of the hands unwraps a colorful sprinkle-covered, frosted doughnut from a greasy white bag and lays it atop the paper pouch. “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch,” says one to the other before we meet Sin-Dee and Alexandra.

There’s a fascinating amount of information and humor in the moment. This is a film of high-contrast color that appreciates the rough edges, as well. Throughout Tangerine, the brightness and the range of color amazes, especially seeing as the film was shot with a trio of 5S iPhones. The camera phones help soften the actors’ style, drawing out more naturalistic moments above those self-conscious ones. They also capture a few breathtaking wide-shots that speak to Baker’s keen eye for visuals. It’s all done with a raw but sympathetic sense of humor that still highlights the challenges of a world few really know. Baker shot the film with Radium Cheung in a fast and loose manner. Baker also channeled that energy in the editing room himself. The iPhone cameras and the transgender element in a post-Caitlin Jenner world are interesting hooks, but they wouldn’t have mattered without the passion and delight Baker transmits in making this film. It has its rough edges, some scenes go on too long and the acting doesn’t always measure up, but this could very well be a new classic in indie film.

Hans Morgenstern


Tangerine runs 88 minutes and is rated R (cussing, nudity and drug use). The film opened in our Miami area this Friday, July 31, for an exclusive run at O Cinema Wynwood. Magnolia Pictures provided an on-line screener link for the purpose of this review. It’s playing in many locations across the U.S. and has future dates scheduled through November, so if you live in other parts of the U.S., follow this link for other screening locations. All images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


Every year, during the first week of December, Miami becomes home to Art Basel – Miami Beach, one of the most important art fairs in the world. While usually celebrating visual art and artists around the world at the Miami Beach Convention Center, there are now many satellite events that celebrate all forms of culture and artistic expression. Here at Independent Ethos we are ecstatic that films are part of these events. Here’s a brief guide for film lovers who wish to navigate Art Week in Miami.

1. Warhol’s “Silver Screen/Silver Factory” playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque

Direct from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Miami Beach Cinematheque will be presenting “Lupe,” a 1965 film starring Edie Sedgwick. “Lupe” tells the story of young starlet, Lupe Velez who committed suicide and was found in a toilet. In “Lupe” we get Warhol’s take on popular culture. A must for the Basel-going cinephile. Lupe runs 36 mins. and will be shown on a 16mm dual projection on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 9 p.m., as the artist originally intended. Make sure to be there early to enjoy the Warhol-related photography exhibit as well.

2. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes at the Colony Theater

On Friday Dec. 5 at 8:30 p.m. there will be a free screening of Big Eyes at the Colony Theater. Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes tells the story of painter Margaret Keane and her artistic awakening. Her paintings were popularized by her husband Walter Keane, who became famous by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. Walter also took credit for the paintings. With Big Eyes director Tim Burton analyzes the relationship between husband and wife, as well as the relationship between the artist and its work.

The film will be followed by a discussion organized by Art Basel. Big Eyes runs 108 minutes.

3. Advice Station by MK Guth at the Aqua Hotel

MK Guth is a multimedia artist and professor based in Portland, Oregon. Her video installation “Advice Station” is part psychiatry office and part information booth, where visitors can share personal advice that will later be assembled by the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in a book.  Advice Station is on view Dec. 3-7 at the Aqua Hotel. Tickets are available here.

4. Short Film Program: “The Night of Forevermore”

Art Basel will be hosting short film programs every night at the Soundscape wall of the New World Symphony. “The Night of Forevermore” will be on view on Dec.5, from  9 to 10 p.m. and will feature the following shorts: Un chien andalou by Ciprian Mureşan, which re-imagines Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s classic film and combines it with Shrek characters. For this short alone I would make the trip to the Soundscape. Look at a preview of the short here:

The program will also feature Feeling 4 (2000) by Tomislav Gotovac. Gotovac was a multidisciplinary artist from the former Yugoslavia who prominently features the body in his work. The Apple (2006) by Olaf Breuning. The Apple is a black and white silent film that is a welcomed humorous respite for this program. Next up is The Stranger, the Stranger, and the Stranger (2006) by Jose Dávila, a Mexican artist who was commissioned this film by Nownesswhere he re-imagines a classic western themed stand-off. Laure Prouvost created OWT (2007); the French artist is best known for winning the Turner Prize in 2013 for a tea party art installation. Maya Watanabe’s A-PHAN-OUSIA (2008), is an introspective short piece by the Madrid-based artist that explores filmmaking by removing its context but leaving in interwoven quotes that create an alternative meaning. La Traviata by Tim Davis (2013) shows seemingly straightforward images of different female characters singing. Each image, however, is packed with meaning, from the different languages represented in the singing to contrasting backgrounds that evoke connection between places and people. The singing changes languages, the landscapes are open and wide, suggestive of possibility. Hans Op de Beeck’s Parade (2012) and Alex Prager’s Sunday (2010) will also be on view. Finally, the program will be showing the title theme: The Night of Forevermore (2012) by Marnie Weber, which is quite an atmospheric piece. Catch a glimpse of it below.

To read about other video installations projected at the Soundscape Wall or presented by Art Basel – Miami Beach, please visit this link.

Ana Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
John Coplans catalogue, 1970, from the MBC Archive

John Coplans catalogue, 1970, from the MBC Archive

We at Independent Ethos are extremely supportive of the Miami Beach Cinematheque and its Speaking In Cinema series, which would not be possible without funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The series has brought some excellent filmmakers to Miami since it began earlier this year, and we helped out with its inaugural event (An Interview with ‘Hide Your Smiling Faces’ Filmmaker Daniel Patrick Carbone in ‘Miami New Times’). We’ve covered them all because, frankly, it is damn exciting to consider movies thoughtfully for an hour (sometimes longer) in such a setting with some amazing guests.

This month and next — the month known in Miami Beach for one of the biggest art festivals in the world: Art Basel – Miami Beach — the Cinematheque has begun screening some rare films by Andy Warhol thanks to The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA at the Carnegie Institute. The four films are all about Golden Age Hollywood starlets and their scandals recreated in the experimental and exploratory way only Warhol could have made. The Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgewick and famous drag queens are all collaborators. The films include Harlot (1964), Lupe (1965), More Milk Yvette (1965), and Hedy (1966)*.

Discussing the films with depth and knowledge will be our old Miami friend and compatriot on WordPress Alfred Soto (check out his terrific blog Humanizing the Vacuum). He will lead a discussion with director/producer Tom Kalin and Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant and project manager of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I corresponded with the out-of-town experts via email ahead of their visit and wrote an article for the art and culture blog of the Miami New Times, “Cultist.” Among other topics, we discussed common misconceptions of Warhol’s film work, and I even asked them for a personal favorite of the the four Warhol films screening at the MBC (it turned out to be unanimous). You can read the result by jumping through the link below:

cultist banner

But, as always, there was more. Asked what mainstream filmmakers can learn from the work of Warhol, Henry declared that indeed they have already learned a tremendous amount. “The commercial success of The Chelsea Girls in 1966-67 paved the way for more radical filmmaking,” she notes, “both in subject matter — Midnight Cowboy (1969); A Clockwork Orange (1971); Pink Flamingos (1972) — and in technique — Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975); Memento (2001).”

She deferred to Kalin for more on this notion. Though he was rushing to board his plane to Miami, he offered, “Sometimes in mainstream cinema a pop star crosses over and becomes a screen star. This blurring of the lines — the synergy between music and movies for instance is very Warholian. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was ahead of its time and the boundary pushing of his expanded cinema like Chelsea Girls still resonates in this era of ‘multiplatform storytelling.’ Also Warhol’s superstars, mere mortals transformed by the magic lens, anticipate today’s preoccupation with reality, real faces.”

Tom Kalin 2

Finally, since Speaking In Cinema also tries to go off topic to discuss film in general, it was worth asking Kalin, what he is up to as a filmmaker, considering this writer is only familiar with his work as a feature filmmaker of 1992’s Swoon and 2007’s Savage Grace. “In addition to my feature narrative work, my films and videos include short experimental work, installations and collaborations,” notes Kalin, who is also a professor at Columbia University. “Recently, I have been collaborating with musician Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) on a series of projects. We premiered My Silent One at REDCAT in Los Angeles in July. You can read a bit about it here and here.”

He also pauses to note Warhol’s own influence on his work. “Of course Warhol famously was a key figure in the combination of film and live music in his work with The Velvet Underground, and like many filmmakers, I have been inspired by this work. I also have just made a new short film for Visual AIDS’ 25th Anniversary of Day Without Art. The film is called ‘Ashes’ and features the voice of Justin Vivian Bond.”

Finally, for those curious about his feature work, Kalin offers: “I’m developing two new features, one of which is about a crime in a small town, my first feature set in present time.  I will shoot summer 2015.”

Hans Morgenstern

Director/producer Tom Kalin will join Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art and “Humanizing the Vacuum” critic Alfred Soto for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss the films on Thursday, November 20, at 7 p.m. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for all the Warhol screenings and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

*The films in the retrospective are from the Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA., a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Pieced out over two separate nights, Paul Morrissey’s cult masterpieces Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula, will play on the big screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, just ahead of Halloween. Much more than horror or exploitation films, these are socially-concerned commentaries on what Morrissey observed was the moral corruption of the times. One line delivered by the mad scientist Baron von Frankenstein (the amazing German actor Udo Kier) sums up the subversive layers of Flesh for Frankenstein best. He declares it with matter-of-fact passion to his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging, whose eyes and brow alone give a heck of a performance) after he has humped the corpse of his female “creation” while fingering her digestive system through an open wound: “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder!”

Crammed in with the mutilation of bodies, geysers of blood and depraved sex scenes, including everything from armpit sucking to incest, was a satirical sense of humor. “I was ridiculing all that stuff that was supposed to be sacred, and using it for a bigger picture,” said the now 74-year-old director speaking from his New York home. “My films weren’t very violent. My films were like the rest of the films. It was humorous.”

I spoke with Morrissey for close to 45 minutes a few weeks ago. Most of my interview appears in the “Miami New Times” art blog “Cultist.” Jump through the image below to read it:

Though the interview linked above contains some of the more exciting moments of my conversation with the extremely outspoken director, including a rant against Andy Warhol, there was much of my conversation that had to be cut back due to space. We started by talking about the two main actors in both films, Kier and Joe Dallesandro, who plays a sort of anti-hero to the anti-heroes of these two films. He was also a frequent featured star in much of Morrissey’s films.

Note: Morrissey hates method acting, a school of acting pioneered by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg and popularized by Marlon Brando and James Dean. When he talks about “acting class agony vomit” he means “the method.” As I did in my “Cultist” piece, I present these excerpts from the interview uncensored:

Hans Morgenstern: How did you find Joe Dallesandro?

Paul Morrissey: He came in by accident, while I was filming, to meet some girl, and I was doing a scene with two other people, and he knocked on the door. I stopped the camera. He said, “I’m waiting for the person who lives here”. I said, “Oh, she’s not here now. Wait back there.” He came in with two or three other people. And the scene was not good. It was not going anywhere, what I was doing for the first 35 minutes … and I said well, that’s a young guy. He seems interesting. He’s quiet. He’s a kind of strong person because he doesn’t talk. I said, “Come over here and be in this scene with this bi who was a very great talker (someone named Ondine).” And that was it. I said, Oh, he was very good in this scene. The movie was called Loves of Ondine. But I, as the distributor, only shown in one or two theaters. It wasn’t very good.

How did you find Udo Kier?

I met him on a plane going from New York to Berlin, or something like that. And I recognized from some magazines he’d been in, from a couple of English movies or something, and then a year or so went by, and he gave me some agent or something in Berlin. When I was going to do those films [Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula] I thought he’d be perfect. He was the only real German actor I knew, and I thought he was very interesting. I’d never seen any of his films, but he turned out to be great in both of my films. I liked him a lot. Why do you want to know how I meet these people, by the way?! What do you think? I go out in the street and pick them up in the gutter?! Oh, my God! I hope you have better questions. Yeesh.

Well, he gives such a powerful performance.

Of course he does. He’s a very good actor, and he’s beyond a good actor. He’s a very good personality. He’s very unique, speaks English with an accent, which I like. I’ve used so many accented actors in movies, gives them an added dimension.

Dracula is a quiet film compared to Flesh For Frankenstein. He’s a sort of tragic figure in it.

It was quiet to go along with Frankenstein. Dracula is sort of a victim of his need to suck blood (laughs). Isn’t he? Most of the Draculas are just non-stop sucking blood, but my guy was having a little trouble doing it, so it made a different story, I think.

He meets a pretty harsh end …

… the ending of Dracula is quiet funny when you think about it. Joe cuts him all up into pieces (laughs). It doesn’t mean he ends the life of any Dracula. They come back in another movie, but whatever.

Flesh for Frankenstein was a big hit all over Europe and America, especially, and Australia. Dracula did very well, but nobody offered Udo a big part again. And then he came to Hollywood, and he’s never stopped working for the past 30 years, but mainly in European films, and in a second, third or fourth part. Nobody would give him a first part, and he was so unusual and different. But they don’t want that. They want the acting class, phony piece of shit who looks like everyone else.

He was so powerful, in Dracula too, when he gets poisoned by the blood of the non-virgins.

Yeah (laughs) that’s right. Oh, we were very good.

Did you do a lot of takes for those scenes?

No, no, never. You did two takes, just in case one had a problem, a scratch on it. But he’s been in a couple of other movies, and he said, every other movie he’d ever been in, they dubbed him, (laughs) so he’s never been speaking his own accent in other movies made in Europe.

That’s tragic.

Well, I don’t know, other movies are probably not good movies. They’re garbage. But I’m just saying the different attitude now that exists towards actors as a result of all these terrible reviews in New York newspapers. Those critical, crappy things they say still do mean something to the dopes who produce the movies. They do not respond to actors that entertain them or that they enjoy. They want this heavy-handed, acting class agony vomit, and I don’t sit through that. I would never go.

In the meantime you are still making movies.

I made a new movie [News From Nowhere], but I want to only show it on streaming. I don’t want to put it in the theater and have advertising. I’m not going to give it to a distributor. I’ve gone through that routine my whole life. I’m not going to do it at the end of my life (laughs). It’s a very likable movie. I like it. I think the people in it are wonderful. And the main person (Demian Gabriel) in it is very good. He’s unique in many ways. He’s from another country. When I get to go streaming, I’ll say, “You can go watch it on the streaming.”

So it won’t be released in theaters?

I showed it once at one film festival, which I shouldn’t have even done, at Venice. Because I’m just a one of a kind, I’m not a company, I don’t go there and give them money and give them parties and advertise shit, they showed it when the Film Festival had ended! And so the critics had all gone home. They don’t stay around.

But it’s been about 20 years since you made a feature?

Yeah, sure. I dropped out. I realized that the kind of films wanted by garbage film festivals and critics weren’t my kind of films. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I retired to watching television (laughs).

What made you return, your last feature was in the 80s.

I was leaving a place in Long Island that I had lived in for almost 40 years. It was the most beautiful place, and I thought I’d make a movie there, and that’s all. I’m glad I made the movie. What can I say?

Hans Morgenstern

Trailer for Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula:

Flesh For Frankenstein (95 min., NC-17) and Blood For Dracula (106 min., the unrated director’s cut) screen on Monday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday Oct. 30, respectively, at 8:30 p.m. at the Miami Beach Cinematheque

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)