389035_3947904008476_1389178536_n(2)The way Brontis Jodorowsky explains it, his father’s new film, The Dance of Reality, is much more than a cinematic adaptation of the memoir of the same name. After all, his father, Alejandro Jodorowsky, is the man behind “Psicomagia” (Psychomagic), a form of therapy through art. His memoir, published in Spanish in 2001, stands as an example of that. Though it features cruel stories of abuse the director suffered as a child, it is less a fact-based memoir and more an “imagined autobiography” that becomes a sort of redemption for his family.

Speaking via Skype from his home in Paris, Brontis, who in the film plays the role of Jaime Jodorowsky, the grandfather largely responsible for the traumatic upbringing of his father, offers insight into the film and the purpose of it as mystical therapeutic device. He speaks soothingly and builds on his statements explaining the psychomagic behind the film. “I have my father, the public figure that you know. He’s my father. But I also have another father that is the private man, and I also have another father, which is the archetype of the father inside of me that is built up with Jaime, Alejandro and also with me being a father. So there’s a father figure composed by different experiences, and inside this father figure, we have this very negative part, character, father figure, that’s only negative. That was Jaime, my grandfather. So by doing this process of remaking the story and giving him a chance through the movie to humanize, to take off the costume of the domestic tyrant and open his heart, we transform a negative part of the father archetype in our family story into a character that is not a saint but has a different aspect and that can change, you see, that can progress. A heart can be opened, so the father figure in our family tree, genealogy, changes, so we’re transmitting to our children and grandchildren another vision of what the father is.”

The bond between Alejandro Jodorowsky and his son is profound. It comes out beautifully in this new film, the director’s first feature in 23 years. It also comes out in a documentary about the director’s efforts to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune as a movie. Jodorowsky’s Dune captures one particularly raw moment where the elder David Carradine meets Jodorowsky circa 1974Jodorowsky seems still a bit haunted by the fact he had his the 12-year-old son train for years to prepare for the part of Paul Atreides, yet the film was never shot (Brontis calls this an example of a “private message” from his father). Brontis looks on the bright side. “Yeah, well, you know, what I acquired during those two years of training was so useful afterwards in my actor’s life, especially all the [physical] training part because that taught my body to learn, which is the most important thing that you can learn: is how to learn, so afterwards, when I went to do theater, I always worked in a very physical type of theater. My body was always involved, but I had a trained body that could learn … It was not a waste of time.”

Jodorowsky’s cinematic version of Dune would have been the first ever attempt to adapt the 1965 novel. Though Jodorowsky made great efforts to gather collaborators like H.R. Giger, Orson Welles, David Carradine and Pink Floyd as just some of his “creative warriors,” every Hollywood studio he presented his grand treatment, which included the script by Dan O’Bannon, storyboards by comic book artist Moebius and lots of detailed concept art by Giger and and Alex Ross, they balked at his ambition, which included no fixed limit to the film’s runtime. “They were afraid of him,” says Brontis, “of his personality, so it wasn’t a problem that it was two hours, three hours or five or 10. How long is Star Wars? Too long, much too long.”

Brontis continues, noting that there was also a fundamental cultural conflict between the source of Jodorowsky’s unrestrained creativity and Hollywood’s bottom-dollar attitude. “Also, I think this is an American thing, that Americans don’t want the success to come from outside, so I think that in a way, they saw the project, but I can’t be sure of this, maybe it was just paranoia, in a way, HR Giger concept art for DuneI sense they saw the project, and I think they saw that, wow, maybe that would be a kind of future for movies, and they said, well, why give it to him? Let’s take the ideas and do it ourselves. Instead of doing one movie, we’re going to do this, that and that … I think it’s part of the movie industry’s history. It’s a world of artists and crooks at the same time, of people who dream wonderful things and big bank accounts both at the same time,” he says with a laugh.

Despite all that, the future has been good to the Jodorowsky family, and you will be hard pressed to find a creative clan with a more positive and creative drive, fulfilled with their place in the universe. Brontis has mostly worked in theater, but only recently returned to cinema. In 2012, he acted in Táu, a film shot in the same Mexican desert where his father shot El Topo, in which the younger Jodorowsky made his acting debut alongside his father. With Táu, under the direction of Daniel Castro Zimbrón, for the first time in his life, Brontis took the lead role in a movie. The collaboration went so well, they plan to begin a second film together, later this year. “Now we’re going to do another one that we start shooting in November or December that’s called the Darkness,” he reveals. He notes that it has already been work-shopped at Morelia, Toulouse and most recently at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Brontis Jodorowsky in Tau

During his visit to the Miami Beach Cinematheque, he will introduce Táu at a rare U.S. screening, as the film was never picked up for distribution in the United States. Then it’s on to Speaking In Cinema, an hour-long chat with “Village Voice” film critic Michael Atkinson and “Miami Herald” film critic Rene Rodriguez , who both wrote their own positive reviews of The Dance of Reality (click on their names to read their articles).

It will be interesting to watch how the critics work with Jodorowsky, who says he is looking for having a little more time to deal with questions for Dance than usual screenings allow. “I’ve done quite a few festivals now, and there’s always a Q&A,” says Brontis, “but sometimes it’s just 20 minutes, so I just have time to answer one question.

There is much more with both Jodorowskys in other articles I’ve written. The titles of the articles below are hot links where you can read more (except for Alejandro’s quotes, no quotes overlap):

Brontis Jodorowsky to Speak in Miami Beach: “Miami Must Have Some Rock ‘n Roll”

Pure Honey Film Bits: Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky replies to my questions via email, Part 2 – Spanish version

Alejandro Jodorowsky on Dune Documentary: “There’s Nothing Crazy About a 14-Hour Film”

Legendary Director Alejandro Jodorowsky on The Dance of Reality, Dune, and Fatherhood

The of course, there are the reviews:

Jodorowsky heals psychic wounds with fabulist recreation of childhood in ‘Dance of Reality’

Film Review: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ celebrates the creativity necessary to do justice in sci-fi cinema

Hans Morgenstern

This interview was done to coincide with this weekend’s second installment of “Speaking In Cinema.” Both Jodorowsky’s Dune and The Dance of Reality are now playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which is hosting the event. Brontis Jodorowsky will present The Dance of Reality in person on June 14. On June 15, he will also introduce Jodorowsky’s Dune and Táu. On Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., Brontis will join “Village Voice” film critic Michael Atkinson and “Miami Herald” film critic Rene Rodriguez for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film and other works by Jodorowsky. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting the calendar page of mbcinema.com.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
Brontis Jodorowsky (Left) and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Photo by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

Brontis Jodorowsky (Left) and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Photo by Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky

It was deadline day, and like magic, after almost a month waiting for his response via email, the legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky finally responded to my questions about Jodorowsky’s Dune and his new film The Dance of Reality. As our last correspondence notes, he prefers to communicate in Spanish, so I asked these questions with the help of my Independent Ethos partner, Ana Morgenstern, who is originally from Mexico (from the city were Jodorowsky shot El Topo, no less). Again, the Chilean-born director replied with wit and poetry. Ana noted to me the translation hardly does this poet and intellectual guru justice, so below, you will find Jodorowsky’s email in its uncut, original Spanish.

I presented the English version in the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” I have already used some of the material from the email in this piece, which should appear in print in this week’s issue of the paper. Jodorowsky’s eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky, also contributed (more on our chat , done via Skype, will appear in “Cultist” and “Independent Ethos,” like last time). To read the English translation of my correspondence with the elder Jodorowsky, visit Cultist by jumping through the image below:

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I did the best I could with the translations— and, like last time, I think they came out pretty good— but for those who speak Spanish fluently (as many in my city of Miami do), the best way to read Jodorowsky’s responses is in his native Spanish:

Hans Morgenstern: La danza de realidad es una pelicula fuerte, crees que va mas alla de una autobiografia?

Alejandro Jodorowsky: ………..Es una autobiografía de la misma manera que “El Topo” es un wstern o “La Montaña Sagrada” un film de alpinismo. Me apodero del genero autobiográfico para profundizar en una gran variedad de temas.

¿Crees que sea un comentario sobre ideologia politica, religiosa o personal?

………………. La realidad no es una suma de alguna de sus partes, es un todo interactivo. Todo es político, todo es religioso, todo es personal, todo es todo. Yo no filmo un trozo de pastel, filmo el pastel entero.

¿Que esperas que la audiencia se lleve consigo despues de ver La danza de la realidad?

……… La finalidad de todo arte verdadero es revelar al ser humano la belleza de su propia alma.IMG_3148

Estoy interesado en tu opiñion sobre el documental de Dune.¿>Que te gusta o que cambiarias del documental?

………….. Opino  que su director Pavich es un ser luminoso, puro, bien intencionado. Su documental es producto de un apasionado sueño. Nada que ver con el cine industrial. Y como su filme es la realización de un sueño, tiene la perfección de los sueños: no hay nada que quitarle ni nada que agregarle.

¿Sufres de algún resentimiento de que Dune no se haya completado, aunque sea un poco?

………. De ninguna manera he sufrido. Para mí el fracaso es solo un cambio de camino. Los dos años de la preparación de Duna cambiaron mi vida, fue una experiencia sublime. En mi alma, mente, corazón, sexo, realicé el filme. Solamente faltó filmarlo: un mínimo detalle. Esta falta de sufrimiento resulta de mi formación en las artes marciales. Morir en un combate no es perder el combate. No cuenta el resultado, cuenta la acción que hiciste para obtenerlo, lo hayas obtenido o no. Batallar sin cobardía es el único triunfo de un héroe. Yo me lancé en ese proyecto sin cobardía, sin limites, con una inmensa audacia. Aunque no se filmó, siempre tuve la sensación de haberme realizado.

¿Duneno se haya filmado basado en los planes originales, otros largometrajes han sido influenciados por Dune, ¿es posible entonces que te llamemos el padre del renacimiento del cine de ciencia ficción?

……..Si Dios te lanza un dulce que no le has pedido, no seas tonto, abre la boca. Me pueden llamar como quieran, hasta acepto que me digan madre del tío del pato Donald. Si esos epitetos son producto de una admiración cariñosa que sean bienvenidos. Yo por mi parte lucho por no definirme ni tampoco exaltar mi ego.

Después de haber visto el documental, uno de los temas que salieron a relucir fue la preparación extrema de tu hijo, Brontis. ¿Crees que haya afectado tu relación con el?

…… La preparación que le dí a mi hijo, es la misma que yo me había dado a mí mismo. Practiqué artes marciales durante muchos años. También meditación zen. Brontis y yo tenemos una relación que atraviesa el abismo padre-hijo, para establecer lazos de amorosa igualdad de niveles. Tenemos una profunda amistad.

Jodo during Dune prep

¿Crees que hubo algún grado de auto-sabotaje al imponer el tiempo del largometraje? En otras palabras, al decir que el largometraje de Dune pueda ir de 12 a 20 horas. ¿no crees que eso cancela cualquier consideración seria por parte de estudios de Hollywood?

…..He vivido siempre adelantado al tiempo, unos 30 años en el futuro. La juventud actual, recien ahora está viendo La Montaña Sagrada y comprendiéndola. Yo tenía la razón, no era ninguna locura pensar en un filme de más de 14 horas de duración. Hoy en día se filman trilogías como el Hobbit y series de Televisión que pueden durar centenares de horas.

¿Cómo afectan las decisiones de financiamiento al arte cinematográfico?

…..Ahí está el problema: al convertirse el gran arte del cine en industria, de golpe se pudrió. Ya no fue más arte, sino un entretenimiento bobo, lacayo del sistema, limitador de conciencias, infantilizador. Se lo comío la horda de productores ávidos de dolares, estrellas egómanas, distribuidores cobardes, técnicos ladrones, criticos pagados, inculcadores solapado de ideas politicas, vendedores de cigarrillos, champaña, marcas de automoviles y publicidad turistica. Los filmes, presos en las salas de cine, se ahogan. El cine de arte está por nacer y ser exhibido en los museos, con el mismo honor con que se exhiben los cuadros y esculturas.

Hans Morgenstern

This interview was done to coincide with this weekend’s second installment of “Speaking In Cinema.” Both Jodorowsky’s Dune and The Dance of Reality are now playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which is hosting the event. Actor Brontis Jodorowsky will present The Dance of Reality in person on June 14. On June 15, he will also introduce Jodorowsky’s Dune and another film he stars in, the rarely seen Táu, directed by Daniel Castro Zimbrón. On Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., Brontis will join “Village Voice” film critic Michael Atkinson and “Miami Herald” film critic Rene Rodriguez for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film and other works by Jodorowsky. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting the calendar page of mbcinema.com.

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

documented posterAbout a week ago, filmmaker/activist Jose Antonio Vargas was buzzing about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introducing his film Documented, which focuses on his life living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. “It was great,” he says speaking over the phone from the venue after the film he co-directed with Ann Raffaela Lupo had begun. It’s a temporary high, though. He understands there is much progress to be made for those living in, working in and contributing to the United States but have no legal rights.

For Vargas, who was smuggled into the U.S. by his grandparents when he was 12 years old from the Philippines, it’s no easy task to just apply for citizenship or even register for legal resident status. As a child, he had little to do with the decision to spend the rest of his life in the country, though he succeeded at school and a career, even winning a Pulitzer for journalism. For those who marriage or birth right is not an option, there is little for them to do. So he decided to announce his non-documented status, quit using his fake resident card and social security card to work and spend his waking hours striving for change.

He created the Define America movement, and took to filmmaking to share his personal story in hopes of bringing some consciousness about those who do not understand the many exceptions to the  prejudiced perception of undocumented immigrants who just want to make an honest living and have rights as citizens in the U.S. “I don’t think people understand that to be undocumented means to obsess with documents,” notes Vargas. “We are arguing about pieces of papers. I think people forget this. What this is about is pieces of papers, and when the Irish and the Italians and the Jewish people and the Germans crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Ellis Island, they didn’t have papers either, and here we are arguing about papers.”

Jose attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids

On an intimate level, Vargas chose to focus on himself in the film. It’s something he did not necessarily wish to do, as often times, he notes, it can come across as “self-aggrandizing.” He says he constantly fought his collaborators along the way until he came to a revelation. “When we were editing the film, I was like, oh, man, I can’t do this. I can’t do the personal film, and it wasn’t until I started seeing the footage that I started seeing this could work. It’s a privilege getting to know yourself on film. I don’t think I realized how broken I was until I saw this person on the street that happens to be me.”

He does seem proud about the outcome, and as suspicious as this writer often feels about films where directors turn the camera on themselves (see this review and this one, too), well… this one works. “I think many people seem to think that journalists can make their own films, so I wanted to also send a statement that way,” adds Vargas. “Some people question, can you direct a film about your own life, and for me that was really important. I don’t think another filmmaker could have made a film as honest as this.”

We spoke much more, and most of the resulting work appeared recently in the Miami New Times. This blog post, which I provided to the Miami New Times art and culture blog Cultist, covers the more personal side of baring his life for the cause and makes a case why this film actually works as a moving work as personal testament. Jump through the Cultist logo to read it:

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This article is a collaboration with a Village Voice article up-dated for the Miami angle, as the director will visit the city today and tomorrow for a presentation of his film. Jump through the Miami New Times logo to read it (it’s also in this week’s printed issue):

Miami New Times logo

Hans Morgenstern

Jose Antonio Vargas will present his film Documented with a Q&A following the film at two screenings, Friday, June 6, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 7, at 6 and 8 p.m. at MTC’s O Cinema in Miami Shores. For other screening dates in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s official website.

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

FADING GIGOLO

During the Miami International Film Festival, I had an opportunity to sit down with actor/director John Turturro. I was told I had 12 minutes to discuss his new film, Fading Gigolo, with him. Somehow we lost track of time and carried on for double that time, but it was a great conversation, touching on specifics in both his filmmaking and his acting style, directing Woody Allen the actor, his vision to hire Vanessa Paradis, a model/singer/actress better known in France for all her talents and best known in the U.S. as Johnny Depp’s ex. We also touched on his memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who only recently passed, and who we did love so much here at Independent Ethos.

It was a long chat that had to be spread across two articles in the Miami New Times. This first one appeared in print in and was written as a feature story and touched on not only the movie but Allen and that controversy that hung a bit too close over the film’s premiere in Miami. It also features his comments on Hoffman. Read it by jumping through the Miami New Times logo below:

Miami New Times logoThere were many details left out of that piece for the sake of space, which one has to be very conscious of when writing for print. We spoke much more about Allen and how it was working with him, but we also spoke about Paradis’ talents and, on a more important scale, the presence of a film like Fading Gigolo in a major movie production industry more concerned with adapting YA stories and comic books. Where does a film about more complicated adult love fit into such an industry? We get into all that and more in the expanded Q&A I provided for Miami New Times’ art and culture blog Cultist. You can read that part of our chat by jumping through the Cultist logo below:

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Finally, there is what is left of our chat, which was no less compelling. Turturro was certainly gracious about his award, which he received at a packed concert hall in Downtown Miami a couple of months ago, at the 2014 Miami International Film Festival (A re-cap of a hectic half-attended, still impressive Miami International Film Festival 31). However, there’s something of a feeling of achieving a peak with such awards, and it can do things to your creativity and career … We start there, talk about color and film, shooting in 35mm (which Turturro has not given up on), and love stories for mature people. Here’s part three of our talk, exclusive to Independent Ethos:

Hans Morgenstern: So what was it like getting your big career achievement Award?

John Turturro: You know, I take those things with a grain of salt. People obviously like what you do. But I wouldn’t like to be doing it, because I’m not announcing my retirement. You know, I got one of those things when I first started out in Sundance. They gave me this Actor Piper-Heidseick Award. I think I was the first person to ever get one, and I was just starting out. It was like 1990 or 1991 or something like that. I remember I didn’t even have a proper suit jacket to wear. I guess because I do a variety of things, oh, look at this, look at that. I’m always appreciative, but I’m more appreciative of being able to do the things I want. That’s what I want to do. People can win an Academy Award, and it may not help them get another job. Things like that have happened many times, and my important thing is being able to do things I like to do. That’s it. That’s what I care about. I can’t sit and stare at the walls and say I got all these awards. It’s nice, but I don’t think about it too much.

They also showed your new movie, Fading Gigolo. One of the things I noticed about the film was the range of colors you used.

Oh, yeah, very carefully selected. We used the Saul Leiter photographs. He was a fashion photographer who did all these great street pictures and reflections in windows. Maybe they were staged, some of them. I’m not sure some of them weren’t, but they were like Kodachrome. There was a certain dye transfer that he did. Then I used the Italian painter, [Giorgio] Morandi, a still life painter, for a lot of the colors of Fiorvante’s apartment. So those were the two visual sources. Everything was selected very carefully, stripes that the Hasidic community used and the stripes that my character had, and even getting Woody in dark pants was a big thing. I told him, no khaki pants. I didn’t tell him, but I gently nudged him, and as you see, he’s got dark pants on, and that’s very unusual for Woody, and he even has a purple, kind of, colored corduroy hat. He’s even got a black jacket at some point, and he never dresses that way.

I even noticed the white of his hair more in this movie.

Well, he hasn’t really been in that many movies for a long time. Anyway, yeah, cause color is emotional, and the way it’s lit, we shot it on film. We didn’t shoot digital. We used 8 millimeter for the credits and it’s 35 millimeter, and [director of photography] Marco Pontecorvo, he’s great with the light. We used a lot of shadow, a lot of chiaroscuro.

Have you always shot in 35mm?

Only Passione I did with the Red [digital camera]. But this we tested, and we thought it was a lot softer on the women, and it’s a film about New York or any city that’s kind of changing and fading a little bit. I thought that would just be—it’s more voluptuous, soft.

FADING GIGOLO

Well, fading is a key word to your film.

Yeah, of course.

So what motivated you to do this film about a man far along in his prime, let’s say? Because when you are dealing with Hollywood and this complex idea of love, it’s so much easier to focus on the youth.

Well, youth is part of life, but it’s not all of life, and sometimes you can see a film like Blue Is the Warmest Color, and it’s fantastic. The girl is unbelievable because you’re seeing someone budding. I thought her performance was brilliant, but most of the time you see it, and their reference is very young, and life goes on, and people start life again at 40. They get divorced. They lose someone. They never find the right person, and though, well, here’s a guy who’s in the middle of his life and lives in a room, and I know people like that, who are really comfortable with women, who likes women, but he never really commits, but he’s a guy who is very good, physically. I have friends that can fix their engines, they have a plumbing problem, they have an electrical problem, and it’s very attractive to be around a person like that, cause you’re like, wow. These people express themselves in that way, and they may not be ambitious, and I was thinking about that. So many people want to be famous instead of doing what they do. I think love and needing to be loved, to be touched, to connect, it’s a universal thing. It never ends. You’re livin’ by yourself, and you’re 70 years old, you know, loneliness can kill a person. So I thought that could be an interesting thing to explore. Obviously, you have to be in good enough shape to do it, and I thought when Woody makes the suggestion to me, the guy is resistant. I’m too old. I’m not a gorgeous looking guy, but he’s not insecure that way at all. He’s like, well, I know who I am.

And that helps with the ladies.

Yeah, that’s right. It could help a lot. Especially if you know how to listen and you know how to behave, you know how to pick up what’s going on in the moment.

Your character has a great name: Fiorvante. Where’s that from?

A lot of the names I took— my father was a builder— right out of his phone book. He’s no longer alive and Dan Bongo, I took right out of his phone book. He was a plasterer. Fiorvante, I think [his last name was] Boccio, he was a painter. I just took the names right out of it. Not all of the names, but those names I did. Virgil Howard was a name I took right out of a phone book. So sometimes you’re superstitious. You think, well, maybe if I take something from my parents, it’ll bring you good fortune. It’s a way of communicating with them or something.

Fading Gigolo opens Friday, May 2, in the Miami area at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24. On opening night, at the 7 p.m. screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema there will be a live video-link Q&A with Turturro. For screening dates in other cities, visit the film’s official website.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

smilingfaces_smThe other day I reviewed Hide Your Smiling Faces, an incredible indie film that was picked up by Tribeca Film recently (Film Review: ‘Hide Your Smiling Faces’ presents resonant images of darkness and light of life and death). I’m happy to report a more abridged and slightly easier-to-digest version of the review appears in today’s Miami Herald’s Weekend section (read that version here).

Ahead of our discussion at the end of this month with film critic Amy Taubin, I corresponded with the film’s director, Daniel Patrick Carbone. We got to know each other well enough for an interview, which was published in the Miami New Times’ art and culture blog Cultist, earlier this morning. I was struck by how such a loose-feeling film can also tap into such specific, abstract feelings that I take note of in the review. It’s quite a miracle how some smartly directed improvisation and evocative scenes can come across so specifically. That’s why it makes such a great film for the first “Speaking In Cinema” event at the Miami Beach Cinematheque (see more about the event here).

You can read most of my interview with Carbone by jumping through the Cultist logo below, where he shares tips for those trying to fund a film via Kickstarter and how he felt about having his film picked up by Tribeca:

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We dove more into the film than what is in that article. Here are some of the outtakes, which are no less insightful:

Hans Morgenstern: We find out the names of the brothers at the center of the film far along in the movie. Why?

Daniel Patrick Carbone: This is simply due to the way people speak in real life. A conversation between two people, especially two young people, rarely includes first names. I wanted the kids to speak like real kids. They had a lot of freedom to improvise their lines and the result is a more authentic style of speaking. Since there are so few characters in the film, knowing their names wasn’t something I needed to worry about right at the beginning.

HYSF-Carbone-PhotoHM: Is it fair to call this a movie about death? What is your interest in this theme?

That’s absolutely fair, but I’d also add that it’s a film about nature and brotherhood, and using tragic experiences to learn more about yourself and the world around you. I also think it’s a hopeful film. I think the difficult parts about growing up— those unanswerable questions that haunt us as children— are just as formative as the positive moments. I wanted to explore that moment when we realize we aren’t invincible and our actions have consequences. I have very vivid memories of my first experiences with loss and grief, and I think I am better for having experienced what I did. This film is a distillation all of those emotions, good and bad.

* * *

Of course, much more to come, live and in person with Taubin’s inspired voice in the mix (read what she thought of the film in her Tribeca Film Festival recap for Film Comment).

I’ll leave you with one of the clips we plan to share at our discussion:

Hans Morgenstern

Hide Your Smiling Faces opens today at 7 p.m., at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. The director will present the film on April 26 and 27, at 7 p.m. On Tuesday April 29, at 7 p.m.,he, New York film critic Amy Taubin and Miami-based film critic Hans Morgenstern will share the stage in the first installment of the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film and others.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

 

tall_joe_mooreI met the Dead Milkmen 21 years ago. They were the first band with MTV cred and international recognition I had the chance to interview. It was a job that came to me when a promo/advance cassette of their 1993 album Not Richard But Dick arrived to the offices of The Beacon, the student newspaper of Florida International University. It was an intimidating gig for a green music writer such as I, who mostly wrote CD reviews up until this opportunity. The Milkmen were a weirdo punk rock band with a sarcastic and sometimes cruel sense of humor made famous with songs like the “art fag” song “You’ll Dance To Anything” and the sinister “Let’s Get the Baby High.” To top it off, they hid behind fake names.

But what has really shown through over the band’s legacy years is the profound talent they harbor as musicians. Their sound cannot be pigeonholed as mere punk rock. They have an inventive songcraft that includes both catchy songs and a deconstructive knowledge of genre. Still, a wry, critical and sometimes subversive sense of humor shines through their lyrics. Pre-dating the guys behind “South Park,” the Milkmen’s lyrics spare no one, from conspiracy theorists (“Stuart”) to the devout (“I Dream of Jesus”) to hipsters (“You’ll Dance To Anything”).

I met the quartet of vocalist/keyboarist Rodney Linderman (fake name then Arr. Trad.), guitarist/vocalist Joe Genaro (a.k.a. Butterfly Fairweather), bassist Dave Schulthise (then 11070) and drummer Dean Sabatino (Dean Clean) during a break from sound check at the now long-gone Button South nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. They were as stand-offish as an alternative rock MTV band in the slacker years of the 1990s could be, but they were still funny and sociable. I warmed up to them quickly, and I had them all sign the back of my personal CD copy of Not Richard, But Dick. They left some interesting messages, too:

Dead Milkmen autographs. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

The resulting “Beacon” article was re-printed in 1994 by the Chicago ‘zine “Pure.” You can read the admittedly cheesy and amateurish article here: Vodka Keeps the Dead Milkmen SingingThe one Milkman I best got along with was Genaro, despite his creepy message that accompanied his autograph. After our chat, later that evening, he and I sat on some stools behind the pit to watch Possum Dixon* open the show. Genero and I spoke about a mutual appreciation for Stereolab and other then current up-and-coming artists.

Sometime last month, when the recent opportunity for a follow-up interview arose, Genero was the guy I felt most at ease doing a follow-up interview with, so I reached out to him when I heard he and his old mates were making a rare appearance in Miami at Grand Central on April 11. We ended up chatting over the phone for nearly an hour. He now admits to liking Radiohead, but not many truly current, contemporary alternative rock artists. He also graciously accepted my notion that the Milkmen’s sound is rooted in both The Velvet Underground and The Ramones. He also said that though The Dead Milkmen have often been considered a comedy band, it’s just how their music came out. They’ve never consciously been a comedy act.

Watch Genero front the band’s famed MTV hit “Punk Rock Girl:”

We eased into that serious talk about music, though. Our chat began silly enough with me asking the same stupid questions I first asked the band in 1993. It started the conversation with more than a few laughs. However, the interview turned really serious later. He explained the decision to break-up in 1994, the band’s relationship with the major label Hollywood Records, and most profoundly, the effect Schulthise’s suicide had on him and the band. You can read most of our Q&A in the music blog for The Miami New Times, Crossfade, by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

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A much shorter print piece ran in The Miami New Times yesterday. You can pick it up free at news stands for the next week, throughout Miami-Dade County. It can also be read here.

Most of the material resulting from this interview appears in that Crossfade link. However, as you might expect, there was still a lot left over. So here, at Indie Ethos, you can read about their post-reunion life with some stellar new material they have self-released that includes an album from 2011 (The King In Yellow) and several great 7-inches (see them here— one is already sold out). The new music reveals that the Dead Milkmen have remained incredibly true to its sound and humor, though they now have Dan Stevens on bass. Finally, they are nearly done with a new album. Here’s the end of our conversation:

Hans Morgenstern: So tell me about the new material.

Joe Genaro: We were just in the studio last weekend, and we’ll be in the studio this weekend to add to that, so we’re fleshing out… We started out recording a series of 7-inches, and I think the original idea is that we were gonna release everything on the 7-inches and then compile it on the album, but we changed our plans and decided, OK, we’re not going to release all of the songs on the 7-inches. We did four of them, good enough, and we recorded six more songs, and together, that will create an album, what we consider the next album, the 10th studio album.

Do you have a title for it?

No. We have lots of ideas for titles but no title. The working title that Rodney came up with was Servant Girl Annihilator.

Hmm. Interesting.

(Laughs). If that becomes the actual title, we shall see. There’s other titles we’ve been floating around, so who knows. It’s usually, oddly, the last thing that we do— is finalize the title and the artwork and such.

So how many songs is it gonna have?

17 or 18.

And you return to the studio for final mixes or what?

To do final mixes. I think recording is finished. We might polish some things. Sometimes when we’re mixing a song, oh, we can’t live with this little thing. We wished we had played this on a different thing, but otherwise I think we’re done.

What’s different about recording an album now as opposed to the early years of recording for you?

What’s a little bit different now is you take bits that you recorded in one measure and move them easily to another. Like, if you wanted an ending to all line up in the end you can shift. Before, in the tape days, you’d have to figure out how we’re all gonna have to see each other if we’re gonna have an ending where we all end at once. Now you can record it and have the engineer move it where it should be.

And you can sound like expert musicians.

Exactly (laughs), which we’re not.

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The years have passed since I seriously sat down and listened to your music, but I can’t say you’ve changed so much. What keeps your sound so fixed?

I think it’s three of us, our style, for one thing. No one plays guitar quite like me. They probably don’t want to. Dean is very unique in his approach, very good drummer, and obviously Rodney has a unique sound and has a voice that no one has matched ever. The danger is that we have a different bass player now, but Dan learned to play bass by listening to Dave. He’s a young’un. He came to our attention through being a fan of the Dead Milkmen back in the ’90s. Just after we’d broken up, he befriended me and Dean at the time. I recorded his first band. They’re still actually together. He had a band with two cousins called Farquar Muckenfuss, kind of like a surfy-punk instrumental band. And when my friend Chris [Seegal] put the band The Low Budgets together he also knew Dan. In fact, he and I met Dan together for the first time, in person, at a show. So the band The Low Budgets was the first that I created with Dan in. It just seemed natural that he sort of acquired a similar style to Dave, by learning to play bass like Dave. He has his own style, of course, but he was very good at mimicking. But now he’s becoming more comfortable with the new stuff and no longer trying to play like Dave would have played it.

How do you balance a set list with the new material and the songs people want to hear?

Good question. It’s a tough thing to do. Rodney is our set list master. We all have somewhat of a say. We all have rights to refusal. We don’t try to put too many new songs in. We learned from other people’s experiences that that can be the death of the energy of the show. People come to a show of a band like us expecting certain songs, and we want to make them happy. From personal experience, we’re happy when the crowd’s happy. So we hit the songs that we think people want to hear, and we sprinkle in the songs that we want to play, and things that they wouldn’t mind hearing, knowing that they probably never heard them before.

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Hans Morgenstern

The Dead Milkmen play Miami with Sandratz and Humbert, Friday, April 11, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $18 via ticketfly.com. Call 305-377-2277, or visit grandcentralmiami.com. The group continues to Tampa after that, but that show is sold out. Then, they fly back home to Philadelphia, so it’s a mere two-day tour.

Notes:

*I was impressed by Possum Dixon, a band from California that Genaro remembered as fun to party with after the shows this opening act. They then had yet to reach underground college rock fame on the MTV late-night video show “120 Minutes.” Genaro suggested I write about them, too. I would eventually give their self-titled debut a glowing review in The Beacon, comparing them to Wall of Voodoo. Possum Dixon’s vocalist Robert Zabrecky would later send me a postcard saying “We love Wall of Voodoo!”

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

GRAND-BUDAPEST-HOTEL-POSTER-570Featuring an undercurrent of death, the looming menace of fascism and wrapped in a century’s worth of nostalgia, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel stands as yet another brilliant masterstroke of colorful cinema hiding a profound affection for humanity by the American director. Despite what you might think, Anderson has not forgotten his sense of humor. Although, at some points in the film, you may feel confused about whether to laugh or cringe at the events that befall these poor characters at a break-neck, deadpan pace.

The key to the film lies in memory. It plays a central role in how the action unfolds. The Grand Budapest Hotel opens in the modern world with a young, “edgy” girl paying tribute to a monument devoted to an unnamed “author.” Then the film travels to the memory of that author alive in 1985 and his reflecting on his younger years in 1968 and a story he was once told about a 1933-era concierge. Anderson wryly uses various aspect ratios to denote the different times, or better put: layers of memory. The music of Alexandre Desplat has an appropriately ghostly quality throughout the film. On many occasions bells and chimes echo, drums hiss with brushes and vibrant zithers tremolo. And, no, there are no catchy ’60s Brit-pop songs thrown into the mix. Once again, Anderson has created a different kind of film, albeit one from his very particular world (See also: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’: a different kind of Wes Anderson film).

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Then, of course, there is the mise-en-scène‎ and colors, a sort of hyper-reality featuring pinks, purples and reds. The titular hotel, situated in the made-up country of Zubrowka, during the key era of the 4:3 aspect ratio (the 1930s), gleams with opulence. Anderson’s restlessly panning camera lens has never felt more alive than in this beautifully designed environment that looks like a life-size doll house, and Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography slurps it all to luscious effect.

Finally, the characters:  Our hero, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes acting as if he were a born Anderson player), displays an amazing, if sometimes questionable, work ethic at the distinguished hotel. Though war is looming, his main concern is to serve— and service— the many elderly women who seem to vacation at the hotel. Fiennes’ dry delivery of Anderson’s quippy dialogue both reflects Gustave’s incredible seriousness while concealing a singular sort of solitude. His gregariousness directed toward older women and his passion for his job is complimented with an effeteness that is never wholly confirmed, left unfulfilled. It highlights his lonely existence. On his own, he practically lives and sleeps in nothing but a broom closet.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

All around Gustave is a rich cast of characters who never take away too much presence from this wonderfully rich yet solitary character. Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe play sinister fellows dressed in black. Meanwhile, Saoirse Ronan and Tony Revolori play young innocents in puppy love. In between all manner of people appear and sometimes die off, Jeff Goldblum’s attorney Kovacs is met one particularly gruesome end, preceded by a minor bit of dismemberment dealt by the often sneering and silent Jopling (Dafoe).

The film’s plot is loose but has a caper-like quality involving an inheritance, a priceless painting and murder. There are jail breaks and chases. Anderson’s new-found affection for action sequences played out by animation and puppets fits the times where much of the action unfolds. The archaic special effects, just like the square aspect ratio, speak to the era. That these thrilling sequences still feel compelling, though almost laughably phony, proves the realism of digital effects overrated. The Grand Budapest Hotel is so richly staged and its characters feel so compelling, you will become rapt in the suspense regardless, just as you would watching a classic film from that time.

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Ultimately, though, it’s the character of Gustave who embodies the hotel in its heyday and seems to resonate with a vividness that gives the film an immutable luster. He holds the movie together in all its topsy-turvy madness to ultimately celebrate true, honest, steadfast character. Because he stands as a man alone, he builds respectful relationships and allegiances. It’s a romantic notion to think anyone, though, goes off into the sunset with anybody else, but there’s always the heart and memory. Like all good things, we know the Grand Budapest will fall into languor once his presence disappears, but those stories will forever live on and matter to these characters in this oddly sincere world where malice can never have the last say.

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Note: I interviewed actor Ralph Fiennes ahead of the film’s release. You can read my full interview with him on the art and culture blog “Cultist” from the “Miami New Times.” Jump through the image below:

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Hans Morgenstern

The Grand Budapest hotel runs 100 minutes and is rated R (there are a few shocks in sex and violence and some intense language). Fox Searchlight Pictures invited me to a preview screening last month for the purpose of the interview and this review. The film opens in wide release today.

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