MMC! returns to the work of Ben Maddow, this time with him in the role of writer/director and working in collaboration with Helen Levitt as producer and Sidney Meyers as editor. Maddow’s short film The Steps of Age (also known as The Stairs, 1950) was sponsored by the National Association of Mental Health, produced by the Department of Mental Health for the State of South Carolina, and organized by the Mental Health Film Board, and it focuses on the strain of aging and retirement through the figure of Mrs. Potter (Rose Spencer), a 62 year-old woman challenged with a listless husband forced into retirement and then the difficulty of moving in with her daughter’s family. The short ultimately promotes the need for empathy, respect, and appreciation by Mrs. Potter and her daughter (played by James Agee’s younger sister Emma), along with an acceptance of old-age and the changing roles that accompany it. The Steps of Age garnered a Documentary Short Oscar nomination, losing to Edmund Reek’s Why Korea? (1950).
The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.
A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.
Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.
The banner event for Day 4 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was the Drunken Cinema screening of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), described by Drunken Cinema‘s attending creator Serena Whitney as “the scary one.” Audience members had rules to follow, glow sticks to shake, and themed cards with personalized drinking rules to enhance their interaction and to get soused in the process. The event seemed an ironic success considering that nearly all the screenings at the SFFF are licensed and the Broadway Theatre’s concession stand was ready to make every screening drunken if patrons were so inclined. Still, the appeal of endorsed booze and rowdiness cannot be underestimated and Saskatoon movie fans can expect to seen more Drunken Cinema events between now and the next SFFF.
The 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival kicks off today with its Sinema Challenge screenings. Four days of feature and short film programming commence tomorrow with the “First Shovel in the Grave is Always Best!” Shorts Block and the hits just keep coming after that. In anticipation of BAFF, MMC! offers ten great reasons to get Buried Alive this Thursday and Friday. Laughs, scares, and some stomach-churning content awaits, so don’t miss it!
1. VFW (Joe Begos, 2019)
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Joe Begos’ VFW (2019). That might make it an odd place to start for recommendations, however reviews for VFW have been uniformly positive. This throwback action film pits a collection of war veterans (and an innocent teen) against a drug dealer and a horde of mutant junkies. Recalling John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Begos offers a intricate plot and a bounty practical effects, creating a gory, siege film spectacle. Word is that VFW is best seen with a crowd and one will surely be waiting at the 7 Stages Theatre on Friday at 8 pm.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shoplifters.
On the margins of Tokyo, a band of petty thieves take in an abandoned and abused child stranded in the cold. Incorporating the girl into their family, they find new happiness amongst each other, however their tenuous, below-the-radar existence is threatened when their son is arrested and their makeshift family is questioned. Shoplifters is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest masterpiece, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or and a quintessential expression of filmmaker’s love for marginalized lives, complex families, and domestic dramas.
- 4K digital master, approved by director Hirokazu Kore-eda and cinematographer Ryuto Kondo, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New video interviews with Kore-eda and cast members
- Documentary on the making of the film, featuring on-set footage
- Trailers and TV spots
- PLUS: Essays by critic Imogen Sara Smith and Japanese film scholar Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Moonstruck.
In this award-winning, romantic comedy, Cher stars as Loretta, a widowed bookkeeper in Brooklyn who agrees to marry a mild-mannered man (Danny Aiello) even though she does not love him. Unlucky in love, she promptly falls for his estranged brother (Nicolas Cage), sparking a torrid affair with the moody, young man while her fiancé is absent at his mother’s deathbed. With wonderfully stylized dialogue by playwright John Patrick Shanley and a brilliant ensemble of supporting performances from Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, and Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck is a modern screwball classic and an operatic fable full of moonlit enchantment and the sweet charm of sugar cubes dissolved in champagne.
- New 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interviews with director Norman Jewison, writer John Patrick Shanley, and actors Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, and Danny Aiello
- Audio Commentary featuring Cher, Norman Jewison, and writer John Patrick Shanley
- A Night at the Opera, musicologist Marcia Citron on opera, La bohème, and Moonstruck
- Remarriage Italian Style, scholar William Day on Moonstruck and the comedy of remarriage
- Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family, a featurette on the making of the film
- Music of Moonstruck, a featurette on the film’s score
- Trailer and TV spots
- PLUS: An essay by scholar Mary Ann McDonald Carolan