Japan’s Studio Ghibli has long been the gold standard in animated features, producing revered masterpieces such as GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997) and SPIRITED AWAY (2001) since its inception in 1985. For Ghibli’s first international co-production, the studio co-founded by legends Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata invited Dutch filmmaker Michaël Dudok de Wit (Oscar® winner for his 2000 animated short FATHER AND DAUGHTER) to create his first feature-length film. The result, after eight years of work, is a breathtaking, original fable about a shipwrecked man’s struggle to escape a deserted island, and the unexpected course his life takes when he’s prevented from leaving by the titular sea creature. The film dispenses with spoken dialogue, instead allowing Dudok de Wit’s vivid, meticulously rendered visuals to guide us through a lush natural landscape that contains both unimaginable hardships and simple, potent truths about family, aging and life.
AFI: What was it like working with Studio Ghibli as a first-time feature director? How were ideas exchanged?
Michaël Dudok de Wit: We had an excellent start, because I adore Studio Ghibli’s films and they expressed their strong appreciation of my previous work. I went to Studio Ghibli from time to time during the development phase of the story to discuss the latest progress and at one point I stayed for a month in Tokyo, working with intensely on storyboard changes. At Studio Ghibli, it is the film director who has the final say on the creative aspect of the film, and though the producers liked sharing their opinions with me, they did not impose them. I in return asked them a lot of questions, and we generally had fruitful, non-competitive conversations. To me, that was ideal.
AFI: Describe your collaboration with large teams of animators.
MDDW: There was a striking bond between us all and I felt nourished by that. The artists were all European freelancers, mostly French, selected carefully during a long recruiting period. Actually, the selection process was not unlike the selection of the samurais in Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI.
I’m an animator, background artist and designer myself, so my colleagues and I often understood each other intuitively. The main team worked in Angoulême, a small town in France, and most of us lived at walking distance from the studio, also from our favorite bars and from the local food market.
The idea was to have all artists working in the same building, but we needed extra help, so we also collaborated with an animation studio in Hungary, Kecskemètfilm. To my relief that worked really well, because the Hungarians were excellent animators and their team had a strong team spirit. The exchange of animated scenes between France and Hungary was done instantaneously via the internet.
As I was both directing and exploring, I had to learn how to cope with many tasks all at the same time. That was new and extremely challenging for someone who is used to concentrate uninterruptedly on one or two tasks per day.
AFI: You spent five years working on the story of this film. What aspect of the story changed the most from the first draft of the script that you presented to Studio Ghibli?
MDDW: The ending. The first draft had a fine ending, the story felt complete, whole, but one day, actually while I was walking on the street, I suddenly imagined the new, current ending. I was immediately moved to tears by the beauty of the new ending.
AFI: What was your biggest challenge in developing the lush soundscape and intricate sound mixing for the film?
MDDW: Amazingly, there was no big challenge. The sound was created and mixed by a well-established sound studio, Piste Rouge in Paris. They understood right away that this film did not need cartoony sounds and that the noises of nature had a striking presence throughout the film. The sound artists also worked closely with the music composer Laurent Perez del Mar to create the right chemistry between the music and the nature sounds.
AFI:Since THE RED TURTLE is dialogue-free, what was your technique for ensuring the animated characters could clearly communicate thoughts and feelings with one another, as well as with the audience?
MDDW: The sensitive scenes, I mean the scenes where the absence of dialogue was a real challenge, were animated quite late in the animation phase, to ensure that the animators would feel really at ease and intuitive with the characters. These scenes also took much longer to animate than usual. Moreover, we had filmed live actors who played those scenes, and the live footage was used by the animators, not for rotoscoping of course, but to use for inspiration. And the human sounds were important. Absence of dialogue can mean that the spectator has less empathy with the characters, but in the sound phase all the human characters were given natural breathing sounds, and that made a huge difference, we found.
THE RED TURTLE screens at AFI FEST 2016 on Tuesday, 7:00 P.M. November 15, at the Egyptian Theater and Wednesday, 1:15 P.M. at the TCL Chinese Mann 4, November 16, as part of the World Cinema section of the festival.
AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi has unveiled its expansive, annual World Cinema lineup. World Cinema showcases the most acclaimed international films of the year and features 33 films from 28 countries, including seven official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® entries: DEATH IN SARAJEVO (DIR Danis Tanović), THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MÄKI (DIR Juho Kuosmanen), IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (DIR Xavier Dolan), JULIETA (DIR Pedro Almodóvar), LAND OF MINE (DIR Martin Pieter Zandvliet), NERUDA (DIR Pablo Larraín) and THE SALESMAN (DIR Asghar Farhadi).
Pictured above: THE SALESMAN
AFTER LOVE (L’ÉCONOMIE DU COUPLE) – Joachim Lafosse returns to AFI FEST with his latest feature, which follows a married couple going through the turmoil of divorce in full view of their twin daughters. DIR Joachim Lafosse. SCRS Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino, Joachim Lafosse. CAST Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Jade Soentjens, Margaux Soentjens. Belgium | France
ALBÜM – In this surreal comedy, things go awry when a Turkish couple tries to cover up the fact that they are adopting their new child as opposed to having a natural birth. DIR Mehmet Can Mertoğlu. SCR Mehmet Can Mertoğlu. CAST Şebnem Bozoklu, Murat Kılıç, Rıza Akın, Mihriban Er, Ali Meriç, Müfit Kayacan, Sencar Sağdıç, Şafak Karali. Turkey | France | Romania
BORIS WITHOUT BEATRICE (BORIS SANS BÉATRICE) – Upon receiving a mysterious letter, a proud, wealthy man must reassess who he is in this existential thriller. DIR Denis Côté. SCR Denis Côté. CAST James Hyndman, Simone Élise-Girard, Denis Lavant, Isolda Dychauk, Dounia Sichov, Laetitia Isambert-Denis, Louise Laprade, Bruce LaBruce. Canada
THE COMMUNE (KOLLEKTIVET) – Thomas Vinterberg returns to AFI FEST with this 1970s-set ensemble piece looking at a young couple who start a collective in the big vintage house where the husband grew up. DIR Thomas Vinterberg. SCRS Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm. CAST Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Lars Ranthe, Fares Fares, Magnus Millang, Julie Agnete Vang, Anne Gry Henningsen. Denmark | Sweden | Netherlands
CROSSCURRENT (CHANG JIANG TU) – A cargo ship captain falls under the spell of a mysterious book of poetry, and it sends him on an unexpected journey up the Yangtze River. DIR Yang Chao. SCR Yang Chao. CAST Qin Hao, Xin Zhilei, Wu Lipeng, Wang Hongwei, Jiang Hualin, Tan Kai. China. This screening is co-presented by the China Onscreen Biennial (COB) 2016 and is the closing night screening of their Los Angeles series.
DEATH IN SARAJEVO (SMRT U SARAJEVU) – Director Danis Tanović turns the luxurious Hotel Europa in the heart of Sarajevo into an ideological battleground in this Silver Bear winner out of the Berlinale. DIR Danis Tanović. SCR Danis Tanović. CAST Jaques Weber, Snežana Vidović, Izudin Bajrovic, Vedrana Seksan, Muhamed Hadžović, Faketa Salihbegović-Avdagić, Edin Avdagić, Aleksandar Seksan. France | Bosnia and Herzegovina
THE DEMONS (LES DÉMONS) – A 10-year-old boy begins to act out in frightening ways in this coming-of-age horror film. DIR Philippe Lesage. SCR Philippe Lesage. CAST Edouard Tremblay-Grenier, Pier-Luc Funk, Yannick Gobeil-Dugas, Vassili Schneider, Sarah Mottet, Mathis Thomas, Victoria Diamond, Laurent Lucas. Canada
A DRAGON ARRIVES! (EJHDEHA VARED MISHAVAD!) – This unique postmodern pastiche reenacts the confounding circumstances surrounding the 1965 suicide of an exiled political prisoner. DIR Mani Haghighi. SCR Mani Haghighi. CAST Amir Jadidi, Homayoun Ghanizadeh, Ehsan Goudarzi, Kiana Tajammol, Nader Fallah, Ali Bagheri, Kamran Safamanesh, Javad Ansari. Iran
FRANCA: CHAOS AND CREATION – In this incisive documentary, director Francesco Carrozzini creates an intimate portrait of his mother, Franca Sozzani, the legendary editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue. DIR Francesco Carrozzini. FEAT Franca Sozzani, Karl Lagerfeld, Bruce Weber, Baz Luhrmann, Courtney Love. Italy | USA
GRADUATION (BACALAUREAT) – When a doctor’s bright young daughter is assaulted the day before her final exams, he will do anything to make sure her scholarship to Cambridge isn’t jeopardized. DIR Cristian Mungiu. SCR Cristian Mungiu. CAST Adrian Titieni, Maria Drăguș, Lia Bugnar, Mălina Manovici, Vlad Ivanov, Gelu Colceag, Rareș Andrici, Petre Ciubotaru. Romania
THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MÄKI – Based on a true story, Finland’s official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® entry follows boxer Olli Mäki as he prepares for the 1962 world featherweight championship match. DIR Juho Kuosmanen. SCRS Mikko Myllylahti, Juho Kuosmanen. CAST Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, Joanna Haartti, Esko Barquero, Elma Milonoff, Leimu Leisti, Hilma Milonoff. Finland
HARMONIUM (FUCHI NI TATSU) – A Japanese couple’s quiet life is disrupted by the arrival of an old acquaintance recently released from prison. DIR Koji Fukada. SCR Koji Fukada. CAST Tadanobu Asano, Mariko Tsutsui, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Momone Shinokawa, Kana Mahiro. Japan | France
HOME – When a teen recently released from a juvenile detention center befriends another troubled young man, their shared alienation threatens to erupt in violence. DIR Fien Troch. SCR Fien Troch, Nico Leunen. CAST Sebastian Van Dun, Mistral Guidotti, Loïc Batog, Lena Suijkerbuijk, Karlijn Sileghem, Els Deceukelier, Robbie Cleiren, Yavuz Saçikara. Belgium
I, DANIEL BLAKE – In Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner, an ailing carpenter and struggling single mother join forces against the bureaucratic system keeping them down. DIR Ken Loach. SCR Paul Laverty. CAST Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Kema Sikazwe. UK | France | Belgium
IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE) – Xavier Dolan’s latest stars Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux as a volatile family reeling from the bad news brought home by an estranged son. DIR Xavier Dolan. SCR Xavier Dolan. CAST Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard. Canada | France
JULIETA – In Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, a woman is left to navigate tragedy and survival with her daughter after the death of her husband. DIR Pedro Almodóvar. SCR Pedro Almodóvar. CAST Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Dario Grandinetti, Rossy de Palma. Spain
LAND OF MINE – Tense and thrilling like THE HURT LOCKER, this film follows the adolescent German soldiers assigned to clear a Danish beach of its buried mines after World War II. DIR Martin Zandvliet. SCR Martin Zandvliet. CAST Roland Møller, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton. Denmark
LAYLA M. – When a young Muslim woman radicalizes and moves from Amsterdam to Jordan, she discovers a very different situation than she anticipated. DIR Mijke de Jong. SCRS Jan Eilander, Mijke de Jong. CAST Nora El Koussour, Ilias Addab. Netherlands l Belgium l Germany l Jordan
MALGRÉ LA NUIT – A man must descend into the world of pornographic snuff films in search of his lost love. DIR Philippe Grandrieux. SCRS Philippe Grandrieux, Bertrand Schefer, Rebecca Zlotowski, John-Henry Butterworth. CAST Kristian Marr, Ariane Labed, Roxane Mesquida, Paul Hamy, Johan Leysen, Sam Louwych, Aurélien Recoing. France | Canada
MISTER UNIVERSO – In this charming documentary and fiction hybrid, a young man of the circus embarks on a quest to find a legendary strongman. DIRS Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel. SCR Tizza Covi. CAST Tairo Caroli, Arthur Robin, Wendy Weber. Austria | Italy
NERUDA – Chile’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® centers on poet and senator Pablo Neruda, who went into hiding to escape arrest. DIR Pablo Larraín SCR Guillermo Calderón CAST Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal, Mercedes Morán, Diego Muñoz, Pablo Derqui, Michael Silva, Jamie Vadell, Alfredo Castro, Marcelo Alonso, Francisco Reyes, Alejandro Goic, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba. Chile
THE NET (GEUMUL) – Kim Ki-duk’s most controversial film to date centers on a North Korean fisherman who inadvertently drifts into South Korean waters, altering the course of his life forever. DIR Kim Ki-duk. SCR Kim Ki-duk. CAST Ryoo Seung-bum, Lee Won-gun, Kim Young-min, Choi Guy-hwa. South Korea
NOCTURAMA – Bertrand Bonello’s latest follows a pack of Parisian teenagers over the course of one day as they carry out a series of planned attacks throughout the city. DIR Bertrand Bonello. SCR Bertrand Bonello. CAST Finnegan Oldfield, Vincent Rottiers, Hamza Meziani, Manal Issa, Martin Guyot, Jamil McCraven, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laure Valentinelli, Ilias Le Doré, Robin Goldbronn, Luis Rego, Hermine Karagheuz, Adèle Haenel. France l Germany l Belgium
OLD STONE (LAO SHI) – When a timid cab driver helps an accident victim to the hospital, his decency is rewarded with a nightmarish decent into an unforgiving bureaucratic machine. DIR Johnny Ma. SCR Johnny Ma. CAST Chen Gang, Nai An, Wang Hongwei, Zhang Zebin, Luo Xue’er. China | Canada
THE ORNITHOLOGIST (O ORNITÓLOGO) – In the latest fever dream from João Pedro Rodrigues, an ornithologist is tossed from his kayak and finds himself on a wild, mesmerizing, blood-soaked journey downriver. DIR João Pedro Rodrigues. SCRS João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata CAST Paul Hamy, Xelo Cagiao, João Pedro Rodrigues, Han Wen, Chan Suan, Juliane Elting. Portugal | France | Brazil
PANAMERICAN MACHINERY (MAQUINARIA PANAMERICA) – In this witty and comedic debut, a group of Mexican workers stage a dysfunctional showdown when their factory goes bankrupt. DIR Joaquín Del Paso. SCRS Joaquín Del Paso, Lucy Pawlak. CAST Javier Zaragoza, Ramiro Orozco, Irene Ramirez, Edmundo Mosqueira, Delfino López, Cecilia Garcia, Cesar Panini, Javier Camacho, Israel Ruiz. Mexico | Poland
THE RED TURTLE – In Studio Ghibli’s beautiful first co-production, a shipwrecked man struggles to escape a deserted island but he’s kept from doing so by a giant sea turtle. DIR Michael Dudok de Wit. SCR Michael Dudok de Wit. France | Japan
THE SALESMAN – In Asghar Farhadi’s latest, a husband seeks revenge against the perpetrator who attacked his wife in their apartment. DIR Asghar Farhadi. SCR Asghar Farhadi. CAST Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, Mina Sadati, Maral Bani Adam, Mehdi Kooshki, Emad Emami. Iran l France
THINGS TO COME (L’ AVENIR) – Isabelle Huppert plays a passionate philosophy professor dealing with two quietly monumental life events. DIR Mia Hansen-Løve. SCR Mia Hansen-Løve. CAST Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Elise Lhomeau, Lionel Dray, Grégoire Montana-Haroche, Lina Benzerti. France | Germany
THE UNTAMED (LA REGIÓN SALVAJE)– The lives of a young mother, and her husband and brother are thrown into upheaval with the arrival of a mysterious woman who shows them how to access the most intense pleasure they’ve ever known. DIR Amat Escalante. SCRS Amat Escalante, Gibrán Portela. CAST Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza, Edén Villavicencio, Andrea Peláez, Oscar Escalante, Bernarda Trueba. Mexico | Denmark | France | Germany | Norway | Switzerland
THE WOUNDED ANGEL (RANENYY ANGEL) – Four adolescent boys in rural Kazakhstan deal with the harsh realities of post-Soviet life in this second feature by the director of HARMONY LESSONS. DIR Emir Baigazin. SCR Emir Baigazin. CAST Nurlybek Saktaganov, Madiyar Aripbay, Madiyar Nazarov, Omar Adilov, Anzara Barlykova, Timur Aidarbekov, Kanagat Taskaraev, Rasul Vilyamov. Kazakhstan | France | Germany
WÙLU – An honest but frustrated worker living in Mali resorts to drug-running to make ends meet, and soon finds himself embroiled in a conflict that stretches all the way to Al Qaeda. DIR Daouda Coulibaly. SCR Daouda Coulibaly. CAST Ibrahim Koma, Inna Modja, Ismaël N’Diaye, Jean-Marie Traoré, Habib Dembélé, Mariame N’Diaye, Quim Gutierrez, Olivier Rabourdin. France | Senegal
YOURSELF AND YOURS (DANGSINJASINGWA DANGSINUI GEOT) – In the latest from Hong Sang-soo, one painter searches for the woman he has just broken up with, while she — or her dopplegänger — pursues quasi-romantic encounters with other men. DIR Hong Sang-soo. SCR Hong Sang-soo. CAST Kim Jooh-yuck, Lee You-young. South Korea
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, LOS ANGELES, CA, NOVEMBER 4, 2016 — The American Film
Institute (AFI) today announced the Conversations and Presentations lineup for AFI FEST
2016 presented by Audi.
Highlights include an AFI Master Class on CITIZEN KANE with Peter Bogdanovich following a 75th anniversary screening of the film; Academy Award® nominee David O. Russell discussing the 20th anniversary of his sophomore feature FLIRTING WITH DISASTER; a panel on THE LOST CITY OF CECIL B. DEMILLE; director Barry Jenkins discussing his groundbreaking MOONLIGHT with cast members of the film; a roundtable of documentary filmmakers including Werner Herzog and Barbara Kopple, presented by the Los Angeles Times; The Hollywood Reporter Indie Contenders Roundtable with nine standout artists; and more. Click here to see the entire lineup release: afi-fest-2016-conversations-and-presentations-final
Interestingly, the film Charlie Victor Romeo, evolved from an award-winning play created in 1999 by Daniels, Berger and Gregory. The play captured two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Unique Theatrical Experience and Outstanding Sound Design and received recognition from Time Magazine in 2004 as Best Theatre Top Ten plays. The 1999 theatre version eventually was videotaped and the Smithsonian Aviation Museum reviewed it. Shortly thereafter, the aviation community picked it up and incorporated it into its repetoire of training tools for its pilots’ Crew Resource Management. After its 1999 opening at Collective:Unconscious in New York City, the played toured internationally and nationally until 2008.
The film version of Charlie Victor Romeo, is a collaborative effort between Collective:Unconscious and 3LD Art & Technology Center. The production was filmed at 3LD Art & Technology Center as part of its new 3LD/3D+ program, a cross-platform for distribution and production of experimental work and made its West Coast premiere on Saturday, November 9th, at the AFI Filmfest 2013. Following the second viewing at the Filmfest on November 11th, the cast of Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory, Noel Dinneen, Sam Zuckerman, Debbie Troche and Nora Woolley hosted a Q & A. Producer Catarina Bartha was also in the house to support her cast.
Berger, when asked what was the motivation behind the project, conveyed that it wasn’t anything political that it was simply trying to make something of interest to an audience.
In its most basic sense, Charlie Victor Romeo, dramatizes the human intensity that surfaces during the distressed descents of six airline crashes culled from dialogs taken from the surviving black box transcripts. In introducing the affected flights overlay schematics display the failed mechanical parts of the air crafts.
The team of screenwriters, Berger, Daniels and Gregory, scoured the typed transcripts of scores of airline emergencies and crashes, finally settling on the six presented. The criteria used in choosing which emergencies to dramatize the team wanted scenarios with enough emotional intensity that they could perform the scenes dramatically. They also wanted situations that illuminated the aviation perspective. And, finally, they wanted material that allowed their performances to create a bridge for the audience between professional aviation and their art in portraying the human aspect of handling an aviation emergency while in inflight when things go horribly wrong. All the flights selected had issues due to mechanical failures.
Charlie Victor Romeo, creates a spell-binding, psychologically thrilling techno experience within a tension-filled cockpit as the flight crews provide testament to the ability to live life to the very last second while deftly providing insight into who the people are that we entrust our lives to during airline flights and what they do when things go horribly wrong. Furthermore, the conscious decision to use 3D technology enabled the troupe to help bring the reality of being in the cockpit directly to the audience consciousness during the catastrophic experience as the pilots fight to save their passengers and themselves from an impending disaster.
In my opinion, Charlie Victor Romeo, pushes boundaries proving stereoscopic lensing is no longer the exclusive d0main of the epic major studios productions. But more than that, Charlie Victor Romeo, takes real-life aviation emergencies and brings them into the mainstream consciousness in a very humanistic way. Recommended
Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed at the AFI Fest 2012 at Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Calif.
In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem are arrested and convicted of raping a white woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park. They are incarcerated in prison ranging between 6 and 13 years before a serial rapist confesses to one of the erroneously convicted that he alone had committed the crime, leading to the convictions of those erroneously imprisoned being overturned. Set against a backdrop of a decaying city beset by violence and racial tension during the mid 80’s crack cocaine boom, The Central Park Five, tells the story of crime, a miscarriage of justice, the push by the police for confessions, a sensationalized media frenzy clamoring for emotionally charged stories and a public pushed to the brink with the common place Central Park “wildings’ occurring each weekend , and the five lives upended by the police department, the prosecutor’s office and the New York City Mayor’s Office. The five youths admitted they were in the park that evening committing other crimes.
The film is directed by legendary documentarian Ken Burns and his newcomer daughter Sarah Burns, who is the driving force behind the making of the film as she wrote her college thesis on the five falsely accused teens. Extensive use of archival footage combined with photos and current seated interviews provide an authenticity to the storytelling. At times it’s difficult to fathom how these young men were coerced into confessing. Yet, the Burns’ take the viewer on an “inch by inch” journey culminating in the release of the Central Park Five from their respective incarcerations. The question propagated being: was justice carried out? The obvious answer is not for these five young men. Other questions come to mind when these men are shown present day as they are finding it challenging to live life on life’s terms.
In a Q & A following the film (three of the Central Park Five were present and participated in a panel along with Ken and Sarah Burns), a civil suit against the prosecutor’s office and the police department came to light. The lawsuit is now nine years old and depositions haven’t even begun. The general consensus being that two to three more years will pass before the depositions are completed. Then, and only then, will the case be heard.
Yesterday’s headline news again reported a female jogger being approached by another group of five young, teen-age men around 8:30 P/M in the northern part of New York City’s Central Park seeking the woman to provide them with kisses. The woman rebuffed the advances and police officers claim one of the teens touched her genital/groin area and purportedly ran off. The Central Park Five, is a very provocative film revolving around the issue of what constitutes justice and what collateral damage occurs in carrying out a Machiavellian “the end justifies the means” brand of justice.
Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed at the Egyptian Theatre, AFI film festival, Hollywood, Calif.
Eraserhead, directed by David Lynch, the 2010 AFIfest’s guest director, continues to mesmerize audiences with its stark portrayal of the many all too human desires. As NY Times’ Manohla Dargis so eloquently writes “The black-and-white world of Eraserhead disturbs, seduces and even shocks with images that are alternately discomforting, even physically off-putting. It also amuses with scenes of preposterous, macabre comedy, among them a memorable family dinner involving a cooked bird that wiggles obscenely on its plate while it gushes forth a menacing dark liquid.” Consequently, Henry Spencer, played by John Nance is informed that he has fathered a child with girlfriend Mary X, played by Charlotte Stewart. However, the child is born as a mutated fetus. The doctors aren’t even sure the baby is human any longer. The baby appears with shuffling eyes and a bulbous wet head that looks like a skinned lamb and just lies on a table, cackling and cooing – more an emblem of dread than a bundle of joy. Henry and Mary move into Henry’s single-room apartment where the baby’s constant crying keeps them awake at night. Their existence is dominated by the overwhelming banality of Henry’s single apartment and its outlook onto a brick wall. Eventually, Mary walks out, leaving Henry with sole charge of the baby. Henry is left with what is some men’s greatest nightmare – of being left with the sole responsibility for raising an unwanted child.
Throughout Eraserhead, Lynch plays with a good deal of sexual imagery and sexual energy which seems to be the through action of the film. In the opening moments, we see Henry floating through space dreaming and what look like sperm emerging from his mouth. When domestic life with the baby starts going wrong, Henry is seen pulling sperm out of the sleeping Mary’s mouth as though trying to symbolically reverse the pregnancy. The sex in the film seems tinged with disgust – Henry’s future mother-in-law questions Henry about whether he and Mary have had sexual intercourse and proceeds to come onto Henry by slobbering on his check and neck. Later Henry hooks up with the seductive, attractive woman from across the hallway. However, Henry’s bed turns into a glowing swamp. Henry’s pick up attempt comes full circle as he sees the woman seducing another man. She teasingly turns to Henry and laughs at him somewhat menacingly. The only happiness Henry seems to find is in his radiator dream-land where a girl with puffy pock-cheeked cabaret-style dancer nervously sings and moves on stage as sperm drop on her. Perhaps as Richard Schieb suggests “this latter seems to be arguing that masturbation is the only safe form of sex – certainly, this would seem to be the case at the climax of the film, which sees Henry going off to join the pure and innocent puff-cheeked girl in radiator dream-land in a blaze of white light that may be the hereafter.” And who is the mysterious man depicted at the beginning and at the end of the film? He appears to be “the man behind the curtain” pulling the lever that controls Henry’s fate. Moreover, he quite possibly may represent Henry’s bloodline with his disfigured appearance shadowed by the flying sperm-like images. Or, maybe he represents a higher duality of fear and omniscience as Henry, in the opening scene, is seen confessing a wrongdoing and receiving forgiveness. This first scene sets the tone for Eraserhead. It is open to your interpretation.
Eraserhead certainly defies any type of classification. Lynch literally seems to have tapped into his subconscious. He uses dreams and dream-like imagery. Overall, Eraserhead seems to symbolize industrial dehumanization to a post-holocaust nuclear proliferation era with powerful sexual overtones. Henry lives in the midst of an industrial wasteland. The only views we get of the outside world are of cold, dirty factories. The only greenery we see is in Henry’s room consisting of two piles of dirt, one on his dresser and one on his bedside table where branches have sprouted. And, as Scheib so poignantly asks, “What do the pencil erasers represent – do they, as some pedantic academic suggested, symbolically represent the mind’s ability to repress or ‘erase’ matter?” Indeed.
Eraserhead was produced by the American Film Institute (AFI). AFI is known for its Lifetime Achievement Awards and for its production of over 250 short films. Eraserhead appeared at the 1976 Chicago International Film Festival, at the Filmex Film Festival in 1977 and at the 1978 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival garnering the Antennae II Award. In 2004, The USA National Film Preservation Board named Eraserhead to the National Film Registry. It took Mr. Lynch five years to complete it. Other notable films by Mr. Lynch include Mulholland Drive (2001), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me (1992). Recommended.
AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi has announced its annual Cinema Legacy’s lineup. This section highlights classic movies and, this year, is comprised of nine iconic titles from film history, including Orson Welles’ masterpiece CITIZEN KANE (1941), along with films featuring the three female film trailblazers adorning this year’s festival key art: CARMEN JONES (1954), starring Dorothy Dandridge; THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), directed by Ida Lupino; and PICCADILLY (1929), starring Anna May Wong. Additionally, the Cinema’s Legacy section will present AFI Conservatory alumna Julie Dash’s (Class of 1974) groundbreaking DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (1991).
CARMEN JONES – Dorothy Dandridge stars in the title role that made her the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar®. DIR Otto Preminger. SCR Harry Kleiner. CAST Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Olga James, Joe Adams, Brock Peters, Roy Glenn, Nick Stewart, Diahann Carroll. USA
CITIZEN KANE – Orson Welles’ classic — number one on AFI’s list of the greatest films of all time — follows the tragic life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. DIR Orson Welles. SCRS Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles. CAST Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Linda Winters, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane, William Alland, Paul Stewart, George Coulouris. USA
DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST – Filmmaker Julie Dash (AFI Class of 1974) weaves lush imagery and a poetic narrative in this tale of three generations of African-American slave descendants on a journey to the North. DIR Julie Dash. SCR Julie Dash. CAST Adisa Anderson, Barbara-O, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Cora Lee Day, Geraldine Dunston, Vertamae Grosvenor, Tommy Hicks, Kaycee Moore. USA
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER – In David O. Russell’s sophomore feature, Ben Stiller, Téa Leoni and Patricia Arquette play an oddball trio careening across America. DIR David O. Russell. SCR David O. Russell. CAST Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin. USA
THE HITCH-HIKER – A deranged hitchhiker takes two all-American Everymen as hostages in this gripping film noir classic. DIR Ida Lupino. SCR Ida Lupino, Collier Young, Robert Joseph. CAST Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, José Torvay, Sam Hayes, Wendell Niles, Jean Del Val, Clark Howat. USA
IL SORPASSO – A classic road trip comedy meets the most fabulous of odd couple pairings in Dino Risi’s IL SORPASSO, considered the holy grail of commedia all’italiana. DIR Dino Risi. SCRS Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari. CAST Vittotio Gassman, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Spaak, Claudio Gora, Luciana Angiolillo. Italy
MIFUNE, THE LAST SAMURAI – This thoughtful, elegant documentary on Japanese cinema’s greatest actor, Toshiro Mifune, is a cinephile’s dream. DIR Steven Okazaki. SCRS Steven Okazaki, Stuart Galbraith IV. FEAT Keanu Reeves, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Kyôko Kagawa, Toshio Tshuchiya. Japan
PICCADILLY – Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, is astonishing as a dishwasher promoted to the headlining act at outré London club Piccadilly. DIR Ewald André Dupont. Presented with live DJ accompaniment from Ms. 45s. SCR Arnold Bennett. CAST Gilda Gray, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, King Ho-Chang, Cyril Ritchard, Charles Laughton. UK
SPEEDY – Special engagement of the silent film classic, presented with original live music accompaniment by DJ Z-Trip. The great Harold Lloyd stars in the title role as a man who hilariously tries to save the last horse-drawn streetcar in an increasingly modern New York City. DIR Ted Wilde. SCRS John Grey, Lex Neal, Howard Rogers, Jay Howe, Albert De Mond. CAST Harold Lloyd, Ann Christy, Bert Woodruff, Babe Ruth, Brooks Benedict. USA
Tickets to Cinema’s Legacy screenings will be available on AFI.com beginning November 1.
In celebration of the 30th edition of AFI FEST presented by Audi, a trio of diverse female trailblazers will adorn the festival’s 2016 key art and be featured in its programming lineup. AFI FEST will spotlight Dorothy Dandridge, the first African American nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award®; Ida Lupino, a pioneering director, writer, producer and actress who became the first woman to direct a film noir; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American actress to rise to international prominence.
AFI FEST will screen three films featuring each artist in its expanded Cinema’s Legacy section that celebrates motion picture heritage and presents recent restorations of film classics and films about the history of cinema: Otto Preminger’s CARMEN JONES (1954) starring Dandridge; the Lupino-directed THE HITCH-HIKER (1953); and E.A. Dupont’s PICCADILLY (1929) starring Wong.
Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965) rose to prominence alongside her sister Vivian and jazz singer Etta Jones as part of the song-and-dance trio the Dandridge Sisters, before becoming a solo artist who starred in Hollywood musicals. With CARMEN JONES (1954), she became the first black woman to receive an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actress.
London-born Ida Lupino (1918-1995) was a pioneering actress, director and producer. Her acting credits include THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) and HIGH SIERRA (1941) opposite Humphrey Bogart. She made her writing/directing debut with NEVER FEAR (1949) before THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) made her the first woman to direct a film noir.
Anna May Wong (1905-1961) was the first Chinese-American movie star, having achieved stardom in the Technicolor THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922). Among her collaborators were Douglas Fairbanks, Josef von Sternberg and Raoul Walsh, with credits including THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), PICCADILLY (1929) and SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).