Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Making (non)sense of it all

As I was making my way out of the very last press screening of the 27th Seattle International Film Festival, I (almost literally) brushed shoulders with Quentin Tarantino himself. He was due to appear in a seminar immediately after and was animatedly chatting with people in the lobby of the Egyptian Theater.

I would have introduced myself, but I decided against it. I doubt that he has ever seen this web page, but if on the off chance he has, it could have been awkward since I don’t believe I have ever used the name “Quentin Tarantino” in a sentence that didn’t also include the word “overrated.” Actually, I think Quentin (and I think I have been sufficiently close to him now to call him Quentin) is a very talented director and his movies are a lot of fun. I just never “got” the exaggerated adulation that was spawned by Pulp Fiction. In any event, he is obviously a great movie fan and has done film buffs a valuable service by reviving a number of lost and forgotten would-be classics, such as Switchblade Sisters.

Anyway, with the film festival winding down, it is time for me to try to make some general sweeping conclusions about what was shown. This is always an intensely personal exercise—and not just because film viewing is a personal experience—but because there are so many films screened at this particular film festival that few human beings can manage to see a bare majority and most attendees see a mere fraction of what’s available. So “my” film festival will be quite different from anyone else’s film festival since few, if any, other people will have seen the exact same films I saw.

With that proviso, here are the grand trends I noticed in this year’s festival:

  • Bullet-riddled lovers: Overall, it seemed as though an awful lot of movies dealt with tragic love stories that ended with one or both of the principals biting it big time in a hail of gunfire. The best illustration of this trend may be Bangkok Dangerous, about a hit man who decides to chuck his stellar career as a ruthlessly efficient professional assassin because he’s met a sweet, shy, innocent pharmacy employee. You don’t need to know any more than that to guess that things don’t go smoothly. Tragic fates also awaited one or more of the pairs in Canone inverso – making love, not to mention Borstal Boy, although in that case it’s not exactly clear if the Brendan Behan character and his young soldier were actually lovers or just good friends. This trend was pervasive enough to spawn two sub-genres: 1) gay South American bullet-ridden lovers, exemplified by the gun-toting characters of Our Lady of the Assassins and Burnt Money, and 2) African-American heterosexual murdered lovers, as seen in Lift and the Othello update O.

  • Males versus females: The age-old war between the sexes is still going as strong as ever according to many of the films on display. Notably, two films ( Mexico’s Sex, Shame & Tears and Britain’s Born Romantic) dealt with three men and three women squaring off in young urban professional milieus. 101 Reykjavik pitted its hero not only against his girlfriend but also his mother’s girlfriend, who also happened to be the mother of his child, in what has to be considered a rather complicated family situation. I suppose that Lost and Delirious could also go into this category since it includes an actual duel between a teenage boy and girl who are fighting over a teenage girl.

  • Portraits of visionaries: As they often do, the documentaries acquainted us with some interesting personalities who have made their mark on the world. The best of these was Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures who changed the not only the way we look at movies but the way movies look. Less momentous subjects included über cemetery owner Tyler Cassity in The Young and the Dead and the hapless dot-com entrepreneurs Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman in I suppose you could even include the fictional filmmaker of The Left Side of the Fridge, who was more interested in stirring up an argument than making a successful (fake) documentary.

  • Let’s bash the Catholic Church: Catholicism came in for even more denunciation than usual this year. Stephen Frears’s Liam painted an alarming picture of how a Catholic education could traumatize a young English boy, while Coronation showed how it could go on to wreck a middle-aged Chilean man’s life as well. But the prize in this category has to go to Second Coming, which actually portrays cardinals in the Vatican plotting the kidnap and murder of Jesus, who has returned at the dawn of the third millenium, and burning His lost gospel—all in order to preserve their jobs!

    -S.L., 14 June 2001

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