Want to hear my take on 50 Shades of Grey? I talked about it on Triad Arts Weekend, and you can hear it here…just scroll down for the link when you get to the page.
I’m sitting at my desk watching Grey Gardens.
This is not a coincidence, but it’s not related to class prep or to the recent death of co-director Albert Maysles.
Instead, it’s a refresher before I urge you to take a trip to see the 40th anniversary restoration of Grey Gardens playing for one week starting tomorrow.
This is one of Albert and David Maysles’s most famous films. The 1976 documentary, shot in their customary direct cinema style (“fly on the wall”), positions the filmmakers as observers while Big Edie Beale and her daughter Little Edie Beale tell their life stories from the dilapidated mansion in East Hampton that they called home for 50 years.
Eccentric may be a mild word to describe the two women bound by blood and history but isolated from most other people and the larger world outside their own grey garden.
Big Edie and Little Edie came into public consciousness in the early 1970s when reporters discovered that the two women, cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, were facing eviction from their home after government inspections deemed it a hazard to public health.
Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided funds to bring the mansion up to code, but the condition of the home and the lifestyle of the mother and daughter are still disturbing to watch. For me, the film is as sad as it is fascinating.
Did Big Edie and Little Edie really understand the implications of having the filmmakers in their private spaces (interior and exterior)? It doesn’t seem so.
The ethics of the film have been debated, but what is not up for debate is the important place the film holds in cinema history.
Two of the Maysles’s Brothers 30-plus films have been named to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Grey Gardens is one of them, and the other is my personal favorite, Salesman from 1968.
Missed my take on these two films on “Triad Arts Weekend”? Listen to it here.
I’ve seen so many movies…and TV shows…in recent weeks…okay, months…that I have not written about here.
It’s true, I’ve been busy, but that’s nothing new. Something else is going on with me.
There has been a bit of inexplicable malaise about writing about works of others, even those that have inspired me.
Maybe this is temporary.
Perhaps it is related to the fact that I’ve been spending more time on my own films and my scholarly work – more creating and less critiquing.
Nonetheless, I’m going to try to play a little catch up as I recall what I’ve seen in the form of pithy (I hope!) little recollections and recommendations.
If you wonder what I’ve been thinking about a film you’ve seen or want to see, just ask. That would be a powerful motivator for me.
Also, I have recorded a “Triad Arts Weekend” piece on Selma and American Sniper and another on 50 Shades of Grey.
I’ll try to locate links to those for you, too.
Last weekend, I took my mother to see The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel. For months after seeing the first preview trailer, she’d ask impatiently almost weekly when that movie was going to open!
Her report? “It’s not as good as the first one.”
My report? While the first film was charming as well as predictable, this sequel doesn’t have much zing even though some of the actors are among my favorites, and Richard Gere is aging quite well.
No magic this time around.
It seems I’m late to this party…but I just kept seeing films and thinking about the list and wanting to see some more films…and at least I’m weighing in before the Oscars. Maybe that means I’m just in time for the biggest party of them all.
Remember, I don’t necessarily think of these as the “best” films of the year, though several of them are nominated for Oscars. They are my favorites of the movies I saw among last year’s crop.
In alphabetical order:
Boyhood – it is unprecedented and I love every frame. This is a remarkable film, and I love Richard Linklater for thinking of the idea and taking a chance with a bold experiement and love his ensemble of actors for going along on the journey.
Ida – one of the most beautifully photographed films I’ve seen and a Holocaust story that feels as original as it is compelling.
Maleficient – the way Maleficient fully embraces the masculine and the feminine to overcome the patriarchy is empowering. I find the film thrilling.
Obvious Child – this film reinvigorates the romantic comedy with is originality and unpredictability. There is much more here than meets the eye when considered in the context of the conventions of the genre that are referenced and overturned.
The Case Against 8 – in a year of good documentaries, this one has the strongest narrative elements for me. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling.
The Lego Movie – is brilliant and entertaining, so watch out one-percenters. Everything in this film is AWESOME!!!
The Theory of Everything – every year there’s one conventionally made film that engages me with its craft and authenticity, and I also loved that this is Mrs. Hawking’s story (based on her memoir) as much if not more than her more famous husband’s story.
The Way He Looks – this is one of the most beautiful coming of age stories I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it addresses the challenges of disability and coming out in such a tender way endears the film to me all the more.
Whiplash – uh, wow! Knocks my socks off, is a game changer for my scholarly work on the depiction of teachers in popular culture, and is an all around amazing film. SEE THIS!
Wild – a surprisingly good telling of a story that could have gone so wrong in so many ways but for the craft in Nick Hornby’s adapted screenplay, Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction (especially the timeline transitions always perfectly motivated), and Reece Witherspoon’s strong performance.
Check out Little Accidents this week at a/perture. Following the 4:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. screenings on Saturday, February 21, producer Summer Shelton will be present to answer audience questions (see my Q & A with her below).
Little Accidents is an interesting title because some of the accidents in this coalmining town nestled in the rural mountains are not so small, including the mining accident that frames the narrative, and all of them have a ripple effect throughout the community that seems to go on and on.
First-time feature writer and director Sara Colangelo tells the type of story I have a predilection for – an intimate drama with links to larger social issues. There is a delicacy to the storytelling and a peeling away of layers of identity to reveal underlying connections among unlikely people, which creates a lot of tension, inspires empathy from the viewer, and reveals some of our most common shared experiences and greatest shared fears as human beings.
A great deal of the success of the movie rests on the casting and performances Colangelo gets from a trio of leading actors and supporting performers.
Jacob Lofland (Owen) proves that his turn in Mud was no fluke. There is never a false note in his portrayal of a teenager dealing with the loss of his father and a huge secret that gnaws at him.
Elizabeth Banks shows welcome range here in a departure from her comedic roles, and Boyd Holbrook is a compelling presence throughout. Chloë Sevigny does not have a lot of screen time as Owen’s mom, but their interactions have a detached authenticity – if their relationship were different, perhaps some of the little accidents, or at least the consequences, would have been mitigated.
Or course, then viewers would not be able to engage this particular story. This is a small film that has a big impact on the human heart.
Interview with producer Summer Shelton:
Mary: You seem to be drawn to intimate dramas, Summer. How do you select which projects you want to work on?
Summer: It’s a potpourri of ways: sometimes I start out just drawn to certain filmmakers wanting to help be a part of developing their body of work, or there may be cast or producers on board that I’d like to work with, and sometimes projects find me. With Little Accidents, it was a bit of all of the above, Sara wrote a beautiful script and her shorts films were so visionary and beautiful, and I had wanted to work with Anne Carey for a while so she brought me onto the project due to my background making regional films. I feel very lucky to be a part of Sara’s feature debut. She is very talented.
At the end of the day, though, no matter how the project starts, I am drawn to stories that either shed light on a place or community that may be overlooked with relatable “everyman/everywoman (ish)” leading characters in pursuit of a truth or overcoming an obstacle.
It is funny you point out that I’m drawn to drama; I think the material I’ve been lured to can be attributed to the talented filmmakers who have created such rich complex characters. Not too long ago, someone was pitching me an idea and started, “I have this idea for a film I’d like to make; I don’t know if you’d like it because it is a comedy,” and I actually had to interject quiet quickly and let them know that I do indeed actually like to laugh. One of my latest films People, Places, Things is a very heartfelt comedy.
I like a good story regardless of genre.
Mary: What are your strengths as a producer?
Summer: I have been fortunate to collaborate with amazing writer/directors and work on projects from development to distribution. I have a strong background in physical production so I can take an abstract idea and figure out how to make it tangible onscreen. I have learned from great mentors (Ramin Bahrani, Anne Carey, Declan Baldwin, Louise Lovegrove and through Fellowships with the Sundance Institute and Film Independent) that a film is made several times –on the page, on the set, in the edit room, in the sound mix and in front of an audience—all require a producer to understand how to preserve the vision of the film within every iteration and know how to support a director through every incarnation. I like helping people, so I wanted to learn how to make a movie soup to nuts exposing myself to both the creative and the technical side as much as possible so I can lead and support everyone throughout the process.
Mary: I know you were a teacher in North Carolina before you decided to make a career change. When did you decide the film business was for you, and what path did you take to get where you are?
Summer: I never aspired to be a filmmaker; I didn’t really know what it meant to make a career out of making movies. I thought you just had to be in them. So I start out trying to be an actress, doing some auditions, acting in a few things and in undergraduate study at Pfeiffer University, I did a lot of theater, but while there in theory classes, I became fascinated by the power of words and images. I thought I would have a career in marketing or advertising. I continued my studies in Liberal Arts at Wake Forest University where I got my Master’s as I taught high school English.
After I got all the degrees I thought I needed as a safety net, I was just at the age where I thought why not go to film school for a year and see what happens. It was a now or never type of thing. Lucky for me it was during that year of film school at UNC School of the Arts that Ramin Bahrani (Winston-Salem native) came back to make his third feature Goodbye Solo. He needed someone to help doing local casting. Making that film and working with him over the next several years was my other film school, I learned so much from him. He is so smart and generous with his knowledge. Since then, getting where I am has been just seizing every opportunity and just going for it. I feel like I have just spirited an eight-year marathon making movies all over the place. It is great to be back here with the opening of Little Accidents while also doing a guest adjunct position at UNCSA for the next few weeks. I have always loved teaching and giving back in what ways I can to help others.
Mary: This is writer-director Sara Colangelo’s first feature project. I think it’s an auspicious beginning. Do you know what she’s working on now?
Summer: Presently, Sara is working with the Sundance Institute Film Forward program, screening Little Accidents in classrooms and in smaller communities around the country that may not have access to independent film, as well as developing a television pilot, which is set in another American industrial landscape.
Note: I served on Summer’s thesis committee when she completed her graduate work Wake Forest University and am very proud of the work she has pursued since.