Today a new list I’ve contributed to Rupert Pupkin Speaks went live. Take a look!
At the Enclave section over at Entropy ever since this call for submissions came out…
If the world were to end next week, what is the final poem you write, the final poem you give away generously, treacherously, genuinely, fearfully, necessarily, beautifully?
I’ve been pondering my submission. After many attempts, in many different forms, I finally came up with my own take, in a non-traditional format. You can find it here.
One of my favorite lists to compile on an annual basis is my film discoveries list. My 2017 list was posted yesterday on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Read it here!
When I watched the documentary Reel Injun – which is a fascinating attempt at an all-inclusive retrospective of the history of Native American characters and narratives on North American, mainly Hollywood, screens – I was somewhat surprised to see the inclusion of Atarnarjuat: The Fast Runner in it. However, it made sense for two reasons: it’s a tale of the First Nations (Canadian vernacular for indigenous tribes) and because of its universal appeal. This appeal is perhaps most brilliantly demonstrated by the reactions of Native Americans to this film. It was a consensus: the movie is something special and “an inside job.” This term is left vague but you can tell what it means it’s a story born in a tribe, that’s lived with it, and now found a home on film shaped my Inuit filmmakers. However, this thought echoed through my mind even more when I thought to write about Atanarjuat. I had seen it the third film a loose trilogy (The Fast Runner Trilogy concluding in Before Tomorrow) and knew it was a thematic rather than chronological, but when I discovered there was an illustrated screenplay and started reading it, and its additional materials, I knew that the term “inside job” was not only fitting (which I assumed), not only a great compliment (which I knew), but also a testament to the level of work taken on by all involved, in this film and in Isuma Productions’ ongoing mission.
The Wonders the Pages Contain
On the equivalent of a blurb page the significance of the Atanarjuat in film history is made apparent: “the first film written, directed, and acted by Inuit in the ancient oral language of Inukitut…” then the accolades like the Camera d’Or at Cannes, Genie Awards and the like. But the review by A.O. Scott really gets you going if you don’t know what you’re in for:
“The Fast Runner is not merely an interesting document from a far-off place; it is a masterpiece. It is, by any standard, an extraordinary film a work of narrative sweep and visual beauty that honors the history of the art form even as it extends its perspective.”
Then came the first awe-inspiring, chill-inducing moment that came only in this book, which is a timeline of the Igloolik area, where the story is set and shot, starting at 7,500 years ago with the emergence of the island to the period between 1995 to 2002 when writing the film began and after the festival runs and worldwide release.
With education being one of Isuma’s goals aside from preserving oral traditions (Isuma is the Inuit word for ‘to think’), there are quite a few enthnographic supplements to the screenplay the first being a letter from Claude Lévi-Strauss of the Académie Française to Bernard Saladin D’Anglure, professor at Laval University and Head of the Institute for Traditional Inuit Life, reacting to the film but also hoping for added information, and intimating that a deep link between the cinematic construct and cultural traditions, which do seem to permeate the film.
Yet this is only dipping your toes in the water. Then you get Zacharias Kunuk, one of the writers and director of the film, telling the story of how he first heard the legend of Atanarjuat as a child. And reading that brief missive just made me appreciate the weight not just of the story decisions he had to make within the given narrative but also the project selection. This was to be the first project of its kind and this was the story and he was the one not only trying to keep this legend alive for future generations but also dealing with modern filmmaking headaches like raising capital.
This hurdle, and the added difficulties of it are underscored in the interview with Paul Apak Angilirq, a co-screenwriter, not only did they confer with a group of elders on behavioral differences, and cultural differences in pre-colonial times, and the old oral version of Inukitut, and pick between the minor variations that exist in any legend passed down by oral tradition, but also they had to translate the script into English as it was being written in hopes to try to secure grants and other funding.
These two versions of the script are put to full use in the illustrated screenplay, aside from behind the scenes photos, production stills, inset boxes with more pertinent cultural information as appropriate; and most notably and poetically parallel text syllabic Old Inukitut on the left, English on the right.
Since two screenplays are crammed in the pages the spacing is condensed to accommodate the photos. Despite this the movement of the story is evident, and even some details in the script that aren’t strictly speaking visual details, are conveyed in the film.
After the screenplay there is an extended ethnographic commentary from the aforementioned Bernard Saladin d’Anglure that covers the Legend of Atanarjuat, the Inuit people in general, and shamanism. In discussing the Inuit he goes from pre-colonial times, and mentions Knud Rasmussen whose Thule expeditions and journals form the basis of the hard-to-find second film in the series up to and including the end of the last holdouts against radio, television, and formalized permanent settlements, creation of the syllabic alphabet and contextualization of the formation of Nunavut. It’s a testament to the non-fiction writing and insights offered that I gladly read the front and back matter without much hesitation.
This was not the first book indigenous legends with parallel text I read but it much more readable in part because while the goals are similar (imparting knowledge and preserving traditions) the audience for all parts of this book is fairly wide, and there isn’t a section that reads like it’s mostly for specialists (e.g. linguists or anthropologists).
Even if you never heard of the term ethnography before, if you know and like the film I’d recommend you seek out the illustrated screenplay. If you want to look this screenplay up, I’d say find the film first and all of the book will have that much more impact on you.
It’s funny how similar in conclusion and resolution this is to the other Kazan film I saw (Panic in the Streets above). Another thing that struck me is that it handles a lot of similar elements much better than the later The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Victor Victoria (1982)
There are givens in this film: Julie Andrews is great, the intelligence of the dialogue that ensues regarding gender and sexuality is sparkling, the music is toe-tapping. The film is highly entertaining. I’m not sure if its part of the slapstick that the illusion of Victoria being Victor isn’t sold more say with more fitted clothes, shooting in black & white or any number of methods, but that does allow for some distraction in frequent buffering of your suspension of disbelief, wherein you have to convince yourself that most of the unseen masses in this fictional land buy the illusion. It’s a small thing that snowballs into a bigger one, but it’s still a good film that should be seen and discussed more than it is.
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 7/1
I, like many, have seen many a version of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol it’s one of the Great Stories that we all become accustomed to and can analyze individual adaptations based on interpretation and choices more so than for the narrative itself. This version is a musical that is penned by the renowned Leslie Bricusse and for as closely as it sticks to the structure of the story for the most part offers as change of pace with songs, many of which were new. The songs are well-spaced allowing the drama to unfold adequately between numbers and also many are half-sung which lessens the theatricality of it. When watching 31 Days of Oscar I like to try and guess the nominations, if I don’t know them already and I guessed right on Art Direction and Song and was not surprised by the costuming being included. This is a very enjoyable rendition of the tale that ought not be overlooked.
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/0
For more information on my fiction please go to my Author page.
Teenage Death Songs: Volume 2
Rhiannon of Russet
A woman’s journey from moderate conservative to political zealotry sees her run afoul of the hidden powers that govern her adopted hometown and threatens those closest to her.
Sea of Blood
Mahtantu is named after the the Lenape god of death. As Thanksgiving 2016 approaches he plots to upstage his hometown’s fictitious holiday pageant.
Rimmon was born half-human and half-demon, a self-proclaimed demidemon, he struggles with the duality of his nature, his birth, distance from his biological parents and finding acceptance in the demonic hierarchy. The only friends he’s known in the short span of his life challenge his loyalties when they ask for a dangerous favor.
A neutron star is one that glows more brightly after it “death,” similarly these filmmakers and actors do. It’s a counterpart to the Lifetime Achievement Award which is intended for filmmakers and actors who are very much alive and kicking.
2017 Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher’s death in late 2016 was a cruel shock. The tragedy was of course compounded by the fact that her mother Debbie Reynolds died the very next day.
Shortly after their deaths HBO released a doc about them that they were producing anyway. I saw Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds shortly after it became available. It was an insightful, touching and bittersweet look at their life together. It underscored the fact that too much about her career didn’t get attention until after the fact. I remember maybe vaguely hearing about her script doctoring once but by the time the fact came up again I couldn’t recall if that was something I ever knew or if it was new information.
And that list of titles is quite good.
And, of course, after the fact I would find things that either I forgot she was in (Austin Powers International Man of Mystery) or never knew realized was in (When Harry Met Sally…, Hannah and Her Sisters).
Then, of course, there was The Last Jedi. Of course, when I went to see it I knew it would be one of the last new films I’d see her in (Wonderwell is slated for release this year) but I didn’t expect Leia’s role to be that much larger than it was previously and that much more epic. In the nominating process I asked myself the hard question: was she included in the nominees only because it was a posthumous honor? Absolutely not.
For those reasons and so many more Carrie Fisher gets the honor this year.
If you’ve been to my site over the years it’s not secret that I am a huge fan of Stephen King, and I have sought almost any opportunity I could find to write about him.
Here are some notable instances:
However, in the BAM Awards as entertainer of the year was not something I foresaw.
Throughout the year I made mental notes of actors and directors who had multiple credits to their name who made their mark through a large swath of the calendar year. I usually like these awards to be like revelations rather than conscious decisions. Once I tried resisting choosing King, I knew he was the only choice.
And I only resisted because picking the creator of source material would be a new frontier, but it is worthy of inclusion. I always cite the author of source material in my nominations on equal footing with the screenwriters.
With it seeming, based on early looks, that King was going to have a very good year, many retrospectives came but the new work showed there are people working now who want to work with his material, and know how to mold it for film.
And it was a very good year for Stephen King, and the BAM Awards were no exception. Films based on his works garnered 30 nominations; including three of five Best Adapted Screenplay nominations.
He also saw two more of his works turned into TV shows Mr. Mercedes and The Mist.
He and his son Owen released the timely novel Sleeping Beauties, and he has a new novel due out this spring; so it’s clear he’s still kicking but his impact on me and many has been long-lasting and will continue, but 2017 cinematically was a standout for highlighting his work, and it’s why he’s the recipient of this prize.