Sundance: On the pent-up agony of 'Wuthering Heights' and 'I Am Not a Hipster'
PARK CITY - I really wanted Amy Berg's "West of Memphis" to happen at 8:30 this morning, but nothing doing. I hear it's a nice distillation of the Robin Hood Hills story for those who haven't seen the Berlinger/Sinofsky "Paradise Lost" series, but nothing about it seems to be blowing too many skirts up so I guess it wasn't such a fatal miss.
Look, Emily Brontë's novel is a bad love story full of deplorable characters. It's a brutal vision of love (which, this combined with "Fish Tank" makes Arnold a fascinating person to analyze on that subject) and it's wrought even more brutally here.
But I do like what Arnold has done with it. It's very observational, very visceral. When the narrative catches up with Heathcliff and Catherine later in life, actors James Howson and Kaya Scodelario dance beautifully together. Their younger counterparts, Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer, provide a solid base for the gut-wrenching romance to unfold. Arnold has wisely done away with the extraneous Lockwood character and just plunged the viewer into the streamlined story.
The photography is a bit gimmicky throughout. Many images are beautiful, though a rack focus motif feels unmotivated and overused, while other things, like the blurred POV of teary eyes, come across as too creative for their own good. But I like that there's an experimental stroke throughout.
You'll recall Guy was a big fan of the film at last year's Venice Film Festival, calling it "an artwork that redraws the story with the most immediate sensory tools of its medium." He also chose it as one of his top 10 films of the year. Drew McWeeny, meanwhile, caught up with it at Toronto and snarkily called it "Andrea Arnold's Photography Exhibit On Themes From 'Wuthering Heights,'" noting that, in his opinion, the film is a "non-motion picture" and "dramatically inert."
That's a split assessment under one roof here at HitFix and I'm somewhere in the Guy-leaning middle, but I strongly disagree with Drew's sense of it as lacking dramatic heft. I felt every deep fissure of exposed agony, that glimmering of hate resting on the edge of love. It's HIGHLY dramatic, and the observational tactic allows that drama to unfold unmolested.
Anyway, I'm writing more than I wanted to on it, but it was, for me, a valuable experience and a nice first film here in Park City.
Later it was Destin Daniel Cretton's impressive feature debut, "I Am Not a Hipster." The film was a bit of a surprise for me, because the title betrays its sincerity, even if it is cleverly tied into themes of personal truth present in the film. It tells the story of an annoyingly melancholy singer/songwriter, Brook (Dominic Bogart), in the San Diego independent music scene stuck in an emotional limbo with things like the death of his mother and a recent break-up hanging over him. As the film moves along, layers of Brook start to peel back, he's visited by his three glowing sisters (a relationship very movingly and authentically conveyed) and we see him for the guy he could be if he could get over it.
And really, that's what the film is about, to some extent. It's also about perception of art and its perceived value, subjectivity, etc. It plays in pretentious textures without ever losing the truth about them, and I respected it for that.
Mainly, though, I was taken by Dominic Bogart, who will totally be a star if he wants to be. This guy has charisma and an internal spirit that really makes him stand out on the screen. I spoke to him at the film's after party for a bit about his musical theater background, which he's playfully embarrassed about, but to me, it indicates an intriguing range. To go from outward performances in productions of "Jersey Boys" and "Rent" to something this pent-up and internalized indicates real talent, and he's charming off the screen to boot. A potent mix.
I should also mention actor Alvaro Orlando, who is really touching and wonderful as Brook's best friend and quasi-manager, Clarke.
There were seven original songs composed exclusively for the film by Joel P. West and performed by Bogart. All of them are smartly used within the narrative and they're often moving. Someone made a "Once" comparison, and on some level, I can see that.
I also spoke with Cretton, who shows some real chops as a director here. He said they shot it on the RED camera, which reminded me of this afternoon's Variety article about the fragility of digital production and the likelihood of obsolete file formats causing a rash of lost material. Of course, converting to an analog print is the way to go, but for a film like this, as Cretton says, that's just not a realistic expenditure. Of course, things will change in a hurry if the film is sold, and it's of course one of many looking for a buyer with suitors circling.
Speaking of acquisitions, Sony Classics announced today that it picked up the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," which was a big hit after playing last night and was on many lips this morning. I hear good things and hope to catch it before I leave. Magnolia Pictures, meanwhile, acquired the doc "The Queen of Versailles," which was also well-received last night for the most part.
Tomorrow should start with a look at "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (yielding stellar word of mouth -- Greg Ellwood was a big fan around these parts) and some catch-up on "The Raid" later in the day, which was a big hit at Toronto last year, so much so that many of my colleagues have been clamoring for a second look here in the mountains.
And the beat goes on...
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