Painter Hieronymus Bosch, new film


This video says about itself:

EXHIBITION ON SCREEN – The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch

20 September 2016

IN CINEMAS FROM 3 NOVEMBER 2016

Delve into the vivid imagination of a true visionary.

Who was Hieronymus Bosch? Why do his strange and fantastical paintings resonate with art lovers now more than ever? How does he bridge the medieval and Renaissance worlds? Where did his unconventional and timeless creations come from? Discover the answers to these questions and more with this remarkable new film from EXHIBITION ON SCREEN.

The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch features the critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Visions of a Genius’ at the Noordbrabants Museum in the southern Netherlands, which brought the majority of Bosch’s paintings and drawings together for the first time to his home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and attracted almost half a million art lovers from all over the world.

With his fascinating life revealed plus the details and stories within his works seen like never before, don’t miss this cinematic exploration of a great creative genius.

For more information go to www.exhibitiononscreen.com.

Guantánamo, Cuban views, new film


This video says about itself:

ALL GUANTÁNAMO IS OURS

25 October 2016

Produced by RESUMEN LATINOAMERICANO, 2016

From the Investigaction site:

The word Guantánamo was popularized world-wide in 2002 when the U.S, Government opened a detention camp at the military base to detain more than 1,000 suspected terrorists there.

Few know that the territory is a piece of land that belongs to Cuba, but has been illegally occupied since 1903 and remains a present impediment to the normalization of relations between the two countries. Watch the new documentary All Guantánamo is Ours, directed by Colombian journalist and writer Hernando Calvo Ospina. This short film shows the feelings of the Cuban people, especially the people of Guantánamo, in relation to the occupied territory.

Edward Snowden, Oliver Stone film reviewed


This video from the USA says about itself:

16 September 2016

Director Oliver Stone joined Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, for a conversation about his upcoming film Snowden. In a both informative and entertaining Forum, Stone explained the artistic process and difficulties of translating the controversial story of Edward Snowden into a film. While answering questions from the audience, Stone touched on his work in prior films, his motivation in telling political stories through cinema, and his views on the state of America’s government surveillance programs.

On 26 November 2011, I went to see the film Snowden by Oliver Stone.

The film starts with young Edward Snowden, from a conservative military family, indignant about the 9/11 attacks, joining the United States military Special Forces. Soon, he gets injured.

Snowden switches to the CIA; where his computer skills are welcome.

The CIA also welcomes that Snowden says his inspiration is right-wing author Ayn Rand. And that he says emphatically Yes to the question whether he considers the USA to be the greatest country in the world.

However, gradually Snowden changes. Partly influenced by his girlfriend, an opponent of George W Bush’s Iraq war. Partly by what Edward Snowden learns during his CIA work. That the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror‘ and the gigantic ‘intelligence’ bureaucracy linked to it are not really about fighting terrorism; but about confrontation with other nuclear armed countries like Russia and China. And about making sure money will keep going to the military-industrial complex. And about acquiring power over the private lives of hundreds of millions of people who have nothing to do with terrorism.

Snowden finds out that a backup program which he wrote for emergency cases if United States government communication would be in trouble, is abused for drone attacks in Pakistan, killing civilians, including children.

In the film, the character Corbin O’Brian is Snowden‘s CIA mentor. The name O’Brian is probably based on the character O’Brien in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Both O’Brien and O’Brian are characters who at first to protagonists Winston Smith (in 1984) respectively Edward Snowden seem to be good guys, but turn out to be bad guys.

In spite of his increasing doubts, Snowden stays in the ‘intelligence community’ because he hopes Obama’s election victory in 2008 will change things.

However, then, in 2013, top spying bureaucrat James Clapper lies to the US Congress that the NSA supposedly is not spying on hundreds of millions of United States citizens.

That settles it for Snowden. He decides to travel to Hong Kong, to tell what he knows to Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and independent film maker Laura Poitras.

The rest is history.

Iraq war, new Ang Lee film


This video from the USA is called Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk Official Trailer #1 (2016).

By David Walsh in the USA:

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Ang Lee on the Iraq war and American hoopla

15 November 2016

Directed by Ang Lee; written by Jean-Christophe Castelli; based on the novel by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the latest work from veteran Taiwanese-born filmmaker Ang Lee, probably best known for Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). The new film is based on the novel of the same title by American author Ben Fountain, published in 2012.

The drama takes place in 2004. A unit of American soldiers, who have survived a brief but fierce battle with Iraqi insurgents, are being celebrated as “heroes” on a nationwide tour. Thanksgiving Day finds them in Dallas, where they are to take part in halftime festivities at a Dallas Cowboys football game. Despite the media hoopla and public attention, the group of soldiers is on the eve of being shipped back to Iraq.

Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), the central figure in the novel and film, is a 19-year-old US serviceman whose effort to save his beloved sergeant (Vin Diesel) in Iraq was captured on film and has earned him a Silver Star. We follow him as he navigates the goings-on at the football stadium, and we also see what he remembers about the battle in Iraq and other recent episodes in his life, including his first visit home since his deployment. His sister, Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), to whom he has been very close, is working on Billy to find a means (medical, psychological) to avoid returning to the war zone. The young man also encounters and becomes infatuated with a Cowboys cheerleader, Faison (Makenzie Leigh).

Accompanying the “Bravos,” as the media has dubbed the group of young soldiers, is a Hollywood wheeler-dealer, Albert (Chris Tucker), who is trying to put together a film deal. The “heroes” are the guests of Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin), who talks cheaply and indiscriminately about God and country. He pompously tells Lynn, “Your story, Billy, no longer belongs to you. It’s America’s story now.” Ultimately, which should surprise no one, Oglesby proves to be a first-class chiseler along with everything else.

Before discussing the substance of Ang Lee’s film, it is necessary briefly to consider its “groundbreaking…technical breakthroughs.” Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was shot in 3D, in high resolution (4K, or twice the number of pixels, both horizontally and vertically, as an ordinary film) and in “a history-making frame rate” (120 frames per second, as opposed to the normal 24).

According to Billy Lynn’s production notes: “The movie even set up its own lab in Atlanta in order to process a vast quantity of data, as Lee and [cinematographer John] Toll invariably relied on two cameras running at five times the normal speed with twice the amount of data running on each of those cameras. That translated into twenty times the data storage of a normal high-quality Hollywood film on a daily basis.”

The technology is impressive and certainly deserves to be explored. However, the claim that technical means by themselves will advance cinema is simply unwarranted. Lee comments, “To me, when we see movies, it’s as if we’re watching someone’s story from a distance. My hope with this new technology is that it could allow for greater intimacy, to really convey the personal feelings of a conflicted young soldier.”

It is difficult to know precisely what this means. We are always watching someone’s story from a distance in a film. Greater physical proximity does not necessarily bring us any closer to the truth of someone’s life. For that, social and psychological knowledge are required. Compared to present-day filmmakers, Murnau, Renoir, Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Ford and Chaplin worked with primitive equipment, but they were able to present far richer pictures of life.

Co-producer Stephen Cornwell: “In some ways the language of cinema hasn’t really evolved for a hundred years. The frame rate’s been the same. The way things are performed, spoken and constructed and the way narrative unfolds is something that we’ve all come to accept as norms. And what Ang has done is ask how do we evolve cinematic language to stay relevant, distinct and unique in the post-digital age, in an age where cinema is plateauing, where story telling has become very familiar? To do that, we have to change the way people experience cinema, and that’s what Ang’s reaching for, what we’re all reaching for in this film.”

The problem with contemporary filmmaking is not primarily mechanical or organizational, but artistic and social. Cornwell seems to imply that the present stagnation can be overcome by astonishing technical knowhow. This is obviously not true. What’s needed, above all, is not greater “technologically induced realism,” but greater historical and psychological realism.

Human beings and objects have always appeared to me to be three-dimensional on screen, at least physically. The 3D technology is often a distraction, and it certainly proves so in Lee’s new film. So-called 3D films sometimes appear to be composed of cardboard cutouts standing in front of one another.

Filming Billy Lynn apparently had its peculiarities. Fewer takes were possible, for example, because of the expense. Also, according to the British-born Alwyn, “The cameras were absolutely huge. … Because of how intimate Ang wanted the shots––so close to the faces––you would be performing to the black-matte box around the camera, rather than being able to see the other actors. Oftentimes, you’d just be following bits and pieces of tape, moving around a black space, and delivering your lines to that.” These circumstances may help explain why there is much stiffness and awkwardness in a number of the performances, especially in those of Steve Martin, Vin Diesel and Chris Tucker.

In any event, the filmmakers have done a reasonable job of adapting Fountain’s book, which––as I noted previously––”is not so much a novel about Iraq…as it is a sharp look at phony patriotism, hypocritical religiosity and corporate greed in [George W.] Bush’s Texas.

Fountain notes that the idea for the novel originally came to him at home while actually watching the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day football game in 2004.

“This was three weeks after the general election when George W. Bush had beaten [Democrat John] Kerry. I felt like I didn’t understand my country.” Fountain explains that he remained seated during halftime and “started watching the halftime show—I mean really looking at it. And it’s very much the way I write it in the book: a surreal, pretty psychotic mash-up of American patriotism, exceptionalism, popular music, soft-core porn and militarism: lots of soldiers standing on the field with American flags and fireworks. I thought, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Presumably, writing the novel was a means by which Fountain attempted to “understand” his country. He succeeded, however, only in fits and starts. The book has amusing and useful features. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk pours a good deal of satirical cold water on the professional sports-military complex, with its unsavory mix of patriotism, meaningless spectacle and violence.

The novel’s generally hostile tone is legitimate, but the targets, including Bush and his administration, are fairly easy ones at this time. In the end, despite its decent intentions, the book is a little too light-hearted and “soft.”

Ang Lee has never appeared to possess a satirical touch. His films have tended toward the earnest and literal. He is a competent, dogged filmmaker, who is capable at his best of shedding light on human relationships and of generating emotion.

The new film alternately and regularly advances toward certain harsh truths and retreats from them.

There are good, serious elements here.

–In one scene, Billy and one of his fellow soldiers, “Mango” Montoya (Arturo Castro), sit and talk with a stadium bartender. The latter is thinking of enlisting, because there is nothing for him in civilian life. They agree that the economic situation is poor and the rich live in another realm from them.

–During a dinnertime conversation at home, Kathryn quizzes Billy about the war, and its purpose. Is it for oil, she asks? Where are those WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] we’ve been hearing about? (In the novel, she says: “Then let me ask you this, do you guys believe in the war? Like is it good, legit, are we doing the right thing? Or is it all really just about the oil?” Billy replies, “You know I don’t know that,” and, later, “I don’t think anybody knows what we’re doing over there.”) Kathryn is the most intelligent, sensitive individual in the film and her antagonism toward official society and propaganda is contagious.

–While the Bravos are sitting around at the stadium at one point, an oilman (Tim Blake Nelson) approaches and commends them on their “service.” Sgt. David Dime (Garrett Hedlund), the leader of the squad, responds with excessive, implicitly bitter and sarcastic zeal to this odious individual, “You keep on drilling, we’ll keep on killing!”

–In the only scene that gives some sense of the reality of the Iraq war and occupation, the squad bursts into a house at night and generally terrorizes the residents. They eventually place a hood on the head of the man of the family and take him away.

–In the incident for which he received his decoration, Billy ends up wrestling with one of the insurgents and cutting his throat. We watch as a pool of blood forms around the dead man’s head. Lee shows this image twice. It is the most disturbing in the film.

–The football halftime show itself is a scathing comment on the cultural-political state of things in America. Destiny’s Child (with a Beyoncé stand-in) and groups of dancers perform, marching bands march, fireworks explode, the Bravos stand at attention or move around in a daze. All the while, Billy recalls the mayhem and death in Iraq. Lee effectively brings to the screen Fountain’s “surreal, pretty psychotic mash-up.” It is impossible not to feel the absurdity and monstrosity of the situation, the horrible reality that America’s rulers are sending young men and women to die to ensure business as usual.

At the same time, unhappily, there are numerous moments and elements that undermine or offset much of what is strong in the work. Lee’s approach is too non-committal in many of the sequences, too “even-handed.” The early portions of Billy Lynn are especially flat. One can also feel where Lee gives in to political pressures, to pro-military, “support the troops” rubbish. The assault in Fountain’s book on the businessman at the center of the whole reactionary business, Oglesby (Martin), is considerably downplayed and weakened. One hardly knows what to make of him in the end. Moreover, the evasive note on which the film concludes, a variation on the “band of brothers” theme, is another accommodation to bourgeois public opinion.

The production notes for Billy Lynn include a comment from Alwyn, whose thrust one suspects reflects Ang Lee’s thinking: “The film doesn’t go into the politics of war or why they guys are fighting over there…but it brings the war home and explores people’s projections on the soldiers rather than getting into the morality and the politics of it so much.”

Yes, and this is the movie’s most damaging failing and what prevents it from being a more consistently powerful and artistically satisfying experience. We will make the point one more time––it is not possible to make a coherent and convincing film about the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq, with all its devastating and ongoing consequences, without treating in some fashion the driving forces of the war and its broader significance. Every deliberate act of avoidance eats away at the sincerity and depth of a work of art.

Painter Vermeer was forged, new film


This video is called A Real Vermeer; Official Trailer, UK subs, 2016.

On 5 November 2016, I went to see the new Dutch film A Real Vermeer. The Internet Movie Database writes about it:

Young and talented Han van Meegeren is a rebel in the early 1920’s Amsterdam art scene.

This is incorrect. As the film shows correctly, Van Meegeren (1889-1947) was then in the The Hague art scene; not the Amsterdam one.

Van Meegeren was a technically able visual artist. He had a ‘reactionary’ dislike of avant garde artists like Picasso, much preferring art of long ago. He knew much about seventeenth century painters’ techniques, which would help him in forging ancient art. He was invited by quite some artistically conservative rich people to paint their portraits, making him well-off.

Because he paints in the style of his idols Rembrandt and Vermeer, critics find his work old-fashioned and they call him a copycat.

Just to prove a point, he produces a fake Vermeer and tries to pass it off as a real one. It works. Instead of revealing the truth and thereby embarrassing the art world, he continues to make money off his many forgeries. Soon he is caught in a web of lies and deceit, and his life spins out of control. Then one day, high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring knocks on his door, looking for a Vermeer for his private collection.

Director Rudolf van den Berg has said that his movie ‘is not about the real Han van Meegeren’.

The film adds many fictional elements to the real story of Van Meegeren’s life. Eg, Van Meegeren did not meet Göring personally, as Van den Berg depicts; but sold his fake ‘Vermeer’ to the nazi bigwig via an intermediary.

When Van Meegeren was a teenager, his father did not want him to become an artist. As a punishment for his son’s artistic ambitions, the father made Han write again and again: ‘I am nothing, I know nothing, I am unable to do anything’. In the film, when bad things happen to Van Meegeren, he writes these self-humiliating lines all over his studio. Though it is improbable that the adult real Van Meegeren did that, the authoritarian education by his father probably did leave negative marks on Han’s personality.

The main theme of the film is a supposed conflict between Van Meegeren and prominent Dutch art expert Abraham Bredius (1855-1946) about Bredius‘ wife; and that Van Meegeren started counterfeiting Vermeer as a revenge on his rival in love. The only true part in the film here is that Van Meegeren hated Bredius. However, ancient art specialist Bredius never judged twentieth century artists like Van Meegeren, as far as we know. There is also no evidence of Bredius’ wife being a factor in Van Meegeren’s actions. Bredius, in fact, never married; he was gay. Jólanka Lakatos, Bredius’ wife in the film, is fictional.

Van Meegeren and Jólanka Lakatos, film poster

This film poster shows Van Meegeren and Jólanka Lakatos. The caption at the top of the poster says, translated: ‘Only his love for her is real’. However, as Ms Lakatos is fiction, that would make everything about Van Meegeren in this film not real.

Christ at Emmaus, by van Meegeren

The real Bredius was really fooled by a Van Meegeren forgery, Christ at Emmaus, in 1937; and claimed it was a real Vermeer. On the authority of Bredius and other art experts, the famous Rotterdam museum Boijmans Van Beuningen bought the painting for much money. Ironically, much earlier, in 1883, Bredius had established his fame as a Vermeer expert by pointing out that another ‘Vermeer’ painting was not really by the Delft artist. And he established his reputation as a Rembrandt scholar by claiming scores of ‘Rembrandts’ were not really by Rembrandt.

Then, the issue of Van Meegeren’s extreme right sympathies. In the film, the lead character is in Italy; without commenting on a Mussolini propaganda poster there. Later, he speaks to his financial adviser in a room with an Adolf Hitler portrait on the wall. Again, without commenting on that.

Still later, during the nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Van Meegeren uses the nazi term ‘degenerate art‘ for avant-garde artists like Picasso whom he hates.

During the real nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the real Van Meegeren joined the pro-nazi art organisation Kultuurkamer and became very rich.

In the film, the master forger dedicates (this seems to have happened really) a drawing to ‘my beloved Fuehrer’ Hitler. Hitler is now disliked as an artistically conservative artist by many people; like Van Meegeren was disliked by pro-avant garde critics.

In Dutch movie magazine De Filmkrant, November 2016, reviewer Erik Spaans wrote (translated):

In Rudolf van den Berg’s A Real Vermeer art forger Han van Meegeren is depicted as a tormented artist and a rascal hungry for revenge. In reality, Van Meegeren’s motives were rather profit and opportunism.

Spaans bases this view on what he calls the best biography of Van Meegeren: The Man Who Made Vermeers, by Jonathan Lopez. An English producer has bought the film rights to Lopez’ book. Spaans hopes this will result in a more historically correct film about Van Meegeren.

This 2009 video from the USA is called Jonathan Lopez on “The Man Who Made Vermeers” at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

After the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, Dutch authorities arrested Van Meegeren, as they suspected him of selling real ancient Dutch art to nazi enemies; which meant treason. As penalties for forging art were much lower than for treason, Van Meegeren then confessed that his ‘Vermeers’ and other ‘ancient Dutch masters’ were really by himself. He confessed that first to police; not in a public session of a court of justice, as the film depicts it. It turned out that the confession was true, and Van Meegeren was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery, not to a much harsher penalty for treason.

In 1947, just before the prison sentence would begin, Han van Meegeren died of a heart attack in a hospital (so, not ‘in prison’ as Spaans writes).

Many people started to see Van Meegeren as a sort of anti-nazi hero, someone who had managed to fool the hated Hermann Göring. According to Spaans, that is undeserved; and Van den Berg’s film does not say much against that.