Author Archives: Luke Sneyd
Few directors instantly conjure an image of cool aloofness in the way that Jim Jarmusch does. The man, in his dark clothes with his shock of white hair in a spiky pompadour, is probably as famous for his image as for his work. Such is the immortality that appearing on The Simpsons gets you. And yet the work is at least as distinctive. Slow, laconic stories about drifters and outsiders unspool inexorably as we share their reveries and defeats, and the occasional small triumph. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is an interesting shift, as he turns his attention from his usual pantheon of beautiful losers to the immortal thirst of vampires.
An escaped mental patient (Suzanne Fletcher) places stones in the mouths of bodies she finds laid out by a roadside accident. A woman translating an ancient Chinese scroll sees her fingertips begin to bleed, mimicking the story in the fairy tale she’s just transcribed. A down-and-out jazzer’s life changes oddly for the better when he’s haunted by two ghosts tragically tied to an antique rocking chair. Each scenario is unlikely, unsettling and fantastical. And each one is central to the films of 80s director Sara Driver. A sometime collaborator with Jim Jarmusch, Driver’s work had moderate acclaim but then disappeared. Her first film, You Are Not I (1981), was lost in a New Jersey warehouse fire shortly after its successful festival run. The negatives were rediscovered in 2009 in the Tangiers apartment of Paul Bowles, the author of the story the film is based on, and now TIFF is showing her work in a mini-retrospective. Turn the page if you dare, brave reader, or okay, just give ‘er a click…
Take Blade Runner and draw a line from the 80s replicant noir to the 90s non-consensual machine-induced hallucinations of The Matrix. Somewhere on that line there’s a node, running backwards and forwards, channeling its influences and distributing them back out again, recombining them into a fearsome future hurtling toward us like a heavy calibre bullet. That perfect coalescing point is Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), the cyberpunk anime classic that had tremendous influence on the Wachowski brothers, Steven Spielberg A.I. and Minority Report, and James Cameron’s Avatar. It’s the film that kicks off TIFF’s retrospective Techno/Human: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, and boy does it pack a punch.
Just this past June 4th, Chester Nez died. He was the last of the Navajo code talkers, one of twenty-nine heroes during WWII who developed a special code out of his Navajo language. Owing to its unique syntax, spoken tones, and lack of written language, Navajo was perfect to keep Japanese intelligence at bay during the war. How can you crack a code with no key, a language known only to insiders? Chester Nez was a hero (dive into the code talker story with the movie Windtalkers, or maybe don’t, it’s a mixed bag). But now the Navajo language is fading away, their youth uninterested in learning their ancestral language. And so it falls to Luke Skywalker and Star Wars to give the Navajo a new hope, to rediscover their native tongue with a more familiar cultural touchstone. How did this happen? Is the Force strong with this one? After the jump, the answers are.
There’s no Aunt Jemima. Not a real one anyway. The idea came from a song in old minstrel shows, that homey old aunt often played by a white man in black face. Yikes. Somehow in the 1890s, her image consolidated as the face of pancakes. A brand was born.
Then there was Colonel Sanders, a real man with a real white pointed goatee. He even sold fried chicken, franchising KFC in the fifties till the business got too big and he sold it off. They kept his image on the buckets and in commercials, the aging southern gentleman forever tied to his lip-smacking blend of herbs and spices.
And there’s this guy, the one up there. He’s real, too, and they just made a movie about him. Directed by Jody Shapiro, Burt’s Buzz is the unlikely story of Burt Shavitz, the hippie beekeeper who missed out on millions, but became an icon anyway, his name smeared on countless people’s lips.
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Martin Scorsese got his first exposure to Polish cinema at film school. Its heady stew of Italian neo-realism, French New Wave, and German Expressionism was a quintessential mix of European styles, but with a distinctive rhythm, humour and pessimism all its own. To say these films had a huge impact on Scorsese’s own development as a filmmaker would be, like, duh. Luckily we can say more than that, as TIFF is presenting the fantastic full traveling program of Martin Scorese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema throughout the month of June. Join me after the jump for a look at Kino Polska!
Apocalypticism is all the rage, again, as it has been. We just can’t get enough of the world falling apart around us. Maybe cuz there’s a few wee inklings we’re headed that way, I don’t know. But if you’re zipping past the end of the world on a tank of fumes, who’s a better traveling companion than wild-eyed young Mel Gibson? TIFF is fortunate to be presenting a special screening of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, with writer Terry Hayes introducing. Hayes, who has a thriller novel of his own called I am Pilgrim coming out soon, co-wrote the screenplay with director George Miller. He’ll be on-hand at the Toronto screening for some Q&A as well as signing copies of the new book. If you haven’t seen The Road Warrior, it’s a dystopian treat, as the somewhat unhinged Max comes to the aid of a peaceful commune under siege by desert marauders. Mayhem, explosions and wreckage ensue, along with some fantastic eighties punk hairstyles. It all goes down on Monday, May 26th at 7pm, details here.
Claude Ridder wanted to end it all. Too bad he couldn’t get it right, a bullet fired into his chest merely landing him in hospital, one more botched suicide left to contemplate his problems and failures. How lucky for him then to be given a purpose, chosen by a mysterious corporation as the first human guinea-pig for their experiments with time travel. As one scientist explains tartly, “It works if you’re a mouse.” With nothing left to lose, Claude is cavalier about revisiting his past. Appearing at TIFF this Thursday, May 15th, Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968), is director Alain Resnais’ exquisite exploration of time and memory. Given the opportunity to relive his past, Claude dives in, quite literally, to a beachside ocean from a year before. It being time travel, what could possibly go wrong?