MORE THAN JUST PASSING STRANGE Seattle International Film Festival

From Joe Meek to Joe
Dallesandro, from William Kunstler to Robin Williams – oh, and straight guys
having hot sex, too. It’s all good!

 

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

“It’s not a film festival, it’s a film season,” observed Louie Psihoyos, director of the documentary The Cove, of the 35th Seattle
International Film Festival, which soaked film buffs with a record 268 films in
25 days (it ran from May 21 to June 14). Some picks to watch for in the coming
months:

 

Telstar Director
Nick Moran brings his own stage show about troubled British record producer Joe
Meek to the screen, which boasts an absolutely incendiary star turn by Con
O’Neill (another vet of the stage show). Manic, obsessive, violent and often
downright rude, O’Neill’s Meek constantly pushes against the barriers, and
Moran and co-screenwriter James Hicks weave the storyline together at just as
frantic a pace. Music trivia buffs will love the wealth of detail, which brings
the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles (whose demo tape Meek cavalierly dumps in the
trash) era to vibrant life.

 

Passing Strange With a few notable exceptions, the term “rock musical” is largely an oxymoron,
and “Broadway rock musical” even more so. But Passing Strange, a coming-of-age story by Stew, founder of LA act
The Negro Problem, rocks with a passion, as its protagonist, Youth, struggles
to find a place for himself, and his work, in the world (with the issue of race
a not incidental theme). Instead of simply filming the stage show, director
Spike Lee puts cameras in front, behind, on the side, and right in the middle
of the performers, literally putting the story in your lap – and your face
(though the backstage footage is expendable).

 

In the Loop Drawing on the same crew involved in the UK TV
series The Thick Of It, this
satirical comedy shows that if war is hell, politics isn’t much better. As the
US and UK head to war with the Middle East, government officials continually
joust for position, clearly more concerned with saving face and furthering
their own careers than with the actual cost that will be paid by those sent
blithely into combat. Peter Capaldi steals the show as the foul-mouthed Malcolm
Tucker, the Press Minister who can spin with abandon (“He did not
say that. You may have heard him say that, but he did not say that and that is
a fact”), and can use the word “fuck” in an unimaginable number of ways.

 

Little Joe “Joe”
is Joe Dallesandro, the Warhol Superstar who lolled about naked in films like Flesh and Trash, and was immortalized in Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side.”
This documentary, narrated by Dallesandro throughout, has plenty of film clips,
particularly of his “lost” years, when he lived in Europe
for a decade and made dozens of forgettable features with names like
(seriously) Killer Nun. The film is a
bit static; some other narrative voices might have added some variety, and the
film quality (especially in the film clips and some interviews) varies. But
it’s the most detailed look at Dallesandro’s wild life and times to date.

 

The Cove Louie
Psihoyos’ documentary exposes a dirty little secret the town of Taiji, Japan
wants to keep quiet: each fall, they round up thousands of dolphins, select a
few “lucky” ones to be sold SeaWorld-type facilities and butcher the rest for
their meat. You could say the dolphins have the last laugh; it turns out their
meat is so laced with mercury it’s toxic. That’s not good enough for Richard
O’Barry, the one time trainer of TV’s Flipper who’s now a full-time dolphin rights advocate. He, along with Psihoyos’ crew,
sneak cameras into the cove to capture the slaughter (a truly stomach-churning
sequence), making this a true eco-thriller that both O’Barry and Psihoyos hope
will end the killing at the cove forever.

 

William Kunstler:
Disturbing the Universe
William Kunstler was the kind of crusading lawyer
you’d like to have on your side, working for and defending everyone from the
Chicago Seven, to the Attica
State prisoners, to
Native Americans in land disputes. But don’t the bad guys deserve as strong a
defense as the good? This is the question Kunstler’s daughters, Sarah and
Emily, grapple with in this documentary of a true idealist, the kind of person
who reminds you that sticking to your principles isn’t always comfortable. They’ve
got a wealth of home footage to draw on, creating a well-rounded portrait of a
man who saw nothing wrong with going to bat for a murderer or a cop killer. As
he pointed out in an argument before the Supreme Court, the right to free
speech doesn’t only apply to ideas you agree with, but ideas you might sharply
disagree with as well.

 

World’s Greatest Dad Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait’s dark comedy has something to make everybody
uncomfortable. Robin Williams is a failed writer who plays second string in his
life; his writing class at the local high school attracts little interest, his
supposed girlfriend is always looking for a better catch, and his son is the
most hateful teenager in the universe. But an unexpected death in the family
allows him to reinvent himself, albeit by subterfuge. With its wry look at the
nature of fame, the media, and celebrity, Goldthwait could’ve ended on a truly
disturbing note, but in the final stretch he opts for sweet over sour. Still,
he takes chances no major studio would ever dream of.

 

Humpday The
latest in the “bromance” genre (and not one that involves a lost weekend in Las Vegas either), Lynn
Shelton’s comedy neatly dissects the nature of modern-day relationships. Ben
starts out a happily married guy, when the late night arrival of his college
buddy Andrew throws a spanner in the works. Is he missing out by so readily
settling for the white picket fence dream? Or is Andrew’s rambling lifestyle
too erratic to be satisfactory? In order to reconfirm their hipness to each
other, the two decide to enter an amateur porn film contest, as nothing would
be “hotter” than to be straight guys having sex (“It’s art!”). As you might
guess, nothing turns out like you’d expect. Excellent performances by the leads
(Mark Duplass as Ben, Joshua Leonard as Andrew, Alycia Delmore as the long
suffering wife) help imbue this slacker comedy with a heart.

 

 

[Pictured above: 2009 Seattle International Film Festival Tribute
honoree, director Spike Lee, accepting the Golden Space Needle Award for
Outstanding Achievement in Directing]

 

 

 

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