June 15-21, 2006
Movies : Screen PicksScreen Picks
The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (premieres Sun., June 18, 8 p.m., Cinemax) John Canemaker is probably better known as an animation historian than an animator in his own right; his many books include the definitive history of pioneer Winsor McCay, whose work Canemaker will present at the Franklin Institute on July 7. But this year, Canemaker made his own mark in the record books when he won an Oscar for this autobiographical short subject. Presented as part of Cinemax's "Reel Life" series, The Moon and the Son isn't a straightforward documentary, even by animated standards. It's an account of a conversation Canemaker wishes he'd had with his late father, or perhaps just the one that goes on inside his head.
The third-generation child of Sicilian immigrants, Canemaker credits himself here as "John Cannizzaro-Canemaker." But if he reclaims his father's name, Canemaker also does his best to repudiate his influence. A short-sighted small businessman, Canemaker's father, Giovanni, opened his own hotel with money borrowed from the mob. When he couldn't make the payments, Giovanni was forced to burn down the place, got caught and went to jail, which Canemaker depicts as just one in a series of physical and emotional desertions.
Animating his father's trial, Canemaker depicts him first as a lion, raging against his captivity, then as a clown, unsuccessfully trying to charm the jury. His on-the-nose imagery reveals something of Moon's bluntness, but also its mutability. As the son's understanding of his father waxes and wanes, Canemaker shifts styles. He begins with line-drawing realism, but when it's time to recall his father's tendency toward physical abuse, Canemaker depicts him as an angry red squiggle, his mother as a comforting green blob shielding him and his brother from harm.
Unfortunately, Canemaker's technical virtuosity is seldom matched by his writing (he shares credit with Joseph Kennedy and Peggy Stern). The film's "imagined conversation" rarely has the ring of actual speech; it feels more like therapeutic role play. (Recalling the arson incident, the son jabs, "You didn't just burn down a house. You burned down a family.") It doesn't help that Eli Wallach speaks the father's dialogue een a thick-a accent-a, while John Turturro gives the son a flat, measured voice that feels equally unreal, if less caricatured. At least Canemaker doesn't try to force a phony catharsis. It's clear he's not ready to forgive his father, even if he does spare a moment to recall the help he gave him with his first animation. But amid a sea of gee-you're-swell-no-you're-swell dad's-day bromides, The Moon and the Son is bound to feel like a blast of messy, passionate and occasionally unlikable truth.
Forty Shades of Blue ($24.98 DVD) A couple of decades ago, Ira Sachs' muted, melancholy drama would have been the archetypical Amerindie; instead, it took nearly 10 years for Sachs to finance the follow-up to 1996's The Delta. Perhaps that's because Forty Shades of Blue is one long, slow moan, a stifled cry of despair that never quite raises to a shout. In essence, Forty Shades is a love story, although it's not clear if any of the people involved actually love each other (or that they'd know if they did). As a legendary Memphis record producer now reduced to cutting records with Europop stars, Rip Torn is too consumed with his dwindling fame to pay much attention to his Russian live-in girlfriend (Last Resort's Dina Korzun). As he accepts a lifetime achievement award, basking in what little glory is left to him, Sachs keeps Korzun off to the side of the frame, peering unnoticed over the small crowds gathered around him. Torn isn't much better as a father: He barely seems to notice the toddler he fathered with Korzun, and when his grown son (Darren Burrows) returns home in the midst of a marital crisis, Torn only salts the wound.
There's plenty of pain to go around, not all of it transmuted into harmonized heartbreak. Though the soundtrack draws heavily on the not-quite-hits of Torn-like producer Bert Burns, Sachs' admitted influences are more European than Mid-South. (He particularly cites Maurice Pialat's recently Criterionized A Nos Amours and Truffaut's The Soft Skin.) Julian Whatley's camera work is composed and chiseled, Dickon Hinchliffe's score full of sparse longueurs. In a concise, wordless scene, Sachs shows us Korzun, playing with her son in a soundproof booth in Torn's studio; Torn, in the next room, playing syncopated jazz piano; and his son in the control booth, listening as Torn's offbeat vamps play against a noxious techno beat. Within a few yards and full view of each other, they're trapped in their own worlds. Even as an outsize egomaniac, Torn underplays gracefully, emerging without scenery between his teeth for the first time in many a moon. And Korzun, suffering in silence until she delivers a devastating assessment of the father-son bond, is an ice sculpture coming slowly to life. Sachs based Torn's character on his own father (as well as Torn himself), but you never get the sense that the movie is enriching the son's character at the father's expense. First Look's DVD, like the movie itself, is a labor of love, enhanced with Sachs' audio commentary, a video interview with his co-screenwriter and a making-of documentary, as well as Sachs' short documentary Get It While You Can, which more directly addresses his father's legacy.
Young, Jewish and Left (Tue., June 20, 7 p.m., $5-$7, The Cinema, 3925 Walnut St.) The "left" in the title of Irit Reinheimer and Konnie Chameides' documentary has less to do with the west end of the political spectrum than it does with cultural exclusion. Most of the young Jews in Young, Jewish and Left are politically liberal, but what links them is not their political views but the sense that their personal politics are at odds with their ethnic and religious communities. One self-proclaimed revolutionary recalls riding high on a trip with comrades through post-Communist Eastern Europe only to be told that the profound feelings she experienced after seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau were a distraction from the cause. Others describe prejudice within the Jewish community: An Iraqi woman, already caught between anti-Arab and anti-Jewish factions, remembers being told by her American rabbi that it was "a sin" to use a Sephardic prayer book.
The filmmakers gather dozens of stories with similar outlines, but a composite picture never emerges. That's part of the point, that neither activists nor Jews can be grouped under a single umbrella. But it also reveals the way the contemporary left has split itself into a thousand factions by focusing on difference rather than common cause. It's a little hard to imagine Feygelech for a Free Palestine turning the tide in the occupied territories. In an interview in the movie's press kit, Chameides says he wants to "build a movement where people can be who they are." Young, Jewish and Left celebrates the "be who they are" part without venturing what that movement might be. Reinheimer and several of the film's subjects will speak after the screening.
Misc. Picks: Bill Plympton shows new work and old at the Franklin Institute (Fri., 8 p.m.). The Bryn Mawr Theatre hosts a week of midmorning classics, starting with Modern Times (Mon., 11 a.m.).