The story of Scotty Bowers is film and literature material, without a doubt, and «Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood» proves it. It has become a documentary inspired by his biography «Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Life of the Stars.» All the surviving interviewees who personally knew Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, the Dukes of Windsor or Rock Hudson, confirm the revelations and affirm that Scotty does not lie. No salacious gossip in the style of Kenneth Anger in «Hollywood Babylon», which for a long time was the best-selling gossip book about film people.
At age 90, with most of his clientele already dead, Scotty published his account of sexual services offered to personalities of the L.A. movie industry (and other industries) and left the half-population of the city speechless. For being silly, if you ask me, for still believing in the Oscar, in Walt Disney and E.T. Before the camera, Scotty does not hide anything from his contemporary life, which he shared with singer Lois Bowers, who died in October 2018.
At the beginning of the movie, Scotty seemed an unpleasant person, simply because he calls a spade a spade. Then, I put aside my hypocritical self and let myself be guided by his humor, his strength to move on in 21st century L.A., for his love for Lois and his sincerity. Scotty does not hide anything about himself! From the abuse of his father in the country and the group of priests who used him as a child prostitute when he was growing up in Chicago, going through the interviews he gave to Dr. Alfred Kinsey about the sexual behavior of the average American male (and the orgies that he took him to see "the action" in the front row), until he got his job at a gas station in L.A. where he started connecting his friends with the stars, and he kept his first wife and daughter with his own body. The Hollywood anecdotes do not stop: all the girls he took to Hepburn, the nights spent with an undecided Spencer Tracy, George Cukor's gay parties, the threesomes with Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, his anecdotes of J. Edgar Hoover, Laurence Olivier, Walter Pidgeon, the secrets of the Duchess of Windsor, who held the reins of sexual mischief in their marriage...
The documentary follows the traditional structure of interviews, archival material, music, without forcing the viewer into a judgment about Scotty Bowers. There is no moralism here or pharisee positions. It is a dramatic portrait, perhaps sordid for some, of a man who forgives abuse, but who does not grasp it in all its dimensions. In spite of the humor, the vintage music and the images of the famous, it is a very moving portrait: the memories of family, the evidence of all the pain that he still does not recognize; the exaggerated and unhealthy accumulation of his memorabilia in different houses, the deterioration of his home, Lois's reluctance to know her husband's past, her nights singing in nightclubs while he lovingly watches her...
This is a revealing film, a humane, compassionate and open portrait that, as expected, was ignored by the Oscars, Globes, associations of critics, film-clubs and independent filmmakers.
Two illustrative cases are those of Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar and Mexican Alfonso Cuarón. In the first case, although the man from La Mancha preserves the "Spanish cultural brand" that has made his cinema always attractive, his recent films conform to a catalog of common places in melodrama, applauded by a group of moviegoers who never saw his imperfect and corrosive, passionate and exemplary cinema that he made in the 1980s. Then there is Cuarón, the traveler who, from his applauded debut in Mexico jumped to Hollywood, to little princesses, Harry Potter and Dickens, recovering his original cultural stamp each time he returns to Mexico, although «Roma», his 2018 movie, shows him as an orchestrator of an excessively elaborate exercise for the Netflix era. Both men are talented and know their trade, there is no doubt about it, but from «Matador« to «Hable con ella» there is an abyss, similar to that between «Sólo con tu pareja» and «Gravity».
Now the "evil eye" has touched Greek Yorgos Lanthimos. Here the transformation breaks one's heart. He even poses differently for the photos now: from those, in which the daring novice appeared in the projections of «Dogtooth», to those of Yorgos 2019, it has rained a lot. He already directed Kidman, Farrell, Weisz, because he also has talent and know his trade, of course... If in the next installment of the Oscars to 2018 films, I had to choose between Cuarón and Lanthimos for the Best Direction award, I would give the prize to the Athenian.
It is true that «The Favourite» is the kind of costume piece that the British have been making for centuries with their eyes closed. They are perfectly assembled, resplendent and cold, whoever makes them, including Taiwanese Ang Lee. This version, however, is more passionate, Mediterranean and some features of the Lanthimos of «Dogtooth» and «Alps» persist, as postmodern licenses in language, in a few scenes such as dance, and in the use of music. It also has three performers at the peak of the acting profession (Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman) to illustrate this historic portrait of the struggle for power, tinged with eroticism and opportunism. The stories of women in love have always sold a lot. Both men and women lose their composure with an erotic triangle of women, especially when one is Queen Anne of England with her sufferings of gout.
And, yes, concessions to fashion are welcome to develop a career in the West and guarantee a job. But the court intrigues extended for two long hours... and I, at least, could not help thinking "Pity of Yorgos ...!" A fact, in my opinion, very important to take into account: unlike his four previous features ("The Lobster" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer", in addition to the two already mentioned), this was not written by Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou. It is a pity.
We betrayed that contribution by embracing the Judeo-Christian "ideals" of the West that the "conquerors" brought, like the plague. We embraced the notions of the "white-faced gods" who gave us mirrors in exchange for our gold, and we adhered to the unruled development agenda, and the destruction and ignorance of all the wisdom contained in our original cultures. I do not compromise in this belief and for that, I consider «Embrace of the Serpent» a touchstone of contemporary Latin America cinema.
That said, there is a considerable gap between this film and «Birds of Summer». I do not know what the reason is. Maybe it is the direction shared with the producer Cristina Gallego, unlike other films in which Ciro Guerra had the sole credit. Maybe it is the flat Aristotelian script, less daring than that of «Embrace of the Serpent», with five chapters (or songs) that recount twelve years of increasing violence and death, in which new "white-faced gods" arrived with another agenda (the anticommunist campaigns of the Peace Corps) and language. Perhaps it is the theatricality of a few professional actors contrasting with the freshness of natural actors, or the inevitable intrusion of melodrama, which affects the impact of the tragedy being told.
The drama of the young Wayuu Rapayet (José Acosta) who, to win the hand of Zaida (Natalia Reyes), must raise a fortune to pay the dowry that will benefit the bride's family clan, under the supervision of the energetic matriarch Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), becomes entangled as the history of drug trafficking is settling and dominating the story.
It would be easy to applaud the achievement if we were to see an action film, with tension, death and shooting, and to pry into rites and customs of a culture that resists extinction, largely caused by our indifference and stupidity. However, in «Birds of Summer» coexists another film, which is not historical memory, but is nourished by it; and that is not anthropology, but benefits from the beauty of the Wayuu Nation, its people and manifestations.
In the midst of this search for balance, in my opinion partially achieved, the film navigates. The movie is more complex and ambitious than the easy associations that some people make, like old westerns or the Corleone saga. It is an attempt to entertain, mixing elements of an indigenous culture (which some call "exotic") and the history of Colombia.
In my eyes, the attempt is too much like «mainstream» cinema (like the imitations that Solanas and Getino called "second cinema") and that, in my opinion, we do not need in Latin America.
With Harry Dean Stanton I did not develop a friendship. After sending him the magazine with his interview, I gave the paper in which he wrote down his name, address and telephone number to an autograph collector who had a bookstore in Panama called Argosy, as in «Vertigo». However, meeting Stanton in 1984 was a great experience: the interview became normal conversation and he ended up asking me questions. Not only my sincere admiration for his work made him trust, but I also talked about movies that nobody remembered as Monte Hellman's «Cockfighter», or cult films like «Repo Man». I also praised the dignity of his character in a brief scene in «The Rose» and we even talked about the evident class differences in the spaceship Nostromo, in which he and Yaphet Kotto represented the working class in «Alien». At that time, he was at the top, with the success of «Paris, Texas» in the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival. I have the memory of one of those quality people who are always a pleasure to meet for their calm way of assuming notoriety.
I could not help making this preamble, right after watching «Lucky», the last film Harry Dean Stanton made before he died at age 91 (another movie was released in 2018, but it was shot before). In it, he plays the title role, a nonagenarian war veteran who lives in a village (a mixture of locations in California and Arizona), with a daily routine of yoga exercises, solving crosswords, watching television contests and regular visits to key business (cafeteria, mini-market, bar), and a strange dream every now and then. Until one day when, in perfect health, Lucky collapses and so begins his small journey towards the full awareness of his finitude, his old age and his options.
As in «Gerontophilia», those who best capture the integral dimension of the character and the crisis he faces are we, the old people. We are the invisible kind for the young (a season we all spend at some time), beings that would better do as the Japanese old woman in «The Ballad of Narayama»: pack a little bag and go up the mountain to die of cold. Only sharp young persons will also realize that Lucky is quite clear about the whole scenario. In a crucial scene in the village bar, Lucky finally reveals himself as a sensitive being that, if we had previously thought that he believed not even in his shadow, does have a simple and praiseworthy way to face life and the existence of Humanity.
There are really moving moments in the film, like those in which Stanton plays harmonica tunes; or the sudden moment, on the birthday of the youngest son of his Mexican friend Bibi, when Lucky begins to sing «Volver, volver» in Spanish. There is also a suggestion of well-kept secrets, such as Lucky's sexual orientation, when he reveals a curious fascination for Liberace. The effectiveness of each moment in the film rests on the performances of a cast of first order that includes Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, David Lynch, Yvonne Huff Lee and former teen idol James Darren.
The film, a first work by actor John Carroll Lynch, went unnoticed in North America, as expected. If you have the opportunity to see it by any means, do not do the same. Enjoy it.
In the same way that the Colombian drama is difficult to grasp in all its complexity, to people who do not know the history of the country in depth or do not follow the news, «Violence» is a complex film, despite its structural and narrative simplicity. Forero opted for long observational shots, in which every take is a complete construction of actions, reactions and subtexts, without the costly and laborious profusion of angles and impersonal points of view found in mainstream cinema, because there is no need for them. The human dimension of the drama is basal: lack of freedom, fear of death and the objectification of the human body.
«Violencia» tells the story of three males (Catholics, in the script, united by a similar scapular in their necks, which has been changed to a crucifix in the film, but only worn by the men of stories 1 and 3): a kidnapped man, a "false positive" and a paramilitary. The violence is scarcely explicit, but there is a permanent charge of premonition, like a live wire, ready to give an electrical shock to the unsuspecting. In the first segment, we are almost alone with the kidnapped man (Rodrigo Velez), from the moment he wakes up and performs small survival actions, until he lies down and suffers the hardships of his abduction in the jungle. At every moment of his minimal actions, we perceive the immensity of the drama of a kidnap victim in a war he may not even understand.
The second tale about the immolation of youth is the most moving of the three. It tells the story of a poor urban teenager (David Aldama) who is in love, living in the home of his single mother and looking for employment. In his desperation to have his own income, the boy falls victim of a lethal agreement to provide live bodies of innocent people to members of the Colombian army, who killed them and passed them off as dead guerrillas to obtain promotions and other benefits. The story of the young man opens at the dawn, as he makes love with his girlfriend in the shadows, and somberly concludes in the night, in some remote place of Colombia.
The third story is the most disturbing, because it is told with cold objectivity, the same way its leading character (Nelson Camayo) carries out his daily actions. Like the other stories, it opens at dawn, while the man enjoys a shower after having sex with a woman. Seemingly a common farmer, the man buys materials in a hardware store, buys a snow cone, fuels his old jeep, but when he arrives at a farm and we see a group of uniformed men, his true identity is revealed and the story turns devious: he is not a farmer, but a paramilitary, a torture coach and an expert executioner. And as the story began, so it ends, calm, dispassionate, with his girlfriend in the town plaza, at night, while Leonardo Favio sings «Ella ya me olvidó», the only musical commentary of the movie (and a lesson in scoring for those who stuff their movies with tunes and music cues).
«Violencia» is an experience hard to forget, that evokes the best works of Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso, Amat Escalante and other performers of the un-dramatized cinema of our days. Available through Retina Latina.
A few years ago, in my little researches and lucubrations of current Cuban cinema --made at a distance, without experiencing the daily difficulties of the island, including those for making films--, I referred to a "cinema of the debris", to a courageous and valuable cinema, well-documented in the street, in lack and abandonment. «El Secadero» belongs to that lineage, a noble catalog of images, sounds and situations that speak in a stark manner of what is experienced, suffered, enjoyed and loved in Cuba. The story, without betraying its realism, knows how to incorporate dramatic resources of other genres, to enrich it, relax us and increase its impact. In this case, as an integral part of the packaging, but also as a gift from scriptwriters Daniel Delgado Saucedo and Aparicio Ferrera, there is a delightful and refreshing cinephile undercurrent, which often emerges and enhances the pleasure of experiencing the film.
From the first scene in the location called El Secadero, the balance between humor and drama is established. The movie introduces official Fondón (Jorge Molina), a mature agent who tries to seduce a young colleague (Amalia Gaute), during a mission inspired from some film of smugglers. He recounts fragments of films, recites dialogues and pretends to be an officer with 300 men under his command. But she is keen on the mission. Soon a suspicious car arrives and the cards are cast: in this story, several bodies will fall... as in a "film noir", as in a romantic melodrama with a tragic detective background.
The opening duo leads us to the two leading police officers, a kind of comedy double act, an erratic and clumsy couple, determined to fulfill their duty, but with enough time to have a good time and goof off for a while. Mario and Camacho (Eduardo Martínez and Raúl Capote, whose comic vein I did not know) do not get help from the forensic doctor when they find the head of a lieutenant called Padrino (Godfather), or from a pretty street walker on duty (Andrea Doimeadiós) that treats them with disdain, while they follow the trail to a serial killer on the loose. Thieves also do not "respect" them; they steal the officers' bicycles and with them also goes Padrino's severed head.
The succession of characters that (reluctantly) help them to decipher the enigma is worthy of a comic bunch in the Takashi Miike style (played by Manuel Romero, Enmanuel Galbán, Dana Estévez and Pancho García). However, everything leads to tragedy in an underworld that I never saw "in direct" in Cuba, but of which I had news and that I once read well-described in a very good script by Fabien Pisani, with its slums, improvised casinos and corruption; and suggested in the non-filmed script "CubaXtreme" («Señora 22» in its soft-core version), which Adrián García Bogliano and I co-wrote for Jorge Molina to direct.
The audience has to make the connections and deductions, read the social and political comments told without underlining words. We have to take part in the investigation: we have to deduce the implications of the high judicial power and the suggestive metaphor of the "serial killer" that affects the lives of ordinary people, inferred in this magnificent film about widespread corruption in our societies.
In order to create these milieux and atmospheres that go from hilarious to impacting, the harmony of the cast superlatively helped the story. There is no jarring note. The leads are finely calibrated in their highlight scenes, and in their brief interventions, the supporting cast is successful, and veterans are customarily correct, while young Mónica Molinet becomes a pleasant revelation. Actor-filmmaker Jorge Molina deserves a special mention: here he finds a role to his measure and gives us an excellent interpretation, savoring that cinephilia that, in real life, animates his films and his existence.
In the selection of locations and the work of the art director, «El Secadero» reminded me of Ismael Perdomo's drama «Kill, That God Forgives.» Both films share a clever selection of localizations, a distinguished way of recording and illuminating them, which not only create effective and attractive cinematographic spaces (as that mobile shot with lights and mirrors in the background, when the policemen enter the casino), but give Cuban cinema a different and elaborate face, which does not decorate them, but distinguish and enhance the beauty of the surroundings.
With this 28 minute film, José Luis Aparicio Ferrera does a compact, well-assembled work, that always manages to maintain our interest, that smoothly takes us along with the story, entertains us and moves us. A big applause for José Luis, welcome and we want more!
Precisely as he wandered around his city, in his search of identity, Fernando discovered his characters. He did not "give them the word", but shared it with them. Fernando Martín Restelli is not the sole creator, the author and the filmmaker, but the motor, the instigator, the friendly and loving hand that guides them, Pedro, Juan Pablo, Jesica and Lucas. They all show moments of light and life that tacitly talk a lot about the social and the economic, the playful and the mystical, about love, paternity, the challenge to scarcity, and build an audiovisual discourse of the first order.
Pedro is a guard in buildings under construction; Juan Pablo is his little son: they both have primarily each other, and the affection they generate in their relationships. Jesica is a young friend who takes care of the child, and Lucas, her companion who longs for his own home... And there are Kathy's hands, between the caress and the cigarette in the night, while the city sleeps and the hand of man alters the landscape. There are no statements, only true life and perhaps some reconstruction, to reinforce the sense of reality.
In addition to the photographic quality in the handling of light, framing and composition, the skillful way of dramatically structuring the accumulation of images, and the ability to suggest musicality that is perceived without listening, something else pleases me the most: the precise cutting, the correct duration of each shot, the good judgment to let us watch, infer and thus convert the experience into something that transcends the square of light.
Fernando Martín Restelli is not a promise. He is a certainty. Let us give him a great and deserved applause for his first feature.
It is true that writers Adolfo Bioy Casares («La invención de Morel») and Jorge Luis Borges («El aleph») contributed to this and a few others of Santiago's films. It is obvious that their concepts and ideas about art influenced the final works. However, when you see a few frames of «Invasión» you know that you are watching the work of a man of cinema rather than a man of letters. Santiago was a man of moving images and autonomous sounds, who induces us into a fascinating fantasy of revolutionary romanticism, its decadence and reemergence as the Phoenix.
Released in 1969 in the old Teatro Central in the city of Panamá, «Invasión» took us all by surprise. So much so that, until yesterday, when I saw it again, I realized that it had been buried in my memory as something exceptional, but that it also made me unable to evoke it or tell its plot, as maybe Santiago, Borges, Bioy Casares and all the others involved in the movie wanted us to end, under the spell of an old fashioned left-wing cell that executed its plans in secrecy and eliminated all vestiges. Maybe it was because of its detachment as an aesthetic proposal, its innovative narrative or its challenge to realism. Back then, the movie was warmly received at the International Film Festival of Panama. I remember with humor that we arranged an interview with the leading actress Olga Zubarry and, when we were in front of her, we could not say a word! That is how dazzled we were.
First part of an unfinished trilogy about the fictitious city of Aquilea, «Invasión» tells us about the activity of several units of the Aquilean Resistance, although it is not clear who or what they are resisting. All we are told is that such actions are necessary before a possible invasion by unidentified forces. Herrera (Lautaro Murúa) receives orders from the leader of the resistance, Don Porfirio (Juan Carlos Paz), while Irene (Zubarry), Herrera's wife, takes part in actions of the Aquileia youth force, who may or may not be allies of the invaders. As a synthesis of the plot, this synopsis does not give you a complete panorama of the visual and aural effect of the film. You have to see it to perceive its privileged place in the history of Argentinean cinema, beyond the well-known merits of «Dios de lo pague», «El exilio de Gardel (Tangos)», «El aura» or «Relatos salvajes». It does not surprise me at all to read that several critics claim that this is the best Argentinean film of all time.
Before making his first work, Hugo Santiago was Robert Bresson's assistant for seven years, during which he witnessed the emergence of new cinemas in France, Italy, the UK, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In those years, the filmmaker watched the works of the great masters of the time, so it is not strange to see the influence of Antonioni's «Eclisse», Godard's «Alphaville» or Wajda's «Popiól i diament». In Santiago's film there are also echoes of classic Russian literature and even elements from the James Bond series, with fast persecutions and characters' heroic postures. Santiago did not follow the Bressonian practice of using actors as models, but allowed the cast to make true creations of tragic beings, trapped in an oppressive political plot.
Today, 50 years after its creation, what I find more fascinating is the three writers' visionary perception. «Invasión» presciently anticipated what would happen in Argentina during the years of military dictatorship, when terror emerged at home. Here the invaders are equal to the Aquileans, so the worst enemies of the community are people who come from the same community. They may belong to a different social class, have other phenotypes and faces, use different brands of cars or clothes, but in the end they are just the same breed. The traitors to the collective longings are "from home". We also see how (in 1969) the authors described the way the "invaders" tortured the resistance with cattle prod and beat people in stadiums, as it would happen years later.
In statements made to the press, co-author Bioy Casares drew a parallel between Aquileia and Troy, as a city corroded from inside. a city that devoured its children. However, in the resolution of the work, there is hope and a change of forces is promptly executed, in an eternal return to the starting point of the search for truth, as Argentina has been forced to do so many times.
Photographed in black and white with the usual skill and art of another exile, maestro Ricardo Aronovich («Providence», »Le souffle au coeur», »Le bal», «Missing»), the soundtrack is also a unique factor: at the beginning, when listening to steps to the fore and dubbed dialogues in a soundtrack entirely created a posteriori, I said to myself, "What is this? What happened to the sound effects editor?" As the film progressed, I realized that it is the strategy of the composer and sound designer, Edgardo Cantón, in a time when the term "sound design" was not heard of. In addition to precise musical commentaries (and a very good musical number, «Milonga de Manuel Flores», composed by Aníbal Troilo with lyrics by Borges), Cantón made a dense sound string of voices, dialogues and premonitory squawks, overwhelming screams, machinery and crawling feet following one another, sometimes in a completely autonomous fashion, divorced from the image. All the elements were combined in an effective and forceful way until the end.
The experience of «Invasión» was not an isolated postmodern incursion without continuity: on the contrary, Hugo Santiago made several feature films in France, like «Les autres» (1974), co-written with Borges and Bioy Casares; «Écoute voir...» (1979) with Catherine Deneuve; a number of «audiovisual objects», as he himself called a series of works on art and its creators' biographies. Of the planned trilogy, Santiago could only complete «Les trottoirs de Saturne» (1986), with a script by Argentinian writer Juan José Saer, in which a musician from Aquilea is exiled in Paris. By 2009 he had the script for the final entry, «Adiós», written in solitary, but the project was postponed in favor of other projects and in the end Santiago could not make it, as he died on February 27, 2018.