sundance, artinfo.com and my attempt to blog elsewhere

January 29, 2010

So my old editor at Paper is working for a bunch of better stuff now and she sent over the opportunity to write on quick turnaround for this art newsblog thing. The following two posts were written within 12 hours of each other and in under an hour a piece. This whole writing immersion program my life has wandered into lately is starting to paying off!

Top 5 Sundance

Published: January 28, 2010

The Kids Are All Right
Although its entry into the festival was so late that its place on the schedule read “Surprise Premiere,” Lisa Cholodenko‘s The Kids Are All Right has already spent a day as the it-flick of Sundance. With a bidding war precipitating between companies for its distribution – with Focus Features eventually winning out – the comedy, starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple whose kids reconnect with their sperm-donor father, has garnered praise for its tackling of queer domestic issues.

Buried
Director Rodrigo Cortes’ first English-language film, Buried, had people talking well before its Saturday night premiere. The 90-minute thriller follows Ryan Reynolds’ desperate attempts to escape from a coffin in which he’s been buried alive. With a concept devoid of the usual cinematic resources – supporting actors, for instance – skeptics expected a claustrophobic, single-angle picture. But Cortes’ ingenuity quickly won over doubters, and Buried turned out to be the first movie at the festival to be purchased for major release.

Exit Through The Gift Shop
The spray paint had barely dried on many Park City walls when British street artist Banksy premiered his late-entry documentary to a full theater at midnight Sunday. Part street-art doc, part celebrity critique, Exit Through the Gift Shop was prompted by another filmmaker’s attempt to make a movie about the elusive underground star. Banksy’s highly guarded identity is at the center of the film’s debate, with the artist-turned-director questioning of the relationship between privacy and fame – drawing celebrities from Jared Leto to Adrian Grenier to its premiere.

The Runaways
With its non-competition status (meaning it already has a distributor) instantly labeling The Runaways as a bigger-budget film, the band biopic featuring Kristen Stewart as singer Joan Jett and a now-pubescent Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie is a Hollywood retelling of the story of the all-girl rockers who hit the mainstream in the late 1970s. In contrast to the 2005 Runaways documentary, however—which excluded Jett and dished dirt about the jail-bait band’s inner drama—the Sundance debut is co-produced by Jett and nixes the alleged physical abuses by producer Kim Fowley in favor of playing up the band’s halfhearted successes.

8: The Mormon Proposition

This Sundance has been marked by an explosion of documentaries, but none of the year’s crop was more controversial than 8: The Mormon Proposition. Directed by Miami-area filmmaker Reed Cowan, 8 details the Jesus Christ Church of Latter-Day Saints’ efforts to raise $22 million to support California’s anti-gay-marriage proposition. As expected, the film caused protests from citizens of the predominantly Mormon state, but less expected was the film’s exclusion from Park City’s Cinemark Holiday Village Theatre, the venue for most of the festival’s official press screenings. Since the CEO of Cinemark made a large donation to the Prop. 8 campaign in 2008, one can only speculate as to why this compelling documentary was left out of the industry loop.

* * *

Celeb Stalking Is as Celeb Stalking Does

Published: January 28, 2010

PARK CITY—Actor-turned-filmmaker Adrian Grenier (who also sings in a rock band) premiered his latest documentary at Sundance this week. Teenage Paparazzo has been garnering praise for its insightful look into our obsession with fame, but is Grenier, who is famous for portraying a famous person, really the right guy to be giving us that insight?After spotting a precocious-looking kid snapping photos in a crowd of paparazzi on the prowl, Grenier decided to chase the boy down and teach him a lesson. In an effort to turn the fame-mongering lens back around on the fame-mongerers, the Entourage star presents 13-year-old Hollywood-native Austin Visschedyk — who is of an era that permits him to handily sell shots of his famous neighbors for up to $2,000 a pop — as a catalyst to explore our ever-growing obsession with celebrity culture.

In the doc, Grenier takes Visschedyk around town and tries to educate him about the real deal behind celebrity culture. Through interviews with psychologists, historians, media theorists, and even Paris Hilton, Grenier attempts to tackle the main issue at the core of our obsession with fame — media consumption.

And herein lies the irony. Grenier is most famous for playing Vincent Chase on Entourage — a show that satirizes life in the Hollywood fast lane. And because of the fame he gets from portraying a famous person on TV, Grenier has now actually become that famous person. And because of his celebrity status in real life, he is able to use that celebrity to critique the media machine that made him a celebrity. Follow?

Grenier’s point isn’t that paparazzi should leave celebrities alone. Instead, he makes a far deeper claim — and here’s where Visschedyk comes in — that the media we create has defined our lives. Audiences can take Teenage Paparazzo, then, in two ways: Either Grenier is right and we over-internalize media (so should we ignore his movie?). Or, he’s completely full of crap, since he continues to live large off the fat of his fame (his name is the film’s main selling point).

Paparazzo explores the negative effects of image consumption in postmodern culture, but through its celebrity-meets-underage-paparazzi artifice, it also highlights one of its ultimate contradictions, proving that no matter how much we try, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.

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