Our cultural top tens for the year continue with this selection by our colleague at Illuminations Films, producer Simon Field.
Simon: This is not so much a top ten, but more a selection of memorable events and experiences over the last year from January through to December. (The image above is of No. 2 below.)
1. James Benning’s Small Roads and Heinz Emigholtz’s Parabeton – Pier Luigi Nervi and Roman Concrete
In a year when I visited fewer festivals than in previous years, two complementary highpoints from the festivals of Rotterdam and Berlin by two film-makers whose work I try to follow and which these days is most reliably caught at festivals. Benning’s is a characteristic study in landscape, of roads in the American west and south in different weathers, making subtle use of the digital which he has now embraced after years of commitment to 16mm. (For more, see Robert Koehler’s review for Variety.) Emigholtz’s film is part of his remarkable on-going series of detailed studies of major buildings by modern architects from the well-known like Adolf Loos and Louis Sullivan to the less familiar, like Bruce Goff and Rudolf Schindler. They are subtle and constrained works concentrating on the visual with sync sound, no commentary. (Neil Young reviews the film from Berlin for The Hollywood Reporter.)
2. Ole Scheeren’s Archipelago Cinema for Film on the Rocks
In March, Apichatpong Weerasethakul co-curated a festival called Film on the Rocks at the beautiful resort of Yao Noi on the west coast of Thailand. Three nights of open air screenings culminated in a spectacular screening of the Paramount-produced silent Peter Pan of 1924 – programmed by Apichatpong’s co-curator Tilda Swinton – which had an improvised live accompaniment by Simon Fisher Turner. It took place in an amazing floating cinema designed by Ole Scheeren, a friend of one of the organisers and the architect with Rem Koolhaas of the China Central TV Headquarters building in Beijing. The audience were seated on floating decks and watched the film projected on a screen built in the water and positioned between two towering pinnacles of rock.
3. Song Fang’s Memories Look at Me
In the course of my involvement in the assessment of projects for the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Hubert Bals Fund, I saw a nearly complete cut of this first low budget independent feature by a young Chinese woman Song Fang and experienced a real sense of discovering a new film-maker of great talent. The more so because the film was apparently – and deceptively – so simple in its approach. I found myself looking at a film in which she was present but which focussed on her parents in a way which was documentary, but at the same time seemed fictional and had an almost Ozu-like feel that was powerful yet hard to describe. The completed film went on to win a prize in Locarno. The trailer presented on the London Film Festival website doesn’t give a real sense of the film’s presence, since it’s edited down to key statements and thus in the process loses the essence of a poetic film.
On holiday in July, I re-read, for the first time after many years, Roussel’s deleriously imaginative Impressions of Africa in a new translation by Mark Polizotti, and once again I was entranced by its sheer invention, untainted by any realist logic and so beloved by the Surrealists. Later in the summer, I came across the richly illustrated catalogue of an exhibition devoted to Roussel at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. A fascinating collection of texts and images that should be sought out – if they don’t know it – by any others who, like me, regard Roussel’s work as a touchstone for the creative imagination.
5. Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom
I was a great admirer of Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and was keenly looking forward to his Killing Them Softly. While it has over-indulgent sequences (the shooting in the car with its overused slo-mo) it confirmed Dominik as an imaginative and inventive refresher of genres with a strong sense of cinema. Wonderful that such inventiveness can exist in the shadow of Hollywood and its endless franchises. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom also more than proved that individuality and eccenticity of vision can still be financed and flourish on the fringes of the machine.
For sure, I was not the only person moved to tears by the sight of the 82 year old Rollins, shuffling hesitantly on to the stage, body bent but with gray hair waving and then energetically and with no trace of his age sending out a storm of notes as he improvised on classics like St Thomas and Don’t Stop the Carnival. A night to remember.
I caught this Artangel commission on its return presentation to London with its extraordinary combination of sounds, adapted pianos, rolling machinery, artificial rain, bubbling surfaces and more. All praise to Artangel for their on-going commissioning and presentation of works and thanks too to them for my belated discovery of Josh T. Pearson who featured in their A Room For London and which lead me to his great version of Rivers of Babylon here…
8. Veronese’s Cena in casa di Simone
The spectacularly and enormous space of the an ex-Pirelli Factory art space HangarBicocca in Milan, which has as a permanent installation The Seven Heavenly Palaces by Anselm Keifer, will house Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation Primitive next March in another of its spaces. Since Primitive was produced by Illuminations Films with Apichatpong, I went to check out the space and while I was in Milan went to the Pinacoteca di Brera whch houses a rich collection of paintings including marvellous pictures from Mantegna to Morandi.
But my greatest pleasure was to see Veronese’s enormous Cena in casa di Simone, 1567-1570. A work in ‘Cinemascope’, it succeeds, like so many of his works on the grand scale to focus appropriately on its moment from the Gospels (on far left) while presenting across the whole scope of the picture a series of conversations, encounters, small dramas celebrated with that intense realism and dynamism of which the artist is a master.
9. Wang Bing’s Three Sisters/San Zi Mei
Speaking of realism, Wang Bing, creator of the acclaimed and monumental nine-hour documentary Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003), after a mistaken digression into fiction with The Ditch (2010), has returned to his extended documentary form with Three Sisters. Focussing on three young sisters living in conditions of extreme simplicity and poverty in a rural hamlet, the camera follows them as they wander around the house, cook and eat, herd the pigs, guard the sheep and gather dung. Although without the dramatic long takes of West of the Tracks, Wang Bing again manages to shoot in such a way that the mundane becomes fascinating. The Hollywood Reporter gave it a glowing review here.
10. The Killing III
For me, the second series of The Killing was a disappointment, but the third represented a return to form and was one of the most watchable series on television. Regrettably, we had to leave for the Dubai Film Festival in early December. Time-shifting will allow a return to the final episodes in January.
Previous 2012 top tens:
1: Keith Griffiths, from the Tour de France to The Real Housewives of New York City.
2: Linda Zuck, with much that came out of Africa but also Rust and Bone, Argo and Breaking Bad.
3: Todd MacDonald, including Thomas Heatherwick, Secret Cinema, a screening of London: The Modern Babylon and a band called Thrice.