Tribeca 2012: New York Stories
Published on May 10th, 2012 | by Daniel Guzmán0
Among many typical movie theme categories at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, there was one that perfectly exemplified the genetic makeup of the celebration: the “New York Stories” category. After all, TFF takes place in New York, it was founded by a trio of New Yorkers (including Robert De Niro, who by now ranks just below the Empire State Building in terms of universally recognized New York icons), and was created specifically to revitalize the lower Manhattan neighborhood in response to the World Trade Center attacks.
Unlike other themes, these were all about what makes this city and its citizens so unique. Films varied from quirky (“2 Days in New York”), to deeply meditative (“First Winter”), to celebratory (“BAM150”).
Like any New Yorker, I still find myself oscillating between loving and hating this city. Sometimes it’s a beautiful woman wearing a summer dress in a park. Sometimes it’s a dirty old man taking off his pants on the train. The same can be said for the films in this category. Some are delightful, while others really should move their smelly asses to the next subway car.
Here are the ones that stuck with me, for better or for worse:
“2 Days in New York”
Julie Delpy follows up her 2007 film “2 Days in Paris” with the even-better “2 Days in New York.” The film follows photographer Marion (Julie Delpy) and her radio host boyfriend Mingus (wonderfully played by Chris Rock) as they endure a visit from Marion’s eccentric French family.
I wasn’t too much of a fan of “2 Days in Paris,” but I adored this sequel. Perhaps it was the shift from Paris to New York, but Delpy’s directing is a lot smarter and not nearly as precious as it was in the first film. There is a confidence with the storytelling, always knowing when to end a joke or let it run just a minute longer. Much praise should go to the enjoyable pairing of Chris Rock and Albert Delpy (Julie’s father, who also appeared in the first film). The movie may at times be too safe in that familiar comedy-of-errors way, but not unoriginal―a subplot involving Delpy’s looming art show pays off in an unexpected and perfectly New York way (with a pretty ingenious cameo, too). I could easily watch another film just like this. But how about they visit another borough next time? “2 Days in Bushwick,” anyone?
It’s winter in an upstate country farmhouse commune. Hipster Brooklynites enjoy a pleasant life of yoga, drugs, and organic cooking. And then the apocalypse happens. The radio reports blackouts and other disasters. A column of smoke rises up from the nearest town. With food supplies dwindling, the utopian life soon disintegrates and the presence of death draws near. The group must decide whether to accept their fears or succumb to their worst impulses.
“Say yes to the unknown.” These are words spoken early in the film, and they serve as a suitable description of everything that happens after. Director Benjamin Dickinson has created a moody, satisfying first feature. There are elements of suspense, a touch of post-apocalyptic menace and enough hedonism to fulfill the indie-film quota. But, most of all, there is a challenge―first, to the characters to learn to truly embrace the alternative life they’ve dabbled with; and secondly, to the viewers and our reluctance to turn and face the strange. Death is inevitable, the film says; how we accept it determines the quality of the time we have left. The plot has the wandering feel of a book rather than a film―and in this case, that’s a great thing. It deserves extra points for the slight nods of surrealism (wait, was that thing levitating? Was that scene really real?) and for making meditation look sexy as hell. Highly recommended.
“Jack and Diane”
First there was the John Cougar Mellencamp song. Then there was that Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton movie that used it as a hook in their marketing campaign. And now there’s a lesbian twist to the two-name meme. Jack (Riley Keough) is a tough American tomboy, and Diane (Juno Temple) is a sweet British girl. Together they must negotiate the scary landscape of young love. Throw in not-so-subtle hints that maybe someone is a werewolf (or wait, maybe it’s really just a metaphor?), plus new animation by the Quay Brothers, and you’ve got something really…uh, something.
It’s hard for me to like this movie. I mean, I appreciate the filmmaking. And I get the “truth” of the monster angle. Werewolves as a metaphor for teenage girls and the hormonal changes, the young love/lust, the histrionics, the menstruation, etc. Hey, has anyone seen “Ginger Snaps”? Not to say it was the end-all-be-all of the werewolf/lady-business genre (see “An American Werewolf in Paris,” starring Julie Delpy―hey, that’s two Delpy recommendations in one article!), but at least that film wasn’t so confused with itself. In “Jack and Diane,” things sort of come together, but then they don’t. David Lynch pulls this off all the time, but that’s because the man is a human dowsing rod for finding unlikely ideas that turn out to be perfectly drawn to each other. In this case, there just seems to be extra weirdness thrown in for a bad Brian DePalma effect. Like, what’s the point of there being a twin sister? Why does Diane seem to be completely insane, werewolf allusions aside? That said, the two leads are eerily good and they speak like real teenagers in that um…I don’t know…vague sort of….you know.
Part history lesson, part advertising campaign, Michael Sladek’s documentary of BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) shows just why this performance space has endured for a century and a half. From its fledgling roots as part of Brooklyn’s growing cultural scene, to the tumultuous 1960s (there was even a time when the owners considered selling it to Long Island University to be their gymnasium), to its renaissance in the ’70s and eventual escape velocity into its own heavyweight status with the Next Wave series in the ’80s and beyond, BAM has always been a place for pushing the art envelope.
Moving from present-day viewings of BAM’s recent performance of “The Threepenny Opera” with the Berliner Ensemble to archival footage of performances by such notables as the Living Theatre and Laurie Anderson, the film is a smooth tour of why BAM rightly has its place in the tapestry of New York culture. The film spends a little too much time on the present day (hence, the slight infomercial feeling I got watching this), but it’s still an enjoyable glimpse at some one-of-a-kind performances. It is especially memorable for assembling a fine assortment of interviewees (Meredith Monk, Phillip Lopate, Robert Wilson) and for not skimping on the behind-the-scenes action.