Sunday, July 21, 2013

"The 400 Blows" By François Truffaut (1959)

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     It appears in every generation, there’s a group of young kids who skip school, get into fights, and commit petty crimes. You may call it rebellion, or raising hell—or the modern day colloquialism—“Turnt Up.” But what’s certain, for some, adolescence is a shaky ground where children, as cliché as it sounds, slip through the cracks.

      It’s the very case in François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” a French expression for raising hell. Set in Paris, in the late 1950s, Truffaut’s semi autobiographical story follows the cunning, yet troubled, 12-year-old, Antoine Doinel.

     In truth, Antoine is a troublemaker. Though being fair, his parents are enablers. Antoine’s father, a jovial man, encourages his son to taunt his mother, and seconds later he tries to be a disciplinarian. And humorously, while playing hookie, Antoine catches his mother kissing another man. Which, in many ways, gives a mischievous young man leverage. It all forces Antoine’s mother to capitulate to her son’s poor behavior, with hopes Antoine keeps her infidelity a secret. The ordeal is classic. The troublemaker bounces between problems at home, which only deepens the problems at school. It’s a story I knew all too well.

     The opening scene rehashed my memories of school. The students passed a large photo of a woman in two-piece bathing suit—probably risqué for that time. The photo circulates around the room, landing on Antoine’s desk: Just guess who gets in trouble for the photo. Unfair? Yes. But the lack of discipline, and in this case a lack of mental fortitude, has the teacher chewing out Antoine, and only Antoine. Which I think is quite ironic, and you’ll see this if you check out the film.

    While watching, I was shocked to see how brazen young kids were in Paris during the 1950s. Stereotypes seen in films honestly got the best of me. These kids were out of control. Though, it’s a far cry from today’s pill popping, binge drinking, and the instagram posting of nude photos—a far cry from this era where so many want to “turn up.” However, what’s more shocking is why so many people seem unaware of the experiences that lead boys or girls to run away from home. What's more shocking is how people are unaware of the larger role negative influences and enablers play on a young woman or young man’s life.

     They’re so many obstacles one faces during adolescence. That’s a truth widely known, sure. But I believe that truth hasn’t clicked for everyone. How does a person escape their adolescence, make it to their late teens and early 20’s, and for some reason just can’t seem to “turn down?” Meanwhile, I can think of many “Antoine’s” I’ve come across in my life. And I can think of many “Antonie’s” I continue to meet.


 

Friday, January 13, 2012

"The King and I" 1956

I’d like to run a disclaimer. I do not write movie reviews. Rather, I write about how a film makes me feel and my thoughts while watching.

With that said, “The King and I,” reminded me I am a man who can wear many hats. On one hand I saw an adorable film with heart-warming scenes, lovely dance choreography, and musical accompaniment.

On the harsh side of reality, I saw stereotypes and caricatures —I could have easily had a field day picking the film apart.

But I was determined to enjoy myself. I let my senses take over and was charmed by the characters Anna and the King of Siam: Anna, being the world traveler and educator, and (KING), the firm ruler of Siam who has knack for learning and a love for science.

I must say, the King, played by Russian actor Yul Brynner and Anna, played by Deborah Kerr, had great chemistry on screen, developing a touching relationship—all with tears, laughter and dancing. I was truly moved by the 1950’s “innocence” injected into the film, a nice thing to see in a world so jaded.

After the film, I researched the back-story of Anna Leonowens. In the late 1800s, Leonowens took a teaching position in Siam—modern day Thailand—giving King Mongkut ‘s 82 children and 39 wives a western education.

Leonowens arrives from England, with her son Louie, bearing a wealth of knowledge—the West meets the East. She wrote about the concubines and her thoughts on the King, all of which would influence Margaret Landon’s book “Anna and the King of Siam.”

Many of the accounts, which believed to be sensationalized by some circles, were grounds for even having the film banned in Thailand. It appears Leonowens would take credit for inspiring and molding King Mongkut’s successor—his son Chulalongkorn.

She believed introducing Chulalongkorn to the Uncle Toms Cabin heavily influenced his decision to abolish slavery. But Thai historians firmly deny her role Chulaglongkorn’s many reforms.

However, it seems “The King and I,” captures our attempt at understanding and connecting with each other rather than a historical account. But, for me, the accurate, or inaccurate, telling of history is not as jarring the depictions of Asians in the film. —And no. I’m not Asian, so what? Even if largely based on Landon’s book, the film reflected a harsh reality of innocent 1950’s America. The mere fact that Russian actor played King of Siam is telling. They’re many roles that were not played by Asians, but rather a Caucasian in yellow face.

If you want to see our social progress in America, I would like to challenge you to watch the evolution of Anna Leonowens’ story.

There’s a 1946 film, “Anna and the King of Siam, King Mongkut played by Rex Harrison—the no need to be politically correct era. And a 1999 version “Anna and the King,” King Mongkut , this time, played by Chow Yung Fat also starring Jodie Foster—pretty interesting transformations of the King. I’m currently checking out the 1946 film for kicks and giggles.

As for the King and I, I feel the film is definitely worth watching, especially for those who enjoy musicals. There are plenty of classic songs, which I didn’t know came from this film. As always, there are many different perspectives to view a film with, many different hats to wear. It seems I always enjoy a film when I take off the thinking cap… I thought it was funny.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Doha Tribeca Film Festival (2010)

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My first Tribeca experience was a half-baked plan. However, the second time around would be a real life adventure. Instead of wandering New York Streets, this time I hopped a plane to Qatar. I was a little apprehensive but also excited to experience the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. And of course, it’s never a dull moment with me.

I was well aware Qatar was a beautiful city—there’s a lot of misconception about the Middle East. Every one was friendly and Helpful. I would later get lost in the city and man offered me ride to my hotel. I was impressed by the free shuttles carting us to the Katara Open-Air Theatre.

My only regret was I didn’t see more films. I checked out, “The Two Escobars,” “The Mountain,” and the “The First Grader.” And each showing moved me.
I made sure to see film by an Arabic Director. So I chose “The Mountain,” by Ghassan Salhab, at random. I wanted to hear a voice from the Arab world. It’s wonderful to see the various expressions from around the world—this diversity is what I loved most about the DTFF.

“The Two Escobars,” a documentary by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, investigated the correlation between sports and the business of narcotics. Andrés Escobar and Pablo Escobar are linked by a love for football, a love for Columbia and the desire to win—I felt a very tragic yet a moving film.

And finally, “The First Grader,” by Justin Chadwick, was a moving film about an elderly Kenyan man’s pursuit of education.

Looking back on it, it was such a blessing and a wonderful experience.

The films really wanted to check out:
BOY by Taika Waititi
Bhutto by Duane Baughman Johnny O’ Hara
Shorts Program 1 “A Film” “God’s Hand.” “Missing.” “The Fifth Column.”
Shahada by Burhan Qurbani
Stone by John Curran



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انا الفيلم

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"The Phantom of Liberty " by Luis Buñuel 1974

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I ordered Luis Buñuel’s, “The Phantom of Liberty,” seven months ago. Somehow, Amazon lost my order. I welcomed the inconvenience and told myself, “when I check the film out, it will be the perfect time.” Mother Earth is so self-correcting. (dry humor)

Two days ago, while bopping through the library, guess what DVD I saw resting in plain sight?

And yes. The film was right on time. “The Phantom of Liberty,” explores different social norms that inhibit freedom. The film its self even challenges conventional filmmaking, breaking the rules of traditional storytelling.

The plot is held together by a series of episodes. Each story and character is joined by coincidence. And each character is confronted by the irrational.

It all appears to be nonsensical. But, for me, the events are much like the precarious nature of life. In the second episode, a stranger gives two little girls a hand full of pictures. And the viewer can only expect the worse.

With each story Buñuel explores every institution and norm that limits our liberties. From the church, court system, the school system and the business of hospitals, Buñuel displays the irrationality that affects us all.

And what’s interesting, the nonsensical events, such as the sadomasochism and incest in Buñuel’s film, may seem farfetched and unlikely—at first. However, how can one flee from the absurdity in our world today?

In an era where so many people are fighting for their liberties “The Phantom of Liberty,” would provide a humorous outer body experience. The wacky events in America would be commonplace in Buñuel’s imagination. Anthony Weiner’s case being a prime example.

The military men using a tank to hunt a fox in Buñuel film can parallel the U.S hunt for weapons of mass destruction. This list can go on for while.

Humorously, before watching the film, I engaged in a Facebook debate over the hot button issue of gay marriages. Like many discussions, this one got off topic. It eventually ended on legalizing drugs.

However, the interesting question that came about, “How can people become angry over gay marriages, but turn their backs to divorces, adultery, babies born out a wedlock and many other actions condemned in any holy book?

Personally, I often wonder how our institutions, Judeo-Christian beliefs, control and affect our lives based in the first place.

Our institutions strike again! But on a serious note, when will people learn? Norms change with time. The people who challenge norms, or showcase the absurdity in our lives will live, propagate their ideas, and die. However, with every spirit that does so, a society slowly builds an immunity to fear and ignorance.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Resonance (short film)

Resonance (short film) from TeJay Henderson on Vimeo.

This based on my screenplay Resonance. Raeford Poole's troubled past
exacerbates a dormant energy capable of explaining the laws that govern
Earth. Raeford, warding off internal struggle, fights yet another battle
with a punishing broadcast from a esteemed city planner Mr. Klein, a
man looking to capitalize on this unique phenomena....


I shot, edited, ran sound, wrote and acted...tuff, especially with a
camera

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chac: The Rain God 1975

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First there were the Mayan’s, then along came the Spanish. As a result, a culture existing previously for thousands of years would never be the same.

Roland Klein’s film “Chac” (The rain God) is a story of Mayan culture. And for me, a story very reminiscent to Chinua Achebe's “Things Fall Apart.”


During a punishing drought, a small village calls on the knowledge of their ancestors to conjure a much needed rain. The Cacique, much like a chief, leads a group of thirteen men, also accompanied by a mute boy, to seek the Diviner—a spiritual man whom the villagers believe can bring the rain. Mysticism and folklore are a large part of a culture, which still, interestingly, throngs outside a large cave, amongst the glow of warm candles, as fervent prayers are offered to the saints.

Religion plays important role in the film. The story is told over nine days which represents the nine lords in a Mayan folktale. The parallels of Mayan religion and Christianity echo through out the film. And subtly Klein reveals a Mayan culture struggling for survival: not only is the culture faced with overcoming a drought but also passing on knowledge, the oral tradition, and beliefs their ancestors. Which now rest in the hands of the Cacique’s last option: the Diviner.

From their first meeting the Cacique greets the Diviner, his potential savior, with mistrust. One important element to watch for is the mute boy who tags along. Out of the other men, he’s the only one who trusts the Diviner, the only one who pays attention to the Diviners stories. This relationship proves to be essential—and in my opinion a very important theme in the film.

The themes in Chac are very subtle. Mysticism is fused with the storytelling. And the events occur, seemingly, at random. But with careful observation, the meaning, like the secrets told from the Diviner, can be acknowledged with a keen eye.

In my opinion this film is a remarkable piece of filmmaking—independent filmmaking at its best. There’s only one trained actor in the film. The rest are local residents of the Mexican state of Chiapas. Faced with much adversity on location—actors getting hurt, people quitting in the middle of production—Klein has managed to produce story of honesty. Klein depicts Mayan culture but is careful not to romanticize it. He tells the truth of colonization, and dangers of capitalism swallowing cultures whole. And he does so with out fear, totally bypassing the thoughts of critics. Luckily for Klein, he shot the film for 300,000 dollars loaned to him by his father. There's a luxury behind being your own boss. Note to self, you want to make the film you envision, get your own funding. To bad I don't have a rich father...