By Joe Bendel. It is the epic tale of a powerful ring that brings misfortune to all who seek it. Sound familiar? After technology advanced to the point that Peter Jackson could finally do justice to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it is not surprising that the opera world might hatch some new ideas for Wagner’s Ring cycle. However, mounting a production on stage is a totally different proposition than making a film with extensive post-production effects, as renowned director Robert Lepage demonstrates with the Metropolitan Opera’s ambitious new production of the Ring. Director Susan Froemke (with editor Bob Eisenhardt) captures the ensuing flirting-with-disaster exhilaration of live opera in Wagner’s Dream, which had its world premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, in advance of a special-event nationwide screening this coming Tuesday.
Reportedly, Wagner was not at all satisfied with the initial 1876 staging of his Ring cycle, but he died before he could implement any of the mysterious changes he promised. As a result, the questions of what Wagner would do and what is feasible have bedeviled opera companies ever since. Charged with developing something bold, Lepage did just that.
His radical concept centers on what will be referred to as “the Machine.” A series of interlocked, swiveling planks, sort of but not really resembling a double helix, the Machine will serve as the minimalist set for all four constituent productions of the Ring cycle. When it works, it facilitates some truly epic grandeur. Unfortunately, it is decidedly buggy.
Frankly, it is quite cool and surprising that the Met is so enthusiastically behind Dream, because it documents some embarrassing moments for the storied company. Complications with the machine put a damper on more than one opening night, which is awkward for the professionals bluffing their way through on-stage – but it makes for dramatic documentary cinema.
Arguably, Lepage’s Ring cycle production might be thought of as the Met’s Apocalypse Now, with Wagner’s Dream corresponding to Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Like screenwriter John Milius sent to retrieve Francis Ford Coppola from the jungle only to be convinced “this would be the first film to win the Nobel Prize,” every cast-member and tech-hand approaching Lepage or Met General Manager Peter Gelb with logistical concerns winds up doubling down on the Machine. Again, just like Coppola’s film, the result is a sometimes flawed, but towering work of genius.
Dream is one of the few behind-the-scenes documentaries completely warranting the big screen treatment. A sense of scale is important here. Yet, it does not ignore the human element, following the challenges faced by the featured performers and sampling the reactions of loyal patrons. Having helmed two previous docs about the Met, including the profile of Maestro James Levine relatively recently broadcast on American Masters, Froemke clearly had the trust and confidence of the opera company. By now, many probably assume she is on staff there.
Even for opera neophytes, Wagner’s Dream is a fascinating film. It is also a highly effective teaser for its special encore screenings of Lepage’s Ring cycle productions. One cannot help wondering whether audiences will see the Machine cooperate or not. Highly recommended beyond the obvious opera and theater audiences, it screens across the country via Fathom Events this coming Tuesday (5/7) and will also be shown at the BAM Cinematek the following Saturday (5/12).
LFM GRADE: B+
Posted on May 2nd, 2012 at 10:10pm.
Twilight star Robert Pattinson has signed on to play military investigator Eric Maddox — the man who spearheaded the capture of Saddam Hussein — in a new psychological thriller titled Mission: Black List.
Along with co-author Davin Seay, Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox revealed the behind-the-scenes story of the hunt for Saddam in the 2008 book Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein — As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture. Writer/producer Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers) will be adapting the book for the screen, and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire is attached to direct.
Pattinson now joins Zac Efron, Gerard Butler, Sam Worthington, and Taylor Kitsch among major young stars attached to Iraq- or Afghanistan-related projects featuring positive depictions of American soldiers (in this case, a military interrogator, no less). Is a sea change finally here?
Here is how the book is described at Amazon:
Everyone has seen the footage: a heavily bearded Saddam Hussein blinking under the bright lights of infantry cameras, dazed to find himself in U.S. Army custody. Yet while the breaking news was broadcast around the world, the story of the remarkable events leading up to that moment on December 13, 2003 has never before been fully told. Mission: Black List #1 offers the full, behind-the-scenes account of the search for Saddam Hussein, as related by the Army interrogator whose individual courage and sheer determination made the capture possible.
In July of 2003, Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox was deployed to Baghdad alongside intelligence analysts and fellow interrogators. Their assignment was clear: gather actionable intelligence – leads that could be used to launch raids on High Value Targets within the insurgency. But, as Maddox recounts, hunting for the hidden links in the terrorist network would require bold and untested tactics, and the ability to never lose sight of the target, often hiding in plain sight. After months of chasing down leads, following hunches and interrogating literally hundreds of detainees, Sergeant Maddox uncovered crucial details about the insurgency. In his final days in Iraq he closed in on the dictator’s inner circle and, within hours of his departure from the country, pinpointed the precise location of Saddam’s Tikrit spider hole. Maddox’s candid and compelling narrative reveals the logic behind the unique interrogation process he developed, and provides an insider’s look at his psychologically subtle, non-violent methods. The result is a gripping, moment-by-moment account of the historic mission that brought down Black List #1.
Posted on May 2nd, 2012 at 10:09pm.
By Joe Bendel. Is it possible to lead a normal life after witnessing the horrors of war? During the upcoming 2012 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival, at least two short films will directly grapple with that question – while one suggests that it is indeed possible, through its very example.
One of the best shorts just hitting the festival circuit, Jons Vukorep’s outstanding Short for Vernesa B. is a lamenting tribute to Bosnian actress-vocalist Vernesa Berbo, starring Vernesa Berbo. Through a complicated narrative structure, it depicts the challenges of her life after seeking asylum in Germany. It is hard to analyze the film in-depth without comprising the initial viewing experience, but it is safe to say Berbo is a very compelling screen presence.
Sadly, many viewers will have a good idea where Elvir Muminović’s Neverending Story is headed, but it is still a powerful trip. Emir was also an asylum seeker in Germany who eventually met and married Kirsten. When a miscarriage ends their hopes of having their own children, they turn to his native Bosnia with the intention of adopting. They find the perfect girl, but the revelation that she is in fact Serbian causes a deep fissure between the couple. Muminović eschews neat and tidy Oprah lessons, forcing the audience to face up to some hard facts about human nature.
In marked contrast, Al Mehičević’s English language Gold Diggers is a humorous anecdotal film in the tradition of O. Henry. As it opens, three miners trapped by a cave-in are eagerly anticipating their thirty minutes of fame as they await their imminent rescue. However, when their mistresses confront their wives at the disaster site, the media gets wind of a bigger story. Gold Diggers is amusing but rather light weight. Frankly, it is the sort of short that plays well at festivals, but its appearance here is somewhat significant. Never referencing the war (which would be out of place in this context), it has none of the terrible weight of history distinguishing many Bosnian films in recent years. Rather, it takes a potential tragedy and turns it into a vehicle for comedy.
Indeed, the paradox of the annual Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival is that it is one of the friendliest and most welcoming festivals in New York, screening some of the deepest, most elegiac films. (Of course there are always notable exceptions, like last year’s drolly entertaining music documentary White Button.) A now well-established tradition coming hard on the heels of Tribeca, the BHFF is once again highly recommended, featuring many excellent short films making their American debuts. It opens tomorrow (5/3) with Danis Tanović’s sensitively rendered Cirkus Columbia, featuring the great Miki Manojlović, and ends this Saturday (5/5) with Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey.
Posted on May 2nd, 2012 at 10:07pm.