After a year of touring and winning countless prizes, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival, I saw Welcome to Pine Hill, written, directed and edited by my former professor, Keith Miller.
If there was one thing I learned from Miller, it was to go with what challenges arose and work through them, to explore new territory. This film, in its creation and its narrative, does exactly that. Miller first met the star of the film, Shanon Harper, through a chance encounter, a scene that opens the film. We then follow Harper through his reformed life as an insurance claims adjuster and his diagnosis of cancer.
Throughout the film there is a beauty in the silence, in what is unsaid, much akin to a Kelly Reichardt film. Miller’s outlook, however, is that of empathy and understanding. He sees Harper as someone dealing with the circumstances, navigating heightened realities, and confronting his death. Harper eventually finds peace and the viewer is left to stew in his mortality.
All in all, from a chance encounter to a full-length film, Miller explores the many paths in life and how we should set aside our differences.
During the hurricane-like weather yesterday, I saw Meek’s Cutoff at Film Forum.
The film by Kelly Reichardt stars Michelle Williams as a woman who travels with a group through Oregon guided by Stephen Meek. The group eventually gets lost and run into a Native American. Not trusting anyone and on the brink of death with no source of water in sight, the film explores the harsh reality of the Oregon Trail.
Costumes from Meek's Cutoff on view at Film Forum
The film is absolutely beautiful. The washed out colors illuminate the vast bleakness of their travels. Wide shots show how alone they are in the wilderness – they are reduced to what they can carry. Their survival is based on how far they can walk because there is no going back.
Michelle Williams came for a Q&A session following the film. She discussed how she prepared for the role, how difficult it was to film due to the harsh weather in Oregon (supposedly the vans kept breaking down because of dust in the engine), and how she had to share Kelly Reichardt on this film (as opposed to when she had her to herself on Wendy and Lucy).
All in all, it was a stunning film about survival.
Blank City, playing at IFC, gives yet another perspective on the gritty New York art scene specifically art films of the late 1970s, early 1980s.
The film tells the story of filmmakers from the “No Wave Cinema” and “Cinema of Transgression” and how they used New York City as their backdrop to create movies on Super 8mm film. Blank City weaves together films by Jim Jarmusch, Amos Poe, James Nares, Eric Mitchell, Susan Seidelman, Beth B, Scott B, Charlie Ahearn and Nick Zedd with interviews by these filmmakers and stars/producers of the films including Lydia Lunch, Debbie Harry, Steve Buscemi, Maripol, John Lurie and Patti Astor.
It was so interesting to see the works of these filmmakers and to get their perspective on the importance of what they were doing at the time. Based on what they are doing now, it was clear that there was a natural end to the scene when people started to gain notoriety for their work and New York began to become prosperous again economically.
All in all, it was a very interesting and educational film.
Cast for the revival of A Chorus Line featured in Every Little Step.
Without a doubt, A Chorus Line is the best musical ever made and today, I happened to turn on Every Little Step, exactly 37 years (to the day) after Michael Bennett sat his friends down and recorded their stories – the original material for the musical.
I actually auditioned for the part of Diana Morales (who sings “Nothing”) in the open call for the A Chorus Line revival in 2005. I walked into my first Broadway audition as a newbie to NYC without any knowledge of the musical’s choreography (the movie does not have the original Broadway choreography and I had never seen the musical on stage). As I warmed up, I noticed video cameras filming for a documentary and thought it was super metaphysical to make a documentary about the audition process for a musical that is about the audition process.
Though it was an open call, the director, Bob Avian was there to personally audition everyone. Also there to teach choreography was Baayork Lee, the original Connie. It was obvious that this revival was going to be very true to the original with its producers so invested in the work. (When I saw the revival, however, it didn’t seem as raw as I thought it should be.)
Every Little Step takes the point of view of the directors trying to cast the perfect person for each role. The difficulty these directors face is how to exactly capture the intricacies of the human character, especially under the extreme pressure of an audition and the vulnerability and anxiety they face in that situation. Just like A Chorus Line, each of the auditionees has some notion of the reality of the life of a dancer. When they get the job, they know they’ve realized the dream and when they don’t, they know they have to continue on because this is their life and they wouldn’t be complete without dance. Every dancer of every generation can relate to the struggles in A Chorus Line as evidenced by the interviews and archival footage/audio that make for a very real and insightful documentary.
All in all, Every Little Step nails the essence of A Chorus Line with its emotional journey through the audition process.