Archive for November 2009
In life and art, John Hillcoat takes the road less traveled. Born in Queensland, Australia and raised in the United States, Hillcoat got a crash course in mid-sixties American music and culture from his parents, who took him to folk festivals where Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and old-time blues musicians left a distinct impression. “As a young kid, I was thrown into the sixties in America, which was an unbelievable period, and my parents were very swept up in the civil rights movement,” he recalls. “I remember going on marches and seeing the profound upheaval of that time.” Hillcoat returned Down Under as a teen and, having soaked up the influence of Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, as well as Canadian author Michael Ondaatje (The Collected Works of Billy the Kid remains a touchstone), began making short films. While bouncing around Melbourne in the late ’70s, he met Birthday Party front man Nick Cave, who became a close friend and, many years later, an important collaborator on Hillcoat’s critically acclaimed Aussie western The Proposition (2005), which the rock singer wrote and scored. “He watches more films than anyone I know,” says Hillcoat, explaining their natural affinity. “Whereas in my free time I’m listening to music, so there’s another connection I think works.”
Forty-plus years into a still-vital, ever-proliferating filmmaking career, Werner Herzog has aged gracefully into the role of the sage adventurer, still fearlessly exploring the terrain between documentary and fiction as well as the vanishing point between charismatic eccentricity and full-blown psychosis. Born in Munich, raised in the Bavarian Alps, and lumped early on with other avatars of the New German Cinema, Herzog has ceaselessly chronicled the obsessions of dreamers and renegades both real (God’s Angry Man) and imagined (Stroszek, The Wild Blue Yonder), as well as social outcasts whose quest for ecstatic truth leads to madness, self-destruction, or sometimes, in the case of Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell, both. There are those who find Herzog’s documentaries to be the apotheosis of that singular vision, and those who are partial to the fevered collaborations with Klaus Kinski, when Herzog seemed to be placing his own life at risk in order to realize impossible ambitions, just like the protagonists of his twin monuments to crazed hubris, Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, The Wrath of God. In recent years, he has journeyed to a science colony in Antarctica (Encounters at the End of the World), ringed the jungle canopy with a high-flying inventor (The White Diamond), and revisited the story of downed airman Dieter Dengler (Little Dieter Needs to Fly), this time in fiction (Rescue Dawn). Regardless of whether it makes sense to divide such effulgently individualistic output into separate genres (in this director’s cinema of extremes, we are forever on the brink of both catastrophe and revelation), one thing is certain: only Herzog is ever Herzogian.
Whether you see them as merry pranksters for moral justice or asinine hoaxsters with a hard-on for anti-globalist propaganda, there’s no question that Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, better known as the Yes Men, know how to goose the news media and middleminded corporate enterprisers with straight-faced impersonations of legitimate (often nonexistent) Big Biz types. Phony aliases, outlandish PowerPoint presentations, and giant-prop-assisted demos are all in a day’s work for these culture-jamming wags, who’ve punked everyone from Exxon and the World Trade Organization to Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, targeting the logic of free-market capitalism with an eye to boosting a greener, more idealistic society.In September, for instance, on the eve of the U.N. summits on climate change, the satirical activists distributed a fake “Special Climate Edition” of the New York Post with the Rupe-worthy headline WE’RE SCREWED.
In their latest film, The Yes Men Fix the World (co-directed by Kurt Engfehr), the duo create one of their most elaborate stunts, appearing on BBC World in the guise of Dow Chemical who, on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, issues an unheard-of mea culpa and announces a $12 billion aid plan to the people sickened long ago by the chemical spillage. Within half an hour, Dow’s stock has plummeted. By the time Bichlbaum (appearing as the ludicrously named rep) has been unmasked, the message about corporate responsibility has filtered through world news outlets, taking on a life of its own.