Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen’s 1999 documentary pays tribute to Robert Dickerson–better known as vocalist Benjamin Smoke of the offbeat Atlanta band Smoke–who died of AIDS shortly after the film was shot. It captures his unaffected honesty and charm and his poetic way with words, but what’s really fine is the filmmakers’ sensitivity in blending all kinds of disparate material. Patti Smith, Dickerson’s first inspiration, let Smoke open for her in Atlanta, which provides the film with a satisfying climax, yet the talking/singing/playing/goofing-off heads that precede this apotheosis are just as watchable (and listenable). 80 min. Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29.
Writer-director Jamie Thraves makes his feature debut with this story of a prop-painting bohemian in north London (Aidan Gillen) who wants to move away from his crack-dealing neighbors and falls in love with the realtor he meets (Kate Ashfield). It doesn’t work all the time: I couldn’t always follow the action, the ending is too abrupt, and what appears to be the strong influence of John Cassavetes (the episode in which the hero’s macho pride is wounded by a lout in a pub, triggering the unraveling of various relationships, seems to come straight out of Too Late Blues) sometimes works against the kind of rough and intuitive movie Thraves is aiming for. But I was mesmerized by what seems like a new and exciting way of filming people: Thraves mixes objective and subjective impressions, and his eclectic style of framing sometimes cuts characters off at odd angles. His main actors (including Dean Lennox Kelly and Tobias Menzies) are both natural and unpredictable–even when they show some awareness of the camera’s presence. As with Cassavetes, you might say that the film is riddled with “errors,” but these mistakes are indistinguishable from the uncommon rewards, which made me grateful for them. Landmark’s Century Centre.
Has South America’s magical realism rounded the southern hemisphere to take root in New Zealand farming country? This second feature by writer-director Harry Sinclair (whose first featureTopless Women Talk About Their LivesI missed) teems with so much free-form fantasy that you might accuse it of overload, but I was delighted by the unpredictable gags and plot turns. This is basically a love story set at a dairy farm in an exceptionally green valley (filmed in ‘Scope), where an attractive couple named Lucinda and Rob (Danielle Cormack and Karl Urban) manage to lose a quilt, their 117 cows, and each other. Rob also loses most of his voice. Their problems seem to have something to do with an old Maori witch (Rangi Motu) and her nephews, but aside from them there’s still plenty of magic and mischief in this movie, which offers a two-timing best friend (Willa O’Neill), a dog that lives under a carton, an Indian community, and carnal milk baths. The movie, just 87 minutes long, reminds me of a bygone era when such running times and lighthearted fancies were much more common. (JR)