Category Archives: Film News

Mifune Festival at Film Forum: ‘High and Low’

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Film Forum’s four week festival screening of 33 films starring iconic Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) and directed by Akira Kurosawa kicks off Friday, February 11 and ends on 30th of March at Film Forum. What is amazing about this festival is that not only are Kurosawa’s masterpieces included like Rashomon, Seven Samuri, High and Low, Yojimbo and Hidden Fortress, but also found are Kurosawa’s and Mifune’s rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm. These have been imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. For the entire schedule of films go to their website:

Tsutomu Yamazaki in HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

A favorite film in Japan, but not that well known in the U.S., unless you are a Akira Kurosawa and Mifune fan, is High and Low. In this hybrid crime thriller and human drama, we see a different aspect of Toshirō Mifune’s acting versatility and concentration in inhabiting an uncharacteristic role, that of a modern, wealthy Japanese executive Kingo Gondo. Director Kurosawa’s layered unveiling of the strike zone of danger is a slow boil that begins with a meeting of shoe company executives that are plotting to undermine the owner of the company by pooling together their shares. By the end of the film, the company and the executives, especially Gondo are in completely different places, having gone through an unforgettable trauma that changes their lives.

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Gondo, a creative entrepreneur, intends to outwit the other executives by buying up more shares in the company alone, than they have pooling their shares together. He refuses to go along with their manufacturing vision because they, mirroring American corporate values, intend to squeeze out greater profits by making an inferior product. His values are high-minded: make beautiful, unique and high quality shoes which have good value for their money. He argues with the executives believing that long term, the company will be better served through his vision of raising the bar and maintaining the company’s integrity.

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The executives disagree and close him out of their deal. However, he intends to put his own plan into effect by gathering the money for a leveraged buyout to own over half the shares of the company, by mortgaging his house. At the point where he is about to send his assistant to finalize the deal, he receives a phone call from a kidnapper, who has mistakenly taken his chauffeur’s son Shinichi instead of his own son Jun. However, it is no consolation that the kidnapper wants a “king’s ransom,” for a child who is lower middle class, because the child is his son Jun’s friend.

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Using the money to purchase the shoe company instead of paying the ransom for a helpless, frightened child is morally reprehensible. He realizes word will get out to the press that he values money over the life of a child, a position of moral bankruptcy. One way or another he will lose. Either his soul will become hardened as he places material things above a human life, or he will lose money but have saved the life of a child who is not his own son. Such grace is heroic and beautiful, even saintly. What will Gondo decide? It is a typical Kurasawa dilemma that his protagonists always have to choose between a rock and a hard place.

Tatsuya Nakadai in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Initially, Gondo is not going to pay the ransom with the money he put together for the buyout. He thinks perhaps he can borrow other money from the bank to tide himself over. The plot thickens and turning points occur frequently. Despite the kidnapper telling Gondo not to call them, the police become involved. They assure him that they will help him get the money back. That, coupled with his wife and the chauffeur’s pleading as well as his own son questioning where his friend Shinichi is, persuades him not to go through with the money deal. Instead, he will give the money to the kidnapper at a specified place, following his instructions. However, first, as they tape record the kidnapper’s voice, they try to find his location as well as verify that the child has not been killed. The suspense and tension increases as the stakes lengthen and we wonder if the child will be killed.

Tsutomu Yamazaki in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

In the second part of the film, Kurosawa’s specificity lays out the step by step plan the police use to eventually put together the clues that lead to the identity and place of the kidnapper. On the phone, the kidnapper spills that he is sweltering down in the city ready to die of heat prostration, while he looks up at the cool, beautiful house of Gondo, high atop the cliff overlooking the city. That detail and others, like the sound of the train where the suitcase with the money is supposed to be dropped off and clues that Shinichi gives the police about the place where he was taken, gradually provide the net that the police draw around the kidnapper.

Toshirō Mifune in HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The good news is that Shinichi is returned and the money exchange goes smoothly. However, the bad news is that the police eventually find the dead bodies of the accomplices who were keeping Shinichi in a house by the beach. Thus, the police are in a dead heat with the kidnapper, finding clues then arriving at a literal dead end. Meanwhile, as the cat and mouse game continues, Gondo loses everything, forced out of the company because his assistant told the executives of his planned double cross leveraged buyout. Gondo’s creditors demand the collateral in lieu of the debt and he is forced to auction off everything. However, his story is widely reported and he is viewed as a hero and selfless executive which raises his reputation and worthiness to the heavens, while the other executives/owners of National Shoe Company are scorned and excoriated.

HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

As the wheels of fate turn, lowering Gondo materially, yet raising him morally and strengthening his soul spiritually, the now wealthy kidnapper becomes emotionally unhinged by a stratagem the police detectives use, after they autopsy the accomplices who died of a heroin overdose. The detectives trick the kidnapper by making him think the accomplices are still alive; they give him a note demanding more ,heroin. Through this ruse and going undercover into the most crime ridden street of Yokohama, full of prostitutes and addicts, investigators locate the kidnapper who has given a prostitute a lethal dose of heroin to test it out. Threading this evidence with the kidnapper’s showing up at the accomplices’ house believing them still alive, the police arrest him and jail him with sufficient evidence. Finally, as the last stick of furniture is taken from Gondo’s house, too late, the police recover the money with only a nominal amount missing.

Thus, from wheel to woe to back again, Gondo’s character has gone through the trials and sufferings of a Job. Mifune gradually becomes more stoic by the end of the film. His character has experienced the strengthening of his faith in himself, justice, karma and superb police work. The most amazing section of the film and the acting occurs when Gondo visits the kidnapper who by this point reveals himself to be a raving lunatic.

Tsutomu Yamazaki in HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The kidnapper, a young medical intern laughs with ridicule at Gondo until Gondo tells him he is better off as the executive of a smaller shoe company where he can use his own vision and ideas to influence the quality and worthiness of the product. He is starting over again which is fine with him. Indeed, Gondo, regardless of whether he is high or low, learns to be steady and temperate. On the other hand, the kidnapper and murderer is completely unbalanced. Unlike Gondo who can be abased or abounded in life and remain a stolid rock, the kidnapper breaks down and screams in utter lunatic rage and pain. It is a shocking and incredibly memorable scene. One of the greatest acting performances by two actors that I’ve seen in any film. Absolutely unforgettable.

This is Kurosawa at his suspenseful and profound best. From the arc of Gondo’s admirable personal development, to the uplifting of the themes of quality over commercialism, sacrifice over greed, timeless and immutable values are presented as behaviors to emulate. Contrasting the personality of the kidnapper and killer who is psychotic for money and motivated to “get rich at the expense of others,” we are reminded of another path individuals take. Kurosawa offers both up for us to choose: the light and the dark, the ethical samuri vs. the twisted, psychotic who turns inward and self-destructs. This is ultimately, “the high and the low.”

These portraits are breathtaking in another must-see Mifune/Kurosawa collaboration. Don’t miss it. For tickets and times see below, and go to the Film Forum website:

High and Low at Film Forum

Saturday, February 19 at 8:00
Wednesday, March 2 at 2:30
Tuesday, March 8 at 12:40, 7:50

Mifune Festival at Film Forum: ‘I Live in Fear’ Screens Friday 11th, and February 18th, 19th

Toshirō Mifune and Takashi Shimura in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Film Forum’s four week festival screening of 33 films starring iconic Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) and directed by Akira Kurosawa kicks off Friday, February 11 and ends on 30th of March at Film Forum. What is amazing about this festival is that not only are Kurosawa’s masterpieces included like Rashomon, Seven Samuri, High and Low, Yojimbo and Hidden Fortress, but also found are Kurosawa’s and Mifune’s rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm. These have been imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. For the entire schedule of films go to their website:

Toshirō Mifune in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Unless you go to Japan, or Martin Scorsese and film restoration foundations secure and restore them, you will not be able to see these rare rediscoveries in the Kurosawa/Mifune lexicon. Over the years these films have been given short shrift, occluded by the others that achieved legendary status because they were presented at the right time and place. Nevertheless, the rare ones must be examined and appreciated, not only for their subject matter, but for the earliest performances of Mifune and acute direction of Kurasawa, who also wrote the original screenplays that reveal another view of Japan after WWII. Looking closely, you will find that Mifune was always focused on inhabiting his characters, even before that was completely understood in the cinematic world globally as it is today.

After working in the Aviation Division in the Aerial photography unit during World War II, Mifune arrived at Toho Studios in 1947. He was searching for a photographer’s assistant job since he had worked in his father’s photography shop before the war. Young contract director Akira Kurosaws identified Mifune’s uniqueness and striking features. It takes talent to see the possibilities in others. Kurosawa’s talent lay in recognizing opportunity when Mifune came on the studio lot. Years later, Kurosaw admitted that without Mifune, he would have had no great films. Their artistic teamwork and collaboration produced a phenomenal raft of Japanese cinematic work that has landed on list after list of world cinema greats.

I Live in Fear cast, Toshirō Mifune right corner (courtesy of the criterion Collection)

I Live in Fear (Record of a Living Being) Screening at Film Forum

Friday, February 11 at 12:40, 4:55, 9:10
Friday, February 18 at 12:30
Saturday, February 19 at 2:50

I Live in Fear (Record of a Living Being) is one Kurasawa’s and Mifune’s overlooked films. Mifune (35) in the challenging role of a 70-year old foundry owner is taken to court by his wife and family to determine his mental competence as patriarchal fiduciary in control of his sizable fortune and company operations. Alarmed by the the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the radiation threats with 200 bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean and elsewhere, Kiichi Nakajima increasingly is obsessed with the safety of his family (even his mistresses and children) who he intends to move to Brazil, away from the trade winds blowing the clouds of radiation to Japan’s shores, and possibilities of future H-bomb explosions in their backyard. The family, especially the sons, refuse to leave, despite their father’s authority and leadership success. They assert their standing by obviating their father’s wishes and fears, rendering him a mentally infirm nullity. They insist upon the convenience of their fine lives at home in Japan, rather than to adjust to an uncertain environment without friends or familiar resources in Brazil.

The framework of the film is from the perspective of appointed Domestic Court Counselor Dr. Harada (the excellent Takashi Shimura) who takes time off from his dental practice to arbitrate the suit Nakajima’s wife takes up against her husband. The wife is in turmoil, torn between overthrowing Japanese cultural mores and obeying her sons, or standing with her husband against her children’s petition to take fiduciary authority. Nakajima, indulging his obsession about radiation, has been damaged by the devastation of the bombs dropped in Japan and even reveals PTSD (a prescient observation by Kurosawa) by recoiling to flashes of lightning during a thunder storm. His family uses his fears to justify the declaration of incompetence and senility. In a thoughtful, meditative performance by Takashi Shimura, the dentist considers all sides and acknowledges that all Japanese fear the bomb and radiation for good reason. Nakajima’s panic and obsession is more rational than his grasping family would credit him for.

Takashi Shimura in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurosawa draws the conundrums and human struggle with empathy and richness, revealing that all players have their own agendas, though there is logic and reason for their manipulations. Nevertheless, the father, who indulges his fears goes a step too far; he effects an event, that in his mind will hasten along the move to Brazil, but works the opposite result. Kurosawa reveals the overarching irony that the fear of destruction, too, is a kind of destruction that harms its fearful creator/perpetrator. This is a Shakespearean trope and the film, if seen through the lens of Dr. Harada, truly rises to mythic levels. Consider Japan as the test case, the bombing ground zero of a Christian Church; it is the sacrificial lamb to reveal the results of nuclear disaster in 1945 and possibly forever. This is especially so since weapons of mass destruction have yet to be eliminated so they do no harm anywhere on this planet. We just don’t think about it, nor does Nakajima’s family. Ironically, as a symbolic “crazy” Everyman, that is all that Nakajima thinks about.

Mifune’s performance is authentic and tragic as the shuffling patriarch whose vision is repudiated and vacated because it requires the sacrifice of the familiar and comfortable. That they cannot achieve a compromise, that the family appear to be grasping and cruel is one vital element of this most noxious of all family struggles about who controls the inheritance. And pitted against the sons’ selfish avarice is Nakajima’s obsessive, insistence that the radiation and the dropping of another H Bomb and nuclear proliferation will annihilate them unless they mitigate against it by moving away (South America has yet to establish nuclear facilities, so Kurasawa reveals his character’s judgment wasn’t unsound.)

I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurosawa once again presents the untenable and impossible situation where there are no winners, no heroes, only fools and philosophers, who watch the deaf, dumb and blind act like chaotic rats in a cage. Interestingly, this is not history back in the Samuri days. But the Japanese in homely family terms are mundane 20th century Samuri, fighting threats beyond their control, that the governmental leaders themselves have allowed to proliferate to dangerous global levels, caught in power games, knowing full well what a nuclear disaster means. That is the theme and subject matter conveyed by the extraordinary performance of Mifune, who becomes the symbol for human awareness under oppression, considered demented and feeble, though he is the lone, ignored voice in the midst of his family’s oblivion. Either he is a fool or he is acutely sentient, despite the hopeless situation he faces alone to confront the danger for life on this planet with the only rational action being to flee.

Avoiding/protesting against this proliferation of imminent destruction (certainly the effects of radiation in the cancer rates) deemed an insanity or an obsession of the incompetent, is monstrous. Yet, Kurosawa through his actors’ performances, and the way he presents Nakajima’s terror of a fact that the Japanese lived and suffered with is made more real as his family discounts it and him as nuts. The conundrum of either attempting to confront apocalyptic destruction or pretending it doesn’t exist and living one’s life without reflection, becomes more than a philosophical question in this brilliant, layered film which can be appreciated at its most human levels. At once it is about a family taking the reins of authority and control of the money, somewhat heartlessly because they have a great reason to. On the other hand, their justification for their greed is as senseless and heartless as one of the son’s explanations that we all have to die sometime; don’t sweat the bomb and the radiation that is killing you slowly. Don’t sweat the possibility of a few more Chernobyls or Three Mile Islands? Indeed.

Toshirō Mifune in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The ending of the film is certainly a gem. This is a spoiler alert. Against his better judgment, Dr. Harada declares Nakajima febrile and demented. After Nakajima admits to criminal measures, after he has been ignored, lost his money, power, authority, family, he still clings to the idea that Japan (indeed symbolizing the planet) is in danger of annihilation. He is placed in an institution where his daughter says that finally he will be safe. She localizes danger only to her father’s mind. In her kind words, she epitomizes the extent of the family’s blindness and deafness.

Of course, Nakajima is not safe anywhere. And he is more tormented than ever. As he looks out the window at the sun, he proclaims that the earth is burning: the effects of a bomb drop or radiation. Or as Kurosawa leaves it up to the viewer, maybe the guy is just uber confused. In the final symbolic shot, the screen perfectly split by a stairway in the asylum, Nakajima’s daughter with a baby on her back walks up and Dr. Harada moves down the stairs. The profound Dr. Harada stops in thought. And, attempting to divine his thoughts, perhaps we remember one of the psychologist’s statements about Mifune’s poignant, desperate Nakajima: “Is he crazy or are those who are unperturbed in an insane world the crazy ones?” Then Harada continues and only the sound of his steps echoes after him, leaving us with this metaphoric film that is even more current for today with the shot of the sun and Mifune’s cries of “burning,” referring to radiation proliferation, nuclear warfare and more trenchant global warming which Kurosawa couldn’t have foreseen unless he was uncanny.

Toshirō Mifune, I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurosaw’s original works are his most personal and vital. His characterization of the foundry owner through casting Mifune is brilliant. Who better than a vital, energetic, powerful, younger actor to contain that vibrance and compact it into the habitation of a much older body. And then to create the dynamism of the elite Nakajima who has lived a full privileged life, only to see its possibilities smashed by a terrifying uncontrollable chain reaction of explosions with the power to disintegrate all life? Mifune delivers the intensity of that understanding in his manifested physical panic and especially in the last statements he makes about burning.

In Record of a Living Being (I live in Fear) Mifune and Kurosawa have outdone themselves, not with flashy action, but with understatement and symbol. Kurosaw boldly affirms nothing can keep us safe, not the government, not the institutions that once conveyed us from birth to death. They can’t when science and industry (or digital technology) have taken us on a trajectory that is little understood until it is too late, and then, the effects are ignored. For tickets to see this must-see film, go to:

‘Mifune Festival’ at Film Forum February 11-March 30

Drunken Angel, Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of The Criterion Collection)

Part I

Mifune, a four-week festival of 33 films is celebrating the legendary Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune at Film Forum from February 11 through March 30. Co-presented by the Japan Foundation, the series features 16 of Mifune’s collaborations with iconic director Akira Kurosawa in what has been identified as one of the most seminal actor-director partnerships in film history. The duo produced some of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema. And Kurosawa’s films continually serve as an imprimatur for global directors mesmerized by Kurosawa’s cinematic storytelling. Indeed, Kurosawa once admitted that without Mifune, he would have no great films.

Snow Trail, Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of The Criterion Collection)

Postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival, originally titled MIFUNE 100, planned to commemorate Mifune’s centennial year in 2020; the actor was born on April 1, 1920. After two years, the decision was made to open the retrospective on the legendary actor. Film Forum Mifune Festival includes rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. It has been programmed by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming, and Japanese film scholar Michael Jeck. 

Drunken Angel, Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of The Criterion Collection)

This first in the series of articles gives an overview of select Kurasawa films that featured a young Mifune with another seminal actor Takashi Shimura, who often plays the foil to Mifune’s gruff, crude, deep-voiced characterizations. Highlights include a brief synopsis of each film and some points about the cinematography, scenic design and acting. The discussion moves in the film chronology from 1947-1949, beginning with Snow Trail (1947) Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949). In Part II you will find coverage for subsequent Mifune films including Rashomon (1950) which catapulted Mifune and Kurasawa to worldwide acclaim and awards and opened doors to further celebrity, dramatic risk and intriguing opportunities that historically shaped the cinematic art for decades. Film Forum Website for the MIFUNE FESTIVAL

SNOW TRAIL (1947) At Film Forum: Tuesday, February 15 at 12:40, 6:00

Kurasawa casts Takashi Shimura (Nojiro) and Toshirō Mifune (Eijima) as escaped bank robbers, who with a third older accomplice retreat to the snow covered mountains to hide, though their impossible journey is besieged by one trial after another. Kurasawa configures the robbers with unique personalities and then pulls a switch when they confront the hellish conditions of traversing in six foot snow drifts along sheer mountain cliffs, and their older accomplice falls to his death taking his portion of stolen money with him. This is a wake up call for both Nojiro and Eijima and an important turning point where we empathize with these individuals as they realize the hopelessness of their situation from which they most probably will not get out alive.

All seems lost as the actors struggle against the mountain’s death grip. Kurasawa’s perfectly balanced scenic design and cinematic shots of the dominance of the mountain terrain, the deep snows, isolation and the freezing temperatures threaten their every step. As neophytes against nature’s cold, blasting fury, we see in their faces their yearning for life and sadness that it is over for them. Shimura especially gains our sympathy, but then a miracle occurs. They stumble upon a lifeline, a ski trail which eventually leads them to a resort where its hosts, a grandfather and his young granddaughter, entertain ski expert Honda (Akitake Kôno). It is there in this warm, congenial company where the fibers of the robbers’ characters are revealed and we note Kurasawa’s philosophical perspective teased in through the dialogue and emotional fear and pain of Mifune’s Eijima and Nojiro’s growing grace.

As Nojiro pulls away from Eijima, appreciating the sweetness of the little granddaughter, who reminds him of the daughter he lost, Eijima becomes more crude, violent and angry with him, attempting to dislocate his accomplice from their kindness. After all, Nojiro, masterminded the robbery, but from his icky sentimentality at the granddaughter, Eijima fears Nojiro lost his resolve to escape. It is in these scenes where we see the menace, bluster and extraordinary vitality of Mifune’s acting dynamism. How their characterizations diverge toward inner redemption and damnation as they attempt to scale the mountains after blackmailing Honda to guide them generates suspense, tension and danger. These elements heighten as Honda saves their lives repeatedly but must close down when he breaks his arm and is shot in the leg.

Mifune and Shimura are the perfect duo. Their technique and Kurasawa’s close-ups and medium shots provide the light and the dark, the hope and the desolation that propel the characters’ emotional turmoil up the mountain of fate in this survival story of good and evil that is layered, intricate and metaphysical. Against the mountain, their doom, with Kôno’s Honda bestowing the rope lifeline, symbolic of the code of community and friendship (the mountaineers code) it is up to each of them to work cooperatively to save each other from destruction. This is the lesson of redemption and hope that only one of the robbers learns and with that knowledge, gains the strength to be accountable for his actions.

Drunken Angel (1948)

At Film Forum: Saturday, February 19 at 12:40
Sunday, February 27 at 6:00
Monday, February 28 at 12:40
Tuesday, March 1 at 8:20
Wednesday, March 2 at 5:50
Thursday, March 10 at 2:45

Drunken Angel is Kurosawa’s examination of the soul’s demise to self-destruction. For this journey Kurosawa casts Takashi Shimura as the alcoholic Dr. Sanada and Mifune as Matsunaga a member of a Yakuza gang who controls the area but is evicted from his power when the boss exploits him then puts another in power until Matsunaga self-destructs. Dr. Sanada’s office is by a pond of chemicals and slime which Kurosawa sneaks in as symbolic of the entire community as the cesspool of humanity. The pond water which makes others sick, is likened to the values that make humanity sick: greed, exploitation and selfishness.

Interestingly, Sanada whose character weakness makes him a drunkard, has a kind heart and attempts to make a difference with these individuals who are worse off than he. As his patient, Matsunaga who has tuberculosis doesn’t follow his instructions, though if he did, he would be able to survive, maybe thrive. Sanada has a young female patient who he is helping to heal. However, Matsunaga lacks the will to help himself, regardless of how much Dr. Sanada badgers him not to drink and take care of himself. Clearly, Dr. Sanada puts up with Matsunaga’s manner, invests himself in the gangster attempting to help though the people who surround Matsunaga don’t care if he lives or dies and contribute to making him sicker.

Once again, Mifune’s performance as the soul destroyed gangster who Dr. Sanada sees as worthy to be helped is masterfully, carefully revealed, especially in his revelation that Matsunaga doesn’t have the energy or will to follow Sanada’s instructions, and allows himself a slow suicide. Theirs is an amazing duel of emotions: impatience, helplessness and withering bravado, frustration and love. The symbolism revealed in the scenic design of the various environments and the shot compositions of the dance hall, Dr. Sanada’s tight office, the close-ups of the emotional weariness of Mifune’s Matsunaga and the frustration and anger of Shumira’s doctor is superb. Despite the soul filth of the criminals who oppress, theirs is a relationship that appears noble. Sanada’ concern for Matsunaga leads us to feel empathy that he is dying, caught in his own sorrowful web of sickness and destruction that he let into his spirit when he gravitated toward the criminals in the hope of being “someone” others might respect. It is Matsunaga’s tragedy and the tragedy of all the self-annihilating criminal class, the theme of this superb film.

Stray Dog (1949)

Monday, February 14 at 8:10
Friday, February 18 at 2:40
Sunday, February 20 at 12:40
Thursday, February 24 at 5:50
Wednesday, March 9 at 8:10

Stray Dog is Japan’s first film noir crime procedural influenced by Jules Dassin’s script of The Naked City with Kurosawa’s signature philosophical commentary on the nature of the human soul in its travails through post-war Tokyo and beyond. Kurosawa sets the action in some of the most rubble-strewn sections of Tokyo in a clothes drenching heat wave before air conditioning cooled and refreshed. In every scene the pressure and struggle is evident in the scenic design and cinematography of the gritty, torn up city where vets, finding little work, join the Yakuza (gangster network).

Every character, every actor especially leads Takashi Shimura as Detective Satō, and Toshirō Mifune in an uncharacteristic but athletic portrayal as Detective Murakami, Kurosawa features with close-ups, dripping perspiration tear-drops down noses, chins and foreheads. White suits, dresses and hats show huge swaths of white cloth darkened with dingy, messy, wet stains. The heat Kurosawa uses as a character. And as a symbol, it represents the pressure and tension that Murakami (Mifune) puts himself under, obsessed with guilt that he isn’t up to the task of being a competent detective.

The driving incident occurs when neophyte Murakami, white suited and new to the job, has his Colt-45 pick pocketed while jostling against other sweltering passengers on a crowded streetcar. Realizing who stole it, Murakami charges after the thief on foot but eventually loses him. Thus, set in motion is the race against time to locate the stolen weapon. Murakami, who is shy and quiet with other detectives in the department, is ready to resign when he realizes that the gun was used to commit murder. His upright, honest and sincere attitude (fascinating to see Mifune’s humble versatility in comparison to previous criminal roles) is appreciated by the department head who assigns him to work with seasoned detective Satō (Shimura).

Together as a disparate but cooperative and congenial team they piece together the clues to those who can be traced through to the girlfriend (in an ironic, dramatic scene with her mother) of Yusa who commits two murders with the Colt-45. Look for the famous nearly 10-minute sequence shot by hidden camera in the city’s toughest black market as Mifune’s Murakami goes undercover to buy a gun on the black market and reveals the palpable anxiety and frustration at coming up against dead end after dead end. The taut thriller emotionally magnifies for Mifune’s Murakami, when Satō is almost fatally injured. Mifune is so authentic as he goes to pieces believing his gun killed his mentor and friend. Also, catch the superb dialogue at the conclusion when Satō encourages Murakami not to feel badly for Yusa. Shimura’s comment is eloquent, philosophical and pointed and Mifune’s response is memorable.

The schedule of films beginning the series on Friday, February 11th is as follows or go to the Film Forum website:


Friday, February 11 at 2:55, 7:10
Wednesday, February 15 at 5:35
Friday, March 4 at 3:50
Saturday, March 5 at 12:40
Wednesday, March 9 at 6:00
Thursday, March 10 at 12:40, 5:10


Friday, February 11 at 12:40, 4:55, 9:10
Friday, February 18 at 12:30
Saturday, February 19 at 2:50

Sundance Award Winner: ‘Hive,’ 94th Oscars® Shortlisted for Best International Feature

Yllka Gashi in Hive directed by Blerta Basholli (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

Hive, a triple award-winner at Sundance Film Festival is a beautifully constructed, exceptionally acted and poignantly rendered feature film by writer/director Blerta Basholli. In the film, Basholli simplistically and profoundly examines the aftereffects of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war that impacted civilians and dislocated the cultural mores and society of Kosovo.

It is through this backdrop that Basholli focuses on representative families that suffered the loss of relatives and economic hardship which was felt greatest in the towns where killing, rape, burning and looting took place. One of the largest massacres happened in the village of Krusha e Madhe, the setting of the film inspired by a true story. There, families are still waiting over twenty years later for word of their loved ones in the hope of recovering their clothing or bodies so they might receive a proper burial. Then, the uncertainty of what happened to their husbands and relatives would finally reach closure.

Yllka Gashi as Fahrije Hoti in Hive (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

Writer/director Blerta Basholli reveals the strength and resilience of the women whose husbands have gone missing as they attempt to confront their grief, raise their children, take care of their in-laws and put food on the table with their own ingenuity, hard work and home crafted items. Focusing on Fahrije Hoti, Basholli reveals how the enterprising Hoti gradually fights the patriarchal culture of lazy men to gather a collective (a hive) and establish a way for the women to support themselves and their children, launching a business to make and sell ajvar (roasted red pepper spread).

Initially, we see that Hoti attempts to maintain her husband’s bee hives, collecting the honey and having her father-in-law who is in a wheelchair sell it. During the film we learn the bee hives and honey are a remembrance of her husband, though the honey doesn’t provide them with enough money after it’s sold. And she hasn’t found the way to deal with the bees like her husband did, so that she doesn’t get stung. Hoti ends up having to nurse her wounds as the bees sting her when she gets the honey.

Yllka Gashi as Fahrije Hoti in Hive directed by Blerta Basholli (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

As Fahrije Hoti, Albanian actor Yllka Gashi teases out an exceptional portrayal of the woman whose struggles inspired the director to create her story from emotional truth. When a car is donated so that Hoti can drive and help the other widows, she gets a license. And because she and the women are destitute, she gets the idea to start a business selling avjar. But the men of the village reject her driving autonomy and her flitting around the village to pursue business. It is a threat to their masculinity and power structure extent for centuries.

When she parks near the cafe to do business, a rock is thrown smashing the car window. Her transgression is clear. Their violent attack forewarns her to stop or worse will follow. However, Hoti doesn’t respond, except to drive home and tape up the back window. She stoically continues about her business without confronting the men at the cafe who despise her.

As Hoti is encouraged by another, older widow, despite the disdain of even her own children and her father-in-law who disagree with her plans, gradually, she and a few women agree to form the business. They chip in money for the supplies. Eventually, they meet at her house to make the avjar. However, she faces tremendous backlash and her own daughter is nasty to her when Hoti attempts to sell a band saw, a memento of her husband to get the money to buy more peppers.

Other obstacles come from the men in the village whose chauvinistic egos are threatened by these autonomous women. They try to destroy their product and stop their sales. Clearly, the men see them as whores who have overstepped the boundaries of the female identity set in the traditions of the town. And the man who sells her the red peppers attempts to collect payment in sex, assuming that she is a whore, for what woman would do what she is doing?

Kumrije Hoxha, Yllka Gashi, Adriana Matosha, Molike Maxhuni, Blerta Ismaili, Valire Haxhijaj Zeneli in Hive (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

One of the important conflicts in the film, explores Hoti forging ahead despite ancient mores and folkways that would keep her and her family starving. She, like the other women widowers, is destitute. However, where the other widowers are afraid, Hoti has nothing left to lose. Hoti’s ability to drive strengthens her; one taboo has been overthrown. Why not be the head of a business? Another taboo is overthrown. Initially, the other cowed women reject her plan to sell their product out of fear of censure and a reputation of disgrace.

But with every move she makes, Hoti becomes more determined and she exemplifies to the others that the archaic folkways make no sense in a modern world. The irony is that the complaining, bullying men condemn them for working but do not lift a finger to support them. They approve of their groveling in starvation, another type of ignominy, without their husbands. Either way, the women are disgraced for they are women without men. Hoti and the women defy the men’s backward definitions of who women are. They redefine themselves.

Cleverly, the director subtly shows the harmful misogyny as a destructive nihilistic force which benefits no one, least of all the entire town. Basholli presents this as she tells the story through silences and actions, without haranguing or presenting a political argument. The effect is striking; we feel the full force of the crumbling of the patriarchy as the men fear having to redefine themselves, which these powerful women are forcing them to do.

Basholli’s themes are striking. It is clear that the lazy men begrudge the women’s attempt to survive without their husbands. In other words they are to remain stuck in time with no identity, power, autonomy, sovereignty apart from their husbands. They are expected to curl up and die as an honorable way to remember their men; be with them in death or wait in limbo in a dead zone. The thought that the widowers make a life for themselves to overthrow the former traditions is the death of the old way and the beginning of a new way that Hoti is creating. She chooses hope and life after the massacre of the village. Hers is a bold, vibrant, maverick move. Astounding and revolutionary, she re-emerges a new individual.

Life and hope respond in renewal as the women receive sustenance from each other and appreciate their new unity, inner peace and financial power from their “hive.” Thus, they continue to contract with other supermarket owners who sell what they are making and expand, as the director shows after the last cinematic shots of Gashi. At the conclusion, Yllka Gashi as Hoti is dressed in a beekeeper’s outfit. A bee walks on her hand as she remains at peace, unafraid, knowing the bee will not sting her, like her husband never was stung. Basholli renders Hoti’s metaphoric, symbolic peace in communion with the bee as acceptance of the opportunity and new world that she recognizes is open to her.

This superb debut feature film by Basholli is Kosovo’s official selection for Best International Feature Film, Kosovo’s eighth official entry, and was recently included on the International Feature Film shortlist for the 94th Academy Awards®. Hive is one to see for its dynamic award-winning performance by Yllka Gashi, award winning directing/writing and its current, vital themes about defining one’s life, and persistence in carving out one’s place, especially in a society that is closed, weak and crumbling.

Available on all major digital/VOD platforms including:
Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Kino Now, Vudu, and
The Criterion Channel (starting February 8th)

Press Release for Film at Lincoln Center: ‘Camera Man: Dana Stevens on Buster Keaton’

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (courtesy of Lincoln Center Film and Dana Stevens)

Steamboat Bill, Jr. may be Keaton’s most mature film, a fitting if too-early farewell to his period of peak creative independence … its relationship to the rest of its creator’s work has been compared to that of Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest.”

 – Dana Stevens on Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Camera Man: Dana Stevens on Buster Keaton, screening on January 27 at 7:00pm at the Francesca Beale Theater in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center is one you don’t want to miss if you love Buster Keaton and the film Steamboat Bill, Jr.

To mark the upcoming release of her new book Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, author and Slate film critic Dana Stevens joins Film at Lincoln Center for an extended conversation with writer Imogen Sara Smith. A screening of the 4K restoration of Keaton’s silent comedy masterpiece Steamboat Bill, Jr. follows, preceded by a 2K restoration of the classic two-reeler One Week. Both films are from the Cohen Film Collection and feature 5.1 orchestral scores by composer Carl Davis.

Known as “The Great Stone Face” due to his deadpan facial expressions and mannerisms during the Silent Film era, Buster Keaton left an enduring impression on film history. On Keaton’s breakneck productivity and prolific output of films throughout this period, film critic Roger Ebert said: “from 1920 to 1929, he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.” Keaton’s experience with pratfalls and showmanship from vaudeville performances as a child evolved into his eye-popping, unforgetable achievements in Steamboat Bill, Jr. as well as The Cameraman, The General, and Sherlock Jr., all of which have been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Dana Stevens is the film critic at Slate magazine and a co-host of the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Bookforum. She lives in New York City with her family. Camera Man is her first book.

Imogen Sara Smith is the author of Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy and In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City. A regular contributor to the Criterion Collection and the Criterion Channel, she has also written for Film Comment, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Reverse Shot, and many other publications.

Camera Man: Dana Stevens on Buster Keaton is organized by Madeline Whittle.

Tickets, on sale beginning on Friday, December 18 are still on sale. Pricing is $15 (General Public), $12 (Students, Seniors, Persons with Disabilities), and $10 (Members). Save on FLC memberships this month only! Learn more here.

Films and Descriptions

The event will take place at the Francesca Beale Theater (144 W 65th St)

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Charles Reisner, 1928, USA, 70m

In the 10th and final feature to emerge from Buster Keaton’s independent production unit, the legendary comic master turns in an iconically endearing performance as the eponymous Bill Jr., a college student who returns home to help his scheming riverboat captain father (Ernest Torrence) compete with the far more successful luxury-riverboat owner J.J. King (Tom McGuire)—who also happens to be the father of Bill Jr.’s sweetheart. To make matters worse, a cyclone blows through the area, setting the stage for some of Keaton’s finest stunts on camera and one of the most (deservedly) storied sequences in all of silent cinema, in which a house’s actual two-ton facade falls on the oblivious young man. 4K Restoration by Cohen Media Group in collaboration with the Cineteca Bologna.

Thursday, January 27, 7:00pm (Q&A with author Dana Stevens and writer Imogen Sara Smith)

Preceded by:

One Week

Buster Keaton & Edward F. Cline, 1920, USA, 25m

A man and his new bride set about assembling a home for themselves with a build-your-own-house construction kit, only to encounter unforeseen pitfalls resulting from a disgruntled former lover’s sabotage. 2K Restoration by Cohen Media Group in collaboration with the Cineteca Bologna.


Film at Lincoln Center is dedicated to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema and enriching film culture. For any questions go to:

‘Love Type D’ A Semi-Satire About ‘Born Losers in Love’

Obsessive love stinks. When women or men are attacked by Cupid, they may move on a scale from fools to killers. Love is potent stuff. But what happens if you have a gene to be “lucky in cards and unlucky in love?” Love Type D written and directed by Sasha Collington is a crowd pleaser that removes you from reality which is a necessity, but it also disavows the serious topics it touches upon with a too light tone. A missed opportunity for this comedic, ironic film.

The premise is high concept; it is easy to understand how the pitch for this film worked. However, in its execution, the plot has dead spots, ups and downs, moving from laugh riot (infrequently) to gentle gruntles to “yeah, ho hum.” If only it mined the gold in the themes it touches upon! The group ensemble scenes work well as do some of the implausible farcical moments. The background music “mostly lighthearted” not so much.

Frankie Browne (Maeve Dermody) winsome, twenty-something in love with Thomas Lacey (Oliver Farnsworth) waits for him at a lovely London restaurant for their romantic dinner. Surprised by 11-year-old Harry Potteresque Wilbur (Rory Stroud) Thomas’ brother, she wilts at the message Wilbur gives her. To avoid a scene, Thomas has sent the pipsqueak to break up with Frankie forever in a humiliating, abrupt, “let her down hard so she can’t come back to bug me” way. The devastated Frankie attempts to discover why Thomas has dumped her to no avail.

To make matters worse, Wilbur who is involved with his friend in a research competition takes advantage of her neediness. He eventually reveals (Frankie pries it out of him) that she most probably has a “loser love gene.” Her love relationships starting with tweenhood have ended worse than badly; she reflects about her past loves. Collington fills in her heartbreaks with two flashbacks. Look for Natacha Basset playing the young Frankie.

As many women are wont to do, Frankie judges her past eleven breakups through the eyes of her failed relationship with Thomas. She must have an inherent fault as a “love loser,” a liability in her DNA, says scientist Dr. Elsa Blomgren (a scary Tovah Feldshuh). She is a Type D (the dumped on type). As commercials do subliminally, the ones made by Epigenica featuring Dr. Elsa promote guilt and pile on condemnatory negativity, converting watchers to losers in every aspect of their lives, particularly in love. Affirmed again and again as a loser, Frankie watches the sales pitches and becomes convinced that via Type D, she irrevocably has been and will be dumped in love relationships. It’s terribly depressing, and an imperative to purchase a $500.00 test to see if genetically she is destined to be dumped eternally.

In human beings’ worst moments, including suicidal moments, the misery of humiliation, the thought of being a loser, and feeling that things will never change have persuaded more than a few to end it. The film flirts with this notion of love’s impossibility and nihilism in the human heart and mind. And it flirts with the gene theory of irrevocable inherent inferiority (rather fascist, master race stuff) as a subliminal, noxious message. However, this message is converted mildly to farce and keeps that terror at bay with light humor.

There is a missed opportunity here. The farce could have been broader and more extreme. That Frankie so willingly accepts this “scientific” designation is alarming. And somehow, the signals are muddied as we laugh. If the humor was darker, more sardonic, the film’s themes would have been strengthened. But that involves adding a character with a critical, observer’s eye and that character of reason is absent in the midst of those who are either “perfect” or “inferior.” (a main problem with the plot and themes of the film)

Frankie, with the help of Wilbur, eventually goes through a journey of twists and turns, some of which are hackneyed, others surprising. First, after getting tested for the gene and finding she is irrevocably a loser, she collaborates with her work colleagues in a love loser cult of “woe is me.” Some of these ensemble moments are beautifully paced and LOL funny.

However, in her attempt to still reconcile with Thomas, who has picked a lovely winner for his girlfriend (an astronaut, fit, brilliant, to be envied) she eventually works with Wilbur to find a solution to the “love loser” problem. Wilbur and his friend have discovered if the losers dump their first love to reverse the “curse” of being dumped and do this with all those who dumped them, then the gene will somehow switch off. It is at this point that the plot goes into the stratosphere and not necessarily in a good way. However, for all those who have “lost” in love, been defamed, humiliated, reduced to worms and slugs, the idea to “dump the dumper” is appealing, if not vengeful and psychically/emotionally unregenerative and narcissistic.

Frankie is such a loser that she is “stuck” on trying to get Thomas to love her. She uses every deception with the help of Wilbur (hypnosis to name one) to get close enough to “dump” him. However, Cupid’s arrow is so deep, she’s a hopeless case. Her obsession is so ridiculous, that he is forced to take out a restraining order against her. By this point older, seasoned women will throw up their hands in exasperation, while younger women will be rooting for her, indignant at the cruel and heartless Thomas. Meanwhile, Frankie’s work colleagues have been successful at going back and reversing the tables with former boyfriends/girlfriends by dumping them.

In a Deus Ex Machina (the miraculous intervention) solution, Wilbur and his friend develop a liquid “Love Potion Number 9” made of pheromones at “elephant strength,” (that’s how much of a turn-off Frankie has made herself to Thomas) to use on Thomas to get close enough to dump him and trigger a reversal of the gene. The scene at the nightclub where Frankie croaks out a song which the power of the potion converts so that she has the voice and allure of Katy Perry (all the men including Thomas are entranced) is hysterical.

The conclusion ties up neatly with a protagonist who walks into the camera speaking her wisdom philosophically. But the depth of what she has learned is surface and the danger of what she and others have missed in all of the machinations of cultural definitions of success and failure, genetic engineering for “success,” and mastering ourselves so that we love ourselves “for who we are,” remain unsatisfactory. But, since it’s all in good fun, it doesn’t really matter what we consume, does it?

Love Type D screened at the Charlotte Film Festival, Manchester International Film Festival, RiverRun International Film Festival and Washington DC Independent Film Festival where it won awards. Look for it screening online 9th July.

‘The Lost Leonardo’ World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021
Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon – Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021

The Lost Leonardo directed by Andreas Koefoed and written by Duska Zagorac, Mark Monroe, Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff and Andreas Koefoed. The film is a fascinating documentary that delves into the nail biting discovery of the painting Salvator Mundi (a portrait of Jesus) that was ill-used, in ragged condition and an obscurity for decades or centuries depending upon what you believe. It was sold for a mere $1,175 in 2005 by New Orleans auctioneers who didn’t really pay much attention to provenance or the possibility of its potential greatness. However, purchasers who hunt for sleepers (undiscovered renowned works) thought it might have value. They wanted it to be restored with the intention of reselling it. How lovely if it slipped under the radar of the New Orleans merchants who were not schooled in high Renaissance art. Finders keepers and all that!

Thus begins the journey of a painting that remains a mystery to this day and has been examined, pawed over and quibbled about by some of the most prestigious art galleries, museums and their curators in the world. Like a well-heeled detective, Andreas Koefoed cobbles together the video clips of individuals who pondered over, investigated and worked on the Salvator Mundi. He also interviews art critics, museum curators, experts, scholars, art historians, investigative journalists, the Founder of the FBI Art Crime Team and shady art dealer businessmen who profit off of billionaires who purchase such costly works privately or at auction. These wealthy could care less if the provenance is in question as long as the perception remains that it is authentic. They do this in order to bury their money in the painting purchase which hides a record of their wealth from the pernicious eyes of tax collectors.

The adventure Koefoed embarks on is thrilling, and he unspools the clues like a master mystery writer. The chase of whether this work is truly the “lost Leonardo” keeps one enthralled. However, there is no conclusive finality and uncertainty reigns with every word his subjects use to speak about the painting.

Perhaps conceived with hope initial buyers Alexander Parrish, sleeper hunter, and his friend Robert Simon (an old masters paintings expert) fantasized about what the Mundi was and who painted it. They acted on their conceptualizations, and to satisfy the curiosity of their wallets, they brought the Mundi to top art restorer Dianne Modestini who had partnered with a spot-on expert recently deceased, from whom she had learned. With his assistance, over the years, she had gained expertise and knowledge restoring fine paintings.

As Modestini worked on the Salvator Mundi, she nearly fainted examining the mouth of the figure in the painting. The Salvator Mundi‘s similarities around the right side of the upper lip resembled that of the Mona Lisa. The more she worked, the more she concluded that only one individual could paint in this way: Leonardo da Vinci. As time progressed, the Salvator Mundi in verbal shorthand is referred to by ironist art critics as the male Mona Lisa.

‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (Sony Picture Classics)

Only eight known paintings are globally attributed to the Renaissance master who was “forward thinking” by about 500 years; among his papers are drawings of space ships and underwater submersibles. He was a scientist, painter, mathematician, inventor and all-around genius. However, that this is a “da Vinci” turning up at auction, like a ghost from the backwaters around New Orleans, remains as implausible and incredulous to some global art experts as unicorns are to empiricists. And these scholars are prepared to deny the work’s authenticity as are those experts who are prepared to defend it to the death as a Leonardo. Belief and faith in the power of money trumps any concern about whether it is a fake that a highly skilled genius painter tossed off and was happy to get some money for.

The problem with any work of fine art, is to establish the provenance and period when it was painted based upon the artist’s technique, any underpainting, the chemicals used to mix the paint as well as the chemical composition of the pigments. Art restorer Dianne Modestini affirms on pain of death that the Salvator Mundi, which sold in 2017 for a record-setting $450 million, is the “lost Leonardo” based upon her understanding of the demonstrated technique and brush strokes.

On the other hand, art critic Jerry Salz who is knowledgeable about the corruption embracing high art sales, auction houses and art galleries who benefit from them is the receptacle of a vast skepticism about the Mundi. Saltz’s demonstrated wisdom is not to be underestimated. Indeed, the art industry has been taken over like other arts industries, for example theater, by the philistines. When money is concerned, auction houses and dealers allow the presence of fakes to take a backseat to money, power and the perception of authenticity, backed by lucid, clairvoyant analyses and explanations.

If you can get away with billionaires offering you hefty sums for works they believe to be authentic, but may not be, who is hurt? If the billionaires are squirreling away their treasures for the purpose of tax evasion in Freeports (tax free airport storage, above the law of all countries) no one will see these fakes anyway and the benefiting institution and billionaire are content. By the time they may have to sell them at a loss, most probably they’ve made twice as much in their corrupt enterprises in the interim. These rich guys are good for art; they are easier than the overhead of collecting subscriber donations and the hard work of charitable fund raising galas to run galleries and museums sometimes at a loss.

Examining ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

An additional factor to consider as to why the allure of wealthy anonymous buyers is so great for the art industry is that running public museums and private art galleries, one must pay exorbitant insurance costs and for security to prevent the little people from thieving works off the walls and reselling it to rich clients who can only display them privately. Better that the art dealers, auction houses and galleries contract with these billionaires who risk purchasing fakes which will most likely be kept in locked rooms in their mansions, Freeports, villas or one of their 15 million-dollar condos neatly situated in favored cities around the world.

The only ones concerned about fakes are the renowned public museums with a rich history of standing by their experts’ knowledge, respected institutions like the Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum. They do not take kindly to displaying fakes or works that are questionable alongside their incredible proven treasures. And perhaps millionaires who don’t have the money to burn on fakes might be concerned. Other than that, billionaires have entered the art world and they are a sure thing for art dealers and auction houses.

In this amazingly instructive film about the upper classes and the corruption of geopolitical wealth, the filmmaker and writers launch off into three thematic threads emphasizing the concept at work which is the “game.” Sectioning off three segments to keep our understanding regular, he amasses a tremendous amount of research in video interviews, archived photos of works and voice overs. These are structured as the “Art Game,” the “Money Game” and the “World Game.”

It is in this discussion of how art is a game, we begin to understand the shadowy dark money world that fuels fakes and authentic pieces alike. Clearly, the filmmaker reveals that one doesn’t engage in this game naively or without experience and circumspection or you will be taken and regret it. How well can you play the game? How well can you game the auction houses and art dealers? How thoroughly can you game yourself?

If you (like the Russian oligarch who purchased the Salvator Mundi from a French Freeport owner are stuffing away your potential fake in Freeport storage units, then art is a safe, untraceable transaction far from Interpol or Vladimir Putin. As an investment it is unrecorded in any bank unless it’s the safely corrupt Cyprus Bank which deals with foreign transactions from corrupt leaders, and practices money laundering.

Such art has no significance to oligarchs, least of all the meaning of “the savior of the world” Salvator Mundi, which may be a joke to the oligarch or afterward MBS who purchased it anonymously as revealed by the FBI art crime bureau. If you truly care about seeing the Mona Lisa or a work of Rembrandt, then the corruption of viewing a fake is monstrous. The reason why the public purchases memberships in museums and donates millions is because they believe what they view is the “real deal.” The fiasco with the sales of the Salvator Mundi and its dubious authentication based on faith has exposed the art industry’s realm of “alternative realities” and the grand con possibilities. Is it or isn’t it a fake? Only the “little people” are self-righteously outraged if what they look at are fakes hanging in the walls of prestigious museums.

Auction houses and galleries and museums have bridged the reality gap into the alternate Donald Trump/Vlad Putin universe (my intimations, not the filmmakers though it is an important theme for our time). These dealers, auction houses and their buyers justify the authenticity or value of the works they sell because they can, especially if the industry trafficks in bullshit. The honest critic or expert is unwanted then, no matter their weight in gold. These themes Andreas Koefoed raises in this profound documentary which is a sweet siren’s warning. And it gives the average museum goer the fodder to ruminate and feel rage at how art has become an untrustworthy commodity, not a historical, cultural legacy.

Bruce Lamarche, Yves Bouvier’s business partner, ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, Bruce Lamarche)

But billionaires don’t mind the cache that goes with owning various works, for example, MBS who was anonymous until the great reveal by the FBI. Why would the murderer of WaPo reporter Jamal Kashoggi be interested in a painting that means “the savoir of the world?” The thought of his repentance at his villainous acts of killing family and the “traitorous” reporter is laughable.

On the other hand the notoriety of buying it because he could, was alluring. Owning the painting was a way to gain acceptance and prestige. This was so much so that he enticed the curators of the Louvre that he would loan the Salvator Mundi to them as representative of the “Lost Leonardo,” the male Mona Lisa with its provenance and authenticity in doubt. They were interested, until they heard his conditions. They must hang his purchase with the clouds of fakedom wafting off it—next to the Mona Lisa. The publicity alone would be tremendous. In 2011, the UK’s National Gallery displayed the male Mona Lisa with all its warts of uncertainty so that crowds could show up and imagine it was real. For the Louvre to hang the “Male Mona Lisa” next to the “Mona Lisa” would be a validation of it, sort of like riding the Mona Lisa‘s coattails into veracity, truth and art reality.

The Louvre refused. They were not willing to display a potential fake next to their acquisition whose provenance they were certain of. And MBS, annoyed that his offer was spurned, didn’t take them up on allowing them to display the Mundi in a separate room, explaining its restoration and questionable provenance. Of course the film does not go into the irony of a MBS with all his murders on his head, owning the portrait of Christ as the “savior of the world.” It doesn’t have to. The irony is stunning as is MBS’s arrogant longing.

With the exception of museums who display art so that the public can enjoy it, this whole industry is a philistine’s game (the money lenders and buyers who trade). They could care less if David Bowie (no offense meant to this fabulous artist whom I adore) smeared some of his dung on a canvas and signed it and sold it to the highest bidder. Such was the case with Pablo Picasso who became so disgusted with the “trade” aspect of art in the hands of philistines, he used to draw on napkins at restaurants and depending upon whether he liked the wait staff or not, signed the napkin and gave it to them. In some instances, he drew it, signed it and then destroyed it as they hungrily watched. For the artist commercialization of their work is loathsome and welcome, but only if they reap the rewards in their lifetimes, which usually does not happen. However, what can be done if the vultures pick their bones clean after they’re dead and gone? No wonder Banksy rigged the shredding of his “Girl With the Baloon” after the gavel hit in an auction that garnered a record price for his work.

The Lost Leonardo presents a vital perspective of the “art industrial complex” as it were. Who decides what is great art, even if it is potentially fake and not all the experts can agree on its authenticity? The fact that it’s MBS who purchased it for (after a circuitous route of sales from $1175, to $87 million, then $127 + million) $450 million does nothing to establish its credibility. And after the National Gallery exhibited it to great celebration as a da Vinci in 2011, they mired themselves in the smut of gaming when the FBI revealed that MBS purchased it for a price which means it’s now unsaleable and unpresentable if he persists in riding on the coattails of other Leonardo paintings which he could afford, but which should not be sold to him. This is especially so after it has been proven that he ordered Kashoggi to be brutally murdered, an M.O. of his despite his vapid denials.

However, like many billionaires who remain anonymous he worked through an agent. Would the auction house have sold this work to him if they knew he was purchasing it? They know how to play the game. And as a result, they have smeared themselves and the art world with BS which is what the Dutch filmmaker subtly infers in The Lost Leonardo.

This is a film to see, if not for a good look at the painting which is mostly a restoration and therefore, is more Dianne Modestini’s effort than da Vinci’s. It finished screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Look for this beautifully edited and scripted documentary streaming on various channels or perhaps at your favorite Indie theater after its release on 13 of August. Don’t miss this Sony Pictures Classic if you love art and are interested in learning more about the specious and scurrilous art traffickers which unfortunately find dueling interests with renowned museums who cannot afford works of art, after the traffickers bid the works to obscene heights.

‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story’

7/27/95.Beverly Hills,California.Jackie Collins At Jackies New Home In Beverlyhills She Designed Herself (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)
7/27/95.Beverly Hills,California.Jackie Collins At Jackies New Home In Beverlyhills She Designed Herself (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)

If you are a fan of Jackie Collins’ florid and racy descriptions, plots and characters, and especially if you adore the third wave “feminist” character Lucky Santangelo, you must run, not walk to screen the documentary LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story. The documentary which lovingly and cheekily chronicles the best-selling novelist which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is set to premiere on CNN — Sunday, JUNE 27 at 9:00 PM ET and PT.

This is a must-see for many reasons, chief of which is director Laura Fairrie’s exhaustive research on Jackie Collins. The filmmaker reveals the woman behind her characters and examines her three marriages and how she was able to negotiate the changing view of women despite hawkish criticism at the end as the #METOO movement was forming its ethos. Of course the irony is that Jackie Collins exemplified with grace, power and vitality how women must “step up to the plate,” and take charge in a world of men.

Indeed, through a series of trials and errors that Collins reversed into boons, director Fairrie reveals the arc of her life story and solidifies that Collins was an overcomer who refused to take life in all its wheels and woes on the chin. It is an amazing history of sorrow, setback, triumph and reformation and at the end, courage and legacy. Fairrie shows great equipoise in her highlighting the competition with her sister Joan Collins who encouraged her to go to Hollywood and have a film career. She reveals Collins signed a $2 million-dollar-book deal, though in no way did she display the writing talent for description and story-telling that Jackie did. Acting on film and television was Joan’s medium. On the other hand Jackie’s talents were as an observer, a listener and wordsmith who converted life into art.

Joan Collins 'LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)
Joan Collins ‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)

Using videos from personal archives starting when the Collins sisters were young up until her death of cancer in 2015, the sourced material is extensive and Fairrie cobbles it together switching different time periods. She organizes the documentary not chronologically but via themes that threaded through in Jackie Collins’ life. Thus, we follow videos of her troubled, brief, first marriage, to manic depressive drug addict Wallace Austin to her successful marriage to second husband Oscar Lerman and her third husband “larger than life-gigolo type character” in Frank Calcagnini.

This second marriage to the co-owner of the successful London celebrity nightclub Tramp lasted 23 years. It was Oscar whose supportive encouragement initiated Jackie’s writing career. With him she finished her first book, The World is Full of Married Men. Unlike Austin who was jealous, grasping and abusive, Oscar was a loving husband and father who adored Jackie. Because he was a success in his own right, he didn’t fear playing “second fiddle” to her growing celebrity as a best selling novelist.

Indeed, to burgeon her career, he agreed to move the family to Los Angeles when Collins decided to expand her empire and publicize her novels appearing on talk shows and soliciting media to improve US market share. The move brought the sisters together and Collins, who launched her own empire writing and marketing her work with aplomb was a maverick entrepreneur in the 1980s. Interestingly, she paved the way for another novelist empire builder from Scotland, J. K. Rowling.

Wisely, Fairrie includes video interviews from a host of family and friends that include clips of her daughters, Joan Collins, her friends (wives of celebrities) and Hollywood heavyweights at parties that Jackie went to (Michael Caine, etc.). In one segment, three friends share how they were Jackie Collins “best” friend. Another celebrity friend ironically indicates that Jackie was so saavy as to make everyone she spoke to feel important and loved.

Jackie Collins, ‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)

She apparently also did this when she did book tours, signings and talks. There is a clip of Jackie taking the time to briefly chat with women fans creating long lines. However, her readers, who always came back for more, felt it was worth the wait to talk to the beautiful and talented novelist.

Jackie Collins’ life was difficult, especially with her third husband who was abusive. And it must have been heart-wrenching when she battled stage four cancer when no one knew or understand what she was going through, i.e. at times she had difficulty walking because she was in pain. However, her persona of “being Jackie Collins” moved her forward so that she triumphed with mind over matter determination. Much of the persona she created to discuss her novels helped her market herself and her works. Thus, she was able to rise to the top and have her novels serialized on television. Currently, her novels are contracted for films.

The smooth, lovely Jackie Collins persona arose especially when she was challenged for writing belittling characters who were not worthy of the fourth wave of feminism. She was measured, controlled and steely eyed in her responses, though the harsh critics attempted to bloody her. Sadly, they were intellectually inferior, missing the positive impact she had to empower women.

Though you may not be a fan of Collins’ racy, sexy, sometimes softly raw “hot and heavy” descriptions, her characters explore women’s sexuality and assertiveness as men’s was explored by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Her women are as bold and as assertive as men. She thrillingly portrays them so to demonstrate the intelligence and allure of inner strength and they eschew being men’s toys. The beauty of Collins’ work is that she elevated the esteem of women at a time when they needed to feel powerful sexually. She loosed women from the categories of “whore” and “slut” that women often used competitively against each other. She gave women permission to explore and revel in their own identity.

Jackie Collins, 'BOSS LADY: The Jackie Collins Story,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)
Jackie Collins, ‘BOSS LADY: The Jackie Collins Story,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)

Collins’ descriptions openly presented sexual women who enjoyed the pleasure they found. For that reason her novels are a success. Though the current wave of feminism which is hyper-aware of men’s predation, having suffered through the menopause of late revelation (i.e. Placido Domingo’s forward behavior of forty years ago) her writing is skilled, arousing and delicious. It is also brilliant, maverick and underestimated by intellectually dense “trending” women’s groups. Collins’ novels raised the consciousness of women so that they examined their gender beyond men defining it for them. In that she is a vital chapter in how women historically see themselves as free, whole beings. Of course Collins’ characters are a danger to men who would oppress women so that they remain objects to be abused and manipulated.

Interspersed between Collins’ home life and relationships, Fairrie indicates how Collins’ writing also reflected who she was. Thus, in select parts in the documentary she has hosts read from Collins various novels. The result is ironic and humorous.

LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story is an important retrospective on a women entrepreneur who broke the mold created by men to keep women unsettled and easily dominated. She did this in her home life and how she approached the obstacles life placed before her. She used the therapy of work to muscle quietly through when Oscar died of prostate cancer which he didn’t discuss or burden the family with. And though her third husband businessman Frank Calcagnini was jealous and abusive, once again her work embodied her strength to face his death from a brain tumor.

LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story premieres on CNN June 27th at 9 PM. Look for it; you’ll be glad you did.

‘Ascension’ Tribeca Film Festival Documentary

'Ascension,' Documentary World Premiere, Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)
‘Ascension,’ Documentary World Premiere, Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)

Ascension, Jessica Kingdon’s documentary feature explores the rise of capitalism in the communistic political system of China. Accepted in the feature documentary category at Tribeca Film Festival (which it won) Kingdon’s film defies linear documentary structure. The documentary is a uniquely impressionistic portrait of Chinese culture and society. Thus, Kingdon turns filmmaking chronology on its head by using Chinese delineations of class structure to organize her film.

Highly visual, Ascension slices into cross sections of China’s lower, middle and upper classes. With minimal use of dialogue or voice-over narration, she presents a vision of the new China. Pointedly, the observer follows each segment of economic society clearly categorized and stuck in it place. Importantly, we note the individuals caught in the strata like one-celled creatures made part of a gigantic, layered, interdependent whole.

Initially, Kingdon begins with freelance workers looking for jobs at a street sight where agents hawk menial jobs for low pay. From there she moves through the various locations revealing what these jobs entail. Essentially, the factory work, like all factory work on an assembly line remains mindless and robotic. Nevertheless, the jobs promise a better lifestyle in the city. Importantly, these workers manifest China’s evolution from an agrarian economy. And as we follow, we see our recent past, our industrial revolution, manufacturing, automation. Ironically, with outsourcing, China’s factories of immense scale have long overtaken ours. Subsequently, Kindgon reminds us that we have been engulfed by the stratification of Chinese economic development.

Deftly, Kingdon explores how the Chinese pursue their version of the American Dream, Chinese style. Through gradual visual revelation Kingdon identifies the various factory locations. Then she manifests how their manufacturing produces product for middle class consumers. Often these are products the lower classes cannot easily afford. As a result each class depends on the other as they redefine the meaning of success for their class.

Nevertheless, the Chinese culture’s economic divide categorized by labor, consumerism and wealth mirrors the worst of our economic history. As menial cogs in the wheel of production, workers struggle through long hours. Meanwhile, the middle class mercantiles promote consumerism. Indeed, considered successful, they enjoy the fruits of the lower classes’ labor. Likewise, the wealthy upper classes revel in leisure time and find indulgent ways to waste it as an affordable luxury.

Of course as with its counterpart of the American Dream in the U.S., the “Chinese Dream” can only be attained by a few. Sought after by all who climb the economic ladder who would integrate into society, the dream is magical thinking. And like all fairy tales, it dissolves and diminishes each day of boring labor, routine and relative poverty.

Shot in 51 locations across China, Kingdon’s work strikes at the heart of the issues China and the U.S. face today. How does an evolving nation remain strong economically yet keep the divisions of wealth equitably stable? Ultimately, in the pursuit of the fairy tale, even the wealthy find meaninglessness and purposelessness inescapable facts. That a historically philosophical culture panders to materialism, hedonism and global domination remains ironic. Indeed, at the film’s conclusion Kingdon suggests that the meretricious values of the U.S. infected Chinese culture in the negative. And her documentary warns of the cultural and spiritual dissolution that comes with embracing such values.

Ascension’s sound design, cinematography and editing become the mainstay to elucidate Kingdon’s visual expressions. The film premieres in Tribeca’s Documentary Competition on 12 June. Check out the Tribeca FF link HERE.

‘Poser’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Sylvia Mix in 'Poser,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)
Sylvia Mix in ‘Poser,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brandon Burnett)

The inherent charm of Lennon (Sylvia Mix) the protagonist in Poser, in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is that she embodies what average talents reflect, the yearning to go past fandom, the need to be a part of something larger than herself; to be somebody, to belong. And if that means reporting on artists, to receive a smidgen of their glory, it is enough. On the other hand obsessions take root in stoking the need to crawl into the celebrity’s skin. This is especially so if one lacks the ability, confidence or ambition to work very hard to achieve what artists of all stripes have: talent and/or the work ethic to achieve the skill to stumble into talent and originality.

Such is the stuff that Poser is made of. Written by Noah Dixon and directed by Dixon and Ori Segev, Poser explores and provides a cross section of the soul of an individual who circles burgeoning artists. Oftentimes, like Lennon Gates (a coolly deep and therefore opaque Sylvia Mix) they are seekers and searchers who have not yet defined themselves but who yearn to ride the coattails of the celebrated and connected artist. And one way to achieve any connection with the talented is to report on them and therefore convince oneself of the illusion of being a part, yet remaining so apart, they never honestly connect because they are posing as celebrity, but are only a wannabe.

Emotionally a cypher, Lennon Gates, a dishwasher and hotel worker by day and music groupie by night, insinuates herself into the art and music scene in Columbus, Ohio. Persistent in first digitally recording via her phone then transferring the recordings to tapes, she collects experiences and teaches herself to interview for her own podcast in a DIY fashion. Her subjects are the musicians and artists who are beginning to “make their bones,” in the business.

As she meets these singers and bands who identify their own music with hysterical abandon as they take themselves seriously, Lennon does too. She keenly watches and provides an audience and the publicity, however, smallish it is. She, too, is “making her bones,” as a quasi reporter who is not quite a hanger on, though Dixon satirizes reporters who never are the talent, but who ride the coattails of celebrities so some of the glam rubs off.

(L to R: Sylvia Mix, Bobbi Kitten in 'Poser,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)
(L to R: Sylvia Mix, Bobbi Kitten in ‘Poser,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)

Being in the right place at the right time after hanging on and around the Columbus, Ohio’s underground music scene, Lennon has a breakthrough. She endears herself to the charismatic, energetic and fun-loving Bobbi Kitten (the real Bobbi Kitten) and becomes a member of Kitten’s crew for partying and enjoying their youth and drugs. That Lennon perceives her relationship with the talented Kitten means she has arrived is reflected in a turning point which is symbolic and foreshadows the abrupt ending.

For company Gates keeps a goldfish. The irony is superb, for the “pet” requires nothing deeply emotional from her caretaker except a shake of food and clean water. Apparently, even those simple tasks are too onerous for Lennon. When we see her flush the goldfish down the toilet bowl to join the sewage of Columbus, this signals her transformation to come. She plays guitar and sings for Kitten who encourages her. Influenced by her relationship with Kitten and her posse, Lennon attempts to come into her own, except she has little to recommend herself. However, riding Kitten’s magnanimous, compelling and sterling coattails, Lennon believes her own delusion that she, too, can be a singer, performer and entertainer like Kitten.

Noah Dixon’s intriguing script and the spot-on cast, especially Kitten and the superb Mix and other performers who city natives will recognize provide a thrilling and compelling expose of the dangers of fandom, the need to be worshiped and admired, and the absolute consummation of music and art in the souls of entertainers, performers and wannabes of the burgeoning next generation that is happening. Segev’s and Dixon’s direction is anointed. The music from the Columbus “scene” to the ancillary moodiness and suspense riffs that overtake the warmth of the various groups also is spot-on and memorable.

From music to editing, to cinematography and acting, Poser delivers from beginning to ending. For a first time out, every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. Poser is one to see. It’s screening at Tribeca Film Festival until 23rd of June. Click HERE for details.

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