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"Three Minutes: A Lengthening" and "Sharp Stick" Show at Zeitgeist
Some more great programming from NOLA's alt-cinema.
In just under five hours from the writing of this newsletter blog post, the “new” MoviePass will open a waitlist for its app’s beta program. As an early supporter and subscriber of the service - back when it cost $40 or so per month (the early days) - I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little excited; I mean, I AM up late, anticipat… writing about it. Of course, there are caveats and doubts.
Allow me to wax slightly with an abridged retelling of MoviePass history and what it might be now.
The spectacular fall of MoviePass weighs heavily on the paradigm-shifting wishful thinking that I’ve always had when it comes to the moviegoing experience. Surely, with ticket prices growing faster than the audience’s wallets, and the increased use of streaming, cinema needed/needs a bit of a revamp in its relationship with moviegoers, or “consumers” (ugh). However popular, the swift change from $40 to $10 per month with the benefit of unlimited movies was never going to be sustainable. It was fun while it lasted, but the lies and the debts piled up.
While the crash was a major setback to progress, it did lead to some theater chains adopting their own programs, like AMC Stubs A-List (which I had for a while, and would still recommend). The return of founder Stacy Spikes is a major positive, but with his return, comes some confusion. The new app includes his Pre-Sale program, which plays ads in order to “earn” “credits" towards purchasing tickets, on top of a monthly fee.
Oh, and there’s something about the Metaverse too.
I’ll have more to write about this new iteration and what it could mean for watching movies in Hollywood South very soon, but for now, as I wait on the waitlist to open, I’m wired on Dr. Pepper Zero, filled with some anxiety about the upcoming day’s work, and an urge to write some more, and more often.
Concluded at the bottom of this post.
An Investigation on the Found Footage That Won’t Forget
I wouldn’t call Three Minutes: A Lengthening haunting by any means, believe it or not. There is a scene towards the middle where, while describing the slow and horrific process of destroying the Jewish population of a small village in Poland, a few frames of home movie footage of the town square are focused on, slowly pushing into the grainy and distorted grounds of where people - adults, children, neighbors - were rounded up, beaten, and eventually transported to ghettos and concentration camps. This sequence is terrifying and will-breaking, but even in these worse moments, the movie still didn’t haunt me.
Quite the opposite, actually.
This film essay piece begins with the full breadth of a little more than three minutes of amateur film footage of an initially nameless village - soon discovered to be Nasielsk, Poland - where we see amused adults and precocious kids greeting the camera and its unseen operator, smiling into the lens and just living their lives in this interesting moment on a pretty average vacation stop. In late 1930s Europe. In a Jewish neighborhood. On the cusp of shattering tragedy.
Three Minutes has narration and interviews, but none of the participants are ever on screen. Instead, we only have frames of the footage itself - sometimes cleaned up digitally, sometimes slowed down and sped up, sometimes altered a little - as the primary component. The only one that matters. Who were these people? What were they doing that day? What happened to them exactly?
There is speculation. There are concrete answers. There’s a story told. An extraordinarily framed story out of seemingly average footage. Average at the time, extraordinary after fate had added a new context. Pre-WWII life, as it was there, as it was then, captured and printed.
Assembled, edited, and discussed over and over with new discoveries made from repetition and curiosities, Three Minutes is magic. Not sorcery, but magic. It turns old and decayed fragments of chemicals and celluloid into a living portrait of time itself, bridging the heart of cinema with the spirit of true storytelling. Not just true in the sense of documentary, but true in a more soulful or musical manner, where a beat runs through, and is felt throughout. With the purity of a campfire tale as told from memory and interpretation, Three Minutes is one of the more important movies in recent years and decades. Only the works of Bill Morrison compare, and even those similarities are tenuous.
Love through truth is what I felt and how I feel. Maybe it was the depth and degree of research put into the project. Or perhaps it was the neverending gazing at the faces of these individuals, at their reactions to a camera and their actions with one another, from pushing and hugging to confusion and smiling. It’s just who they were. Here they were. Here they always will be? At 24 pictures per second, even if movement is an illusion in the movies, they were still moved. By force. That can’t and should never be removed from the story.
And it won’t be. Just watch - one can’t help it. 5/5
Memories of working at Video Library, the best video store in Athens, Georgia - from The Reveal
Inside the tremendous Soviet masterpiece MST3K got wrong
Do You Find Me Beautiful?
I haven’t watched Tiny Furniture, and likely won’t anytime soon. Yet, if Sharp Stick is any indication, I really should. Lena Dunham’s latest is a biting and positive film of female sexual self-discovery and self-discovery in and of itself. It’s funny, it’s open, and it’s kind of timeless too.
A movie after my own heart from the get-go, it’s about a twenty-something young woman who, as someone who works with children with disabilities, makes genuinely emotional connections with almost everyone she meets. Not that her career automatically means that for her; she’s just naturally like that, and the job is a perfect fit. Kristine Froseth plays Sarah Jo, a name that already shouts innocence. She’s adorable and kind, but soon-to-blossom maturity is beckoning, and she’s ready to let it out. The patriarch of the family she’s currently assisting, played by the ever-great Jon Bernthal, catches her eye as a sweet and tender gentleman, which he certainly appears to be by all accounts. He’s great with his son, he’s polite and thoughtful, and he’s in peak physical shape. Of course, she falls for him, and way sooner than later, is in his arms.
Froseth and Bernthal have delicate chemistry here, born directly from their individual performances. She’s sweet, he’s sweet. She’s young, he’s experienced. Bernthal plays her advances towards him with caution but also, interestingly, with an almost… and I hesitate to type, but an obligation to fulfill? He’s not unwilling at first but does come off as someone who doesn’t want to disappoint or hurt anyone. Froseth isn’t a Lolita-type despite her youthful grace, but also isn’t meaning to be a homewrecker. She just wants to grow and love. Acted to perfection, Froseth expresses such confident emotional openness and eventual vulnerability - something that arrives with the territory of growing up.
Sharp Stick is bold, to say the least. Froseth’s Sarah Jo, with a supportive, if oblivious to her situation mother and sister, makes even searching for online pornography cute. “Two people having sex” in her search bar turns into finding POV videos of an adult performer role-playing as a tender partner, saying lovey-dovey words, and maintaining eye contact with the camera. This sends Sarah Jo cooing. She just wants to be held, to be comforted, and to be pleasured. That’s pretty positive, I think. Sure, things take a turn for her as they do in most stories of this ilk, but it happens through her special perspective. ABCs of sex acts, written on construction paper, and taped to her bedroom wall. Letters to the aforementioned porn star. She’s in her twenties, but young and girly at heart.
Forever like that? Don’t lose this element, Sarah Jo. Ever.
Lena Dunham’s film is well-edged and just rightly timed, expertly positioned to give its characters the chance to live and breathe, and the actors the room to explore and play. In the scene where the affair is initiated, a small laundry room that becomes even smaller and more intimate if still awkward, there’s tenderness and joy, but also uncertainty and doubt and chance. Had it been anyone else in that room, I fear that the scene wouldn’t work as it did. Bernthal makes flipping pancakes a romantic jester, even with his muscular build and boxer-like visage. He’s not playing against type - he IS THE type. Who else could play here? At this moment, I don’t know.
Sharp Stick has few faults, but even the ones it does have are at most simple and natural. It’s just a good movie. Child-ish? Not really. Sarah Jo is wise behind her years but smart at heart. Kristine Froseth has a gift for that, and playing off of the strong presence of Jon Bernthal so well, makes the gift that much grander. 4/5
Both Three Minutes: A Lengthening and Sharp Stick will play at Zeitgeist Theatre & Lounge in New Orleans starting this Friday, August 26th. Be sure to support the venue with a membership purchase too.
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Three hours left - at the time of this writing - until the MoviePass waitlist opens. Maybe I’ll have another can of soda? A nap? Can I nap?
The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall is coming this Monday, August 29th. With Katrina Babies and Five Days at Memorial now streaming, I think I’ll be writing something special. An extension of a previous essay about Big Charity and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Stay glued. Stay tuned.