Wednesday 1 May 2013

"THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE" + "CHIMERAS" + "FELIX AUSTRIA!" - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw's Bases-are-loaded HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

The Ghosts in Our Machine (2013) ****
Dir. Liz Marshall

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Okay, so something funny happened on the way to my home in the country. My wife and child, both being inveterate tree-huggers, got the craziest idea. What they wanted to do sounded like one hell of a lot of work. They promised I would not have to avail my services upon any aspect of their venture. Well, good intentions and all that, but now I find I'm not only a gentleman farmer, but involved in the rescue of animals living in horrid conditions and headed for inevitable slaughter. Now, it's not that I'm some kind of anti-environmental redneck or something, but what I love about living in the country is sitting in my dark office, smoking cigarettes, watching movies and writing. I occasionally step over to the window, part the curtains briefly and look outside to acknowledge - Ah yes, nature! I then happily return to my prodigious activities.

You see, prior to becoming a gentleman farmer, I liked the IDEA of nature, the IDEA of being in deep bush, the IDEA of living off-grid on solar energy. Well, more than the ideas, really, since I did enjoy all of the above in practice, but in my own way.

Now, I have animals. Shitloads of them that my wife, daughter and eventually I rescued from misery with the assistance of a super-cool Amish dude.

Needless to say, when watching Liz Marshall's film, I was completely blown away. You see, having experienced the joy of coming to know a variety of animals, I eventually realized that all of God's creatures I mistook for being little more than blobs of meat with nothing resembling character, spirit or intelligence was just downright stupid. I've always had dogs and THEY certainly have character, spirit and intelligence - so why NOT chickens? Or donkeys? Or hell, even bees.

Marshall's film, you see, focuses upon someone I'd have to classify as a saint. Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur is not only an astounding artist of the highest order, but by restricting her activities to mostly photographing animals in the most horrendous captivity, she's risked both her life and mental health. Given my recently-acquired predilection for animal rights, I watched Marshall's film three times. Yes, on a first viewing I was far too emotionally wound up to keep my cap of critical detachment on, but now I'm perfectly convinced of the film's importance in terms of both subject AND cinema. It's a finely wrought piece of work that takes huge risks on so many levels in order to present a stunningly etched portrait of the heroic McArthur and HER subjects - all those animals being tortured to fill the bellies of ignoramuses and line the pockets of corporate criminals. (Not that I'm planning to go Vegan anytime soon, but I do believe that ANYONE who consumes any animal product derived from cruel meat factories as opposed to natural free-range is no better than a torturer and murderer.)

Not kidding about that, either.

What you see in this film will shock you. There is no denying what both Marshall and McArthur see and capture with their respective cameras. Creatures with individual souls and personalities are being hunted, incarcerated in conditions akin to concentration camps and/or bred in captivity and tortured until they are slaughtered. Equally frustrating are the corporate boneheads in a variety of publishing industries devoted to generating purported journalism - the difficulty with which McArthur must suffer to get her work published and to bring attention to these atrocities gets me so magma-headed I need to almost be physically restrained from going "postal".

You must see this movie.

If you're a coward, loser and/or asshole and don't want to see the truth, then fuck you!

Chimeras (2013) ***
Dir. Mika Mattila

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Two artists. One rich and famous. The other - well, not so much. Both are on opposite ends of the art world spectrum. One does commercial art, the other - well, not so much. Is our tale situated then, in the two different NYC worlds of Madison Avenue and the Village respectively? Nope. We're talking China - the nation poised to be the ultimate superpower. And artists, no matter who they are grapple with common issues. They both want to pursue a purely Asian style, which is all well and good until one has to grapple with the intricacies of Communism vs. traditional Eastern philosophy and religion vs. the strange contemporary cusp period China is in which blends the tenets of a free market with Totalitarianism. Add to this heady brew the increasing and almost overwhelming influence of North American culture and artists young and old, rich and poor, seasoned and neophyte - who are grappling with a conundrum of overwhelming proportions. Director Mika Mattila steadies his gaze upon these two poles of experience through two artists and delivers are nicely made exploratory rumination upon these complex ideas. The picture is a tiny bit precious in its approach, but patience will yield rewards for discriminating viewers.

Felix Austria (2013) **1/2
Dir. Christine Beebe

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The dandy, well-dressed fellow is Felix Pfeifle from Modesto, California and director Christine Beebe offers up this scattershot, though often mind-blowingly imaginative documentary film which, being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are Viennese high culture, ultra-Austro-Hungarian-aristocracy and Archduke Otto von Habsburg, makes for a mostly intriguing mix of personal journey, obsession and history. Felix has dreams about his obsessions and this is where the film shines. Like some perverse coupling of Guy Maddin and Jan Svankmajer (with dollops of the Brothers Quay), we're treated to the sort of dazzlingly sumptuous cinema magic one would want from a film that focuses upon the aforementioned individual. Less interesting to me is Felix's real life which keeps getting in the way of the glorious dream sequences, his Austro-monarchical fetishes and finally, the astonishing moments where we lays eyes upon the last living descendant of the empire Felix so desperately adores. There is also the interesting exploration of a mysterious, huge box that arrives from the estate of one Herbert Hinckle (which, for some reason forces me to imagine some ancient, wizened version of Travis Bickle in his dotage). The package contains a wealth of materials to keep Felix in a state of perpetual orgasm for the rest of his life and it is elements such as these which make the film ultimately a worthwhile experience.

"THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE", "CHIMERAS" and "FELIX AUSTRIA!" are all playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Filom Festival. For tickets and showtimes visit the Hot Docs website HERE.