the spirit of the times
Stop-motion animation auteurs the Quay Brothers will be at the Modern Museum of Art on August 9th, 2012 (a Thursday) to introduce their film Institute Benjamenta as part of MoMA’s retrospective on the twin brothers (On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets). They still look mostly like they do in the above photo, but you should see for yourself in person - the Brothers aren’t known for making a lot of public appearances. Click through for more info!
Director Yung Chang is no stranger to Zeitgeist’s offices – the Chinese Canadian filmmaker has been a familiar face here at Z since he won multiple awards for his 2007 documentary Up the Yangtze. Back now for the release of his latest, China Heavyweight (also a documentary), Chang and I sat down for a chat about boxing, filmmaking, and a famous feud involving a certain mopey Canadian.
I read in a few interviews that you were excited about making China Heavyweight because it was an opportunity to explore how the end of Mao’s boxing ban has changed life in China… but how did you initially come upon that as a topic?
Our producer, Peter Wintonick [who also produced Manufacturing Consent] found a story about boxing in China and presented it to me and was just sort of offering it to me as an idea. I kind of thought about it, and the first thing I started to do was dream about the films that I love about boxing. When I thought about On the Waterfront, and I thought about these sort of movies – western films about hard-up stories – it led me to think about putting, you know, that idea of a western boxing movie in China, what would that be? It wouldn’t be like, a kung-fu movie – I love kung-fu movies too, but what is a kung-fu movie? They often deal with themes like honor, loyalty, redemption – those kind of things. It’s sort of the boxing genre of Asia. Here you would look at boxing movies like the kung-fu movies of the West. So I was playing with that, I was thinking about that a lot. It really made me dream about what the story would be about. So I think the idea started with the daydreaming. Even with Up the Yangtze for example, I think it always starts with what do you imagine the film to be like, and what will it feel like? I felt like it would be that kind of story where you follow the evolution of someone trying to become something. And that was exctiing to me. The tropes of a boxing film were really exciting to me. And I wanted to try to make that happen.
Was it easy to get Coach Qi and the school to agree to let you in?
That wasn’t a problem! I think there was a mutual collaboration. Everytime you embark on a project, you always hope that there’s a give and take between that relationship, right? I think the Master and the Coach both saw the benefits of collaborating with us. But they didn’t think – a lot of people don’t really know what a documentary is in China. They think it’s like an interview, and then you go. You spend, you know, an hour and then you leave. We kept going back and back, like, two years later we were still shooting, you know –
Were they surprised?
They were. They got it after about the first month, they were like, “Okay these guys are here to stay.” We just hung out with them. And that’s what you do. You don’t shoot all the time, you spend a lot of time with them and you get to know everybody. And it was so fun! We had a great time making the film, and I got so close to everybody, and it was emotional. You really get wrapped up in their lives.
Do you stay in touch with Coach Qi?
I’m in touch with him constantly. Right now he’s training the girls for their first provincial match, competition – ever. It’s gonna be at the end of July, so he’s busy working on that. He came with us to Sundance and Toronto, he likes the movie. He says that the movie kind of is a true experience of a boxer in China.
Did he like the whole press experience of going to the festivals?
Well… the first time to America for him was Sundance, and that was maybe not the best thing for him because it was so jarring to be in the middle of nowhere with people just getting on buses everywhere going to see movies. It’s weird. I don’t think it was a good impression. But it was good that people loved him and were supportive and cried and gave him standing ovations, and they were just so – I think he needed that to be able to watch the film and just be able to get the scope of his character. To get an outside perspective of that. I think he likes that now. In Toronto he was a huge hit – we had a twitter thing where we arranged fans of the film to go train with him in the park. It was amazing – he had a great time.
I was just gonna ask if he trained you at all…
He likes to tease me a little bit, so – he beats me up. It’s hard to box. I can’t do it.
What are some of your favorite films, boxing or non-boxing?
You sort of have your flavor of the month. I can think of so many movies that are so different, and they have all been influential, and I love them. Like, Bicycle Thieves is a film that I love. If I wanna get artsy like that, I think Fanny and Alexander, Wild Strawberries, those kind of movies are awesome. Anything by Kurosawa is amazing. Ozu. I like David Lynch. Love documentaries, like good old verité documentaries. Grey Gardens, Hoop Dreams.
I think I saw on your blog a screenshot of Videodrome.
Oh my god, I love Cronenberg. Lately I’ve also loved Uncle Boonmee [Who Can Recall His Past Lives]. And then a movie that I constantly think about, that inspired the title sequence to The Fruit Hunters [Chang’s next documentary] is Enter the Void by Gaspar Noé. You can’t get it out of your head. Have you seen it?
I haven’t. It’s in my queue.
It’s crazy. And I think being in a movie theater is so important to watching a movie and having it affect you. Like when I think about – I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia when I was high school at a rep house and it was CinemaScope; it was amazing. Those kind of things.
How long do you give yourself between projects? Or is it something you don’t really have control over?
I wish I could have more control – I wish I had the foresight to know that I should have control over it. But I’m a filmmaker that is sort of like that kind of actor who’s worried about where the next job is gonna be. I’m always gonna take everything I can take. I have the fear that people just lose interest and I’ll just – who knows what will happen in this fickle, fickle world of film. You wanna just keep working I think. It’s a practical, pragmatic kind of Chinese thing, I think, that makes me wanna do that. In an ideal world I would do one film and then get it out there and wait, go on holiday, go to the beach or go fishing, and then have the other film come out. Nope. For this one I had two movies shooting simultaneously – China Heavyweight and The Fruit Hunters – which is insane and I would not recommend again to anybody.
I have one final, very goofy question in relation to boxing. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this ongoing Chris Brown/Drake feud.
Oh yeah, they had a fight!
Well they’ve been offered a million dollars each to do a boxing match, and i don’t know if you had a theory as to who would win.
Do you know that Drake is Canadian?
He grew up near the high school I went to in Toronto. I don’t know what Chris Brown’s background is; what’s he like?
I think he had kind of a rough upbringing.
Who won the fight in the club?
Well Chris Brown had the cut on his face, which he claims is from a bottle that Drake threw, but Drake, as far as we know… well, Drake claims not to have done any such thing, but also didn’t have a scratch on him. So was there a winner? I don’t know.
Were they feuding over Rihanna?
That’s what the rumor is.
She is amazing that way. Okay, see, Chris Brown is not good for what he did to Rihanna. Drake though… whose music is better? There’s so many different categories you can measure in terms of gauging who would you want to win. God. I have to answer this.
But see, if I say –
You can say if it would be by points or by knock-out or by whatever. You can determine a lot of things about how you think it would go down. But ultimately I wanna know who you think would win.
Who’s at their fittest right now?
Probably Chris Brown.
He’s taller, he’s –
He’s definitely taller. And he’s a dancer. And Drake’s kind of like –
Drake’s not. He’s a crooner. Huh. Well, just knocking aside all their backstory – I think that Chris Brown would probably win. But it would be maybe by decision, it would be maybe like a ten-rounder thing and it wouldn’t be a knock-out. We’re talking about a judge deciding. Close.
I think I agree with you. I’ve thought about it a little bit.
Best question of the whole interview.
(This interview has been condensed and edited.)
China Heavyweight is now playing at IFC Center in NYC!
Not far from us (until September 26) is this beautiful piece by NYC-based sculptor Carole Feuerman - a slightly modified version of a sculpture she showed at the Venice Bienniale in 2007.
From the artist’s website:
"Originally, I was going to name the sculpture Serena, after La Serenissima, an island of the city of Venice. However, I decided to title it Survival of Serena,due to my concerns about the serious flood problem this beautiful city has.”
We were shocked and impressed to find that those water droplets are part of the sculpture!
The sculpture has been captivating passersby since its installation on May 20th. Zeitgeist’s Adrian Curry saw Guy Pearce admiring it just last week (no word on whether Pearce was on his way to steal more roles from genuinely old men… [cough] Prometheus [cough]). Stop by and see it in person at Petrosino Square before someone buys it and takes Serena away!
(all photos taken by the author)
One of our nearest and dearest neighbors, Posteritati is always on our minds (because we’re lusting after their latest acquisitions). And we’re not the only ones - The Village Voice, NYT Style Magazine, and Vanity Fair (among others) have covered this amazing SoHo treasure.
At the time of this writing, the store is doing a spotlight on sci-fi posters. We’re in love with an Argentinian Empire Strikes Back poster they have up, and one of us couldn’t stop herself from picking up this trippy Japanese Alien poster a little while back.
You can see some of the posters on display in our pics here, but the Posteritati catalog is WAY more expansive than what’s on the walls.
We also like that they have a candy bowl, seen above on the coffee table.
The staff are really cool about pulling out posters for you to get a closer look!
You can search through the entire Posteritati collection on their site or in store (by genre, director, star, or keyword) on one of those computers you see above… or you can ask owner Sam Sarowitz - a veritable scholar of movie poster history/art, with several BEAUTIFUL books to his name.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by - you won’t want to leave.
We stumbled upon this blog post about the 1909 NYPD Headquarters recently, and it reminded us how often we take New York for granted. We’ve lived across the street from this historic (and beautiful) building for quite some time, and never gave it more than a passing thought until we read Daytonian in Manhattan’s blog post about the history of 240 Centre St, now known as the Police Building Apartments.
Built over the course of four years (1905-1909), 240 Centre St. housed the New York Police Department from the time of its completion until 1973, when the headquarters moved to One Police Plaza.
Named a New York City landmark in 1978, the entire building was converted into luxury apartments in 1988. We hear Leonardo DiCaprio lived there for a time (though he never invited us over).
Money to burn? Wanna be our neighbor? At least two of the apartments are for sale - 4A and 6N - at only $2,495,000 and $2,385,000, respectively. Wary of commitment? There’s a rental on the top floor - if you’re willing to plop down $6,750 a month.
Make sure you click all the way through to the other blog - there’s some fascinating New York history over there!
Photos from maps.google.com - street view and user submissions - and http://timestraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/shirtwaist-makers-strikes/.
Nice to see Bill Cunningham AND Guy Maddin on there!
Guilty admission: we can’t see any promo material for Cave of Forgotten Dreams without thinking of Herzog’s musings on albino crocodiles (which come in near the very end of the film).
Ten Great Documentaries You Should Stream on Netflix Right Now
- A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies
- Paris is Burning
- My Voyage to Italy
- The Thin Blue Line
- Exit Through the Gift Shop
- Cave of Forgotten Dreams
- Bill Cunningham New York
- My Winnipeg
- And Everything is Going Fine
Look at this. No, look at it.
This is the kind of thing that’s been staring us in the face for the past few weeks, due to the thoughtful inundation of holiday sweets our many friends have sent our way. Thank you friends, thank you. We may now be in dire need of a metabolic miracle, but we regret not a single calorie.
Similarly touching (but infinitely more forgiving re: our collective waistline) are these pieces of artwork inspired by Bill Cunningham, subject of the documentary YOU REALLY OUGHT TO (and probably already) HAVE SEEN BY NOW, Bill Cunningham New York. Our resident art and poster guru, Adrian Curry, has been compiling these charming tributes to Bill over the past few months… and now, we share them with you. You’ll be able to click through the photos to each artist’s website where available.
Vanessa Marie Robinson
Jashar Awan for the New Yorker
Jashar Awan for the New Yorker
Suzy Parker for USA Today
Deer Dana (You can get this as a shirt!!)
You can pick up our favorite tribute to Bill Cunningham at our website.
Have a drink (but just one, please - be safe) for us at midnight on New Year’s… and we’ll see you January 2, 2012!
Put those not-long-for-this-world holiday discounts to good use and pick up a copy of Josh and Benny Safdie’s semi-autobiographical Daddy Longlegs, out TODAY for the first time EVER on DVD.
The film follows Lenny during a rare two weeks with his young sons, who spend most of their time with their mother - the evidently polar opposite to Lenny, who takes his sons on chaotic adventures around New York (even upstate!) and in his apartment.
Viewers are unlikely to recognize much of New York in the film - though there is a trip to the Natural History Museum, which troubles Lenny and the boys for days. The film’s take on New York, the way it handles the mood of the city, actually reminds us a little of Downtown 81, shot in 1980/1981 and starring Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Did we mention there’s a DVD release party on December 15? You’re invited!
We’re honored to have been nominated - but it’s up to you to make sure Bill (and filmmakers Richard Press and Philip Gefter) continues to get the recognition he deserves.
This weekend, Bill Cunningham’s “Evening Hours” column featured his scene-stealing friend and former neighbor at the Carnegie Hall studios (before all residents were evicted), Editta Sherman.
Though no longer at the iconic studios, Editta’s new digs look pretty sweet, with these great views of the parade route, and apparently enough room for 40 family members to watch Giant Snoopy float by.
Did we mention that Editta’s 99? And still a working portrait photographer? With a portfolio that includes Andy Warhol, Tilda Swinton and Henry Fonda? Not to mention she’s featured in two documentaries and a book. Yeah. We would like to be her, too.
This month’s Elle Decor magazine features this list of Diane Keaton’s favorite things. Number three on that list? Documentary films. Among her recent favorites - Bill Cunningham New York! How can a woman with such fantastic taste in hats be wrong?
Of her other favorite things, we passionately cosign on the High Line and WERTHER’S ORIGINALS. Especially the Werther’s. Blogger Rachel skips the Pavlovian mouth-watering stage and goes straight to stomach-ache-of-gluttonous-regret at the sound of a Werther’s being unwrapped*.
We remain somewhat tepid on the topic of lighthouses. So many stairs. Also, “meh” on the Nespresso front. Things that taste better than Nespresso: all of them (BUT ESPECIALLY WERTHER’S).
*Yes, the unwrapping of a Werther’s sounds different from the unwrapping of another candy.
This time, the vague and ubiquitous ‘we' is true: everyone here at Zeitgeist is completely thrilled to see Bill Cunningham New York on the short list for Best Documentary of the year! Cutting the huge list of qualified docs down to just 15 films, we’re incredibly proud to see it among some fantastic work from this year. Congratulations to filmmakers Richard Press and Philip Gefter, and fingers crossed for a nomination on January 24!
Filmmakers Jesper Bundgaard & Per Henriksen are working on a new documentary about the West Village Halloween Parade through their company, Out of Sync.We were chatting with them about Bill Cunningham New York a few days after Halloween, and they showed us this great moment they captured from this year’s parade.
The guy gets 1000+ points for adding “child” in his response to camera. Clearly he did his homework.
Huge thanks to Jesper and Per for this great clip—keep an eye out for their exciting new doc! Did anyone else dress up as Bill this year? If you did, show us!