Monday, April 21, 2008

"We are Wizards" & "Intimate Lighting"

I recently attended a screening of Josh Koury's doc "We are Wizards" at Anthology , thanks to "Wizard's" composer Stan Oh, a familiar face to the patrons of Posteritati (even New Yorkers with the most enviable day jobs have secret "real" jobs and talents). The film does for Harry Potter Fans what the 1997 Doc "Trekkies" did for, well… trekkies. Instead of Star Trek themed dentists, there are 7 year old Wizard Rockers, bloggers turned Potter historians and, of course, Harry and the Potters. On a side note, fellow Anarchist Cinema fans will be pleasantly surprised to see appearances by MIT Media Studies expert Henry Jenkins (author of "What Made Pistachio Nuts").

In finding the perfect double feature pairing for "Wizards," a Trekkie Potter fan mania documentary double feature would be a good, though obvious choice. Riffing on the idea of fandom and obsession another pairing could be Wizards / Les Enfants du Paradis or a Wizards / Diva (recently restored and screened at Film Forum). But "Wizards" although a film about fans is less about the mania and the far out and more about the "normal". Koury does not portray his characters as two dimensional oddballs, he shows them as what they are: regular (often lovable) people who just happen to love Harry Potter.

This nuanced 3D view of the subject is no small feat. In documentaries especially it is easy to fall into the trap of portraying the subject as some kind of exotic other: "Look at him, he's so weird!?!? Isn't this bizarre?!??!." These kinds of films have always made me uncomfortable. It is akin to seeing someone picked on in middle school and not having the power/ courage to do anything about it. Does one laugh? Should one laugh? (check out a film called "The Cruise," a doc about a guide on a gray line tour bus. The film's subject clearly has a few screws loose and the film does a good job of walking the fine line of judging and understanding him. Funny enough, Bennett Miller, the director of the film, went on the write and direct "Capote." Now there is a double feature!)

A good example of films that have made me uncomfortable for all the reasons above is Milos Forman's early film CernĂ½ Petr (Black Peter). Peter, a fictitious character, fails miserably to function in regular daily life. Forman does not try to understand Peter, he is presented as only awkwardness. We see only the sides of him that make us laugh at him. On the flipside, Forman's Czech contemporary, Ivan Passer, in his film "Intimate Lighting" shows us the daily goings on of one family of musicians with a unique warmth. We follow the family, much as a documentary does, from family dinners, to old fashioned exercise routines, to drunken romps and back to family dinners. There are moments where family members behave inappropriately or do things that would, if seen out of context, appear ridiculous and silly, but these are merely moments in a much larger picture. In the last scene (don't worry this won't spoil the film), the family attempts to drink a toast but the drink they are drinking has congealed. They stand there, their heads tilted back, waiting for the pudding like substance to make its way down into their mouths. The audience laughs, but we have grown to love the characters throughout the film and we are not judging. We are merely enjoying another moment with them. The film is not named "Intimate Lighting" by accident, and by the end I felt draped in the slow sunny glow that fills the film. So no, there are no fans, or wizards in "Intimate Lighting," but the two films share a warmth and an understanding that characters are people too.

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