An Interview with Penelope Spheeris

DECLINE Producer Anna Fox and Director Penelope Spheeris
DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION Producer Anna Fox and Director Penelope Spheeris

One of the most heralded home video releases of the year has been the long overdue appearance of director Penelope Spheeris’s underground music trilogy, The Decline of Western Civilization. Spheeris is touring the country in support of the release and will be at SIFF Cinema Uptown on September 18 as part of their “Women in Film” series. SIFF will be screening the first installment of Decline, which features performances from seminal L.A. punk bands Black Flag, X, and The Germs. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Spheeris moderated by director Lynn Shelton. Afterwards Spheeris will introduce a screening of her mega-hit Wayne’s World.

Penelope Spheeris was kind enough to answer a few questions via email in advance of her Seattle appearance.

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Horse Money (Pedro Costa, 2014)

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Horse Money opens this week at the Grand Illusion. The following is a slightly modified version of my capsule review from the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Pedro Costa’s Horse Money is possibly the richest and most-baffling film of the entire festival. A trip through the underworld, or purgatory at least, as one man, Ventura, relieves his past through the black and brown industrial landscapes of Lisbon’s Fontainhas district. A haunted, ghostly presence, Ventura slips in and out of memories and hospitals, wandering through impossible black spaces, both above and below the industrial ruins that pass as living spaces for much of the world’s forgotten classes and talking to acquaintances and friends, obliquely recounting crimes committed, mistakes made and losses witnessed. Dominated by shadow, splitting the screen, creating ancient irises, forming a primal void from which yellow apartment lights float like islands of life in a universe of emptiness, with vertical lines relentlessly drawing our eye upwards and out of the archaic 1.33 frame. It’s an astonishing film, unique and yet deeply cinephilic, forging connections across a century of cinema, not just The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Here is a partial list of the movies I thought of while watching Horse Money: The Phantom Carriage, Goodbye Dragon Inn, It’s a Wonderful Life, Pedicab Driver, The Thin Man, A Matter of Life and Death, Apocalypse Now, Ikiru, The Phantom of the Opera, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and well, just DW Griffith in general. After watching it, I was overwhelmed, but sure that this would be a one-time experience, so draining and difficult was it to watch at times. After a couple of days though, all I really wanted to do was see Horse Money again.

Horse Money opens Friday, September 18 at the Grand Illusion Cinema.