It is my pleasure to introduce to you our new blogger, Mike Lyon. A current intern in the Film/Video department, Mike and I not only share a desk, but we also share many interests in film. As a matter of fact, conducting an interview felt a little like talking to myself. In the Asian Film Fan Death Match, it is really unclear at this time who would win! I may have more DVDs, but Mike has more degrees (and I think we all know which one matters more).
Please help me welcome Mike into our cozy little cyber community by bestowing him with many comments and questions to his posts! Before unleashing his brains and brawn on the WAC Blog, I asked Mike a few questions for a little insight into the filmic goings-ons in Mike’s mind:
More than anything, I think being a film fan means scouring for information. These are good times for scouring: more periodicals than ever and the world wide web of way too much information. Where do you get your info on film?
Almost entirely from the internet, actually! For the last decade my primary academic focus has been Asian film, and to keep absolutely up to date I rely on a combination of country-specific websites and email correspondence! For those with similar interests I highly recommend Midnight Eye, Darcy Paquet’s Koreanfilm.org and several less comprehensive but respectable Hong Kong-centric sites, Monkeypeaches and Love HK Film. A number of people I went to film school with have excellent film blogs that keep me up to date on the east coast scene, especially Mike Anderson’s Tativille and Termite Art, run by six other folks I went to school with who work or have worked for The Village Voice. I don’t jive with many print critics but I greatly respect Andrew Sarris, Amy Taubin and J. Hoberman…
I lay awake at night fretting about the great films that I haven’t seen, and, even more so, the great films I don’t even know about. Give me five of your hidden gems and reasons why you think they have been slighted.
- Baise-moi (2000) Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi – For starters, it screened a grand total of 3 times in the US back in 2001 and was never released on DVD. But I think there are a lot of things about this film that scare people who are in the business of distributing movies – it’s militantly feminist, directed by two Frenchwomen who formerly worked in the adult film industry, has a number of unsimulated sex scenes, is shot entirely on digital with a French-punk soundtrack, the lead actress committed suicide and there isn’t a single “ feel good, revelatory moment” in the entire picture. That said, I think it’s brilliant and exceedingly well-made; a truly challenging, deeply pessimistic gem.
- Made in Hong Kong (1997) Fruit Chan – One of my favorite films, Made in Hong Kong just never got the chance it deserved outside of Hong Kong – and today it’s not available anywhere in the world on DVD. But it’s massively important in terms of Hong Kong film history in the same way that On the Waterfront is important to American film history – the first completely independently produced feature film to receive massive critical and commercial success in its home country. Set right before the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China in 1997, it follows three poor Hong Kong kids facing (like Hong Kong itself) the loss of their individuality under the shadow of socialism.
- Blessing Bell (2002) Sabu – This was my favorite feature of 2002, but it never even screened in the US (or anywhere outside of Japan besides the festival circuit). Sabu is a unique director in that his films get lots of festival play and a fair share of critical acclaim, but few of his features have ever been picked up for distribution and none have been released on DVD outside of Japan! Thankfully, there are a couple of great fansubbers out there that translate all of his films and sell them on eBay. Blessing Bell features Susumu Terajima, arguably Japan ‘s greatest character actor, as a factory worker who, on discovering that the plant he works at has been shut down, embarks an epic and completely mute journey through Tokyo, on foot. It’s really moving and, at the right times, absolutely hysterical. It will make anyone a Sabu fan for life!
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) Shane Black – I feel like I’ve been on a one-man mission over the past year to get everyone I know to see this film! Robert Downey Jr plays a small-time crook pretending to be a detective and Val Kilmer steals the show as a respectable private eye named Gay Perry. It’s smart and extremely clever without being overly-precious or cloying, and it’s very, very funny. It’s definitely the most accessible film on this list because it’s the only one you can readily find on DVD anywhere in the English-speaking world ^_^ It was in and out of the theatres in a flash, but it’s tailor-made for a cult following and screams for a sequel.
- Vibrator (2003) by Ryuichi Hiroki – Again, a recent favorite of mine that simply didn’t open wide (it screened for one day in NYC in 2004) and has subsequently missed out on a DVD release. An alcoholic woman takes a ride with a lonely truck driver and decides to stay with him for a couple days as he makes a long trek across Japan . It’s a short, deceptively simple film that is infinitely rewarding. And it has a truly unique take on the road/buddy picture.
What are five films that you are particularly looking forward to seeing in the theater?
There are so many! Off the top of my head:
- Confession of Pain (Andrew Lau/Alan Mak)
- The Good German (Steven Soderberg)
- Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarn)
- Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
- Black Book (Paul Verhoeven)
In the absence of a Robert Altman RIP post here on the WAC Blog, let’s pay respects with your top five Altman films.
- Nashville (1975)
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
- The Player (1992)
- The Long Goodbye (1973)
- M*A*S*H (1970)
Altman is one of the few directors that I can also list a Childhood Favorite: Popeye! (1980)
Who is your favorite director right now and why?
Probably Wong Kar-Wai, who is the perennial favorite! For years I have considered his Happy Together (1997) to be my personal favorite film and that’s on top of loving every other picture he’s made. I’m a very nostalgic person and there’s something about the dreamlike narrative, saturated colors (usually from cinematographer Chris Doyle) and ever-present sense of longing that permeates every frame that transports me in a way that no other filmmaker can. I’m optimistically skeptical about his next film, My Blueberry Nights, which will be the first time he’s filmed in the US with English-speaking actors. Hollywood traditionally treats Hong Kong implants of all calibres like raw sewage…
What was a defining moment in your film fandom? When did you cross that line of being a film goer to a cineaste?
It’s a very vivid memory, actually. I was fourteen and a friend of mine got a hold of A Clockwork Orange, which is a little extreme for a fourteen-year-old but of course, that was the whole reason we tried to get our hands on a copy! At the risk of sounding somewhat demented, it really changed my life. It was the first time I had ever watched a film and become consciously aware that there was something else at work, that the film was more than the “ surface” story of a murderer and rapist who is rehabilitated. It was probably the first time that I truly considered the manipulative power of the cinema, to make me sympathize with a character like Alex; it was certainly the first time I glimpsed social commentary and metaphorical intent.
The proverbial deserted island question: You are forced to go to a deserted island where there is an endless supply of Laotian rock rats and durians and mineral water. Amazingly, in the middle of the island is a great home theater. But, oh no, you only have room for one feature film, one television series, and one album. What would they be and why?
Argh, so cruel! I know I’ll say one thing now and tomorrow my mood will be completely different. Nevertheless:
- Deserted Island Film: Happy Together may be my favorite, but it might be a little too depressing to be my sole companion for who knows how many years! If the test of time has shown that there’s a film I can watch over and over again and still have fun every single time, it’s Star Wars. If I could bend the rules, I’d take the whole original trilogy ^_^
- Deserted Island TV: I am proudly obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so that’s a no-brainer. Seven seasons of pure allegorical goodness!
- Deserted Island Album: I guess I dropped my iPod in the water, huh? Choosing one record may be the toughest of all! The Beatles’ White Album would be good because of the stylistic variety and that little extra bit of length to keep me from getting bored. Maybe I could play Helter Skelter loud enough that a passing cruise ship might hear…
Okay, we know about Mike the film nut…tell us something else that makes Mike Lyon tick!
I’m married to a brilliant gal named Maggie, I play guitar, I collect comic books and Nobuyoshi Araki Polaroids, I recently got my Masters in Film Studies from NYU Tisch, I run a website dedicated to exploitation films, right now I have a beard, I try to read one novel a week, and I have an unhealthy obsession with David Bowie. And I love making lists. Maybe I should reformat my response into the form of a list…