I can’t, and will not try to, speak to the nature of the Gorilla Foundation’s current model, but the one recorded in Barbet Schroeder’s 1978 documentary on Penny Patterson’s attempts to teach Koko a modified version of American Sign Language appear to lack a certain rigor that Pat and I question. Pat, having been an anthropology undergrad, has seen and critiqued the film before. While Schroeder damningly states that Koko may become the world’s first White American Protestant Gorilla, Dr. Patterson may have just ruined a perfectly good monkey. Schroeder mostly lets the issue lay bare and allows the viewer to decide the experiments merit and achievements. I say mostly because his talk with San Francisco Zoo Director Saul Kitchener makes that zoologist with a primate specialty look like a mean man who wants to take his ape back from the loving psychologist (who wants to give it hamburgers). Along the way we talk about racism and classism, To Kill a Mockingbird and Planet of the Apes, because this wouldn’t be Lost in Criterion if we didn’t.
Two films for the price of one this week as we watch the original 135 minute version of John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie from 1976 and then his director's cut which runs 108 minutes from 1978. Of course, since this is Cassavetes, the shorter version isn't just a truncated version but a rather different film in design, in character motivation, and quite a bit of plot. Right from the start we see scenes not in the longer original then a restructuring of the narrative's chronology. The pair form a fascinating look into the psyche of an extraordinary director, only compounded by the suggestion that the story is allegorically autobiographical.
Derek Jarman's Jubilee is complicated.
It started life as a documentary about Jordan, a movie "about punk rock", and slowly grew into the post-apocalyptic time travel weirdly pro-Monarchy-ish critique of punk rock and British society. As an openly gay man in London in 1978, perhaps Jarman was an outsider outside other outsiders, further anti-establishment than the punk movement he saw around him. At least that's the argument I try to make against Pat and guest Donovan Hill, who really just think Jarman's thesis -- whatever it is -- doesn't land. I don't necessarily love the film, personally, but it's definitely more interesting than I think my cohosts give it credit for.
Of course I could very well be wrong -- certainly Jarman doesn't hit his critique out of the park -- but we manage a pretty great conversation about punk rock, politics, ideals, and selling out. One of my favorite episodes to record, hope you love it as much as I did.
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It may have been unfair last week for us to complain about the first film Criterion released from a female director not even passing the Bechdel Test. I'm sorry that we spent a lot of time talking about Liliana Cavini's The Night Porter in terms of her being a woman not doing what we thought she should have done. Perhaps we treated the film as if Criterion was trying to say something about female auteurs by presenting its first one 59 films into the series and by choosing Cavini first. After Armageddon we should have learned that whatever Criterion may be trying to say with certain releases, it's best not to delve too deeply into it as it's more than likely nonsense anyway.
This week we're talking about Ingmar Bergman's 1978 Autumn Sonata, a movie that not only passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, but is also really emotionally draining. But in a good way? We also avoid reading too much into Criterion's release order again, since the release after The Night Porter has a strong principally-female cast unlike anything we've seen in the Collection so far. Criterion's spine numbers are challenging us to compare the two films, and that's really unfair, because anyone put up against an Ingmar Bergman masterpiece will fail. We try to avoid that, and instead focus on the heart-wrenching character study on it's own amazing merits instead of on the merit of being infinitely better than the movie we'd just previously watched.