Movie Blog: Schnabel @ The Walker
By Jonathon Sharp, WCCO
From March 4 to March 19 Minnesotans have the chance to engage with Julian Schnabel, a major figure in American cinema, at the Walker.
The Walker is hosting a retrospective of Schnabel’s work, a dialogue with the filmmaker and a screening of his latest film, Miral. It’s an opportunity fans of the filmmaker shouldn’t miss and one that any movie-lover should take time to check out.
Five films will be shown for the retrospective throughout the month. The schedule goes like this: Starting on March 4, Basquiat kicks off the event. A week later, Before Night Falls plays. On March 12, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly plays. Then on March 17, for all you thrifty hipsters, Berlin will play free of charge. On March 18, Miral, Schnabel’s latest film, will play and minds will be blown. Then, to top it all off, on March 19 the Walker’s chief curator, Darsie Alexander, will hold a talk with Schnabel about his creative process, inspiration, life and insights into art. That is something you Schnabel fanboys don’t want to miss. (I missed it when one of my favorite filmmakers, Werner Herzog, was at the Walker for the same event and I regret it every time I drive by the museum.)
For those who don’t anything about Schnabel, he’s pretty interesting. He is a surfer and an accomplished painter. He’s multilingual, and he grew up in Texas.
His cinematic style is one of aggressive and intuitive camera work. Images of the sea – of people surfing or submerged in water– wash throughout his movies. Another major aspect of Schnabel’s cinema is his interest in other artists.
Most of his movies deal with creative people struggling to create, overcoming or failing to overcome situations of crippling despair or political suppression.
Now to the movies.
The retrospective begins where Schnabel’s career in cinema began – with Basquiat. The movie is a biopic about the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. It follows the artist’s life from a time when he lived in a cardboard box in New York City to when he was an international sensation.
The movie deals with the politics of the art world, racism, friendship, love, loneliness and the burden of genius. In tone, the film is strangely both lofty and dynamic, much like the artist himself.
The film stars Jeffery Wright, who plays an excellent Basquiat, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Benicio del Toro and Willem Dafoe. It also stars David Bowie – and this is pretty awesome – as Andy Warhol.
Before Night Falls
I find Before Night Falls to be Schnabel’s best movie. Its story is that of the Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, who grew up in the steamy forests of revolutionary Cuba and joined Fidel’s revolution as a young man. The revolution betrays Arenas, however, as it cracks down on both his writing and his lifestyle as a homosexual. The movie follows the writer’s life as he struggles both to love and write.
The film captures the brutal beauty of life on the island in a way that is both provocative and human. Arenas’ suffering, depicted expertly by Javier Bardem, is something powerful: a testament to the need for compassion and for our species to rethink its unquestioning devotion to ideologies.
The film is both in English and Spanish, and it’s playfulness with language is wonderful.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The elegance and sophistication of cinematography in the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is unmatched. The film is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle magazine, who finds himself trapped in his own body after an accident. He is paralyzed from head to toe, and the only way he can communicate is by blinking his left eye.
This left eye is the perspective from which much the movie unfolds. And one gets a strong feeling of what it would be like to be trapped in one’s body, immersed in the muck of one’s memories, tortured by self-reflection and, sometimes, swept off on the wings of delicious imagination.
It’s a lovely film and it’s in French (if that does anything for you).
If you are going to pass on any of the films, I’d tell you to skip this one. Berlin is not a film like the rest of Schnabel’s work. It’s a movie of a Lou Reed concert.
If you’re a fan of Reed, then this is for you. If you aren’t a fan of Reed, but you still like music, this might be for you too. I didn’t find it awful, but I didn’t find it compelling either.
Berlin, however, is free to see, so if you are curious and want to head out to the Walker, you don’t have much to lose.
Speaking of curious, I did find that one of my favorite singers, Antony Hegarty, was a back-up singer in Reed’s band. In case you don’t know who Hegarty is, here’s a link to a song I just can’t get enough of right now.
Miral is Schnabel’s new film. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard good things. And if it is anything like Basquiat, Before Night Falls or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly it should be excellent. Since its premier, it’s gotten some ecstatic reviews, so I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve read that Miral is about the postwar Middle East as seen from the perspective of four women. I’m particularly curious to see how a female hero(s) differentiates Miral from Schnabel’s other films. Be sure to see it March 18.