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90’s CLASSIC: TREE’S LOUNGE.
This written/directorial debut from Steve Buscemi released in 1996 really makes me wonder why Buscemi hasn’t made more films. Tree’s Lounge is a touching, memorable film due to the simplicity of its storyline. Tommy (Buscemi) is an unemployed mechanic living in a small town, where the opportunities for greatness and bettering oneself really just aren’t there. The film is more character study/observation than narrative journey, focusing on the different characters that walk in and out of the Tree’s Lounge Bar and in Tommy’s life. Tommy spends most of his time thinking he’d be better off if he had a family; giving him a reason to stop drinking and pull his act together. He blames a lot of his bad decisions on other people. However, he isn’t unlikable. The way he handles an almost-relationship with a young girl Debbie (Chloe Sevigny) is sweet and tender, and the way he cares for the elderly bar regulars.
Buscemi’s film does not feature a particularly memorable aesthetic design, in fact, the film’s cinematography/costumes/editing are very minimal and rely heavily on naturalism. Where the film picks up its style and grace is from the film’s soundtrack; featuring recordings from Shane MacGowan & The Popes, Brenda Lee and The Ink Spots to name a few. It is the acting, dialogue and pacing of the film that sets it apart from other independent dramas. Buscemi pieces the narrative together in this way: the film is almost like a overhearing a recollection of a story at a bar, where you join in half way through the story and leave before it ends. Much of what occurs in the film has to do with scenarios that take place much before the film opens to its viewers, and once the film closes there is the understanding that within its fictional universe, the story will just continue on. That is accepted. Therefore, Tree’s Lounge does not rely on exposing any epiphanies or great philosophical conclusions or mind-blowing action sequences. The narrative strolls along, yet is paced in a concise manner so we only gather a short glimpse and keep moving on.
Tree’s Lounge is a cool example of a film where you will recognise each cast member from somewhere; and race to IMDB after watching to remind yourself of who they are. This is a witty film, poignant, capturing the regrets, unrequited love, failures and aspirations of those living in small town life, either ruled by alcohol or are soon to reach that point. With cameos from Samuel L. Jackson and others alike, Tree’s Lounge is a film that is worth your time, I suppose, only if you are willing to find out about these characters as if they started rambling about their life story while drunk at a bar.
The Universe of Keith Haring (2008)
Constructed in a similar manner to Artist Keith Haring’s personal mantra “Art is for everyone!”, The Universe of Keith Haring is a highly inclusive, in-depth look at the renowned American artist. If one is familiar with the biography “Keith Haring” written by John Gruen, this documentary follows the construction of an ‘oral biography’ like the book, featuring rare archival footage and modern-day interviews with Tony Shafrazi, David LaChapelle, Yoko Ono, Fab 5 Freddy and countless others. Director Christina Clausen presents the life of Haring in chronological order, but essentially splits the biography in two: there is Haring-family understanding of Keith’s art and lifestyle, and then there is the New York crowd of artists who have their understanding of his life. Perhaps the most interesting quality of Haring’s character is this very split: between the old small town life vs life in the vibrant city, between conservative and experimental.
The most wonderful aspect of this documentary is that many audio clips and interview excerpts included are of Keith Haring himself. Haring speaks with a great openness to the camera; verbally deconstructing his motivations, lifestyle, desires and needs without any hesitation or regret. Due to Haring’s own openness, the film is very intimate: no topic is considered too taboo to talk about glossed over in other Haring documentaries and TV spots; such as Haring’s sexuality, nightclub/hip-hop lifestyle and the explicit erotic backbone of many of his paintings and mural work.
Even more wonderfully, much of the footage collected is from Haring’s early efforts in experimental video art. So on top of seeing a man as reflecting on his personal and private self, there is also a great chance to see this change over an arc. The early video footage is a fantastic insight into how he used his voice, body, colour and space within moving images, and how that movement and tone was later captured in his paintings. Also captured is the threat that fuelled Keith’s public art/graffiti-art: specifically, the threat of police and of being arrested. What is exciting is that the film’s collected footage is mostly of capturing Haring’s movements while he paints or draws. From the monumental public murals in places geographically dispersed such as Italy, Amsterdam and Australia, to how he worked within the smaller, private space of his studio apartment in New York, The Universe of Keith Haring should be commended for providing the viewer with an opportunity to observe Haring’s precision and the absolute speed of which he produced his artworks which is a factor so crucial to understanding their meaning.
The Universe of Keith Haring in its simple style, articulates so much about Haring himself without having to rely on excessive voice-over narration or constant reliance on interview excerpts. The film also has its tender moments; from Haring’s love for children, charitable donations, his public work to warn against hard drugs to others, his relationships with past lovers and his final battle with AIDS disease. Thankfully, all of the subjects interviewed are those who actually knew and worked closely with Keith; there is a lack of opinions or ill-informed statements from art critics or art historians.
The film clocks in at 90 minutes. I feel that this documentary, along with Gruen’s biography, are the two most successful texts at exploring both Haring himself and the process/motivations and history behind his artwork. I feel that the documentary is great for both those who have not yet come to know of Haring art, and for those fans who are searching for an extension of the information they already know.