Saturday, April 27, 2013

Unmade in China








































UNMADE IN CHINA            D+                  
USA  China  (87 mi)  2012  d:  Tanner King Barklow and Gil Kofman       Official site

There are much better movies about the making of a movie, where Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) remains the definitive work on the subject, but Fassbinder’s BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE (1971) also comes to mind, a fictionalized autobiographical film that exaggerates the kind of real chaos that exists on a movie set.  But those are made by filmmakers who are also great artists, unlike this film, which turns into something of a self-promotion documentary about one of the worst filmmakers on the planet, Gil Kofman, maker of the forgettable movie THE MEMORY THIEF (2007), a jumbled mess of a film, but if you heard this filmmaker describe it, no doubt it’s an undiscovered American classic.  Kofman is the kind of guy that never shuts up, where every single word and thought is about himself, where everything else in the world exists only in relation to himself.  Not that anyone invited him to, but Kofman decides to make a movie in China, financed by the Chinese Film industry, and then rails about all the bureaucratic hurdles one has to go through in China to make a film, blaming it all on the Communist system.  The thought has to cross the viewer’s mind, is the only reason this guy is making a film in China because he can’t make one here in the United States?  Having seen his earlier film, awarding it a grade of D-, where out of thousands of films seen and graded in a lifetime, there are only about 25 seen that are worse than that one, most all of them graded F.  The truth of the matter is this guy is simply an awful filmmaker and has no business working in the movie industry, where China is likely one of the few places in the world that would actually offer him the opportunity, but after seeing this film, that offer has probably been rescinded.  Kofman never really explains much about the film he wants to make, where the script must be submitted for approval by the Chinese Communist Party, where no doubt they are pleased and somewhat amused that an American would even attempt such an absurd thing, where first time feature director Tanner King Barklow, maker of the unseen 30-minute short CAMP BLOOD:  THE MUSICAL (2006), announces that “China only releases 20 foreign films each year…This is NOT one of them,” where pretty much, he just points the camera at Kofman and lets him do the rest. 

As Kofman is about the leave for China, no doubt expecting to spend a large amount of time there, his young daughter is more worried that he’ll miss her dance recital, while his wife is sitting in bed reading a book all but ignoring him.  Good riddance, she seems to be saying.  So he leaves with little fanfare, arriving in China where there is a joint Chinese-American production team, including members of the Communist Party that must approve each step of the process.  Kofman is quick to blame the Chinese whenever anything goes wrong, and why wouldn’t he expect plenty of things to go wrong, as even Chinese filmmakers have trouble getting their films made in China.  After all, it’s a country that currently boasts a population of over a trillion people (1,354,040,000 to be exact), where according to the annual list compiled by The Hollywood Reporter of the top 25 film schools in the world THR's Top 25 Film Schools List Revealed - The Hollywood Reporter, #3 is the Beijing Film Academy, yet only 20 films are released for export every year?  Just what did Kofman expect?  The Chinese Film Bureau puts their own citizens through rigorous scrutiny, where questions would have to be raised about any American’s motive, wondering if the intent is to ridicule the Chinese government, where it’s hard for the viewers not to ask the same thing.  Nonetheless, Kofman, who is nothing if not delusional, thinks everything is set, buoyed by an elaborate dinner where the American orders plenty of drinks and toasts the Communists as an act of good will, throwing in a little extra bribery cash as well to help insure approval, and is initially given the green light.  Well little does he know that this is only for the initial step of the approximately 1000 step plan that the officials have in store for him, starting with his script which they completely rewrite without asking for his opinion or approval, also a last minute change of cast members, including the female lead, and the cinematographer.  Unfortunately, what really sets him off is that he isn’t getting paid.  Isn’t it just like an American to complain about the money?  Kofman is determined to go on strike, refuses to work, and sits in his room and mopes on the bed.  More misfortune ensues.    
   
At least when he’s outside on the streets of China, one can admire the hustle and bustle of the activity, where there’s always a certain charm about viewing life in foreign lands.  But being stuck in a hotel room with Kofman blaming everyone but himself becomes insufferable, as the film immediately sinks into a wretched descent of self-pity and feeling sorry for himself, a hole from which it never escapes, as Kofman whines and complains about everything rather than actually meeting and talking with the appropriate people, exactly as he would do in the United States.  He prefers the fatalistic view that nothing can be done, that this is the way things are, and continually rails against the Chinese Communists, like it’s their fault.  But they’re just doing their job, and he shows little respect for their culture or film industry.  While there are plenty of incompetents on the set that are simply a waste of time, in Kofman’s view, people that never do the jobs that are assigned to them, large and small, so why is there is no attempt to fire them, or at least identify the people he’s most dissatisfied with and request an immediate change in personnel?  Any low grade professional at work would at least consider this train of thought and discuss it with the powers that be, but not Kofman, who suffers from delusions of grandeur, where the thought never occurs to him that the reason the Chinese give him such unqualified help is because the film he’s making is totally worthless, that to him it’s all just a publicity stunt.  While there are admittedly some absurd, Kafkaesque moments, the viewer rarely gets to see them happen, but unfortunately has to endure hearing everything second hand through Kofman, as it is all channeled through his nonstop chatter, never questioning his own idiotic behavior, like scheduling 4 days in the middle of the shoot where he has to suddenly return to America to witness his daughter’s graduation.  As preposterous as it is for a director to leave the set, which is only for a few short weeks, but considering this is at best a cheap, low budget B-movie, couldn’t he have made provisions for someone else to take over in advance, like the director of this documentary, as he didn’t shoot anything during this absence.  But Kofman returned and completed the shoot for a film that was never officially made, as Kofman simply gave up during the editing process, where the smartest thing he did was try to distribute bootleg copies of the film on his own, which is how many films around the world are seen.  When he discovers a Chinese version of his film in a California Chinatown, he’s perplexed and literally baffled, thinking for a moment that perhaps it was all worthwhile, never once questioning why it is that he can’t make films here in America. 

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