It wasn't exactly a banner year for homegrown cinema, although the following half-dozen Minnesotans (current or former) did manage to premiere worthy indie work in '99: Sayer Frey (Eileen Is a Spy); Wes Jones (Apt. 6); Joanna Kohler (Witness); Roger Nygaard (Trekkies); Pattie Rhodes (When We Play For Real); and Reilly Tillman (Madison on Tour). (Props as well to Lisa Ganser and Benno Nelson for curating the "Women in the Rejected Chair" and "Sweet Emulsion" collections of local shorts, respectively.)
Flowers of Shanghai. Featured at both the Cannes and New York film festivals in 1998, Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien's masterly study of late-19th-century brothel life in Shanghai screened last year as part of a comprehensive Hou retro at New York's Walter Reade Theater--and it would have appeared at the Walker as well, along with its maker, had he not chosen at the last minute to attend to preproduction issues with his next project. (Who could blame him?) In brief, the film is a beautiful, tantalizingly oblique, and thoroughly hypnotic portrait of four Shanghai "flower girls," with Hou subtly suggesting that their melodramatic downfall is that of imperial China in microcosm. Keep your fingers crossed that it'll show up--perhaps along with ten other Hou works--later this year.
Again asked to compile an impossible list for the Voice poll, I imagined that an E.T. landed in my screening room and asked to see ten movies that would explain all humanity--or perhaps just myself (alphabetically): Bringing Up Baby; Citizen Kane; Histoire(s) du cinéma; Imitation of Life (1959); Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; Lessons of Darkness; The Man With a Movie Camera; Rashomon; 2001: A Space Odyssey; and Within Our Gates.
Movie lovers will miss the Walker Art Center's Bruce Jenkins, Oak Street Cinema's Kate Steger, and Asian Media Access's Carl Bogner, all of whom took '99 to light out for new screens.