Tagged: Film Society of Lincoln Center

Infernal Affairs, Twenty Years Late

The New York Film Festival begins on Friday, September 30. I didn’t buy any tickets, although it’s not because there aren’t any good films playing. There are some great films scheduled, as there always is. But the late Annette Michelson gave me a pro tip: these films will all come out sooner or later in wide release, and if wait a few weeks, and you can see them at a discount.

In 2002, I had bought tickets for a lot of films, including the Hong Kong crime thriller, Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, 2002). At the time, I had two friends from California in town on a production tour for Simple Shoes. I also didn’t have many friends in New York those days. I gave the tickets to a fellow graduate student at NYU to spend time with these friends. He saw the movie in my stead.

Infernal Affairs became a commercial and critical hit. It represented a milestone in Hong Kong cinema, and it even was remade into different films, including Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning, star-studded film, The Departed (2006).

For the twenieth anniversary of the film, Film at Lincoln Center is screening the three films of the Infernal Affairs trilogy, through Thursday, September 29, on the eve of the 60th New York Film Festival. (Note: Film at Lincoln Center stages the annual New York Film Festival so it’s very closely connected.)

I went last week to see the three films over a five-day period to atone for missing it the first time around. I especially liked that I saw the first Infernal Affairs at the very same place where it was screening in 2002. Technically, Infernal Affairs screened at Alice Tully Hall in 2002, and I saw it at the Walter Reade theater, but both these theaters are on the Lincoln Center campus.

Here’s my spoiler-free hot takes on the three films:

  1. Infernal Affairs 1 is the best of the lot. The stories of the two infiltrators are really deep and complex, and the layers of deceit make this a nerve-wracking experience.
  2. Infernal Affairs 2 gives the background of the two infiltrators and how each came to be. I didn’t find the stories to be as interesting as they were in the story events of IA1, but there were some great revelations throughout.
  3. Infernal Affairs 3 is the most restrictive in terms of character’s point of view. Unlike IA1 and IA2, it focuses more on the story of one of the infiltrators and the trauma he’s living after the killing of the other infiltrator. It also wraps up the trilogy and it’s theme of living in an eternal hell—hence the infernal in the trilogy’s name.

16mm: “A Thing of the Past”

16mm film canister

16mm film canister. From Wikimedia Commons.

This fall, I am teaching Experimental Film at Pratt Institute. It’s one of my favorite classes because many of the films we screened in class were life-changing for me. Last year, when I taught the class, I relied mostly on DVDs to screen the films. To me, that seemed remarkable because a decade ago, many of the filmmakers of the American avant-garde refused to transfer their films to DVD, preferring to rent and sell 16mm prints. However, by the early 2010s, the situation had changed and many of them had embraced the format for reaching a wider audience, although many remain steadfastly opposed to releasing their films on video… so they end up as poor quality transfers on YouTube instead.

The New York film world is going crazy for the John Waters retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which starts today and continues into the following weekend. Although I was a rabid fan of Waters’s earliest work and loved screening VHS copies of his films to confused and disgusted friends in college, I don’t consider his work experimental, per se, though it certainly had many anti-commercial tendencies and influenced scores of filmmakers.

In a recent interview with Gothamist’s Rebecca Fishbein, John Waters discusses showing some of his earliest work at the retrospective, including a 16mm print of Mondo Trasho (1969):

I’m going to show one of my very last prints of Mondo Trasho. They might burn up in the projector, but that would be okay because even if they ever even come out again, they’ll never be made on 16mm prints. That’s a thing of the past.

What struck me is his characterization of 16mm as a “thing of the past.” I understand his point: it’s very difficult to find facilities that process 16mm film anymore and the film stock itself is just as scarce. However, many of my students in the experimental film class complained that we watched too many videos of these films and that we should screen actual films in a film class. Last night, I screened a DVD copy of Entr’acte (1924). It was horrible. One of the students jumped into action, verified that Pratt owned a 16mm copy, and we screened that. It was a much better experience.

However, it’s sad to think of 16mm as a dying form. It’s true that we can still screen it in a university course, but it’s also true that we can still study Latin in college, too.