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Harry's ARUBA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL report: BLACK DEATH & The wonders of Thelma Schoonmaker!

As many of you know, Yoko and I recently returned from the 1st Annual ARUBA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. About half a year ago I got an email from the festival asking if my wife and I would like to come to Aruba to cover the premiere engagement of the Aruba Film Fest. I’d been to Aruba about a decade ago, this island is where I joined Roger Ebert, The Dude and the dear departed Dusty Cohl upon The Floating Film Festival, that was one of the great adventures in my life up to that point. That trip to Aruba was slightly sad as I really wished that the girl I was seeing at that point could have come, because places like Aruba and Cruise Ships – well… they’re better when you’re in love and sharing that experience with that loved one. But when I boarded the MS MAARSDEN a decade ago, I hoped I could return to Aruba one day – and it seemed ideal. 5 days in Aruba, movies at night. So I called Yoko up at work and asked if she’d like 5 days in Aruba, she screamed. I took that as a definite “YES” and told the festival we’d love to come. As the months peeled off, I found myself often thinking of the ARUBA FILM FESTIVAL. Who would be there? What films would they get? I mean, how many attendees would there be? What other journalists would be going? Would I know anyone? About two weeks prior to leaving, they announced the program and as I looked at it… a smile crossed my face. You see, each day there was about one film that I hadn’t already seen via another film festival or via the legion of screeners that I get sent. That was disappointing in the sense that I didn’t feel the festival would allow me to discover much in terms of films to get you good folks excited about. And frankly, that’s my favorite thing about going to film fests… finding movies to get excited and get others excited about. Didn’t look like that was going to happen at the premiere ARUBA FILM FESTIVAL. Instead, we began going over the various emails that the festival sent, including one that was about excursions that we were invited to take part in. Like the trip to De Palm Island, just off the coast of Aruba, there’s this tiny little island where you walk like Captain Nemo on the bottom of the crystal clear Caribbean. You can drink all the alcohol you can hold. There’s complimentary buffets. Snuba excursions, Banana boat rides, Snorkling, water slides – and a never ending supply of thong-ed women! SOUNDED GOOD. Now, the ARUBA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in its first year was a tad disorganized, the various festival folks were incredibly nice and welcoming, but it seems there was a lot of confusion regarding solid information about where to line up, which screening rooms were for which movies, do you need tickets or just the badge, where are the locations, etc. These are all minor problems, but when one of the festival press room folks is sitting talking through the premiere movie, which started about 40 minutes late. You begin to get a tad annoyed. There was a lack of introductions for the various films… Movies would just suddenly begin to play, before the lights were off, before the Aerosmith Theater Music would be cut off – and twice the films played for about 4 minutes before the FRAMING would be corrected. Again, if you’re at an established film festival, these sorts of problems are pretty unforgivable, but the ARUBA INTERNATION FILM FESTIVAL isn’t setting out to become the GREATEST MOST EDGY FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WORLD… this is a Destination Film Festival. A festival you go to, to see films without the insane lines and craziness of a big established film festival, but even more so… This festival is more about the island of Aruba itself. This event was meant to show off ARUBA. The wonderful restaurants, the stunning crystal clear water and white sand beaches. You talk about the heat and the 50 mile per hour gusts that constantly flow across the island – allowing every pore in your body to open up as if in a sauna, but the wind cools you and makes you feel amazing. Going out on the beaches, chasing over-sized Parrot Fish around clusters of brain coral while snorkeling… drinking Pina Coladas as you chill to the sound of waves and the rustling of the palm leaves in the wind. Then, we’d make our way to the CINEMAS for a film. This was nice. Now – I did see 3 movies at the Aruba International Film Festival… The first was VENEZZIA – a Venezuelan film that was released last year in Venezuela and Columbia, but outside that… the film hasn’t been seen. I found it moderately interesting. It’s about World War II – when Venezuela was having to deal with the Nazis. A U.S. Code Breaker is sent to Venezuela to crack the Nazi operation that is going on down there. There’s a love triangle with a married woman that has severe eyesight problems – and this is nothing more than a mediocre romantic historical drama that you’d forget about as soon as you left the theater. The second film was actually a movie that I could have seen at a press screening in Austin, the day I left had I not gone to Aruba, and this was HOLY ROLLERS – the film about Hasidic Jews that begin smuggling Ecstasy Pills in from Amsterdam. And it is all based on a true case that brought a million pills into the United States. The film is notable because Jesse Eisenberg is incredibly fun to watch on screen. His Sam Gold is in such a quandary for so much of the movie, that you feel like whispering him advice. Also – the lovely Ari Graynor – who you may know from Michael Cera’s NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST and YOUTH IN REVOLT – or even Drew Barrymore’s WHIP IT as Eva Destruction! Anyway – she plays a nice Jewish girl that wants to open Jess’s Sam up to the greater possibilities in life. She’s the carrot that keeps him going down this particular hole. The film kinda loses me as it enters the last act, mainly because I was so enjoying the characters when things were mainly going right, but the problem with all criminal endeavors… no matter how fun it is in the present – it turns bad, and Kevin Asch did a real good job making us care for these characters. No where near as great as the Coen’s A SERIOUS MAN, but a good little film still. The last film that I saw was the GEM of the fest for me. BLACK DEATH. All I knew about this film before I saw it was an image that seemed to be bloody that I saw in the Press Room – that made me think this could be a badass Dark Age story about the Black Plague… As a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan – you can’t not fucking love the concept of a good Plague story. The opening credits informed me that this was directed by Christopher Smith, who did a damn fine job on the movie SEVERANCE a few years back – but this is something entirely new. The basic story is that you have a youthful monk played by Eddie Redmayne – a young actor that Spielberg has just cast in WAR HORSE – and once you see BLACK DEATH, you’ll know why! Eddie is fantastic to watch. He reminds me of younger thinner Guy Pearce. The film begins with Redmayne’s Osmund in a Monastery that has begun to be hit with the Plague. Dead bodies everywhere… large black rats crawling the floor – a constant reminder that these superstitious fools knew nothing about how the disease was being spread, but we can see it with our 20/20 history-vision intact! Anyway, turns out that Osmund has been fornicating on his vows and steals some food and takes it to his woman and convinces her to hide in a forest till the plague goes away. She tells him that she’ll wait by some cross in the forest for a week’s time. Osmund is in love with her, but he’s a believer, a monk and he’s afraid of death which is everywhere. Bodies line the streets. Nasty, terrible… AWESOME! Then as if an answer to his prayers, Sean Bean’s Ulric shows up with a mission to find a witch that has apparently made a village PLAGUE FREE, but also this village has allegedly turned its back on GOD – and Ulric has been sent by the CHURCH to capture whoever led this flock astray, and ya know. Torture them worse than Hell could. Ulric has a team of badasses that all served under King Edward. So they’re used to doing wrong. Everybody is fantastic in the film. The eventual “witch” is played by Verhoeven’s Carice Van Houten (BLACK BOOK, VALKYRIE and REPO MEN) – and she is stellar! Seriously great. There’s a wonderful little battle on the way to the village, and once you get to the village… that’s where it really does get great. I love this film. Everything seems to have been done practical and without Digital effects – and it looks perfect! I love this film’s take on witchcraft of the period. And I LOVE how it all wraps up. This is a perfect little FANTASTIC FEST film and I’ve already talked to Tim League about how we have to have it! And we’re working on it. Reminded me a bit of NAME OF THE ROSE, but a very different story. But that same kind of atmosphere. - And those were the 3 movies I saw while there. There was… one other Festival thing I did. It was a talk with Thelma Schoonmaker that she did at the Fest. Who? Well, if you have to ask that, you get several Film Geek Demerits. Thelma Schoonmaker is Martin Scorsese’s career Editor! This women is almost never released from the dungeon that Scorsese keeps her editing in. So when I heard she was going to be giving a talk at the ARUBA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL – I was absolutely not going to miss it, even if paradise offered numerous amazing real world distractions. Film will always be my first love. So I sat back in the about 2/3rds filled room of THE CINEMAS in Aruba – and watched the silver haired delight named Thelma take the stage. Why was she here? She grew up on Aruba. Left for college and had never come back till this film festival. The event was scheduled to be a talk… But as Thelma is an editor, she had edited some material together to show us what it is and how it is that Scorsese and her created the masterful works that they have. She did this by screening influences from the very foundation of great cinematic editing. I wish I could recall every moment of this astonishing master class, but there was no photography, video or audio recordings of the event allowed. A real shame in my opinion, as this stuff was priceless – I’ll attempt to talk about what I remember of the talk. Thelma took the stage after receiving an Ambassador of Aruba appointment from the Government of Aruba. She was beyond touched. Really incredibly heartfelt acceptance and honor. She talked about how she spent her days traveling around the island to the corners she had her fondest memories of – happy to discover that not all of them had changed. She was concerned about the English comprehension of the audience, but I got the feeling that they knew every word spoken. To start with, she wanted to show that while her job as editor was about putting pieces of film together to tell a story, that sometimes… that story could be told best without editing and to illustrate that, she showed us the scene in which Ray Liotta took Lorraine Bracco to the Copa Cabana. But before, she told us in advance that all the extras you see outside the famed spot which Scorsese had actually gone to and seen Sinatra sing back in the day… but all those extras – while Lorraine and Ray were navigating through the entire restaurant – all those extras ran to fill the set so that the restaurant would be filled. They rightfully figured that noone would really notice. She then used a laser pointer during the scene to highlight some of the outdoor extras on the inside later. I have to say, I had never seen that before. See if you can now…

The next scene was something that she use as an example of a really tough scene to edit. You see – This is the Joe Pesci “HOW AM I FUNNY” scene. And the evolution of that scene began with Pesci telling Scorsese about a particularly harrowing moment that happened to him, back when Joe was a made man in the Mob. The scene was unscripted – and in order to construct it, it took forever to hone the scene into becoming a classic scene – and I found myself wondering what the unedited continuous story was like. But at the same time, since it was an improved story-telling, when they did multiple takes, they had trouble making it all work. I don’t think a single one of us in the audience imagined that that scene was not tightly scripted – and I find myself astonished that it was anything but easy. I mean… Look…

Next, she told us that she was going to go back in time a bit. All the way back to 1925 and the most famously edited film this side of PSYCHO…. Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. I haven’t been able to locate the specific scene on YouTube to share… but it is the scene in which the diseased maggoty meat is being chopped by the butcher. If you watch the scene, you’ll notice that the cleaver is fiercely drawn back with ferocious intensity… the next shot is of the meat falling open, but missing the blade coming in for impact. This is incredibly bold editing because you are not seeing the actual cut, but you’re receiving the impact of the cut. This classic work of Eisenstein of a moment that is notably less referenced to the Odessa Steps scene, that DePalma referenced in THE UNTOUCHABLES, but where in Scorsese and Schoonmaker’s work did this jump in editing come? THE BATTLE OF FIVE POINTS from GANGS OF NEW YORK. If you notice, the battle scene begins with a traditional battle… long cuts, then as it gets more ferocious, you begin to see the influence of Eisenstein’s experimental editing. You begin losing moments and you start seeing the withdrawl and the effect of the missing slash – and the result is, the battle becomes more raw, more powerful, more savage – and you have not only Eisenstein’s brilliant influence, but Scorsese and Schoonmaker’s brilliant adaptation to not just rip it off, but to use it as one of the many tools of editing to create something epic. Here’s that whole scene:

Next she showed an astonishing sequence from Thelma’s now departed husband, Michael Powell’s THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1937) which featured a sequence between two men in a contest to reach a certain point first, requiring scaling cliffs to reach the top part of it all. The sequence showed some amazing perspectives and shots all of which had to be done for real – without the aid of HELICOPTERS (1937 folks) – and when you begin to watch thise scene you’re gobsmacked to figure out how these shots were accomplished, but also the way the long shots were handled. She went from this to another Michael Powell film – this one, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. The film was used to show just how brave Michael Powell was as an editor. The scene shown was all about two men that were to fight a duel. They’re in a very large grand room. Everything being handled by custom. You see the rules explained, documents signed, being led to position…. Etc etc… Very proper, very religious in a way (which was the point Thelma was making, because she would refer back to this later. Because after all the build up, all the details, it was what Powell left out that Scorsese and her could not fathom leaving out. THE DUEL. When it comes time for the fight, he cuts away – because it wasn’t the savagery of battle that Powell was interested in, but the almost Catholic way that they regimented the setup to savagery. Both of these Powell scenes caused me to come home and watch about 9 Michael Powell films since returning from Aruba. But to end the talk… Thelma made my brain ejaculate. She took us through the fights of RAGING BULL. Pointing out every beautiful minute detail regarding how Marty wanted every fight different. Talking about points that she and Deniro disagreed with Marty, but when Thelma cut them both ways, Marty wound up being right. She showed the impossibly large ring at the beginning – and how each fight became increasingly claustrophobic. How eventually the corner man’s motions in how he took care of DeNiro’s Jake were as precise and loving as the set up for the duel in the Powell film, whose name escapes me. CURSE THOSE ISLAND RUM DRINKS! Most of the RAGING BULL notes about the fights I knew and realized, because – shit. It is RAGING BULL, I was forced to take these fights apart in Film Class back in 1991. I had 3 different film professors that used RAGING BULL to teach the brilliance of Scorsese. And it is nothing if not brilliant. The real gold of this ARUBA FILM FESTIVAL was this nearly 3 hour presentation by Thelma. After her presentation, she took questions from the Audience. And of course someone asked about THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET and if 3D was going to change her process of editing. She is sure it will, but seems to think she will first assemble the edit from just a 2D print… then explore the possibilities of 3D. She did mention that Marty has no intent of doing 3D as Cameron did 3D in AVATAR – Scorsese will be pushing the 3D out of the screen much more. And in ways that are not poke your eyes out. She mentioned that Scorsese and her have watched HOUSE OF WAX and DIAL M FOR MURDER… And I found myself trying to track her down after the talk to tell her to have Marty screen MISS SADIE THOMPSON with Rita Hayworth in polarized 3D. As it is, in my opinion, my very favorite 3D film in history. The way it was used elevated the melodrama of that story into something so much more than what the film is in 2D. You get a true sense of Rita’s sensuality and womanhood in a manner that is not crude, but that heightens the emotional meaning of the film. I even wrote her a note and gave it to the front desk at our shared hotel, I hope they delivered it, because very few people have seen MISS SADIE THOMPSON in stereoscopic 3D – and it is seriously one of the masterpieces in my opinion. That said, I doubt seriously Scorsese could learn anything from me, I’m sure he’s seen MISS SADIE THOMPSON at least twice by now. But on the off chance, I’m now saying MARTY… WATCH MISS SADIE THOMPSON in polarized stereoscopic 35 mm IB TECH!!! YOU MUST SEE IT BEFORE DIRECTING IN 3D. I promise you, there’s magic there you will want to see. In conclusion, what is my verdict regarding The Aruba International Film Festival? It has promise. A first year film festival has problems acquiring breakout films because it has yet to establish an identity as a festival. From my experience, the identity of the festival was in the warm friendly embrace of the Caribbean. The people, the food, the water, the undersea life, the rum, the new friends and ya know… a couple of fun movies and one unforgettably brilliant talk by perhaps arguably the greatest living editor of film, Thelma Schoonmaker! I hope to return to Aruba for a future festival there… to see how the film side matures, how the actual organization and operation of the physical side of the festival improves. But the one thing you can’t improve on is… the paradise of Aruba. For Patricia and I… this was one helluva journey!

Readers Talkback
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  • June 27, 2010, 6:45 a.m. CST

    Black death

    by Sgt.Steiner

    Sounds awesome. Bit early for barain ejaculation, though, Harry.

  • June 27, 2010, 6:46 a.m. CST

    And Steiner says....

    by Sgt.Steiner

    First, baby.

  • June 27, 2010, 7:28 a.m. CST

    1 geek demerit

    by gurghi

    The film you can't place is THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. It came out on Criterion in 2003.

  • June 27, 2010, 7:51 a.m. CST

    Aruba is cool

    by mojoman69

    unless you hang out with Joran Vander Sloot and happen to be a chick........

  • June 27, 2010, 8:05 a.m. CST



    I thought that was it, but couldn't remember for sure. Thanks.

  • June 27, 2010, 8:37 a.m. CST

    I was one of the few who enjoyed Severance.

    by alan_poon

    Black Death gives me more of a Witchfinder General vibe.

  • June 27, 2010, 9:51 a.m. CST

    You haven't seen "Triangle" Harry?

    by Jarek

    Smith's last film was "Triangle", and you absolutely must track it down. One of the best, most mind-blowing horror flicks I've seen in recent years.... which went virtually unnoticed. 'Severence' was cool too, but 'Triangle'. MUST SEE.

  • June 27, 2010, 10:40 a.m. CST



    haven't yet had the pleasure, would love to.

  • June 27, 2010, 12:46 p.m. CST

    With this post


    the shoefucker will be gone!

  • June 27, 2010, 1:53 p.m. CST

    Thanks for the shoutout, Harry.

    by Colonel_Blimp

    I'm a great film, indeed.

  • June 27, 2010, 3:20 p.m. CST

    Gangs of NY rough cut

    by Calico Pete

    Harry, did you ever get a chance to see the purported longer rough cut of GONY? What's your take on it?

  • June 27, 2010, 3:31 p.m. CST

    Shutter Island in 3D would have been cool.

    by RPLocke

    Especially the cave scene.

  • June 27, 2010, 5:19 p.m. CST

    Harry did you eat at Madam Jeanette's?

    by fiester

    Love that place. Yum.

  • June 27, 2010, 5:20 p.m. CST

    Great article, man

    by SlickRick

    So bad you and Yoko couldn't stay until the very end of the festival. It got better. Q&A with Guillermo Arriaga, Griffin Dunne, Patricia Clarkson and the director and two of the stars of the incredible Bollywood movie "3 Idiots". The cocktail parties were amazing. Closing night rumba at the beach was awesome. And you missed some great movies, too: the italian "Mine vaganti", from turkish director Ferzan Oztepek (present at the festival), and "Abel", by first-timmer Diego Luna. Your interview will be published in Panorama soon. Stay tuned. Your buddy from Venezuela, Ricardo.

  • June 27, 2010, 5:42 p.m. CST

    One correction Harry

    by Continentalop

    "Pesci telling Scorsese about a particularly harrowing moment that happened to him, back when Joe was a made man in the Mob." <P> I think you meant when he was a waiter and had a run in with an actual wise guy in the Mob. Because unless someone knows something I don't, Pesci never was a criminal, much less in the mob, and certainly not a Made Man. <p> Now Alex Rocco...

  • June 27, 2010, 6:55 p.m. CST

    Good thing the Chileans have...

    by JayLenoTookMyJob

    ...Joren Van Der Sloot in a deep, dark hole somewhere. Must be a relief for you and Yoko, Harry.

  • June 27, 2010, 7:10 p.m. CST


    by RPLocke

  • June 27, 2010, 7:18 p.m. CST

    SEVERANCE was decent,

    by frank cotton

    just wasn't that funny. TRIANGLE was very good

  • June 27, 2010, 7:22 p.m. CST


    by scors54

    Absolutely correct-Pesci was the Maitre D at Amici restaurant on 187th street in the Bronx when I was living there, and had some sort of close call with one of the local wiseguys. He was NEVER a "made man".

  • June 27, 2010, 7:50 p.m. CST

    Got married there...

    by SK229

    was unbelievable... on the beach with 50 family and friends, most of which were there for nearly a week... pretty much the entire thing was like a dream. Love Aruba... maybe we'll see ya there next year!

  • June 28, 2010, 12:50 a.m. CST

    Snuba excursions

    by Star Hump

    I'm a certified snuba diver.

  • June 28, 2010, 2:04 a.m. CST



    I swear to Christ that Thelma said that Pesci spent time in the Mob. SWEAR. That's all Patricia and I could talk about after the event.

  • June 28, 2010, 3:15 a.m. CST

    Good reporting

    by ymir_on_the_colosseum

    Thank you for bringing this info back with you, it's a shame Thelma doesn't do more appearances and interviews. What other 3D (or 2D) viewing would you recommend to these established directors who are heading into 3D for the first time?

  • June 28, 2010, 4:34 a.m. CST

    Sean Bean is 51?!?!?!?!

    by Drsambeckett1984

    When the fuck did that happen? He was also hands down the best Bond villain from the past 2 decades.

  • June 28, 2010, 8:10 a.m. CST

    Good stuff ....

    by fpuk99

  • June 28, 2010, 8:12 a.m. CST

    Black death

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    Got to say i was slightly disappointed by it,mostly because of the ending ...

  • June 28, 2010, 12:37 p.m. CST

    Great stuff, Harry!

    by The_Motorcycle_Boy

    Very insightful read. What a pity that they didn't allow the event to be documented. Hopefully some more details will crop up. <p> Just scanning the back of my Raging Bull DVD and apparently she is one of the commentaries! I am going to have to listen to that soon.

  • June 28, 2010, 2:16 p.m. CST


    by RPLocke

  • June 28, 2010, 2:21 p.m. CST

    Harry have you seen this?

    by james4543

  • June 29, 2010, 12:45 a.m. CST


    by Cobbio

    Glad you had fun, Harry! Sounded like a blast.<p> I'll have to rent "Miss Selma Thompson" now.

  • July 2, 2010, 9:38 a.m. CST

    Black death

    by liz_lemon

    i love it!! did anyone read the script? i mananged to get a sneak of it and its even cooler - darker, more atmospheric. Fricking brilliant!! written by a guy called dario poloni (italian?) anyhow really great!!

  • July 2, 2010, 9:16 p.m. CST


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