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 Louisiana Gumbo (and some Lagniappe) 
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The Films of Helen Hill

Part 2: Madame Winger Makes a Film

While her films are well regarded, it's likely that Hill's greatest and most lasting
impact was as an educator and activist. Over the years, she taught at various
colleges and art cooperatives around the US and Canada, and in New Orleans
she taught animation at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and the
New Orleans Film Collective, which she co-founded. For the benefit of those
she couldn't teach personally, she made this film - a handmade guide to
handmade films, made using the techniques it teaches.

Madame Winger Makes a Film


In addition to this film, Hill also created and self-distributed a DIY
guide for DIY films (made very much in a DIY style, out of spiral-bound
photocopies). It's a thorough text, full of instructions, illustrations,
suggestions, and inventions, and interspersed with the kinds of jokes and
friendly notes that make Hill's work so accessible. If anyone is interested,
the book can be viewed in its entirety in the PDF linked below.

Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet

n. 1. Long and tedious talk without much substance; superfluity of words.

Fri Aug 04, 2017 12:26 pm
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The Films of Helen Hill

Part 3: The Florestine Collection

Hill's final film was inspired by an incident that happened one Mardi Gras, when
she discovered a treasure trove of hand-tailored dresses abandoned on a curb.
This prompted her to find out who had made the dresses, which led to the making
of this film, which combines animation with documentary research. Unfortunately,
she was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina, which forced her and her husband, Paul
Gailiunas, to flee the city with their newborn son. When they returned, they found
their Mid-City home flooded and most of their possessions irreparably damaged,
including many of her film materials and some of the dresses she had found.

In spite of the setback, they began to rebuild their lives, and she continued work on
the film. But on January 4th, 2007, before the film was finished, an armed intruder
broke into their home, shot Helen Hill dead, and wounded her husband. She was one
of six people murdered in New Orleans on that day alone, in a rash of post-Katrina
violence, and the assailant was never found. A few years later, Gailliunas finished the
film as a tribute to his wife
, taking her raw footage and working their life story into
her original conceit. While his contributions aren't as elegant as hers, it's still a deeply
personal document eulogizing over the compounding tragedies triggered by Katrina,
and expresses a terribly ambivalent love for the city.

The Florestine Collection

Helen Hill's films on Vimeo

The rest of Hill's films can be viewed at the Vimeo channel dedicated to her work. The
best of those I haven't featured are the slight but charming Rain Dance (with music by
Gailiunas), Mouseholes, and Scratch and Crow (accepted into the National Film Registry
in 2009). Her legacy lives on in New Orleans (I learned about her after watching an
avant-garde film series that included Rain Dance), and her death was memorialized
on the second season of the show Treme.

Paul and Helen (in the middle) with their pig Rosie and friend Becka Barker in Halifax.


n. 1. Long and tedious talk without much substance; superfluity of words.

Mon Aug 07, 2017 8:25 am
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Grand Guignol Double Feature

In an unplanned twist of events, I watched Interview with a Vampire and
Cat People in the span of a week, with friends providing a running commentary.
Both are bloody tales about supernatural transformations, so I paired 'em up.


Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles | Neil Jordan | 1994

As an admirer of Jordan's other films, like Mona Lisa and The Company of Wolves
(which has some thematic overlap), I was hoping he might do something interesting
with the source material, buuuuuuuut this is just two hours of laughably morose
homoeroticism. It has a few redeeming qualities: Kirsten Dunst's child vampire
is simultaneously vivacious and chilling, and Jordan goes all out with some indulgently
gothic set dressing. It's also fun to see New Orleans depicted through the ages,
including the rarely visualized 1700s. But the plot just treads along listlessly, and
it lacks the thematic richness of The Company of Wolves.

(I'll have to read some Anne Rice for this thread someday, but I'm trying to put it off.)


Cat People | Paul Schrader | 1982

With this film, Schrader employed one of the few methods for creating a decent remake:
twist the concept on its head. Where Lewton's original established enduring horror tropes
with its shadowy suggestiveness, Schrader's remake turns the subject matter into a
brash, psychosexual thriller. Everything implicit is made explicit, which makes the film
almost entirely ridiculous -- but the blunt, fever-pitch conviction of the film gives it an
earnest intensity. It's gorgeously shot, pairing baroque New Orleans interiors with the
weird, garish colors of a giallo film, and Nastassja Kinski would make any film more
gorgeous. Her eyes command the screen.

It was especially fun watching this with my friend Casey, who loves the film and espoused
his enthusiasm over nearly every shot. He told me about the time he discussed the film
with a coworker, who revealed something he'd never told anyone before: rather than
giving him "the sex talk" when he turned ten, his father just sat him down and put this
film on. Perhaps the most baffling parenting decision I've ever heard about, and one the
guy is still coming to terms with, apparently.


Talking about Cat People and The Company of Wolves brought to mind one of my
favorite pieces of local folklore. The Loup Garou (often called rougarou) is a Cajun myth
derived from our French ancestry about a werewolf who prowls the swamps, picking off
lost travelers and children who wander too far from home. Unlike most werewolves, a
man can become a Loup Garou for a simple transgression, like missing mass too often.
Rather than changing on full moons, most stories have them transforming every night,
and the curse is passed along not by biting someone, but by compelling them to draw
blood. Other variants suggest that the curse wears off over time, but if one speaks about
it to anyone, it can become permanent. These tales reinforce the Cajuns' Catholic and
communal values.

A courir de Mardi Gras costume in the style of a Loup Garou.

Nowadays, the Loup Garou is very much a part of local culture. The phrase "faire
rougarou" or "making the rougarou" can refer to restless sleep or nights spent making
mischief. The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has a Loup Garou mannequin in their
Louisiana wildlife exhibit, and a local distillery makes a brand of rum dubbed Rougaroux,
in honor of the beast.

Audubon Zoo's Loup Garou, dressed up for Mardi Gras.


It's also become a theme in local art. Its most famous manifestation may be George
Rodrigue's Blue Dog, an art phenomenon that took hold in the 90s thanks to ad
campaigns by Absolut and Xerox. It depicts an uncanny blue dog with staring yellow eyes.

Ostensibly inspired by the rougarou, though it looks more like a corgi (Rodrigue owned a corgi named Tiffany).

But my favorite art piece based on the Loup Garou legend was a one man theatrical
performance produced by local theater company Mondo Bizarro. Loup Garou,
according to their site, was "[an] environmental performance that uses rigorous
physicality, poetry, music and visual installation to investigate the deep interconnectedness
between land and culture in Louisiana." It was performed outdoors, at sunrise and sunset,
in City Park, and it's possibly my single favorite piece of theater. I watched it four times in
the span of two weeks. I've included a short excerpt below, and a photograph of their Loup
Garou, Nick Slie, one of the city's most talented actors.


(Source 1)
(Source 2)

n. 1. Long and tedious talk without much substance; superfluity of words.

Wed Aug 16, 2017 1:16 pm
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Aw, I remember <3'ing Interview when I last watched it... which of course, was 15 years ago, when I was 14 and had barely watched any movies in an "adult" manner, so maybe I need a bit of memory cleanse on it soon.


Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:20 pm
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You may want to leave that memory untouched. The movie is kinda fun (I enjoyed ribbing it with my friends), but despite its self-serious attitude, it doesn't have much depth.

On the plus side, if you watch Mona Lisa or The Company of Wolves (or even The Crying Game, which holds up remarkably well), you may get a lot out of them.

n. 1. Long and tedious talk without much substance; superfluity of words.

Sat Aug 19, 2017 4:56 pm
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