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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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Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter's Son | William Alexander Percy | 1941 | 348 pages

It's odd that I've chosen to write about a book that only mentions Louisiana in passing,
that mostly takes place in the delta country around Greenville in northwest Mississippi,
but the entire Mississippi Delta shares strands of a common culture, and this book and
its author are closely tied to other books I've reviewed for this thread. This is the
autobiography of William Alexander Percy, uncle of Walker Percy -- and after his father's
suicide, his adoptive parent -- and the son of LeRoy Percy, whose legacy is chronicled
in detail in Rising Tide. His recollections paint a revealing portrait of the Southern
aristocrat who embodies the contradictions of the Old South: its dignity and intellectual
prosperity, its warped and antiquated ideologies, a worldview that is beautiful and
repugnant and all but forgotten.

Two sides of Will Percy loom large in this book: his experiences and his opinions. The
former provides the book's best material; even the most sentimental passages have
their charm, and at its best, it's an engrossing book. His prose is mellifluous and rich,
strongly colored by a classical education, often saturated with romanticism but utterly
lucid when it needs to be. His accounts of helping his father combat the racist
demagogue James Vardaman, serving on the front lines of WWI, driving the KKK out
of Greenville, and coping with the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River are bracing and
fresh; his reflections on youthful memories and growing old, though of a softer hue,
have moments of exquisite beauty. But for a modern reader, his views make him a
difficult pill to swallow. Though he speaks fondly of black southerners and despises
racist vitriol, he also celebrated a paternalistic form of white supremacy, employed
sharecroppers on the land that he owned, and blamed the moral decay of the modern
world on the decline of his class. Yet it's these clashing qualities that make this such
a valuable and fascinating document.

Here we have a sensitive and generous man, a closeted homosexual, world traveler,
friend of luminaries like Langston Hughes and William Faulkner, aware of his limitations
yet attuned to the splendor and fragility of the world -- who openly advocated for black
disenfranchisement and considered Southern gentry a morally superior social order. It's this
complicated figure who appears in Rising Tide, which views the man with some compassion
while castigating his failure to rise and meet the demands of his role as the chairman of the
Flood Relief Committee during the flood that devastated his hometown. It's this figure
who manifests in Binx Bolling's aunt in The Moviegoer, widely acknowledged as a
proxy for Will Percy, who goes on a haughty diatribe near the end of the book. This
parallel became apparent when I stumbled across the phrase "common as hell" in his
autobiography, a phrase peppered throughout the aunt's monologue, which Walker Percy
must have heard so many times growing up that it cemented itself in his mind. William
Alexander Percy is a model representative of the South's irresolvable conflicts, and in this
book he demonstrates that even at its most gracious and thoughtful, our Southern
aristocracy was fatally flawed.

Though best remembered for this book, Will Percy also published a considerable amount
of poetry during his lifetime. For lagniappe, I've decided to share a short poem by him and two
excerpts from the book.


I heard a bird at break of day
Sing from the autumn trees
A song so mystical and calm,
So full of certainties,
No man, I think, could listen long
Except upon his knees.
Yet this was but a simple bird,
Alone, among dead trees.


On the making of turtle soup:
Finally that dreadful head would come out long enough for Willis to whack it off with
the ax, at which the rest of the turtle would walk off hurriedly, as if the incident were closed.
Even this was not the climax of the gory horror -- Willis still had to break off the top shell.
When this was accomplished, before your startled eyes lay the turtle's insides, unharmed,
neatly in place, and still ticking! They did not seem to miss the head, but acted like the works
of a watch when you open the back. It was the nakedest thing I ever laid eyes on, and usually
while you were watching, fascinated, the whole thing walked off, just that way, and the cook
would almost faint. Turtle soup indeed! I don't miss it and I hope not to meet up with it
unexpectedly in elegant surroundings.

On collecting memories "like a jackdaw in the garden":
For the place I have won here and there, early and late, though a good place and a proud
one, was never first place in any life, and what was mine to possess utterly and sovereignly,
without counterclaim, was only the jackdaw pickings of my curious and secret heart. When your
heart's a kleptomaniac for bits of color and scraps of god-in-man, its life hoardings make a pile
glinting indeed, but of no worth save to the miserly fanatic heart. Now is the time, now when
the air is still and the light is going, to spread my treasure out.


From his introduction to the book, Walker Percy wrote:
And about him I will say no more than that he was the most extraordinary man I have ever known and that I owe him a debt which cannot be paid.

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

Sat Feb 24, 2018 4:21 pm
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