Ah VIFF, we hardly knew ye. Sarah Bakke, star volunteer at the Cinematheque and brilliant critical film student saw close to twenty films during this years festival and was kind enough to recap a few of her favourites for SAD.
This year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) programme included numerous biopics and documentaries of a similar biographical nature. People who lived great lives, it seems, are in overwhelming abundance. Peggy Guggenheim, famed art collector, curator, and singular woman was among those whose stories were told at Vancouver’s annual cinematic mélange. Her extraordinary life was expressly revealed in Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s feature, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015). I saw this film at the Vancouver Playhouse, to a bit of my dismay. In my experience, the Playhouse is not the best venue for viewing film because the space lacks the necessary acoustics, and so sound tends to echo involuntarily. In the case of Vreeland’s film, aural clarity was particularly important, since most of the story’s direction came from a series of taped interviews with Guggenheim shortly before her death in 1979, and the recordings were occasionally difficult to understand. However, I became too enraptured by the telling of our heroine’s life to care beyond the first few minutes.
Peggy Guggenheim knew love and misfortune, often all at once. She came from a ridiculously wealthy family and constantly felt like the odd one out, and as her life went on it became clear that she would do wild and wonderful things, though completely beneath the expectations of her tribe. Her interest in artists (and subsequently their art), combined with her penchant for sex and bohemia discredited her within the art community and elsewhere. Art Addict does not shy away from these less glamorous details. A variety of esteemed talking heads and rare photographs reveal the many ways in which Guggenheim was a modern woman, and how her brand of existence was ridiculed by many. Nonetheless, her contributions to art history and the canon cannot be ignored. Vreeland’s documentary was by no means experimental, but it told an exceptional story, and was sensitive to its subject. Peggy G. (as I now affectionately call her) knew what living through art meant, and she did it with gumption and honesty.
Frank and the Wondercat by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa
Another festival gem this year, also about a life well lived, was Frank and the Wondercat (2015), directed by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa, both of whom are Simon Fraser University alumni. Frank Furko is an aging eccentric, completely and willingly lost in memories of Pudgie Wudgie, his beloved pet cat, and their rise to cult fame. Frank and Pudgie put on a series of shows together, with Pudgie dressed in a variety of costumes while performing tricks for the camera, and the pair went on to rub shoulders with the likes of Maury Povich and David Letterman. Though Pudgie passed away in 2001, Frank still lives his life in reverence of their time together, telling anyone who will stand still long enough about the glamour of life in the spotlight. Frank and the Wondercat affectionately captures Frank’s love for his late companion, but it also reveals how deeply Frank is immersed in reminiscence, and how difficult it is for him to pull away from the past.
The film was compiled of both Frank’s personal VHS archive and footage taken by the two filmmakers, shot over the course of several years and with a 4:3 aspect ratio, so as to mimic the VHS format. The final picture was less about Pudgie Wudgie and more about Frank’s dependance on their relationship. In one scene, Frank speculates that Pudgie knew he had been rescued through adoption, and that’s why Pudgie was so obedient. But the film tells a different version, a reversal. As was said by Massil in a question period after the screening, “Pudgie Wudgie sat through all of the costumes and sunglasses not because he enjoyed it, but because he somehow knew that it was for Frank, that this is what this other creature needs.” Frank and the Wondercat was a portrait of kinship beyond simple definition. Frank Furko had a true companion in his silly, patient cat, and has been changed because of it. What could be more heartwarming than that?
Follow Sarah's instagram for more of her film fuelled escapades at @sarahmbakke. Hit up the VIFF website here.