A round-faced, pop-eyed, stringy-haired Buddha type, Kornbluth casts himself as a professional office temp, an aspiring novelist and dithering slacker whose greatest joy is sacking out. (It's a timely conceit, although the onstage Haiku Tunnel was first performed a decade ago.) Not consistently funny as a raconteur (his delivery lacks modulation), he's almost always lovable as a character. Indeed, his greatest talent may be that of inspiring sympathy. (One running joke has "Josh" using the fearsome chief secretary as his surrogate shrink by filling her voice mail with his lengthy free associations.) Watching "Josh" perform, it's difficult not to root for himparticularly as his mess becomes increasingly hopeless.
Kornbluth allows room for some enthusiastic secondary performancesparticularly his blandly high-powered boss (Warren Keith, seemingly imitating the first George Bush)but the movie is basically a one-man show. This broad, sometimes silly, evocation of office politics may lack a Gogolian sense of hierarchy or a Kafkaesque edge of terror, but it's evident why it went over so well at Sundance. Haiku Tunnel is an indie inspirational. It's unpretentiously low-tech and humorously offbeat. And against all odds, the filmmaker emerges as a star.
Directed by Jacob Kornbluth and Josh Kornbluth
Written by Jacob Kornbluth, Josh Kornbluth, and John Bellucci
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens September 14
Directed by Maurice Tourneur, from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
Accompanied by Jon Spurney
American Museum of the Moving Image
Having completed its run at the Whitney and begun its replay at Anthology, the "Unseen Cinema" series touches down for a weekend at the American Museum of the Moving Image. The theme is the intersection of Hollywood and the early American avant-gardebracketing, for example, dance director Busby Berkeley with independent abstractionists like Oskar Fischinger and Mary Ellen Bute.
The rarest item screening may be Maurice Tourneur's The Bluebird, a 1918 Famous Players-Lasky production adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck's popular stage play. Made at least a year before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this allegorical account of two children's search for the Bluebird of Happiness has a number of expressionist touches, including exaggerated shadows, optical distortions, blatantly two-dimensional backdrops, and animated silhouettes. Another anticipation of Caligari is no less striking: As numerous film avant-gardists would, Tourneur goes forward by going back. The Bluebird is deliberately anachronistic in quoting the primitive "trick films" (by Georges Méliès and others) that had passed from fashion a dozen years before.
A relatively lavish production for its time, The Bluebird eschews the rapid-fire editing characteristic of post-D.W. Griffith American movies in favor of the cluttered tableaux of 1905. It might be subtitled "A Pageant of Living Pictures," particularly as much of the Wizard of Oz-like plot has to do with the coming to life of various household objects. In his major concession to naturalism, Tourneur allows his extremely relaxed child performers to, in effect, groove on the hallucinated doings around them. At the end of the movie, one kid stares straight into the camera. A title then follows: "Please, all of you, look for our Bluebird with all your hearts. Be sure to look first in your own homes, where he is most apt to be found." It's a thought that might have been articulated at the end of Rock Star or Haiku Tunnel.
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