Monday, December 21, 2009
1 the girlfriend experience
2 tie: Public Enemies/ ne change rien
3 inglourious basterds
4 Tie: Fantastic Mr Fox/ Ricky
5 Les plages d'Agnes
6 Lorna's Silence
7 Hurt Locker/Tyson
8 35 Rhums
9 Two Lovers
10 tie: 36 vues du pic Saint Loup / Summer Hours
11 Tony Manero
12 A Single Man
14 tie: Chelsea on the Rocks/ la frontiere de l'aube
15 Alexander the Last
singularities de jeune fille blonde
bad lieutenant: pocno
bizarrely inappropriate yet rewarding:
Precious: based on the novel Push by Sapphire
(and to a lesser extent, regarding rewards,) up
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Echoes of spiritual unity:
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
So this Alien is, like a child, both strange and foreign yet familiar and familial. Furthermore, it is politicised by its rapid change and visual alteration; culminating in a machine -like (due to metallic like head and skull) one that seems to directly compete with humanity. As Sobchack aptly notes, contemporary filmic morphing prefers alignments with imaginative evocations of Production over representations of the Fantastic. After the two initial live Alien scenes --the parasitic facial status of Kane , and Kane's subsequent live torsal birth of the baby alien, we have already seen two separate visual presentations of this creature. Denied exposition, it remains unclear if this is fully based on age or if the Alien is capable of multiple morphed identities. Does the Alien only appear increasingly familiar post torso delivery because it absorbed something from the human during it's facial hosting? Perhaps we are bearing witness to two distinct renderings of a single idea? The Alien is depicted in varying forms of nightmares. These modes are always genedered and increasingly engineered through technology.
Alien has a Marxist bent on these morphing images. Countering the spectacle of techno dazzle and productionless product is the human crew that fights to kill the Alien. They are the wage- earners who are hired by a corporate enterprise to carry a mineral ore back to Earth. These blue collar regular joes speak to one another as if they were sitting at a diner counter, but as it happens they populate a spacecraft in the near future. But just how does one situate gender back into Scott's critique? We know SciFi depicts the Feminine figure as potentially monstrous. But Alien actually gives us a double identification in terms of Feminine viewpoints. We have both the feminine Alien, planting eggs and searching for hosts to breed its babies, and we have the primary human character (and antithesis) Ripley, a woman seen sans child/family, protecting her ship (Mother) and literally shooting the Alien out of it with air decompression. Creating what amounts to a massive vacuum to shoot out the Alien stands out as the single most intelligent, empowered tactic that any human has taken in the course of the film. As viewers we applaud her decision, her implementation and her humanity. How nice to watch a film where the hero aborts the baby and saves the world.
Monday, April 6, 2009
I saw Oshima's Pleasures of the Flesh for the first time yesterday. I couldnt shake the thought that it was like Brewster 's Millions by way of Vertigo , which sounded pretty goofy. Hoping to clear up my mixed thoughts, I revisited Walter Hill's Brewster's Millions. Hill subverts the normal linearity of the narrative tracking poverty to wealth. Hill's images are complicated by a temporal collapse within the individual frame. Each shot is an image of a poor man coinciding with the image of a man who has accumulated an excess of wealth. A fractured temporal palate where the road to wealth implodes on the path back to poverty, or vice versa. A rather traditional mainstream comedy radical for inverting American inventiveness. Creating wealth; an idea made visible in his ingenius ruses to give wealth away. That visibility is doubled in the inanely repeated attempts to design the room he could die in.
Pryor's physical presence is eager and clever, an affability under constant threat from a pathos that can't be smiled away. Opening the film is the singlular sight of him playing minor league baseball. Closing the film, about 10 minutes before the end, there is a shot that frames his Cubs jersey hanging in an empty closet, encased in dry cleaners' plastic. Are all identities tied up in commodity fetishism? Do we purchase our societal roles ? His uniform is branded with the "Cubs ; a stigma that also indexes his societal goals. Perhaps it reveals the entire 'plot' as a conduit, a baseball play . All of this desperate machination, these "proofs" of worth that Pryor's Brewster must exhibit, are really just the inventiveness that is necessary to play the game; whether that game is baseball, American history, or the role of an African American Man, it really makes no difference. Wealth remains the goal, but now it is achieved by emptying and backtracking. All the commodities wealth can accumulate are revealed as shallow ciphers. In the world of Brewster, commodities are obtained to become poor, or rather, almost wealthy. Lacking money signifies a crisis in temporality-- a frozen moment in wealth, the moment we can pause between attaining and getting rid of material commodities.
Friday, January 16, 2009
While Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind struck its spectators with anxieties about loss of memory and the speed in which the pleasures of the present constantly erode, Be Kind Rewind ...well...basically does the same thing. Both are films about romance, and Be Kind Rewind is even more on point about the romance and love of cinephilia; along with more populist types of movie love. Film lovers know that such love , like romantic love, can lead to obsession, but more specifically the love of film can lead to compulsive behaviour and to fetishism. Perhaps that is why Gondry chose to specify that all 3 of the main movie loving characters in Be Kind Rewind (Glover, Black, Mos Def) are all unattached romantically.
Glover's character expresses angst over Def's character's responsibilities in the Be Kind Rewind video shop: he has anxiety over maintaining the image and maintaining a structure in which it can be shared and repeatedly experienced. His shop is in a state of constant danger and threat-- the threat of going out of business, the threat of competition and the threat of his employees' neglect.
Some critics (Hoberman, A O Scott) aptly commented upon inherent issues of ownership in the world of movies. After all, these films become part of popular culture and live on in our minds, so aren't we rightful in our ownership and our decision to remake them; be it in improper memories or the phsycialisation of this in Rewind's "sweded" products? I see Gondry's film as pre-occupied with temporal anxieties and the compulsive behavior we enact in order to deal with this angst. This is about VIDEO, the first mainstream way for people to fetishize films. They became objects we could covet, rent, own, rewatch, break apart, PAUSE, rewind and fast foward to our compulsive content. Celluloid does not last forever. Cinephiles covet restorations as much as seeing archival prints that may not survive the next time they are due on the repertory circuit. Video, too, has already proven itself to have recently become an artifact.
As Laura Mulvey writes in Death 24 x a Second, "The representation of time has taken on new signifcance". In her chapter "The Possessive Spectator" she elaborates: "With electronic or digital viewing, the nature of cinematic repetition compulsion changes. As the film is delayed and thus fragmented from linear narrative into favourite moments or scenes, the spectator is able to hold on to, to possess, the previously elusive image." Movies on video become less narrative tales than iconic moments, easily identifiable punchlines and gestures allow new levels of abstraction to prevail. Narrative causality is lessened and film has the potential not just to inspire "a deep and durable sense of ownership" as A O Scott notes, but to become part of a ritualised obsession.
The crisis in the image extends beyond the ephemerality of the easily destroyed videotape. Unfortunately, the novelty and perfect Crystal Image (of the Deleuzian sort) behind Be Kind Rewind’s conceit seems to wear off before it ever expands. All that remained, for me, was a bizarrely unfunny and nearly unwatchably affected pluralistic romp.
Yeah, sure. Ok. Love of film should be utopian. I’m all for that. It’s a little hard to swallow in a film that ends up so off course from an amazing concept. And it’s an especially bitter pill, coming from the director of Eternal Sunshine, a funny and smart romance of obsession and fetishism. A film that equates the insane compulsive re-creation of doomed love with the loving , ever so slightly “sweded” recreation of Alain Resnais’ awesome Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime.
I don't know if its my inner cinephile or inner loner, but whatever the reason, Wall-E spoke to me.
Identification and empathy followed the film's awesome 1st 45 mins. The pretense of daily labor revealed as meaninglessness -- psychic boredom kept busy. Filling his spiritually emptied life with an apartment overflowing with junk and purposeless tasks that double as rituals. The diamonds are in the detritus. Wall-E's life belongs to things; objects of (Commodity) fetish, such as in his fixation on a scene re-watched on a VHS of Hello, Dolly. Being able to witness the transformation of that fetish onto a real figure with romantic potentiality (Eva) was brilliant.
4 Gran Torino : A great American film.
Clint Eastwood is like Fuller's White Dog. A B movie that turns itself into an A movie.
5 4 months, 3 wks, 2 days: abortion: how the fear of time (in its exactness; the constant awareness of it bearing down on us and the loss of minute after minute..) becomes related to the process of fundamental healthcare needs and freedom for Women.
Like the less successful Revolutionary Road, this film is marked by one quietly iconic , straightforward image that is simply unforgettable. (Rev Road has Winslet's character standing by the window with the huge blood stain covering her panties and skirt. ) 4 months has the bathroom floor scene, with the aborted fetus.
Both films, although fully grounded in reality, have elements of the horrific. It is important to note that the horror in these films is built around time constraints that connect to a lack of narrative options for each respective character, and that both films take place where and when abortion is, quite unfortunately, illegal and thus unsafe...
12 watching the last mistress is sort of like watching an episode of The Bad Girls' Club, or Vh1's Charm School. Argento's character is all externalisation. All she does and thinks seems reactionary and desperate. Cunning and plotting and loving, yes, but a victim to men. She seems to fool herself into thinking that reacting like a crazy person will make them give a shit about her. Her veil of power and strength is eventually revealed after her miscarriage pushes her further out of the narrative frame of reality. She makes a choice to live inside her pain; the world of the film delegates her to hide in an isolated cottage.
The film studies her, reveals her lack of agency and transmits her emotional wounds with a smart visual composition.
A masterfully simple feminist film.
7 still life
17 pineapple express
19 four nights with anna
Too late blues
(I'm shocked I almost forgot I saw these this year...) Celine et Julie vont en bateau ...AND...
la salamandre (BAM)
ossos paints a picture of lived experience. The locus of this experience is quite specific -- we as spectators feel the smallness of the impoverished Creole neighborhood in Portugal that seems like the entire world to its inhabitants. But ossos is more concerned with the specificity of how it's characters experience time than in how they experience their limited space. Perhaps it is that the focus on their experience of time is the primary guide to this neighborhood.
When I saw the film, it's director, Pedro Costa, appeared in person and provided some discussion. He mentioned that he started with one basic visual concept which led him to create a story, albeit one muddling distinctions between documentary and narrative. That initial image was of a young father with a young baby. Ossos lets us in as the story has already begun. We are left with impressions and feelings and images more than we are left with any exposition. Near the beginning of the film, we see a very young woman bring home her newborn. There is a disconnect between her and the child. The mother's eyeline seems to refuse to meet the baby's gaze, and the long durations of shots with little to no action occurring reflect the inner emotional stasis that is experienced both within the mother as well as between her and the child. We are refused emotional outbursts and there is minimal dialogue at best. In one shot, the mother sits with her child , but the child is on the other side of the couch. The mother sits back, facing straight ahead, and the child is lying down on the far opposite side of the couch...facing the edge of the furniture, unable to experience her mother's face or figure. Not only do their gazes never meet, but mother as director has ordered the space that is created and subsequent blocking of space between them. There is little to no action occurring, the camera position is fixed and the shot length is rather long. The spectatorial expectation of mother-child bonding is summarily refused. Instead, the spectator experiences a lack of physical connection. The spectator is doubled in these characters' inability to identify. The camera's gaze never identifies with either the baby or the mother, whose trajectories never cross. Both are illustrated as occupying different planes in one fixed space, so the length of this emptiness, this grand amount of time in all these shots of mother with child--walking in the hospital, seated in a car, on the stairs, on this couch, becomes our primary experience of a relationship. A relationship that is both a presence (the biological fact of them being mother and child) and a lack (the interior distance).
One of the first times we see this lack of intimacy is when they ride home from the hospital with another, older woman. Perhaps she is the baby's grandmother, but no relations are made explicit. As the new mom blankly looks ahead, the older woman glances at her, trying to meet her gaze. She seems to express surprise, and then busies herself tending to the baby that the mother refuses to bond with. This fleeting image of confusion intimates the mother once had a more intimate connection with her child; meaning before she actually gave birth. Perhaps the distance this young mother is experiencing is as a result of the move from internal connection to external connection. There is a doubling , a unity of consciousness in a woman whose body sustains the life of another. All that changes when the mysterious and unknown entity morphs into its own newly self-sustained, potentially unknowable entity. Many women experience some version of Post-Partum Depression that gives rise to such lack of compassion for one's own child.
Ossos uniquely composes its images with what may be described as contradictory axioms. The film connotes intense emotion that is evoked through physical stillness. This stillness of mise-en-scene and exposition turns spectatorial focus inwards and allows us to question what intense inner processes must be keeping this woman from expressing love for her child.
We first see the father carrying the baby without any narrative set -up or causality established. We can only gather that it has actually happened somewhat later on in the film. The father is out on the street and he carries his newborn in a black garbage bag. The suddenly oppressive sound is strictly diegetic. The frame is now full with pedestrians and traffic-- filling the shot and consistently causing the spectator to lose the father and child in the crowd. The initial move from quiet to noise is mirrored in that it is from the mother and child to the father and child. The stillness of the mother's existence signified a resistance...perhaps to emotional connection, perhaps a resistence to external reality. Later in the film, the new mother abuses narcotics; further resistance by purposefully altering her own perception of time and feelings. With the father, we move to a resistance that is all about acknowledging and facing that external reality. The struggle of the crowded and noisy street points towards the larger struggle the father will soon deal with -- achieving the necessary connection and assitance to feed and care for his baby-- all dependent on his negotiation with externality- - the resistance he finds from the people outside of the immediate family of new mother, new father and baby.
Near the film's end, focus is again resumed inside the house of the mother and her child, perhaps due to an elliptical editing style, but also because the struggle of the father is aligned even closer with that of the mother. A young mother who is never seen feeding or loving her child? She'd be demonized in classical narrative cinema, but what initially seemed like a contradictory experience between the mother and the father is really brought home as a reflection of images that closely parallel one another. Ossos is composed of persistent struggle via stasis. This resistance to external help and the subsequent action to receive it, this refusal to have intimate connection with one's child is simultaneously a fight to save the child from one's own internal/external death. These characters are ghosts that move around the narrative action/inaction quite differently, yet to similar aims. Death seems to seep through them, yet the delay of its onset is as crucial as it is certain. Refusing the conventionality and finality of narrative closure, Ossos' aesthetic refuses us the process as well. There are no clear causal links, no narrative momentum that ever adds up to antything finite; no final stillness or peace.
Instability of movement is integral to Gigi's trajectory. She is one of these girls in the frame, and she is brought into focus only by the unsung vocal storytelling of Honore. She is as much conjured by his imagination, a figure fueled by his fantasies and desires, as she is an actual character in the film. Not unlike Charisse in Brigadoon, but without the more obvious plotline, Gigi remains both a figure of older male imagination as well as an index pointing to female identification, characterised by her refusal to grow up into the model of elite femininity that is ordered by her family and society. The quiet visual dualities are complicated by aural incongruities. Both Honore's song and his spoken narration signify both romantic pleasure and a dirge to the lost romantic possibilities of an aging man.
Gigi is an interesting mesh of girlhood rebellion and precocious sexuality. Caron is partially playing her as an innocent girl, often phsically clumsy and off handedly graceful, bounding up her home's green moss -covered stairs in steps of two and flopping herself down with emphatic speed and weight. Her role as a visual image is complicated by the obvious performative nature of this immaturity and jouissance. The simultaneously garish and eye-popping depth of color to her green and red plaid school girl jumper and her primary blue sailor -ish school girl dress is matched only by the saturated opaqueness of her velvety red home -- blanketed in this impenetrable and passionate (and sexual) color from wall to furnishings. Initially appearing to be a corrective to the proliferance of the femme fatale, Gigi is actually equally as fetishized a visual image. Just as the femme fatales overcomensated by distraction: overtly sexual behavior and dress, physical mannerisms and delivery, Gigi's overly performed youth also creates an instability in the image. Along those lines, the near bawdiness of the deep reds and pinks and solid blues further illustrate the performance and production of the role of innocent girl. If a fetish overcompensates for a psychological anxiety, then in Gigi it indexes the general anxiety expressed by many of the film's key characters (including Gigi) -- that of the passage of time and the loss of romantic desire.
These anxieties are visually and spatially reflected in both the song Honore opens the film with, and in two early musical numbers sung by Gaston (the first of which is shared with Honore.) In "What a Bore" Gaston evokes a world devoid of interest or excitement, but as Honore contests each verse with the magic of the Seine or of the Tour Eiffel, Gaston shoots him down with what sound like classically bourgeois negations. The immobility of the adults is tied in to the enchantment that is felt only by the young, or by those adults who exist in a frame that is continually surrounded by the movement of young women. The film actually depicts elitist social mores as stiff and frozen: in certain scenes, by the tennis court and in the dining hall, glances in the background can catch society type characters who seem frozen into an elitist pose. The scene when Gaston takes Laine out to the dining hall ("She's Not Thinking of Me") creates a freezing of both image and sound (albeit sans the actual mechanism of the fully stopped frame or of the edit). Gaston's dialogue is suddenly cut out and we only see his lips move as he walks in. All the diegetic sound is abruptly replaced by affectedly loud voiceover acting as a collective societal whisper to gossip about him and his date (along with other men and their respective dates.)
Gigi is as much a girl is she is a woman or cinema itself. She is a conjured image, tailor made for a man desperate not to lose the desire that triggers his movement, both in romantic narrative trajectories and in social climbs to success. But Gigi is a film as much about the anxieties of aging and losing one's youth as it is about the ephemerality of ATTRACTION itself. The short-lived duration of girlhood to the sexual female figure is as brief a turn as the entirety of many of the film's romantic relationships. Both Gaston and Honore are seen to have (ahem) more than a few different romantic partners. If desire is short lived, what is Gigi's half life? Aflter all, every woman was young once. Is Gigi really unique, or only for this tiny glimpse of time? Her mutability, her performed innocence and her contradiction of youth and romantic appeal are all the components to trigger the look of male desire.
2007 is the year that pregnancy became fetishized in popular cinema. The new wave of pregnancy "comedies", Juno, Waitress and Knocked Up, engaged and proliferated spectatorial anxieties about women's bodies and their agency. All three of these films appeared easy to swallow , humorous and light - hearted, but they fetishize the image of reluctantly pregnant women. Fetishes overcompensate/distract from a psychological anxiety. So what anxieties are these reactionary films trying to reduce? Perhaps a reaction to 2006, the year of Inland Empire, where the feminine image transcended itself and left the realm of male obsession. Dern's character defied time and space within the ruptures of Inland's narrative structure. Inland depicted "A Woman in Trouble" as the only possible figure(s) with which the viewer could identify. Her character's short pregnancy came to a quick end with a screwdriver in the stomach, but the experiential nature of time (prolonged duration) in that scene was what made it a filmic exploration of female experience. 2007 sadly failed in its attempts to give the public pregnant women as figures of maturity or of strength. The largeness and strangeness of these young ladies' new bodies miraculously rids them of their agency. Unwieldy bellies, morning sickness, it's all played for comedy and it succeeds in humor that privileges the spectator as the one who is free to move around unencumbered. It seems that the male gaze has fought back...with unfunny jokes.
In slightly less popular cinema, miscarriage, and the threat of miscarriage, surfaced in Eastern Promises and L'Interieur (Inside.) Eastern Promises opens with a woman's Christmas-time death, but it begins as a very-near miscarriage. The present action of L'Interieur occurs on Christmas Eve. In L'Interieur, seemingly inexplicable violence is being carried out by a Trouble Every Day-ish Beatrice Dalle towards a (nine-months) pregnant woman. La Femme seems determined to get her hands on the woman's unborn baby. Dalle is later exposed as a woman who suffered a miscarriage due to a car accident involving the pregnant woman. But is Dalle 's "femme" so different from Naomi Watt's character in Eastern Promises? Both are haunted figures that exert extreme forms of behavior, attempting to recover from a sense of internal loss. They explore a uniquely traumatic feminine condition: simultaneity of life and death within the female body. We learn Watts has broken up with her boyfriend and recently miscarried a child. Promises opens with a mafia execution, immediately cutting to a Russian woman's near miscarriage and the subsequent saving of the baby by Watt, playing a midwife becoming obsessed with this motherless child. Cronenberg gives us two beautifully reflected images; the moral code of the mafia infiltrates Watt's own values in recovering from the loss of her child, and evocation of the mafia is uniquely feminized as a means to nurture and protect one's family.
The gangster genre, with its roots in the Western, has always had themes of community and boundaries; keeping the family together and keeping threats outside. The horror film, as L'Interieur illustrates, has roots in anxieties of the monstrousness of pregnancy and of the female figure. These genres become hybridized through what they share. Dalle's Femme is both the antagonist and the Cowboy in the White Hat: she is the outsider who must be contained as well as the defender of her own internal community-- one that was already (as she sees it, murderously) intruded by the woman whose baby she hunts. Both of these films wisely toy with genre to investigate moral and physical boundaries.
A survey of a nation begins with a survey of a street. The camera is poised high above. The street is marked by a focal point at its center, an ancient statue that seems to be aiming upwards like an arrow or index. The statue stands erect and immobile. Centered by the camera's frame, it serves as a visual relic, fingering towards the past. A point around which the action (traffic) radiates, yet an immobile one that seems to impede the overwhelming sense of flow which otherwise defines these opening shots. A sign of ancient history around which the modern buzz of people are moving in and out. Crowded rivers of traffic illustrate the signs of modernity.
Nothing is stationary. Traffic is bustling and constant. The camera movements are dynamic. A freedom of motion is expressed, aesthetically and thematically. The year is 1958 --though the film also covers 1957--the duration of production yet another reflection of temporal crux. The country of interest is India, and the director is Roberto Rossellini.
Just a few years prior to making India: Matri Bhumi, Rossellini took a narrative film with two movie stars, (Viaggio in Italia/Voyage to Italy) and took a rare and revolutionary oppurtunity to infuse classically narrative filmmaking with a more modernist narrative path; depicted as it is by alienation, a slowed-down narrative pace, melancholy, interior psychology and fatalism. India exists almost tangentially to Voyage. Its motivation of montage seems instigated by rumination, reflection and a psychological yet non-voyeuristic observational interest. Voyage is characterised by a series of scenes that meander or radiate from the central "voyage." Speaking to a new type of cinema, the film's construction also speaks to a specific mood and tone that is characteristic to both time and place. The uncovering of relics in Pompeii and the rumination of an unhappily married woman are two such examples. India seems to be more in the form of documentary than of narrative storytelling, but you can feel Rossellini nudging at the walls of narrative formalism.
Documentary and fiction merge. India blurs the impentrable wall that classically separated these two narrative forms. The blurring maintains only the skeletal form of narration in order to drain the illusionary quality of cinema from its well. The film depicts India in a few separate episodic portraits. One subject of these portraits follows the observation of elephants...both as a majestic species and as modes of transport. A subtle co-mingling of tradition and modernity again inserting itself across the screen. The camera often hovers as an unobtrusive observer. This refusal to engage in tradition is no refusal of movement. Movements occur slower and with more internal focus. After the humans have left the elephants, the camera will linger; recording their sounds and their bathing. Time slows as the camera works to avert spectatorial expectations and ruminate on mood and feeling. The voiceover narration is dry yet informative.
Another episode focuses on a monkey who has been taken from its wild home and separated from his tribe. It has been co-opted by man, and once its owner passes on, the monkey out of synch and out of time has become the focus of the film. Another tangent overtaking the story, a modernistic device used in Voyage as well as throughout India. The image of the clothed and domesticated monkey, isolated in the frame of his wild relatives, is a tainted and unnatural image. The radiation that is graphically depicted in the opening shots (echoed with marvelous circularity in the closing sequence) serves as both an introduction and a summary to aesthetic form and content. The sadness of the denatured relic is brought home in these final moments...memory having tied together the loose narrative threads brought out through the subsequent episodes. From the glory of the elephants to the sadness of the old man run ragged in a small village, to the isolation of a relic monkey. The monkey has perhaps the most melancholic role of all. He is an index to a time out of joint. From realism to illusion to neo-realism and modernism; the remains of these movements are mirrored back to us in the shameful, denatured image of a monkey cowering alone in the frame. Dressed in a man-made costume, he is as spectactular, out of fashion and obtrusive as the marriage of modern transportation and ancient statues that are captured in India's opening scene.
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