Thursday, May 31, 2012

Screening Log: Post-Hiatus Catch Up

              Well that was longer than expected. I’ve come to the point where not writing about movies is worse than me than doing nothing, as films easily populate space in my mind instead of things I’d rather never have to think about. And during my long hiatus, I took in quite a few films (I hope to have reviews of Elena, Men in Black 3, and The Color Wheel up soon). I’m breaking up my usual style this time around, as I’ve annotated most of the films I’ve watched, though in much briefer notes. I also have a call for comments and discussion about thoughts on a few of these, so please respond below!

-The Tiger of Eschhnapur, 1959. Directed by Fritz Lang. 35mm projection at Anthology Film Archives.
-The Indian Tomb, 1959. Directed by Fritz Lang. 35mm projection at Anthology Film Archives.
-The Grand Illusion, 1937. Directed by Jean Renoir. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-On Top of the Whale, 1982. Directed by Raúl Ruiz. 35mm projection at Anthology Film Archives.
-Mulholland Dr., 2001. Directed by David Lynch. DVD.

            Perhaps the closest that a “mainstream” American film has come to the avant-garde moment. What makes Lynch so accessible compared to other artists working in the same sort of vein is that Lynch’s starting points—glamor of Hollywood, film noir—are so familiar and accessible to cinephiles. Lynch relishes in these classic tropes and drowns us in their illusion. The other big thing I noted is that while the narrative is much more disjointed, I felt a much more tonal and thematic balance in this film when compared to Blue Velvet, that felt a bit unfocused when I last watched it (mainly in the latter Frank sequences). There’s more control and the feel of an assured director in Mulholland, so when it heads into the bizarre, I never flinch, but instead let it suck me into the world. “Silencio” becomes the ultimate metaphor for the film—the most beautiful performance you’ve ever seen with disturbing emotion, though it is of course, all an illusion.

 -Rushmore, 1998. Directed by Wes Anderson. 35mm projection at Museum of the Moving Image.
-The Royal Tenanbaums, 2001. Directed by Wes Anderson. 35mm projection at Museum of the Moving Image.

            I haven’t had a chance to see the very lauded Moonrise Kingdom, but will hopefully soon. I was glad I watched the amazing seriesof video essays by Matt Seitz before catching these, as I really felt I had a much more perceptive feel on the films than I did when I originally watched these two years ago. What astonished me about Anderson while watching these films is how intelligently crafted his films are in their visual storytelling. Every reverse shot, dolly move, song choice, or zoom communicated the feelings, emotions, desires of the characters in a way that I always knew why he had made that choice. I’m not saying every filmmaker should follow this kind of model, but it works perfectly in the stories Anderson tells (my two favorite moments: Margot getting off the bus—which feels directly ripped from Sharon Stone’s entrance in Casino—and “Needle in the Hay,” which devastated me). I still have one issue with Anderson as a filmmaker (no, not that he makes the same film or he makes films only about white people); I often find his characters seem to be redeemed a little too easy. In Rushmore and Tenanbaums, Fisher and Royal seem to continue being who they are, though their desires slightly change. I guess this could be said as what makes his characters much more interesting (their methods remain the same but are used for greater goods). I find it quite interesting that I used to consider Max Fisher a great kid, but he really struck me as an asshole this time around that really grated on me, and the forgiveness by others seemed to come a little too easy. Please sound off in the comments if you can on why I’m wrong!

-Irreversible, 2002. Directed by Gasper Noe. Streaming via Netflix Instant.

            Now we’re getting into some post-break up movies! In one of the interviews I read after watching the film, Noe discussed how he added a certain bass sound in the sound mix that’s designed to make the viewer feel sick. And the first half of this film horrified and sickened me in a way I couldn’t stop watching. Noe is interested in film as a physical medium; Enter the Void I feel was about trying to create an out-of-body experience for the spectator. As the film went through its bizarre and disorienting night club sequence, I was hooked. And as brutal as “the sequence” is, I couldn’t stop watching because I was blown away by the audacity to simply hold the camera like that for so long. However, after that sequence, I have no idea why I’m watching the movie. The elongated subway sequence felt like some sort of subtle connection to the events of the future (aka previous), but I didn’t see as much connection as filler. There’s no way to get past that the second half of the film is completely dull, and the attempts to fill the narrative with some sort of commentary can’t get passed the film’s really bland dialogue (Enter the Void has very similar issues). If anyone wants to make a passionate defense of the second half of the film, please comment away.

-Boy Meets Girl, 1984. Directed by Leos Carax. 35mm projection at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

            More pains of break up! I hadn’t planned to see this, but when the reports of Cannes festival favorite Holy Motors started trickling in, I decided it was finally time to see some Carax, and what an awesome film. The comparisons to early Godard are clear in the film’s unique style, though here Carax really, really cares for his characters. So many sequences visualized the pain in beautiful ways—the imposition of a face of a lover across half the screen, the protagonist watching a couple kiss like they are in a perfume ad, the moment we hear the voiceover of his ex discussing sex with her new partner (though we never see it). The film hits every note of both sour and humor, often through these enigmatic sequences that dazzle while never being too serious, and all leading to a wondrous dinner party sequence. The film sadly ends with what I felt was a bit too contrived plotting for what is often a highly plotless film. But the strengths of everything else made up for what felt like a strain to get an emotional payoff the film didn’t really need, and there were so many other elements to grasp that I didn’t care one single bit.

-Drive, 2011. Directed by Nicolas Wining Refn. Streaming via Netflix Instant.

            I was home last weekend and my dad wanted to watch something fun and exciting, and despite my previous thoughts, I gave Drive another chance. At the end of the film, my dad simplified the same criticisms I had: “Why was it called Drive when he’s smashing all these people in the face?” The first two thirds of this film struck me as expertly crafted as I remembered, especially the film’s giddy sound design. But it’s when the film decides it’s no longer about driving but about some Grimm’s fairy tale allegory that the film loses me, as it seems to go off in a completely different direction. Lots of great films have done something like this, but the problem is that Refn is so meticulous and so structured in his visual design that the film lacks that sense of organic and open chance that a film like Jacques Deray’s The Outside Man shows off in every scene. The elevator scene doesn’t come out of the natural flows of the narrative; it feels self-imposed because that’s the way the director wants the film to head. And that, my friends, is why I’m completely taken out of this film by the end.

-Citizen Ruth, 1996. Directed by Alexander Payne. Streaming via Netflix Instant.

            I don’t have much to say on this film, because it speaks so wonderfully for itself, but I just wanted to note how great the final shot of this film is, which is what I call pitch-perfect satire.

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