Friday, March 29, 2013

A Butterfly Amongst Bullets: Malick's The Thin Red Line

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
—Wallace Stevens, Of Mere Being

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fearless: Jazmín López's Leones

Jazmín López's Leones is playing as part of the New Directors/New Films festival, on Monday, March 25th and Wednesday, March 27th. You can buy tickets here. Go.

“A long tracking shot is always a statement of liberation.”
-Robert Kolker

“The greatest novelty of the recent cinema is the appearance of worthy treatments of religious subject matters.”
-Andre Bazin

            Cinema began stationary. Sandow flexed his muscles for the camera. The train rushed into the station. Melies and his crew moved into the frame to perform their action. The camera recorded, but it was a dispassionate observer. The camera was not yet the camera.

            Once the camera moved, it also began a new life. It became expression embodied. It became a life force with its own gestures and language. This is not to discount the beauty of the stationary camera—Ozu made this his life blood. But a moving camera creates its own narrative, beyond the characters and beyond the text perhaps. It becomes a sensuous, breathing validation of art.

            Leones is a film that validates the history of tracking shots while also pushing it into a new future. Leones is only about cinema in the way every film can be claimed to be about the cinematic process. Its director, Argentina’s Jazmín López, utilizes the purpose of the tracking shot in so many unique, forceful, and honestly humbling new forms. But the film is also a journey of the spirit—a film that doesn’t just imply cinema can depict a spiritual journey, but can itself be a spiritual journey. This is a film that takes the camera and morphs it into Virgil, Dante’s guide through the beyond. Have I mentioned yet that Leones is an outright masterpiece and perhaps one of the great works of world cinema of our contemporary moment? Allow the hyperbole.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Images of the Day (3/16/2013)

Week-End (Godard, France, 1967)
Crank II: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor, USA, 2009)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday, March 04, 2013

Image/Text: Jonathan Rosenbaum, Present and Les Miserables

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Present (Vishnevetsky, 2013)
Les Miserables (Hooper, 2012)
The image-text relation in film and theater is not a merely technical question, but a site of conflict, a nexus where political, institutional, and social antagonisms play themselves out in the materiality of representation…The real question to ask when confronted with these kind of image-text relations is not “What is the difference (or similarity) between the words and the images?” but “what difference do the differences (and similarities) make?” That is, why does it matter how words and images are juxtaposed, blended, or separated?
-W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Visual and Verbal Representation

I was briefly struck while watching Jonathan Rosenbaum, Present how much the main shot used to represent its ontological subject: a single light with a mostly out of focus background, the camera handheld, often attempting to re-frame its subject. Of course, it reminded me of Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, which used a similar shot for the film’s apparently “big show stopping” moment of when Anne Hathaway[1] sings “I Dreamed a Dream.” At the time, I shouted at the screen (I was at home), “Holy [explicit]! Just keep the camera still.”

Jim Emerson nails exactly the problem with this, beyond the content of what she is singing: “On the most obvious level, the actors are playing to the balcony while the camera (and those wide-angle lenses) push their faces into ours. It's like ‘Full Metal Jacket: The Musical!’ with all the parts played by R. Lee Ermey.”