Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Screening Log

Color coded via Dan Sallitt's method (Current or upcoming releases not included).  Link included when discussed at some length.
  1. How Green Was My Valley (Ford, USA, 1941) (Letterboxd)
  2. Seconds (Frankenheimer, USA, 1966) (Letterboxd)
  3. Fury (Lang, USA, 1936)
  4. Safe (Haynes, USA, 1995) (Letterboxd)
  5. Clando (Téno, Cameroon, 1996) (Letterboxd)
  6. Cold Water (Assayas, France, 1994) (Letterboxd)
  7. 24 City (Jia, China, 2008)
  8. Black Girl (Senembe, Senegal, 1966)
  9. Voyage to Italy (Rossellini, Italy, 1954)
  10. To Be Or Not To Be (Lubistch, USA, 1942) (Letterboxd)
Also Notable: Borom Sarret (Senembe, Sengel, 1963), Keita (Kouyaté, Burkina Faso, 1995), Magnificent Obsession (Sirk, USA, 1954) (Letterboxd), Yo Yo (Etaix, France, 1965) (Letterboxd), Adanggaman (M’Bala, Burkina Faso, 2000) (Letterboxd)Un Flic (Melville, France, 1972) (Letterboxd)Waiting for Happiness (Sissako, Mauritania, 2002) (Letterboxd)

Revisited List (Aka The "/s")
  1. Le Cercle Rouge (Melville, France, 1970)
  2. The Man With A Movie Camera (Vertov, USSR, 1929) (Letterboxd)
  3. The New World (Malick, USA, 2005) (Letterboxd)
  4. Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, USA, 1998) (Blog Post)
  5. Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Talor, USA, 2009)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Image of the Day 4/28/2013

Adanggaman (Roger Gnoan M'Bala, Burkina Faso, 2000)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Image and Quote of the Day 4/26/13

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, USA, 2001)
Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed. Hauling them into the daylight can be risky. Within a few hours, a precious trophy of childhood or a first romance can crumble into rust.

—J.G. Ballard, Looking back at Empire of the Sun, The Guardian (March 3rd, 2006)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to Write A Counter-Intuitive Approach to Art (Or: Labuza's Guide to Contrarianism)

Art and criticism are fundamentally built on the nature of discourse. If criticism was, as Rotten Tomatoes may want to suggest, about consensus, there would be no point to criticism. Someone had to criticize the problematic ugliness to Rembrant's figures before someone could value it as a revolution. The author has to be murdered by Barthes before it can be reclaimed. Cinematic discourse depends on the ever impossible question: frame or window?

The goal of the critic should be a personal statement, and my favorite statements are often ones that in no way reflect my feelings toward the art objects I'm seeing. How did that person see that idea in that thing? This is most remarkable when a critic approaches a work that not only reflects something very different from my own judgment system, but everyone around me. 

While most people call this contrarianism, I call it the counter-intuitive approach. I also think there’s a difference between the two. Contrarianism, as the connotation suggest, goes against the grain: it’s fundamentally seen as a negative. Counter-intuitive suggests a new way of reaching a goal, something that uses a new method to approach the same issue. There’s a positive spin to it: a suggestion that this approach can create a new way of viewing the object at hand.

I wanted to write this for a few reasons, mainly because more often than not, I’m seeing more and more posts that could be labeled as contrarian, including my own. Some of these pieces I think are very good, others I think need work. The desire to write something contrarian often comes from the wrong energy, as well as the clicks and hits that come with it (see: any Slate headline). So this is partially an attempt to reclaim that energy.

I also wanted to stake my own claim and give myself a series of principles to work off from. If you want to write something that suggests a counter-intuitive approach, I would suggest some of these guidelines.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Terrence Malick's To The Wonder

This past
Is now here: the painter's
Reflected face, in which we linger, receiving
Dreams and inspirations on an unassigned
-John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1975

Update: I wrote a second piece on the film here.
         Terrence Malick has always made movies through himself—his view of the world, and how his eyes connect to the experiences he sees and grapples with. There have been countless attempts to describe his perspective: the connections between man and nature, life and death, the one and the many. “All things shining” to use that final, elliptical line in The Thin Red Line. It almost feels like there is no point in attempting to articulate Malick anymore: even the closest descriptions often still fail to capture the opulence of his filmmaking. But the one person who hasn’t questioned or described Malick’s filmmaking and philosophy is Malick himself.

            The often described as reclusive director—a statement that fails to see that his “non-statements” are just as telling as those whose blabber appears on talk shows and Twitter—has made a new film, coming to theaters under two years after his massive project, The Tree of Life. But To The Wonder, a title filled with both richness and hidden meanings, is not an extension of that 2011 tone poem of childhood nostalgia and cosmic grandeur, but instead almost its polar opposite.

            Malick has often placed himself at the centers of his narrative: the one who speaks for him: Holly, Linda, Witt, Jack, often speak for him. His films, thus, have been more or less about him enforcing his philosophical perspective onto the worlds of his characters. The tension released by this—often by imposing his style onto classic American genres like lovers on the run, WW2 combat picture, and childhood melodrama—has always released by Malick’s side “winning.” We give into his view than the one we’re used to.

            It is essential then, that Malick’s own figure in To The Wonder is passive, lumbering, somewhat adrift—a heavy figure nailed Neil, played by Ben Affleck. His muse, Marina, is the floating, beautiful, and always reaching for the sky Olga Kurylenko. She’s the main figure in the film—and certainly the Malickian figure. But she is not Malick. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Images of the Day 4/12/2013

Unstoppable (Scott, USA, 2010)
Climates (Ceylan, Turkey, 2006)

"A painter working with tempera could modify and re-work the image, but the process was quite painstaking and slow. Medieval and early Renaissance masters would spend up to six months on a painting a few inches tall. The switch to oils greatly liberated painters by allowing them to quickly create much larger compositions (think, for instance, of the works by Veronese and Tician) as well as to modify them as long as necessary. This change in painting technology led the Renaissance painters to create new kinds of compositions, new pictorial space and even narratives. Similarly, by allowing a filmmaker to treat a film image as an oil painting, digital technology redefines what can be done with cinema."
—Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, 2001

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Radical Democracy: Mythos and Politics in Saving Private Ryan

“A compass points to true north, but it gives no indication of the swamps and marshes along the way.  If you just use the compass you will get stuck, and what use is knowing true north if you are drowned in a swamp?”
—Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln

            I had the immense pleasure of revisiting Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan for the first time in at what must be at least over half a decade if not longer. It appears, since its release, the film has been attacked more and more for essentially being a piece of propaganda—well made and beautifully shot propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. I'm told that Saving Private Ryan valorizes the soldiers of World War II while slyly attacking the generation of both soldiers and films of the Vietnam Era.

            Certainly Saving Private Ryan asks us the memorialize all those who fought in the Greatest Generation, but what the film doesn’t do is ask us to see their heroics in the same way American culture often does. Saving Private Ryan is essentially a response to the Norman Rockwell way of life, often using his iconography to question what the good society is. In the end, Spielberg proposes a radical social democracy that mirrors Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, where democracy and our relationship to it is not built on the principles of the state, but a series of small intimate relationships built around living the good life.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

Story here.
Open Thread. Memories, favorite writing, anything welcome.

The last two paragraphs of his "Great Movies" essay on Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Says more about life than the film, as all criticism should aspire:

"Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw "La Dolce Vita'' in 1960, I was an adolescent for whom "the sweet life'' represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello's world; Chicago's North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello's age.

When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself."

Monday, April 01, 2013

White Elephant Blogathon: Promedio Rojo

My (very unfortunate) contribution to the White Elephant Blogathon, as run by Paul Clark

            Exploring foreign cinemas can be a delightful insight into cultures we’ve never been able to visit--Except when you realize there’s a reason you only see films from Michael Haneke, Pedro Costa, or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. I remember an episode of Siskel & Ebert back in the day when they were forced to review a dreadful French sex comedy, and Ebert explained that the reason we all think foreign language movies are so much better is because we don’t see the stuff that doesn’t get exported. And boy, is there a lot of dreck out there.

            For all of those who think Chile is a land of beautiful landscapes and fascinating culture, guess again! Chile’s youth are just as sex-driven, misogynist, racist, and the scum of the Earth as any other teenage culture existent today, which makes you feel better about American kids if not worse about the world. There’s no better example this than 2004’s Promedio Rojo, a box office hit in Chile from director Nicolas Lopez. Think Superbad and Scott Pilgrim combined, but take out all of the charm and what you’re left with is a film where the best thing I can say about the main character is he’s not a rapist, because standards.

March Screening Log

Color coded via Dan Sallitt's method (Current or upcoming releases not included).  Link included when discussed at some length.

1. The Brothers Rico (Phil Karlson, USA, 1957) (Letterboxd)
2. The Night (Mohammad Malas, Syria, 1992) 
3. Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1967) (Letterboxd)
4. (nostalgia) (Hollis Frampton, USA, 1971) 
5. The Driver (Walter Hill, USA, 1978) (Blog Post)
6. The Three Musketeers (Paul W.S. Anderson, USA, 2011)
7. The Whole Town's Talking (John Ford, USA, 1935) 
8. Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor, USA, 2009)
9. Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1956) 
10. My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, USA, 1945) 

Also Notable: Resident Evil: Retribution (Paul W.S. Anderson, USA, 2012), Tout Va Bien (Jean-Luc Godard, France/Sweden, 1972), Universal Soldier: Regeneration (John Hyams, USA, 2010), Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan, Canada, 2011), Le Bonheur (Agnes Varda, France, 1965), Gamer (Neveldine/Taylor, USA, 2009), The Ninth Configuration (William Peter Blatty, USA, 1980) Chronicle of a Disappearance (Elia Suleiman, Palestine, 1996)