(Dir. Antonio Johns)
I saw this on a train. I was traveling from Seattle to Portland by train, and the person sitting next to me asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with him. READ MORE >
This year, I tried to get caught back up on films. And even though 2013 is far from over, here are my favorites so far:
- A Field in England (Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump)
- Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
- Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón & Jonas Cuarón)
- Iron Man Three (Shane Black & Drew Pearce)
- Le joli mai (Chris Marker; revival)
- Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)
- Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
- Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green, + here’s hoping Paul Rudd is Ant-Man)
- Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh—technically 2012, but I didn’t catch it until this year)
- The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson; ditto)
- The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
- Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
I have plans to write more about 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 12. As well as 9, perhaps. (But not 10.)
Other new films I’ve seen and enjoyed to varying degrees:
25 Points: 12 Years a Slave’s Glaring Flaws Won’t Deny It A Oscar — (Django Unchained Also Discussed)
1) Django Unchained is a “better” movie than 12 Years a Slave.
2) Harold Blood, Samuel L. Jackson (Stephen), and Brad Pitt (Bass): these three form the bedrock of the most original part of my argument. Force of character. Force of personality. (I’ll talk more about this later on).
3) The next part of my argument resides in “excitement”. In aesthetic pleasure. Yes, there’s something pleasing and thrilling about Tarantino’s excesses and indulgences, his operatic screams. And there’s something pleasing, immensely pleasing, about his success in creating a Western (a spaghetti Western) within a Slavery landscape because, well, that’s no easy task.
(and, plz, here let me point out that “Best Picture” does not mean “Most Necessary Picture”)
4) And the most important part of my argument is that 12 Years a Slave, though flawed, has become a kind of Sacred Cow and, thus, tends to get a free pass since it is so “necessary” (which it is, since “Americans tend to have amnesia about historical events*” and in the case of Slavery and all its horrors the amnesia is compounded by “deep trauma*”). So, because the movie is a valuable and needed wake-up call we can and need to kind of sweep its problems under the rug:
12 Years a Slave has some of the awkwardness and inauthenticity of a foreign-made film about the United States. The dialogue of the Washington, D.C., slave traders sounds as if it were written for “Lord of the Rings.” White plantation workers speak in standard redneck cliches. And yet the ways in which this film is true are much more important than the ways it’s false. (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle)
5) The quotes starred (*) above are from a TIME interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr. This interview’s a decent quick-bite read, but much more valuable and meaty is Gates’ interview with Tarantino (you can find it here on The Root) which is a wonderful series of insights into Tarantino’s intentions as well as Gates’ opinion of Tarantino’s accomplishments in what Gates calls “the best postmodern take on Slavery*.”
(* this last quote, again, is from the Time interview in which Gates also hails 12 Years a Slave as “the most realistic account of Slavery”).
6) An important and necessary movie, again, of course, isn’t necessarily the best movie, but here are some quotes from Anthony Stokes’ “On How 12 Years a Slave Succeeded where Django Unchained failed”
“with a matter as serious as slavery you should have more respect.”
November 25th, 2013 / 4:21 pm
Directed by Béla Tarr
Screenplay by Lászlo Krasznahorkai
DVD: Facets Video, 2008
435 minutes / Available on Amazon
Released in Hungarian in 1985, Satantango, László Krasznahorkai’s first book, was translated into English only last year. Published by New Directions, the novel displays the melancholy, bleakness, and long sentences that define Krasznahorkai’s other books (War & War, The Melancholy of Resistance, etc.).
Krasznahorkai’s collaborator and fellow apocalypse maker Béla Tarr adapted the 288-page novel into a seven-hour film in 1994. Because of the duration between the appearance of the film and the publication of the English translation, we (like most) had watched Tarr’s adaptation long before reading its antecedent. This reversal of the traditional adaptation-viewing chronology (in addition to Krasznahorkai’s role as screenwriter) makes it difficult to think of the novel independent of the film. But despite the convergence of the two forms of Satantango, we do not believe the demands of the long take are the same as those of the long sentence.
What follows is a collection of take-by-take notes on disc one of the film and the corresponding passages of the novel. (Notes on discs two and three are forthcoming.) Our time stamps are based on the Facets Satantango DVD (2008). Throughout the notes, we acknowledge differences between the novel’s content and the film’s content, as well as translation differences between the novel and the DVD’s subtitles.
We see a cow emerge from behind the building, nothing in front of him but a vast scene of thick mud with glimmering streaks of wetness that resemble the trails that snails make when they zigzag across dark pavement. One cow becomes many, and they slowly make their way together. No one leads them or chases them but they seem to know their way. They take their time. They have, it seems, all the time in the world. One even pauses to mount another. This scene, though absent from the novel, sets a haunting tone of obliteration for the film. We watch the cows, then continue to watch, continue to watch past the time of watching, past the time of a simple a gaze or witnessing, look at them for so long that when the camera finally moves away from the herd of animals and pans past the dilapidated buildings, the mundane and bleak textures, the strange marks and letters, the utter signs of disintegration and decay become for us a relief. The wind howls and it feels like silence, yet it is not silent. We can hear the cows’ feet move through the mud, the mooing; the sounds are almost daunting, eerie. Without music (we keep waiting for it, hoping it will come to shake us out of the strange unreal reality of this scene, random sounds that seem to anticipate some cohesive and introductory soundtrack), the scene is discomforting but mesmerizing. Here, inside the muddy world we have found ourselves in, we learn to wait.
[1:35–9:06 / not in novel]
“One October morning before the first drops of the long autumn rains, which turn tracks into bog, which cut the town off, which fell on parched soil, Futaki was awakened by the sound of bells.” (Satantango, film)
“One morning near the end of October not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the estate (later the stinking yellow sea of mud would render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells.” (Satantango, novel, page 3)
[9:06–9:50 / page 3]
THE NEWS IS THEY ARE COMING / NEWS OF THEIR COMING
We become complicit in anticipating THEM.
[9:50–9:58 / page 3]
There’s a window centered at the top of the frame. We can hear a sort of musical drone and subtle bells as the room and window grow brighter. At 11:15, there’s off-screen noise—the sound of Futaki removing bed sheets, we surmise. (Note that there’s no clock sound yet.) We come to consciousness with Futaki as he stands and limps to the window at 11:40. He’s wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts. The room, a kitchen, is now visible. The sound stops, and Futaki comes back toward the camera. The ringing starts up again and he returns to the window. It stops once more and Futaki comes back to the bed. (In the novel, this scene contains a penetrating intrusion into Futaki’s thoughts.) “What is it?” asks Mrs. Schmidt, beginning the film’s first dialogue. Futaki tells her to go to sleep, then says he’ll “pick up [his] share tonight” or the following day.
[9:58–14:17 / page 4]
The camera has turned 45 degrees to the right, facing a small fridge and another table. Shod with laceless high-tops, Mrs. Schmidt crosses the frame from right to left. She moves almost out of frame to take a rag from the door; then she comes toward the camera, raises her nightdress, and squats over a pan. No face. Her head is on her left knee. She splashes water up at her crotch and then stands to wipe with the towel. She exits at left. A fly comes into frame. In the novel, Mrs. Schmidt is a sour-smelling woman. In the film, we have instead this sour-looking image of her. It’s significant that this scene comes so early in the film: an introduction to a quotidian perdition.
[14:17–15:33 / not in novel]
Mrs. Schmidt’s back is to the camera. She’s sitting at the table/window among a collision of patterns: wallpaper, curtains, table cloth, seat cushions, bureau cloth. Off screen (from bed), Futaki asks her, “You had a bad dream?” At 15:42, the fly appears on the seat cushion, hums.
Her dream: “…he was shouting…couldn’t make out what…I had no voice…. Then Mrs. Halics looks in, grinning…she disappeared…. He kept kicking the door… In crashed the door…. Suddenly he was lying under the kitchen table…. Then the ground moved under my feet….”
Futaki’s reply: “I was awakened by bells.”
Alarmed, Mrs. Schmidt looks over her left shoulder and asks, “Where? Here?”
“They tolled twice,” says Futaki.
“We’ll go mad in the end.”
“No,” says Futaki. “I’m sure something’s going to happen today.” (Our introduction to the anticipation that’s central to Satantango.) Does Mrs. Schmidt smile at this?
Like the bells that Futaki hears, Mrs. Schmidt’s dream is proleptic: Schmidt comes to the door, and Futaki shuffles off.
[15:33–17:50 / pages 6–7]
Though the density of text in the novel (there are no paragraph breaks) creates a lack of a clear hierarchy of action or language, in the film we follow the camera’s cue, the camera’s gaze. As Futaki hides in the other room, we stay on his side of the door. A mini-drama unfolds on the other side, but we are prevented from being invested in that. Or at least our distance from the scene doesn’t allow for that kind of emotional complacency, at least not yet. We wait with Futaki. Even after Futaki enters the other side to retrieve his cane and exists for a moment in that other space, currently inaccessible to us, the camera chooses to linger here. The indifference of the scene, the door, the camera. Then, with the waiting, the textures of the wallpaper and curtains starts to take on a strange form, as when you stare at a word too long and it begins to morph into something unnatural.
[17:50–20:10 / page 7–8]
There is the strange frantic hurriedness in the novel as Futaki internally exclaims about the temporary intruder (though perhaps it is arguable who is the intruder in any particular situation), “He’s going to take a leak!” In the film we are a silent observer of Futaki silently observing Mr. Schmidt taking a leak outside in the now very familiar Beckettian mud.
[20:10–21:34 / page 8]
November 25th, 2013 / 12:24 pm
HERE’S ONE FOR the year-end lists.
Few things are more pointless than commentary on minimalist works. In approaching their skeleton we ourselves are stripped in our arrival, so tho we may have hoped to drape those bones with what little flesh is left, none holds. It slops to the ground. These bones don’t require our witness. They stand just fine on their own.
Similarly, there’s little I can say about A FIELD IN ENGLAND (dir. Ben Wheatley) that won’t in some way color the experience of watching it when it needs no color at all, even in its psychedelia. The film is excellent, and no doubt would lend itself well to studies of altered states and sidereal space.
And if by chance the film invites or inaugurates a genre?
Let’s say, WITCH BECKETT. I’d gladly welcome more like it.
Here’s the trailer for a taste.
1. Peter Greenaway and Jean-Luc Godard have made a 3D omnibus film (along with one Edgar Pêra). The 2D trailer is here, and you can find information online: CinemaScope / Fandor / The Hollywood Reporter / Mubi / Variety.
3. A lot of people don’t know that David Lynch once made a video for Sparks, but you’re not one of them:
And this is also relevant.
4. While we’re all here, we might as well look at this.
5. As well as this. Pretty well-done, no?
Halloween isn’t just the fat kid’s holiday or an excuse for women to dress in revealing costumes, it’s a celebration of the darkness in all of us, that which civilized society is desperate to deny.
Most importantly, it’s a reason to watch kick-ass movies.
Below is a list of films, via youtube, that most probably haven’t seen. The quality of some are moderate, but enjoyable, and adds to the charm of the film, especially those from the seventies.
I feel like most people right now watch whatever is conveniently served via Netflix, Amazon or Hulu The hunt has been lost with the near death of the video store. Something I personally dislike.
My goal isn’t just to talk about movies but also to encourage people to go outside of their cycles, to look for films worth remembering.
Happy Halloween, shitheads.
Before the entitled enthusiasm of Yolo, there was Memento mori, of essentially the same message, as conveyed by endless still lives centered around the human skull. “Remember that you will die,” in contrast to “you only live once,” is grim not because of death, but that — like children with brushing teeth, or a guy on his anniversary — we must constantly be reminded of it. Had the makers of Memento (2000) known about Instagram, its screenplay might have worked differently, with our more efficient protagonist streamlining his way through the narrative. Instagram supplements its photos with immediate nostalgia, as if we — in our frantic only living once — could no longer wait for an event to age naturally. We wanted quick memories of moments which seemed like they deserved to outlast time. On April 12, 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion dollars, and later that year, changed its copyright section in the Terms of Service such that any user content could be sold to third parties without notification or compensation. This would not be a problem, as users would be flattered, floored even, to find their trite moments corporately noticed. Call it inverse stock photography. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) suffers from anterograde amnesia, chasing suspect signs and symbols, stuck in the purgatory of self-deception. The inability to produce new memories is far more tragic than the more common retrograde amnesia, in which one loses their past but may produce a new one starting at the point of their affliction. It is, in a way, being born again. In 1972, Polaroid introduced “instant film,” what became subsequently known by the company’s name. The immediacy of a memory, as commemoration of a transient life, may be archaic after all. The polaroid’s faded light and approximate shadows were less of an aesthetic than merely technological constraints at the time. As the inferior image slowly surfaced from the depths of that lush creamy void, the exhilarated holder would compulsively shake the photograph at every moment of its development, as if to summon more memories.
[This post's incipient idea is indebted in large part to this tweet.]
If you live in or around the Bay Area, tonight is your chance to see Konrad Steiner’s brilliant film, way, a visual response to Leslie Scalapino reading her long-form poem on the soundtrack. Here’s the copy from the website:
The film is showing tonight (9/26/13) at the YBCA, both at 6:30 & 8:00. Konrad Steiner will be present for both screenings, which I imagine will mean there will be some discussion after both. It’s a brilliant film (spoiler: I’ve seen it, & it’s almost overwhelming) that really challenges the viewing experience, as it forces one to drift through their senses, focuses on image, shifting focus to hear Leslie’s audio, trying to mete both, it’s an appropriately challenging film for a challenging poem–both the film & the poem are also, as I’ve said, brilliant.
For more information, or to buy tickets, visit the YBCA’s website.
Stephanie Barber’s movie DAREDEVILS (2013, premiering at the NY Film Festival next Thursday) is—among the many things that it is—a feature length narrative, and in itself an act of daredevilry. It is not an experimental film—that is, it doesn’t have much in common with the “traditional experimental film”—and it is a “movie” in the sense that it contains character development, relationships, dialogue, recognizable images, movement, music, and storytelling. The traditional three-act structure, however, is rearranged, subverted, and therefore not present to comfort you, and what’s more, the story demands your participation—and a rather rigorous participation. Like all stories, this one is a mystery, and you might say the involvement of the viewer in this story is similar to the mystery in which the audience sets out to solve the mystery. If reading the clues presented here will lessen your enjoyment of the movie, you know who you are and should stop reading now. Otherwise, read on. READ MORE >
What if Macaulay Culkin’s parents never came home after Christmas and the movie just ended. What if his Munchian “scream” stayed glued that way, in some German expressionist hell. The aftershave wore off, his soft cheeks speckled with facial hair growth as testosterone came, the perceived alienation of adolescence followed by the real one—of traffic jams, grocery store lines, and distracted doctors who don’t look you in the eye—of adulthood, our walking parody of actualized nightmares. Every week or so, new burglars (subconsciously, pedophiles) would try to break in, and Kevin’s contraptions of evasion would become more and more sophisticated, personal and sadistic, until they resembled the death machines in Saw. In rare footage of Jeffrey Dahmer being filmed during Christmas by his father in the living room next to a tree, ridden with then technology’s VCR static, he leans away with such repulsion—for whom, one wonders—that you mistake him for a vanishing point, like some Renaissance man finally understanding depth perception. After the bodies and/or their parts were discovered in Dahmer’s apartment, they tore down the famous-yet-unrentable building, leaving all the residents at the whim of city housing. Jeffrey’s neighbor and former friend, a big black Baptisty woman, recalled having her “sanity pushed to the limit” having eaten sandwiches at his home. “I have probably eaten someone’s body part,” she says, addressing the camera in eerie second person, “how dare you do this to me?”
Video for “Grunion Run,” a story from Juliet Escoria’s collection BLACK CLOUD, due out in 2014 from Civil Coping Mechanisms.
Story originally published in full here.
[Note: This review discusses the entire film, and as such contains many spoilers.]
1. The World’s End is a challenging film that’s already well on its way to being misunderstood. I myself got it entirely wrong on my first viewing, after which I concluded that it was the simplest and weakest of Edgar Wright’s movies to date. After a second viewing, I can see more of the film’s intricate design, and now think it might be Wright’s most complex work, and possibly also his best.
Part of the problem is that I went in with wrong expectations. The World’s End is a very different movie than Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. It’s funny, but it’s not as funny as its predecessors, and I thought that a problem. I wasn’t alone—Anthony Lane, for instance, wrote of it in the New Yorker:
“the patter of laughs [...] is less breakneck than it was before, and the result is strangely sour and charmless by comparison. [...] I cannot imagine returning to it the way one does to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz,’ hungry for fresh minutiae.”
But this is a film all about returning, and the minutiae are there. They’re just invisible on a first viewing.
2. The World’s End is indeed a soberer film than its predecessors. This isn’t a problem, though, because the film, while comedic, isn’t ultimately a comedy.
Wright & co. do try to alter our expectations. Consider the opening narration, in which Gary King triumphantly recounts a twelve-tavern pub crawl that he and his mates attempted in 1990. Although they conked out nine pubs in, King proudly pronounces the night the greatest of his life.
From there we cut to an unflattering shot of him seated in sweats in a rehabilitation center, decrepit, gaunt, and totally spent. It’s a funny transition, to be sure, but it’s uncomfortably funny, and more than a little bleak—our hero’s a drug addict, something the film doesn’t want us to forget. As others continue speaking, King zones out, lost in his memories . . . only to be replaced by an image of what he’s doubtlessly thinking about: a beautiful shot of a beautiful pint of golden beer, over which Wright applies the title: “The World’s End.”
And for King, that’s true: beer is the world’s end.
3. King begins the film a tragic character, his many flaws all apparent. Only he recalls the past as glorious. Everyone else is glad to have left it behind, and now thinks him mad—a loser unable to function in the world of 2013. King’s biggest mistake, his error, is that he never moved on, never shaped up, never got with the program—he never grew up. As such, he’s treated like a child—as he later cries, complaining about the rehab center, “They told me when to go to bed!”
The message would appear simple: This is going to be a film about learning to mature. “You can’t live in the past, Gary King!”
But what if it turns that out one can? What happens if we take Gary King seriously?
[Update 1 September: Since posting this, I've seen The World's End a second time, which radically changed my opinion of it. I now think it an extremely complex film and a masterpiece, perhaps even Wright's best work to date—see my second attempt at a review/analysis.]
1. I love everything that Edgar Wright has made.
2. Spaced is one of the cleverest sitcoms I’ve ever seen, demonstrating repeatedly how innovation can be wrested from the most hackneyed cliches of a given form.
3. Shaun of the Dead I rank among the greatest zombie films made, the full equal of Night of the Living Dead and (the original) Dawn of the Dead.
4. Hot Fuzz is probably Wright’s best film to date; three viewings in, I’m still grasping its subtleties.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is my probably favorite film of the past three years—when I am honest with myself, I’m forced to admit that I love it even more than Drive or The Ghost Writer.
6. Edgar Wright is the only celebrity that I follow on Twitter.
7. I now go into everything that he makes expecting nothing short of sheer brilliance and genius.
8. I went to see The World’s End opening day.
9. It pains me greatly to say that the movie is, to date, my least favorite work of his.
In a 2010 Grace Kelly inspired front-cover profile of Lohan for Vanity Fair, the Nancy Jo Sales we know and love states: “Lindsay looked a little raw. And yet shining through her worry and stress and whatever else was currently affecting her mood was her all-American beauty, finer and more delicate in person than in pictures. She still looked like a movie star. She smelled of cigarettes and exotic perfume.”
A very embarrassing thing I have fully embraced about myself is that my brain holds too much information about Lindsay Lohan. In a hypothetical quiz where I was presented with a random photo of the actress, I would swiftly be able to easily identify what specific era it is derived from, as well as extensive details that to someone unfamiliar with her saga would seem chimerical. When names like Patrick Aufdenkamp become familiar, I begin to wonder why I care so much. There is an element of irony in my admiration, but there is no doubt I do hold a positive stance about the starlett.
Tabloids and gossip magazines often report the behaviors of young stars. A large segment of the tabloids focus on those who act entitled and expect special treatment due to their fame. The inquiry ‘Don’t you know who I am?‘ is most frequently perceived as pompous, but maybe it should also be interpreted as the absolute cry for help. The person posing such a self-important question is so unaware of his/her reality that s/he needs others to remind him/her of it. The worth or lack of worth ultimately appears to fully depend on the recognizability of the individual.
In “The Schema of Mass Culture,” Adorno argues that the commodification of the cultural industry ceases its distinction from pragmatic life: “On all sides the borderline between culture and empirical reality becomes more and more indistinct.” Consequently, the individuals who find themselves in the culture industry confront the loss of their private reality, especially when their public presence is one in which they are investing in to develop a personal brand. As the person becomes the product, the risk of losing a part of their previously held individuality becomes grave: the personality features that are expected to generate more profit will comprise the new “person,” more representative of the brand/ product.