Tuesday, August 3, 2010

68 Sentences

Carax remains one of the few genuine mysteries in cinema because he puts everything out in the open. The Heartbreak Kid is a comedy of repeated phrases or words ("50 years," "teddy bear," "Minnesota," "wonderful," "don't like," "Jockey Club," "ni-i-i-ce," "pecan pie") that become mantras or magic spells that imprison the characters; for Charles Grodin's character, every utterance turns the key a little further in the lock. Tennis and soccer depend on an evenness of light, on illumination, to provide drama (through clarity), while the drama of boxing lies in shadows. In his 1960s and 1970s films, Zanussi delivers well-reasoned, well-argued reports on the narrative complete with facts (throwaway moments captured in images, like the old friends checking their hairlines in the mirror in Structure of Crystal) and figures (the cause-and-effect of the plot); the films are well-reasoned experiments devised in order to demonstrate certain theories about human activity and experience (human evidence). Moral vs. ethical filmmaking: the moral is that which reaches for the impossible and the ethical is that which chooses, out of a list of possibilities, the one that most closely resembles a shadow of morality. Fassbinder used post-synced sound extensively; it's the most brutal aspect of his films (as it was with Antonioni), even more than the fatalistic movements and framings he gives the camera, because, while the camera may turn away, the microphone remains poised in the same position in front of the actor's mouth. Few movies are ever saved in the editing, but plenty have been ruined in it. All films nominally about girls are really about the boys who watch them. In regard to classical Hollywood filmmaking, the editing is usually the most overlooked aspect; part of this might be the length of the takes, but it might also be a bit of auteurist bias. King Vidor's best characters are unindividualistic individuals. My Wife is a Gangster: a good laugh, sometimes resembling a pre-Code American comedy, but that’s it, since the movie's not directed much better than a joke is usually told. Van Damme directed poorly is still Van Damme. Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls: Metropolis' Hal + Shelley Duvall. Hartley was the best of the directors to emerge from the American independent filmmaking boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s: more sensitive than Van Sant, better at combining his interests and his education than Haynes, more concerned with form than Soderbergh. Verite (Clouzot): in the courtroom, to show her seriousness, Bardot wears her hair in a bun, looking like Tippi Hedren. Viewed as a Flash Gordon serial or a space opera (with Clive Owen as the dashing starfighter pilot), Elizabeth: The Golden Age ain't that bad. We had Westerns in Italy and Spain; we can handle a Romanian film from Chile (Tony Manero), though one wishes it was better. With Oliver Twist, Polanski's isn't trying to be Dickens -- he's trying to be Cruikshank, reducing Dickens' characters to their essences (looks, faces, features). When Claude Jade puts on the "Japanese" make-up in Bed and Board, Truffaut is making a reference to Tashlin's The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (Tashlin, of course, plays his scene for comedy, and sides with the wife). Directors are the ones who must learn to express themselves fully without having their voices heard or their words read. The least sophisticated forms of montage often have the most complex results. The landscape is the oldest image. The simplest ideas are the hardest to grasp / master (no one could play a scale like Coltrane). The bras women wear in 1950s and 1960s French films make their breasts look like knees. When someone says they don't care about artists, what they mean is they don't care about art, because art isn't some nebulous force that comes out of the ether: it is human expression and human work. Jesse Eisenberg: a second-rate Michael Cera but a first-rate actor. Everyone's been obsessed with the mundane, "the quiet;" too many films deny the excitement of everyday life. Matt Porterfield’s Putty Hill is set in Baltimore, but it could just as easily be St. Petersburg, Florida (like Chris Fuller’s Loren Cass), or a less urban part of the same state (like Trans, Julian Goldberger’s first movie), or in Jem Cohen’s Georgia or even somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (like, to a certain extent, Dance Party, USA, Aaron Katz’ debut), or Detroit or Cleveland or Northern Indiana or Toledo or Akron or any of the hundreds other American cities and towns where these sorts of movies haven’t yet been made but probably will be in the next few years, because for all their regional specificity, Putty Hill and the films I’ve mentioned share enough stylistic qualities and stances that it would be possible for them to swap locations; they constitute a shadow movement. What movies often forget: war is not corpses, it's the reality of having to walk past the corpses to get to the market every day. Jarmusch had discovered something that seemed obvious: a sort of rigid and physical non-time, the concreteness life takes on when you don't wear a watch. The Fountain: every image is carefully lit, designed and manipulated, and not one of them is worthwhile (see also: It's All About Love). In the early days of the cinema, no one thought to point a camera at the sky. There's no need for poetic realism, because realism is poetry enough. Up in the Air: a mixture of "Yes We Can" populism and passable melodrama that suspiciously resembles an American Airlines ad; hypocritical while also lulling its audience in hypocrisy. Serge Daney once pointed out that cinema could be like the rear view mirror in a car, moving forward while it keeps looking back at a dissolving past. I think there's been enough chance and accident in film methods; time to get back to a cinema of decision-making. The way Peter Lorre puts on his shabby coat in Crime and Punishment: pure Chaplin. Love with the Proper Stranger: film about uncompromising people than ends in compromise. The problem with modern Westerns is that so few are made nowadays than whenever someone gets around to making one, they feel like it should be the Western to End All Westerns. The dialogue and the camera eliminate every tangible "naturalistic" emotion, leaving only the basic urges Blier is interested in. Only forgeries need to be realistic. It's a well-known fact that Bela Tarr is a fan of Night at the Crossroads, and it's become something of an "accepted idea" of sorts that The Man from London is largely indebted to Renoir's intoxicating, enigmatic movie ("BT does JR") -- but actually, the movie The Man from London resembles (and I don't mean just a passing resemblance, but a total physical resemblance) is Henri Calef's Les Violents. It's important to make serious inquiries into unserious subjects. In A Gentle Woman, Bresson reduces a complex domestic drama to several shots, intercut, of two people eating soup. Shin Eun-kyung has the sort of face that gets ruined by showy make-up and the sort of slim figure that looks good in a men’s suit; she's better with her hair short, and her slouch is more attractive than her saunter. Wenders' goal: to mix literary "great themes" with observations of the minutiae of life. A note to directors: even children don't like being treated like children. Though Amreeka's script seems to have been collaged out of panels from Sally Forth, For Better of Worse and Cathy, it contains the only convincing high school principal in the history of American cinema. Montage is, at the most basic level, "the presentation of images," so Russian Ark is, in fact, a masterpiece of montage. Walter Hill belongs to the best sort of hardworking men, a sort that's always damned when they become successful: he works well with sparse resources and no expectations, but give him too much money (Another 48 Hrs.) and he doesn't know what to do with it. There has never been as much variety in cinema as there is now. What I like about I Can Do Bad All By Myself, besides the fact that Tyler Perry writes consistently funny, snappy dialogue and the fact that he knows the rhythms of his actors and the fact that Madea's verbal / vocal shenanigans make me laugh the same way Julius Kelp's and Eugene Fullstack's do and the fact that every actor can sing pretty well and might at any moment break into song, is the sense of purpose in its every element. Gerard Depardieu is slowly turning into a perfect sphere. We think of the movie camera as something beyond writing because a writer is only capable of writing down his or her thoughts, while the moment you start filming, you begin recording all sorts of things you aren’t even aware of, maybe even things you won’t discover until decades after the fact. Scripts are expected to be written slowly, and films are expected to be made quickly. Tilda Swinton in Julia is every graceful attribute taken to the breaking point, with a leg emerging from a car becoming unsteadiness and the lighting of a cigarette a disaster. Radzilowicz, Depardieu, Gabin: the most trustworthy faces in cinema belong to wide-nosed men. There's no image in cinema that brings a person closer to being a monument or a statue than a figure against the sky. The definition of Woody Allen's style is a struggle with the self to prove that the subject matter he's chosen was worth choosing; form, therefore, becomes that which justifies the content. Chahine was cinema's great slave: to the culture he was born into, to the history taking place during his lifetime and, of course, to the movies, to whose many shapes he was passionately devoted. Jean Rabier is the most underrated of the major Nouvelle Vague cinematographers (and maybe that fate seems inevitable for the man who was for decades the regular DP of Chabrol, the most underrated of the major Nouvelle Vague directors; but then again, Rabier shot Cleo from 5 to 7, Bay of Angels, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Le Bonheur and lent his precision as camera operator to Leon Morin, Priest -- but we're back where we started, because that's the most underrated Melville). What is admirable about Dirty Work is that, though not everything about the movie is funny, every element of the film constitutes a joke. There is great cinema that goes unnoticed because no one regards it as cinema. Abraham Polonsky understood words chiefly because he understood feelings; he could see the emotional punches in the gestures and actions that made up everyday life. Eisenstein may have made his films based on theories, but he developed those theories out of curiosity, not out of the assumption that cinema always functioned based on principles. Ethics constitute the lowest form of morality; the moral is often unethical. People who contend that everything is bad are the ones who'll most readily settle for mediocrity. Good ideas are not good enough.

2 comments:

Veronika Ferdman said...

"The definition of Woody Allen's style is a struggle with the self to prove that the subject matter he's chosen was worth choosing; form, therefore, becomes that which justifies the content."

That's an interesting point. It made me think of Rosenbaum’s essay on Allen, “Toward the Devaluation of Woody Allen” in which he wrote that as a director Allen’s style is “unformed and unrealized” as well as derivative (the latter part I would concede is not entirely untrue). Allen’s films are the closest to my heart, for narrative as well as aesthetic reasons, and I think he has a very distinctive style if for the simple fact that after just a few frames, without even hearing any of the dialogue it’s possible to tell that it’s an Allen film. There’s an almost dusty warmth to his images and gracefulness of camera movement that’s all his own.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Veronika,

Allen, to me, is a problematic filmmaker whose films I enjoy more often than not (if, I remember correctly, Rosenbaum -- as is common with many directors he's considered a "detractor" of, like Spielberg or Bergman -- has a more nuanced relationship towards Allen than mere dismissal, and has written very positively about some unpopular Allens like Curse of the Jade Scorpion). But, for better or worse, I think Allen's style, which has a very clear evolution over time and distinct periods, is undeniably neurotic, and he picks particular framings or influences less out of "artistic motivation" than a desire to prove something about the script: that it is funny or that it is serious or that he's familiar with certain techniques.