Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Creepy Carax cameo / 977 (Nikolai Khomeriki, 2006)

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Rohmer Lean

The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993)

Claire's Knee (1970)

The Green Ray (1986)

Bresson's characters are famous for their perfect posture; the kids in The Devil, Probably may need haircuts, but they stand straighter than soldiers. Bujalski's are famous for their slouches; they look as though they're ducking under the low ceiling of the frame.

Rohmer's are somewhere in between, often holding their bodies in a stylized imitation of casualness. A mock physical candor. Illustrated above: the Rohmer lean, a sort of artful half-slouch that you see Rohmer's male characters doing again and again. The hip is slightly pivoted, the weight shifted in a way that allows for long conversations while standing. The beauty of the Rohmer lean lies in the deployment of the elbows. Really, Rohmer's films are all about elbows (planted on tabletops, jutting out, tucked away), and his characters communicate more with their elbows than most movie characters do with dialogue. If Fritz Lang's is a "cinema of the hand," then Rohmer's is a "cinema of the elbow."

This lean, which always leaves one elbow out, is the perfect stance to take while having a private conversation in public or in an outdoor space where seating is not available; it also gives the leaner the casual air of a Caravaggio model, and makes them look vaguely saintly even while they contemplate unsaintly possibilities.

The Rohmer lean is exclusively the domain of men, and is usually deployed while talking to women, who lean back, but never to the side. It is because these women always lean back (as if to present themselves, and thus dominate a scene) that the Rohmer men have evolved this sideways lean, which allows them to stand at a right angle to the women and not be leaned back at (and therefore beaten in the lean-off of the sexes). What many Rohmer women seek is a man who will face them head-on, and what many of Rohmer's men are looking for is a girl to lean sideways at a right angle to; to be in close company and yet able to casually gaze as if from a distance.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kamome Diner (Naoko Ogigami, 2006)

"The first Japanese movie made in Finland!" is the sort of point only the most hardcore festival-goer could ever be sold on, but considering the rich / dubious tradition of Western filmmakers using films as an excuse to explore their fascination with / fetishization of Japan, there's something inherently fascinating about a Japanese filmmaker's fascination with / fetishization of another culture and national cinema (it should be pointed out that, across the history of cinema, there's one country that gets fetishized / caricatured / explored by foreigners even more than Japan: the US).

But the truth's that there isn't that much to talk about with this one. Ogigami indulges the usual cinephile-tourist gestures, like casting Markku Peltola, and there are some good shots of cookware (which look like IKEA catalog photos, and like IKEA catalog photos, nearly convinced me again that I need better pots and a new spatula). Like Yoshino's Barber Shop this has "its moments," though like that movie this is also intensely (though not defiantly) unambitious and frankly a little dull: a movie to yawn halfway through but never feel completely "bored."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Jericho Mile (Michael Mann, 1979)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Assemblage #4

Arvo Pärt, first movement of Symphony No. 4, "Los Angeles"
(performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, 04/16/09)

6.8.1999 - 6.12.2000 Leipziger Platz, Berlin (Michael Wesely)

Cry of the City (Robert Siodmak, 1948)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Questionnaire for The Wolfman

  1. Is everyone aware that Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) is a terrible actor, or is this something only we are privy to?
  2. Describe, in essay form, the prior adventures of Sir John Talbot and his Sikh manservant.
  3. How does a film about about werewolves contain Anthony Hopkins' most understated performance?
  4. What milky substance is Del Toro drinking in the scene where the doctor visits him?
  5. Are there no real bears or deer left in the world? Is reusing an animation from The Golden Compass in fact cheaper than renting a real bear?
  6. Is Hugo Weaving playing Nick Cave?
  7. What is the shape and size of the Talbot estate?
  8. Which did the screenwriters come up with first: Hopkins' large collection of halberds, or Weaving fighting a werewolf with a halberd?
  9. Which is Joe Johnston trying to imitate more: late '30s / early '40s American studio style, or Hammer?

Friday, August 20, 2010

For ZC

Terry Crews invades Wall Street, 8/19/10

Monday, August 16, 2010

2 Figures (Robert Motherwell, 1958; oil on canvas)

Friday, August 13, 2010

  1. Mason "The Line" Dixon (Rocky Balboa)
  2. Tommy 'Machine' Gunn (Rocky V)
  3. Kid Salami (Paradise Alley)
  4. Hale Ceasar (The Expendables)
  5. Apollo Creed (Rocky)
  6. Clubber Lang (Rocky III)
  7. Union Cane (Rocky V)
  8. Merlin Sheets (Rocky V)
  9. Lincoln Hawk (Over the Top)
  10. Toll Road (The Expendables)
  11. Memo Moreno (Driven)
  12. John Grizzly (Over the Top)
  13. Marion 'Cobra' Cobretti (Cobra)
  14. Beau Brandenburg (Driven)
  15. Father Robert 'Lefty' Lefrack (Father Lefty)
  16. Lee Christmas (The Expendables)
  17. Cosmo Carboni (Paradise Alley)
  18. Mad Dog Madison (Over the Top)
  19. Sophia Simone (Driven)
[19 favorite Sylvester Stallone character names]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

4.4.1997 - 4.6.1999 Potsdamer Platz, Berlin (Michael Wesely)
Coal Money (Wang Bing, 2008)

A "seminal image" (I think ... I hope). Men stand and wait as trucks approach. They pull their jackets over their heads to shield themselves from the dust. The wind blows hard. One runs to his truck, parked nearby, to grab a pack of cigarettes. He runs back with pack in hand, and offers a cigarette to the cameraman, who politely declines. The wind's two strong to get a flame out of the lighter. He keeps clicking and clicking, but nothing. Finally, he leans in on one of the other men, and they light their cigarettes together, using their bodies to shield the flame from the wind, nestled like two birds.

Archives #1

Armored (Nimrod Antal, 2009; photographed by Andrzej Sekula)

[From the archives; this short review (classified Crucial) appeared in the December 18, 2009 edition of the CINE-FILE weekly list. I've slightly revised it since then.]

Had Armored been made in the mid-1960s, and the director's name been Don Siegel and not Nimród Antal, it would enjoy a solid reputation now. For the present, stuck with its generic name and relatively unknown director, it'll have to suffer the fate of being seen by only a few and being treated seriously by even fewer. Which is a travesty, considering that many worse films will be picking up awards in a few months while this one quietly slips out on to DVD.

Antal's film has a quality, like Seigel's best, which could alternately be called economy or brutality. It's a violent picture made of violent pictures, with a carefully picked cast and just a few sets. Heads, walls, and guns thrust out of the screen, and it's all over in 90 minutes. Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon (in what could be called the Kirk Douglas role), Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, and a handful of others play a tightly-knit band of armored truck guards who decide to fake a heist and hide the money. The first part works; the second is stalled by Dillon's godson (Columbus Short), a guilt-ridden veteran who refuses to go along with the plan after Fishburne murders a homeless vagrant who spotted them stashing the money. With the armored trucks parked in an abandoned steel works, the men have an hour before they have to check in with their boss (played by Fred Ward and given a haircut that emphasizes the actor's resemblance to David Lynch). In that hour, they have to either convince or kill Short, who has barricaded himself inside one of the vehicles.

Dwarfed by the gigantic interior of the steel works, the guards are little men who scamper, getting their fingers crushed, yelling, hiding in shadows, and crawling through muck. They're even more homuncular than Clouzot or Friedkin's truckers and stuck in a scenario that's twice as desperate and ten times as avoidable. This is either a chase film where all the parties have already caught up with each other, or a prison movie without wardens; a good 45 minutes of the movie takes place in a space no more than a hundred feet across, with the characters conspiring against one another only a few feet apart. Fishburne has grown fat with age, and the sagging skin on his neck gives him a lethargic menace, like an improved Tom Sizemore. The two chase scenes, with armored trucks racing each other through the barren steelworks in the daytime, are the best of their kind since the finale of Robocop.
Stills from one shot in Internes Can't Take Money (Alfred Santell, 1937; photographed by Theodor Sparkuhl), a smoky, sweaty swamp of a movie.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ghost Town (David Koepp, 2008)

Classicist, if not downright classical, and anachronistic in the unfussy care put it into images and edits. Takes of Studio Era length, sequence-shot gags (the delivery boy catches Ricky Gervais' cold; a man goes from living to ghost in a single shot, his death occurring off camera; the "Sabre Dance" being played during a chase scene is revealed to be coming from a street busker) and the 1.85 frame treated as though it was Academy Ratio. All that and an old-fashioned plot, too: fussbucket dentist who begin to see ghosts after a near-death experience is hounded by a dead philanderer into breaking up his widow's impending marriage. Best part's the ending, which develops slowly and "naturally" and cuts to credits just when a 1930s movie would would say "The End." Speaking of Gervais-in-America comedies, I'm not sure where all the fuss about Invention of Lying as an "underrated movie" comes from: it's about half of a good idea executed very poorly -- funny every now and then but mostly misanthropic (not always a bad thing, but hypocritical in an ostensibly humanist film) and facile; this is an ordinary, okay idea executed smartly and with feeling, and that's always better.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Music is the Weapon (Jean-Jacques Flori & Stéphane Tchalgadjieff, 1982)

In Music is the Weapon, Fela Kuti is constantly placed in the middle of the frame, as if the image is a metaphor for Flori and Tchalgadjieff's main idea: Fela is the center of everything, and all of this music and culture and politics spins around him. The man's a Sun.
Piagol (Lee Kang-cheon, 1955)
All the powers of light may freely look on us -- and all the powers of darkness too.

When We Dead Awaken (Henrik Ibsen; translated by William Archer)

Friday, August 6, 2010

It all comes together in the end / The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010)

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.