Friday, November 19, 2010

Sorry 'bout the absence, here are some ballerinas / The King Steps Out (Josef von Sternberg, 1936; photographed by Lucien Ballard)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Romance of Happy Valley (D.W. Griffith, 1919)

Some Initial Notes on White Material

Super-coherence 2: Denis slides White Material's chronology around, but, as in The Intruder, it's to clarify, not to artfully obscure. Time shifts as aspects / moments are pulled out, like someone pulling on a thread in order to untangle a knot (in this case, the brutal ending).

If it weren't for the folding of time -- if the narrative were more conventionally "straightforward," which isn't to say it would be straightforward at all, merely conventional -- the final act of violence would seem like one of those contrived accusatory enigmas Haneke specializes in.

White Material is more or less Denis doing Haneke: a privileged family-microcosm is destroyed by the bourgeois values (the ethical importance of preserving what one has earned) it holds on to.

But Denis is slier and more fluid, so instead of crescendoing to an event (as Haneke, ever the showman, always does), she starts with the central event and takes it apart piece by piece, object by object (and the objects do pile on, including a gold-plated lighter, a red currency bag, a purple robe, two motorcycles, a bottle of Fanta, a revolver and the ultimate symbol of Western decadence: Nicolas Duvauchelle's full-sleeve, full-color tattoo and the money, time and idleness it hints at).

"Coffee isn't worth dying for," or something along those lines is what Maurice the foreman says to Huppert before he speeds off on his motorcycle for safety.

Isabelle Huppert's character repeats again and again that the coffee plantation she refuses to leave is all she has left, and that abandoning it would represent the ultimate act of cowardice; Denis, in turn, shows, again and again, that the people who really have next to nothing (and don't think that it's a badge of honor) have already run away. Huppert is as entrenched in a fantasy as Duvauchelle and his child soldiers and tattoos.
[some notes from October]

It's good to watch an American independent film that doesn't make you feel as though you're doing the filmmakers a favor by staying through to the end—but then that small pleasure gets soured by the realization that you're watching the sort of movies where the ability to hold your attention is a virtue and not a given, and you begin to wonder why it is that we ask so much of Hollywood films and are always disappointed and ask so little of independently-financed productions and then condescendingly pat them on the back.

I've got a little too much respect for Aaron Katz's obvious intelligence to think too much of his films, though it's been fun watching him continuously defer his ambitions, cutting himself off whenever the screen might reveal what exactly it is that he thinks is profound. After three features, it's evident that he has convictions, though he seems to be ashamed of them. Cold Weather is a slight, arty, funny, vaguely entertaining detective movie.

For all of their particular pleasures, the problem with too many (though not all) of the mumblecore films has been their reactionary approach to filmmaking.

The film movements of the mid-20th century defined themselves through the addition of new elements; the Novuelle Vague, for one, attacked the Tradition of Quality by expanding on it, not by reversing it.

Contemporary film movements have defined themselves largely through the subtraction of old ones, and mumblecore—maybe in the footsteps of Dogme 95, the ultimate reactionary film movement, parading a self-loathing distaste for aesthetics as "anti-bourgeois" radical asceticism—has followed suit by building itself on certain absences instead of particular presences (there is a fundamental difference between "our film will have no script" and "our film will be improvised"), and for the most part Katz has followed the trend.

The case against Katz remains this: his films are conceived in terms of what they lack, not what they offer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Strangers When We Meet (Richard Quine, 1960; photographed by Charles Lang)

Time Regained (Raoul Ruiz, 1999; photographed by Ricardo Aronovich)
7 Welles budgets, estimated in 2009 US dollars

Citizen Kane (1941) $10,380,000
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) $11,000,000
Lady from Shanghai (1947) $19,000,000
Macbeth (1948) $660,000
Touch of Evil (1958) $6,100,000
The Trial (1962) $9,200,000
Chimes at Midnight (1965) $5,300,000
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973)

Seen at Doc Films yesterday: my favorite post-classical Peckinpah (I think), though it's even less coherent projected than on DVD.

If it is in fact a great movie (I'm prone to think it is), then it represents a victory of the cohesion of moods and ideas over any sort of cohesion of narrative, characterization or dialogue (that goddamn sound mix is even worse in the theater; leaving the screening, a young woman aptly jokes: "Well, at least I could understand almost half the dialogue.").

Ben Sachs, seeing the movie for the first time, points out (accurately) that the mood remains more or less the same (visually sunny but thematically overcast), and is only changed by which Bob Dylan song is playing.

Projected, the stasis of the whole thing is even more noticeable. The movie starts and ends in the same place, and Pat and Billy never really do anything. Personal theory (and I think this is everyone's "personal theory" about the movie): Sheriff Garrett knows where Billy the Kid is all along, and the movie is just him killing time (and minor characters) until he finally has to go and shoot his bandit friend.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Invoice for a shipment of bleach to the crematorium at Buchenwald.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Could This Be Love (Abel Ferrara, 1973; photographed by Jon Rosen)

Tender sleaze. This shot's from the lesbian threesome scene in Could This Be Love, a little bit of softcore "to wake up the audience," scored to the Stones' "She Smiled Sweetly." If you look really closely, you can see that it's a woman kissing another woman's back.

Since the beginning, Ferrara has been getting his art and his exploitation mixed up. Or, even more accurately: in the beginning, Ferrara thought that he could prove that exploitation could be "art," or at least arty (Ms. 45), but then he realized that art itself was exploitation (Dangerous Game).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Haschisch (Michel Soutter, 1968; photographed by Jean Zeller)

Fassbinder's Budgets

Fassbinder's budgets, estimated in 2009 US Dollars.

Love is Colder Than Death (1969) $29,000
Katzelmacher (1969) $24,000
Gods of the Plague (1969) $55,000

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) $43,000
The American Soldier (1970) $92,000
The Niklhausen Journey (1970) $181,000

Rio das Mortes (1971) $43,000
Pioneers in Ingolstadt (1971) $187,000
Whity (1971) $235,000
Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) $380,000
The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) $113,000

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) $117,000
Bremen Freedom (1972) $86,000
Jail Bait (1972) $196,000

World on a Wire (1973) $461,000

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) $127,000
Martha (1974) $237,000
Effi Briest (1974) $383,000

Fox and His Friends (1975) $229,000
Like a Bird on a Wire (1975) $72,000
Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1975) $352,000
Fear of Fear (1975) $174,000

I Only Want You To Love Me (1976) $407,000
Satan's Brew (1976) $308,000
Chinese Roulette (1976) $564,000

Women in New York (1977) $178,000
The Stationmaster's Wife (1977) $1,000,000

In a Year of 13 Moons (1978) $445,000
Despair (1978) $4,342,000

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) $1,373,000
The Third Generation (1979) $547,000

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) $9,300,000

Lili Marleen (1981) $6,713,000
Lola (1981) $1,760,000

Veronika Voss (1982) $1,363,000
Querelle (1982) $1,982,000