Thursday, 8 December 2011

Bringing Up Baby...

Well, I have officially entered the world of dad-ness. Little baby Maia is as cute as heck, and makes the sweetest sleep-squeaks. My whole world, since she arrived, has just been non-stop doting.

I'm already planning a future of mutual film appreciation. I'll get my baby daughter accustomed to the Disney classics, move on to some good ol' Looney Tunes animation, then get her watching Satantango. C'mon, it has moo-cows in it, she'll be fine.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

“1001 MOVIES COUNTDOWN” – KILLING THE SUPPLEMENTARIES (#69 - #62)

For some reason the idea that with every edition of this bloody “1001 Movies” book there comes a whole slew of new additions and deletions from the 1001 list really pisses me off. Why? Because I’m anally retentive and I like a little bit of order and new films being added to a list that I’m trying to deplete (against my better judgment – I mean some of the crap I’ve put myself through just to say I’ve completed this goddamn list…) just feels wrong and frustrating. Any supplementary film that I’ve never seen that happens to pop up on a new edition of this book feels like an interloper messing with my nicely ordered original 1st edition list (actually I think I’ve been working from the second edition, but the difference between the two is miniscule, so why am I even writing this?) And so, with regularity, I try to kill off these interlopers as quickly as I can, so that I can resume counting down from the ‘original list.’

But I’ve let things get a little hairy in the past couple of years, and I’ve left a few of these supplementary frustrations to niggle and annoy me whenever I feel like culling this increasingly inane obsession to zero. So, while recuperating from a shoulder operation, I’ve decided to just knock off all the supplementary films in one fell swoop. I was thinking of obtaining copies of any of the relevant supplementary editions, to read the outline for each film and ascertain their inclusion into this hallowed pantheon. But I really couldn’t be bothered to waste my time and effort being this deeply attached to my years-in-the-making project/pain-in-the-arse, and I think I’ve got some semblance of a brain in my head, so I’ll try and work out each film’s supposed importance and relevance all by my lonesome.

Hokay. Here goes. The 8th edition has just come out this year. I’m culling back about 4 editions worth of hangers-on. Woo-haa. After seeing these suckers, I now have 61 films to go. Why am I such an anally-retentive list-obsessed nerd? Sigh.

69. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (David Fincher; USA; 2008)

[included in 6th edition only]

Had absolutely no driving desire to see this when it came out, and being forced to confront it now in order to knock it off this list, I can see why I had no compulsion to see it. There’s an incredibly powerful sense of over-arching listlessness and clinical coldness that makes watching this film utterly arduous. The chemistry between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett is non-existent. No fire, no desire, no passion. This may well be the point – hey, nothing is ever easy in a Fincher-esque world – but sometimes it really doesn’t matter, one just needs a bit of friction and fire to spark up the screen. The film ticks all the ‘cinematographically-stunning’ boxes on the odd occasion, but it’s coloured in the usual Fincherian-brown, which kind of sums up the whole experience – kind of shitty.

68. LA VIE EN ROSE (Olivier Dahan; France/ UK/ Czech Republic; 2007)

[included in 5th – 8th editions]

The time jumps between various parts of her life become wearying too quickly – yes, it becomes abundantly clear that we’re supposed to draw correlations between Edith Piaf’s experiences as a child/ young adult with her attitudes and actions as an adult, so big deal. Although this thumps along like a malformed creature for 140 minutes, amazingly there’s no real feeling of depth achieved here. It’s incessantly episodic structure seems to defy the apparent intention of the film to induce some form of empathy/ pity/ sorrow for Piaf, as it keeps all attachment and connection at a distance. Ultimately this is dry, dull, and tasteless, which is a shame because Piaf’s voice certainly wasn’t any of those things.

67. RABBIT-PROOF FENCE (Phillip Noyce; Australia; 2002)

[included in 5th edition only]

Essentially this is a cat-and-mouse film. And the ‘cat’, the chief protector of Aborigines who remotely controls a hunt for three Aboriginal girls tracking their way back to their mothers, is clearly painted as the villain. Although the film is peppered with sumptuous drifting sweeps of the Australian outback, with some shots almost distantly related to Arthur and Corinne Cantrill’s landscape studies, the film ain’t about all that – it’s a “message” film, and if that’s palatable for you, then great, but if you can smell the message coming on thick and don’t appreciate being told what to smell, then this will ultimately make you want to pinch your nose.

66. FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold; UK; 2009)

[included in 7th – 8th editions]

How did I let this one slip through the cracks when it first came out two years ago? Sometimes it’s damn hard keeping up.

A very strong film that prowls all over the place. The camera constantly searches and follows, mimicking the lead’s exploration of her nascent sexuality through movement. It’s either on her shoulder, closely tagging her through the tight labyrinth of her small apartment, or it’s tight in front and to the side, always tracking her, keeping her close. At times there’s a frenetic speed to the teen girl’s walking pace and talking style, and it’s if the camera is doing all it can just to keep up. This swirling hectic pace, countered with moments of stillness and stasis, sum up the mood that characterises her plight – desperation and stagnancy. The desire to break free from shackles. There’s an intense intimacy generated by this roving cinematography, which gives us a number of awkward close-ups (a look of confusion and shock post-coitus) and ‘holy-shit’ snippets (angrily pissing on a carpet). Hard to shake, even though you really want to shake it all off by the end.

65. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (Oren Peli; USA; 2007)

[included in 7th – 8th editions]

It’s pretty damn obvious early in the piece that smug masculine bravado is the thing that’ll have a demon chew on your ass. So it’s plain where the whole shebang is heading, just a matter of watching to find out how. I avoided this on its initial release because a number of colleagues told me this just wasn’t worth the money to go and see. But, four years on from all the initial hoopla and hype, it’s not as crap as I was expecting. The scares and thrills are laid out well enough, just predictably so. Some incremental small mysterious nocturnal movements, leading to bigger thuds and bangs, building to a rather foregone and obvious conclusion. Nothing really grabbed me by the short-and-curlies here, although the image of the woman standing for two hours by the bed watching her partner raised the eerie stakes to above normal.

64. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino; USA/ Germany; 2009)

[included in 7th – 8th editions]

Intentional or not, this film is a comedy. Has to be. How many times can a film make you think “you’ve got to be kidding me?” And not in a “wow, cool” kind of way. There is no longer anything to either love or hate about Tarantino’s work – everything has been mashed up so much that it’s hard to really taste anything. I never knew smacking together chunks of cinema history could end up feeling so normal and less-than-riveting.

63. PRECIOUS (Lee Daniels; USA; 2009)

[included in 7th edition only]

Why the hell was this included on the 7th edition list?  This is pretty much a stock-standard abusive mother-daughter relationship thing, with the usual predictable daughter-trying-to-move-into-a-better-world stuff. Sometimes I marvel at just how boring a film can be. Considering the gravity of what the girl has endured, the film should not be allowed to stir the waters of triteness, yet it magically performs the feat of being completely underwhelming and cloying.

62. HEAD-ON (Fatih Akin; Germany/ Turkey; 2004)

[included in 5th – 8th editions]

A car-crash film revolving around a couple of car-crash lives being smacked together. The journey from reluctant marriage-of-convenience, to gradual friendship, then explosion of emotions is played out with a forced intimacy. We are shoved right into the world of these two incendiary characters, often jammed close into the male lead’s craggy, sweaty, dishevelled drunken face. The film reflects the temperature of passion, from being subsumed, denied, or hidden, to murmuring and simmering, to exploding full-force and grabbing you by the throat. And at the end there’s the lingering question – is the passion actually real, or is it merely an addictive fixation used to explain unexpected changes in one’s identity? Good meaty pungent stuff.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Film is Not a Film is a Film is Not a Film. Is it? Yes, it is.

[The past month’s silence was due to forced recuperation, to let my shoulder heal. I thought I could keep using my computer with one hand, but I often kept using my recently-operated arm out of habit, causing serious aches and making the whole healing process even more damn laboured and prolonged. I’ve watched a few films while in rest-mode, and the shoulder is recovering nicely now, so I think I’m back on track.

Thought I’d start up again by talking about the most recently viewed film this past month. It’s been one hell of a stop-start year, but it’s good to be back.]

THIS IS NOT A FILM (Jafar Panahi/ Mojtaba Mirtahmasb; Iran; 2011)

What we already know about the film:

-        Panahi created this film earlier this year, with the help of his friend and documentary filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, while under house arrest.

-        On 20 December 2010 he was handed a six-year prison sentence and 20-year ban on making film, writing screenplays, talking to the media, and leaving Iran. In the film we see Panahi waiting to see whether his sentence will be reduced at all.

-        The film is deemed an “effort” and fervently not a film, as a means to deftly and defiantly side-step the ban.

-        It focuses on Panahi, at home, attempting to outline the film he had started to make, but now cannot complete. He tries to map out scenes in his living room, but is repeatedly frustrated at not being to find the truth of both showing what the film could have been and also the meaning of filming this “effort” in the first place.

-        Thus, the (non)-film can be viewed as a masterclass in querying and analysing the very nature of making film, assessing the heart, the engine, the assembly, the soul, the meaning and the means of constructing film.

-        The film was smuggled out of Iran on a UBS stick tucked inside either a cake or a loaf of bread.

Some personal musings after seeing the film;

-        Panahi’s grace, determination, frustration and natural eloquence in front of the camera make this perhaps the most riveting performance I’ve seen this year. Yes, performance – this may be a non-film, but Panahi himself willingly expresses his intention to place himself as an actor within this “effort”, as acting is not a banned activity.

-        Panahi’s pedagogical lessons on making film reflect themselves in the body of the film. Panahi spends a moment reflecting on a scene in Crimson Gold, where the main character, Hossein, has to exit a jewellers shop and appears to be suffering from a sudden energy-sapping ailment. Panahi describes the surprises that can be delivered by working with amateur actors, as the actor’s instructions to appear unwell are translated into, what is for Panahi, a sublime unscriptable moment with the most unusual eye-rolling expression that he could never have asked for. It is this ‘unscriptability’ of filmmaking that Panahi finds so joyful, and he seems agitated that he is unable to achieve the same thing simply by “telling the story” of the unmade film (“If we could tell a film, then why make a film?”). Yet the expression he has on his face when he stops in mid-sentence during the telling of one scene is exactly this kind of ‘unscriptability’ that he finds compelling. For ten enthralling seconds, maybe more, Panahi face reads so many microscopic, barely noticeable emotions, as he halts, thinks, tries to continue for a few more words, stops, gets lost in thought again, struggles to find words, then finally picks out the words of disappointment he’s been looking for to describe his turmoil at not expressing what he truly wants to express. This one brief moment seems to encapsulate and embody the spirit of the entire film.

-        His daughter’s pet iguana Igi also provides unscriptable ballast for the film, providing moments of humour as it clambers over Panahi, precariously scales a bookcase, and refuses to eat its food, like a spoilt child. But Igi is not only Panahi’s comic foil but also a quiet reminder of Panahi’s own trapped state, climbing the walls inside his own apartment.

-        A small interruption from a tiny yappy dog throws another spontaneously lovely spanner of hilarity into the works, seemingly proving that the old adage that you should never work with children or animals is true.

-        The air of spontaneity may seem thick, but the ‘effort’-makers are happy to allow the film to show its constructed-ness loud and clear – the obvious example is the impression of time elapsing over one day, yet various timecodes in the film clearly show us this is not the case.

-        Panahi’s desire to continuously strip back the content of what he is filming to find the truth is thrillingly admirable. The film is perhaps not-a-film because it is also the record of many different films starting and then stopping. This repeated search to find the heart of what he is trying to express creates an intricately-layered and rich delight that could take many moons to unpick and analyse.

-        I’m glad the USB stick was safely recovered from the cake/bread. It would have been heart-breaking if it had been accidentally eaten. I once nearly ate a USB stick that I dropped in a bowl of muesli. I was tired and addled, and the stick fell out of my shirt-pocket when I was leaning across the bowl to grab the milk. It looked like a large date when I scooped it up on my spoon. I’ve been unreasonably prone to habitual and fastidious inspections of bowls of muesli ever since.

Monday, 31 October 2011

SENNA

SENNA (Asif Kapadia; UK; 2010)

I am gloriously chuffed that this film has attained the positive critical and audience-based response it has, considering it wears its grainy, shaky archival-footage completely on its sleeve. I find it fascinating that the film has been attracting the “you don’t have to like motor racing to find this film compelling” plaudits, as it helps to provide some perspective on my own thorough enjoyment of this film. Y’see, I do like motor racing, (or at least I used to – year by year I find F1 in particular to be increasingly bland), and prior to this documentary have always found the subject of Ayrton Senna’s ability and personality to be somewhat fascinating, a driver who seemed to be traversing a higher realm than any of his colleagues both on and off the racing track. So, even if this film ended up being just a simple primer on his life and death, I would have perhaps gleaned some level of appreciation of this film. But what the director has done, and what the acclaim attests to, is to not merely rest on the laurels of presenting a synopsis of an extraordinary life but to sculpt and shape a riveting story from the pre-existing recorded fragments of his life.

The key to this film is the creation of a great story through intricate and masterly editing. A wonderful narrative arc is carved purely from archival footage and the voices of interviewees, starting with the brash and rapid ascendancy of a young star happy to be successful in a sport he loves, moving to his first hurdle via an incrementally bitter rivalry, peppered with the rewards of success and a growing sense of self-assurance, and steadily moving into quiet frustration with the changes in the sport (moving more to a kind of technology that largely eschews driver talent in favour of formidably unbeatable machinery), and then pensively and melancholically into furrowed foreshadowings of his own demise. This is where Kapadia utterly excels in creating a masterful film, purely from editing – as the film progresses, and Senna suffers both the frustrations of changing technologies and the concerns regarding safety on the track, we see more and more often a pensive Senna, a man trying to rub tension and worry out of his eyes, staring into the distance, lost inside his own thoughts.

And it’s here, in these moments as well, that another key to the film’s success lies. The director often selects footage of Senna in a reflective mode, the camera closing in on his face, honing in on him and lingering upon his face, capturing us in Senna’s world of quiet emotions. With precise and well-timed guidance from the voices of interviewees, we are compelled to read Senna’s thoughts and feelings. The accumulative use of carefully selected footage creates something akin to an actor’s performance from Senna’s gestures, smiles, facial expressions, body language. Hungarian film theorist Bela Balazs referred to the power of the close-up in cinema, with the ‘silent soliloquy’ of the face providing an unspoken revelation of a character’s inner state of mind. Senna exemplifies the richness evoked from deep concentration on the physiognomy of a person’s face. There is no close-up that I have recently seen that bests the silent appraisal of Senna’s face as he sits in the cockpit of his car, waiting to start what would be his final race. For a mere ten seconds we see a face that appears to register a swathe of silent emotions – sadness at the loss of a fellow driver the day before, frustration with the recent performance of his car, a melancholic half-smile showing a desperate attempt to latch on to some kind of social normalcy, and an intense pensiveness that seems to exude the impression that Senna was aware of some impending, pre-ordained tragedy.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Rain and Pain (and an interview with Dorsky)

As thick smoke-grey rainclouds descend over the city, I realise I've been watching these clouds for ten, maybe twenty minutes. Looking out the window sitting at my desk, the book in my hand thoroughly ignored as I watch these clouds drift and descend. And for some reason I feel like I'm watching a film. My own version of James Benning's Ten Skies, perhaps. Rain comes after many minutes, hard and fast, and soon the mightiest of thunderclaps makes me jolt slightly. I'm in a kind of visual-meditative reverie, and I wonder how much cinema has contributed to the desire/ ability/ werewithal to simply watch and listen for a long period of time.


*****

I was recently in the mood to watch Tsai Ming-Liang all over again, and queued up The River. Had to stop after a while, as the protagonist's mysterious neck-pain made me focus too much on my own recently-operated shoulder. It wasn't that it reminded me of my pain - it just made me aware of myself rather than being taken out of myself. Cinema does not have to be taken as a palliative, and I'm not condoning pure escapism, but sometimes the viewing experience is uncomfortably jarred if I'm reminded of my own physical self. I can recall trying to watch horror films with brutally nasty hangovers, and it is simply the worst kind of spectatorial experience on the planet. For hangovers, you need comedy - sometimes stupid lowest-common-denominator comedy is the best for a mind-dsearing hangover. Somehow laughter eases the pain - horror, especially icky body-horror, is just a reminder that your body feels like it's going through some kind of meat-grinder. And being hungover can be massively depressing, so horror ain't the best of medicines. I remember watching Night of the Living Dead by myself, totally hungover, when I was much younger and incredibly stupid. A bleak bleak experience, I can tell you.


*****

I'm still waiting for the pleasure of seeing a film by Nathaniel Dorsky, but in the interim I've found this great interview with the filmmaker. There's three segments, here's your starter for ten.


ENTREVISTA CON NATHANIEL DORSKY (I) from Revista Lumière on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

If Fassbinder were still alive....


Rainer Werner Fassbinder created 41 full-length films, for both cinema and TV, in a short period of 13 years, from 1969 until his death aged 37 in 1982. According to my quick calculations, he pumped out films at a rate of 3.15 per year – thus, if he had lived, and kept up that phenomenal work rate, he would have directed a further total of 91 films. Of course, if it’s true that he took large quantities of drugs and booze in order to maintain his hectic work schedule, then it’s unfeasible to truly imagine the possibility of a further 91 films over 29 years - the only reason fellow drug-and-booze fiend Keith Richards is still rocking on is because The Rolling Stones only release an album every eight years these days, and they're so crap he can't have worked that hard on them in the first place.

Still, it’s fun to play the ‘what-if?’ game. 91 possible films added to his actual 41 makes a forbidding total of 132. Surely with that huge total he'd dominant 'canonical' meta-lists like the "They Shoot Pictures Don't They?" Top 1000 Films Of All-Time. He already has 6 films on that list, so we work a bit of rough-and-ready quickfire calculating, and hey presto he'd have another 14 films on that list. Take that, John Ford.

If he made a 15-hour masterwork out of Doblin’s 400-page Berlin Alexanderplatz, then what would he have done next? Tackled Robert Musil’s 1000-page A Man Without Qualities, and created a 40-hour marathon? Or turned Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past into one of the largest TV epics of all-time? Would he have followed in Wim Wenders footsteps and popped over to the U.S., to try his hand at Hollywood film? Would he have beaten Todd Haynes to creating a neo-Sirkian melodrama set in the 1950’s? Would he elicit tortured performances from actresses such as Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, thus making Lars von Trier’s career entirely redundant? Would he infiltrate the world of modern US televisual entertainment, and create a Teutonic-version of Mad Men? Would he remake some of his German films in the US? Remake Fox and his Friends and stick Tom Cruise in the lead role, for the sake of perversity? Or maybe he'd also get into the 3D doco thing, like his New German Cinema pals Wenders and Herzog - but what would he make? Pina seemed suitably Wender-esque, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams has 'Herzog' written all over it, so what kind of doco subject is suitably Fassbinderian? A biopic on Tiger Woods? In 3D? Hmmm.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

"1001 MOVIES" COUNTDOWN; #70 - GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy; USA; 1933)
[after spending an eternity writing yesterdays post one-handed, todays post will be a little brief and choppy}
A month or so after viewing this film, I’m trying to drum up my best recollection of what I saw. And, as with nearly all Berkeley-choreographed films I’ve seen, all I can remember are near-hallucinatory fragments. Forget the socio-economical alignment with the Great Depression. All that ever seems to linger are the kaleidoscopic set-pieces. Legs. Women as coins. Not just coins, but sexy coins. Compartmented silhouettes of women undressing, like some proto Robert Wilson theatre spectacle. More legs. Dick Powell’s grating and trebly singing. Men desperate to unrobe tincan-camisoled women, resorting to prying them apart with a can-opener. More legs. Rows and rows and rows of legs on Dr Seuss-styled never-ending twisty-twirly staircases. Women as spinning dollops of cream. Giant coins erupting from women’s hands and groins. I swear, I watched this before tripping off my nut with pain medication, not during.

Friday, 14 October 2011

AN IMAGE FROM FAROCKI

AN IMAGE (Harun Farocki; Germany; 1983)

“This film, An Image, is part of a series I've been working on since 1979. The television station that commissioned it assumes in these cases that I'm making a film that is critical of its subject matter, and the owner or manager of the thing that's being filmed assumes that my film is an advertisement for them. I try to do neither. Nor do I want to do something in between, but beyond both.” (Harun Farocki, Zelluloid, no. 27, Fall 1988)

The ‘thing’ being filmed is a photo shoot for Playboy magazine, and this 25-minute film reveals the boredom, labour, tedium, and painstaking obsessive detail that goes into this supposedly glamorous and erotic scenario. The first few scenes literally build the framework, showing the construction, painting, and design of the set. It’s only five minutes that we see the model for this first time, and it takes another 3 minutes of film-time after that before the first photo is taken. This photo is then thoroughly dissected by the chief photographer and other senior staff, before we return to the set, spending minutes on the director trying to get the model to lie in the perfect position. He obsesses about her hand – through his lens, it looks ‘spastic’. The staff talk about having to retouch the photos to get the best effect. Everyone leaves the set, and the final few shots show the set being taken apart.

Farocki’s quote refers to not wanting to find the ‘in-between’ of critiquing the subject and promoting the subject, but instead to go ‘beyond both.’ Thus, he wants to transcend both criticism and advocacy. Does he manage to do this? Maybe he does, if we consider his film from this perspective; everything we see is just work. The film is no longer a dissection of a Playboy shoot, or a paean to this vocation, but a briefly detailed examination of the work that takes place in this world. We see the work of being a set designer, a make-up artist, a photographer, a model. There’s no glamour, but there’s also no condemnation. It’s just work – plain, tedious repetitive work.

But. Let’s go back to the original idea of not wanting to critique nor advocate. Although he wishes to do neither, in terms of how the film can be interpreted/ approached/ absorbed, isn’t it more likely that the film is going be viewed as a critique, and far less likely that it will be seen as an ‘advertisement’?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

ONE-ARMED CINEMA

Have just had shoulder surgery about a day ago. Am currently operating with just one arm, but should be up to speed with two arms soon. Here’s a bunch of films I won’t be watching these next couple of weeks, not because I don’t like them (in fact, I love the first film on the list), but because these films include one-armed characters, and I can’t be bothered with that kind of cinematic reinforcement.

 
1.      Bad Day at Black Rock
2.      The Fugitive
3.      127 Hours
4.      Max
5.      Richard III
6.      Little Big Man
7.      True Grit

Monday, 3 October 2011

"1001 MOVIES" COUNTDOWN; #71 - DOCTOR ZHIVAGO

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (David Lean; USA; 1965)

I’m left cold. No matter how I try to frame it, I’m just left utterly utterly cold.
It’s not that I’m averse to epic films. It’s not that I bemoan deviations and abridgements to the original novel, which I read so long ago that I can’t even remember it anyway. It’s not that I’m constantly finding flaws in the acting – true, I’ve seen Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger, and Tom Courtenay pull out better performances, and Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin were just a little too stiff and wooden for my liking, but by and large it’s not the performances that seem to cast an icy chill across my viewing pleasure. It’s not the length – 197 minutes is a breeze, I’ve knocked off much longer films in my time, and have often been riveted for nearly minute. It’s not even that I totally screwed up my viewing experience by watching the film out of sequence – split over two discs, I ridiculously sat through the entire second disc before thinking, “hey, this is odd, where was the opening credit sequence, and why the hell is it ending after only 90 minutesssss hang on, craaaappppppp…….” Yes, I’m sure this hilarious cock-up forever skewed my enjoyment of this film, but, heck, I did the same thing years ago (thus displaying a larger amount of stupidity than I’d like to admit) when I watched Bela Tarr’s 7-hour magnum opus, Satantango – it took me about 40 minutes to realise that I was watching Disc 3, not Disc 2 – but this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film at all, it merely turned a 7-hour film into an 8-hour film.
It’s just one of those anomalies that seems to occur in the realm of film-viewing. Grand and detail-rich scenes do not matter, and a decade-spanning story-arc does not matter either. Ultiamtely, it seems to be a film trying to be so many different things that it falls between the cracks of it’s own genres. It seems to be presented as a romantic epic, a war epic, action-packed, gripping – posters referred to it as ‘turbulent’ and ‘fiery’.  But it is none of these. It’s defiantly sluggish. It’s interminably lacklustre. It’s like an ant mired in molasses, determined to keep moving forward, but unable to get anywhere.

...and back again (sigh)....

On 8 September, 2011, I wrote "I'm Back." Then, I subsequently went away again, having to deal with urgent family matters back home in New Zealand. So, I'm back again. Despite best wishes, the blog this year has had more stops and starts than Lindsay Lohan's acting career.

So, whatever I said in the last post, yes, it still stands. (And the surgery has been postponed til next week, so I have about ten more days of the use of two arms before my brief career as a one-armed bandit).

Thursday, 8 September 2011

I'm Baaack...

It's been a busy two months, what with getting married and having a honeymoon and oh yeah dislocating my shoulder. How 'bout that for dumb luck - 4 days before my wedding I fall off my bicycle swerving to avoid a car cutting right in front of me. I still soldiered on through the wedding dance that I spent two months trying to learn. The irony - having just turned one of my two left legs into a right leg, I was left with the use of just one arm. Channelling the spirits of Astaire and Kelly seemed to help get me through the wedding dance with a battered wing, or at least filled me with delusions of light-footed grandeur.
Since coming back from the honeymoon, it's been a whirlwind, with hospital visits for the baby and all manner of scans, doctor visits, physio and massage for my shoulder. I have a tear in a tendon, about 3cm long, so some time soon I'm going to need surgery. Thus, although I am back on the blogging wagon as of today, there will be a point in the next month or so when I'll be a one-armed bandit once again. At the moment I'm thinking I might continue to blog, as my wish pre-injury was to get into a good blogging rhythm post-wedding/honeymoon. Maybe I'll be able to pump out one-handed posts every couple of days, short and sweet missives. We'll see how I go. For now, I have two hands to use, although one is attached to a very achey arm and shoulder.
The plan re: the blogging regimen is to continue with the 1001 Films Countdown - I have two recently viewed films to knock off the list here, so they'll be posted in the next day or two. And while on honeymoon I had at least four great ideas for blogging projects, but I've forgotten them all right now, so I'll have to rummage through the fog and find them again.
Ok. Where's my pain medication? Ahh, come here, little bottle of whiskey....

Monday, 11 July 2011

Mental Snapshots - Arden/ Bonds' ANTI-CLOCK


ANTI-CLOCK (Jane Arden/ Jack Bond; UK; 1979)

As any hardened cinephile will know, despite accumulating a broad global/ historical map of cinema and developing triple-arm-length long mental and/or physical lists of films to devour, there can still be out-of-the-blue chance encounters with a film that can have the same resonance as those regular discoveries and epiphanies of one's early years of burgeoning cinema obsession. For the regular film-obsessive, browsing for the next film to watch can often involve sifting through a mental catalogue of 'known' films, a kind of 'must see' or 'to do' list that involves mentally crossing off films in order to make space for more cinematic adventures. (And although this may sound mundane, I believe a great deal of pleasure is to be had in playing around with these 'to do' film lists).
But occasionally you come across something that has never been a part of your cinema knowledge, and you intuitively decide to view it and find yourself agog that once again there are parts of the cinema map that you've never heard of, never even ventured close to till now.
I came across Anti-Clock by pure chance – when recently browsing the shelves at the local university library, I shifted the DVD-case of a film I can't remember and the case for this film dropped to the floor. Upon picking it up and reading the blurb, I quizzically felt compelled to take it home and watch it immediately.
The film is unlike any other I've seen in a long time. At it's most basic description, it is about a man, Joseph Sapha, who is undergoing some kind of radical memory/identity rehabilitation experiment designed by a scientist, Professor Zanov (both protagonist and scientist were played by the same actor, Sebastian Saville, Jane Arden's son). Although it is never clear as to which images are based on Sapha's actual memories (if this is ever the case) or which are outright fantasy, it seems that a previous relationship with a woman provides the need to undergo this “anxiety survival broadcast,” although it's never clear why he is undergoing this mental re-programming. Like Tarkovsky's Stalker (made in the same year) or Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is a science fiction based on inner space, not outer space. But Anti-Clock goes much deeper into this inner space than these other films, entering an extreme limbo-realm where all we experience for the entire length of the film is a surreal loop of video-hazed images and echoing voices, as if Sapha's re-programming has become a mediated template that we also have to undergo.
The film starts with over five minutes of archival footage, a collision of mediated events that begins to run amok, as the soundtrack begins to defy the actual images on the screen. Then we hear a conversation between Professor Zanov and Joseph Sapha, over a painfully-slowed image of Sapha in a hotel room with a waiter coming to serve him breakfast. Sapha is asked “why are you in this room?”, which seems to be an interrogation not of the motives or reasons for being in the room, but of the very existence of the image-memory. This constant questioning of the nature and existence of Sapha's memories occurs throughout the entire film, as we move through various images of Sapha with the woman, video-bleached footage of Sapha walking along London streets, the recollection of a backroom poker game and regular visits to a cabaret venue, where Sapha acts as a magician and mind-reader. The visual register moves from cheap and choppy black-and-white video, to colour, to an incredible negativized burnt-out effect, redolent of video technology pushed to extremes. (In fact, co-director Jack Bond created these bleached and burnt effects by using intentionally-burnt-out video camera tubes which would blow up after 45 minutes of use.) These changes in visual register do not help us to grasp a difference between one world and another – they all end up being different palettes to describe a multitude of limbo-states that Sapha might or might not be undergoing. Memory is re-viewed, re-collected, re-mediated, but is no longer categorization, crisp, lucid, or understandable. The visual texture of video, either as choppy CCTV footage or as a polarised burnt-out image, seems to represent the blurriness of memory, and the striking use of echoing and repeating character's lines, letting them fade in and out in a repeated loop, seems to imbue the film with the eerie sheen of being inside someone's else's mind, reading their thoughts. As Sapha says near the end of the film, “my brain is recreating a negative repeat pattern,” which seems to sum up the total experience of being immersed in this unusually wonderful film.
Having gotten curious about the creators of this film, I did a modicum of research. It seems that writer and co-director Jane Arden was an actor-turned-director, who throughout the course of the 60's became increasingly influenced by feminism and Laingian anti-psychiatry. She directed only one other feature-length film, The Other Side of Underneath, in 1976, and a short film Vibration, co-directed with Jack Bond. She wrote a book in 1978 titled You Don't Know What You Want, Do You?, which is purportedly a kind of de-programming manifesto that may have contributed to the shape and flow of Anti-Clock.
Jack Bond's filmography is also remarkably sparse, having only co-directed Anti-Clock and Vibration with his partner Arden, as well as directing Separation, which was written by Arden, in 1968. Jane Arden committed suicide at the age of 55 in 1982, compelling Bond to suppress any further screenings of Anti-Clock and to make the decision to never make films again, concentrating instead on television documentaries and music videos (most notably for the Pet Shop Boys. Hmm). The history of cinema is strewn with plenty of 'might-have-been's and 'what-if's, and the idea of more Arden/Bond collaborations beyond the inspired experimental vision of Anti-Clock is yet another 'what-if' to add to the pile.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

current cinema-related frustrations

1. I'm so busy with organising wedding details and trying to juggle hundreds of other enterprises (ok, slight exaggeration, but i'm trying to make a point here)  that I'm wondering if I'll ever set foot in a cinema again in the near future.

2. Also struggling to keep up with latest news, writing, thoughts, both in print and online, regarding cinema. My cinema-brain feels like it's beginning to atrophy.

3. Peter Falk died about a week ago, and know one I know in my everyday world seems to give a shit.

4. Peter Tscherkassky is coming to Melbourne to give a talk and show a retrospective of his films, during the Melbourne International Film Festival - just when I'm having my wedding! (If my fiancee reads this and sees me having this little whimper, boy will I be in trouble.)

Right, done. Whining is officially over.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

early morning benway

So, I'm cycling to work, and I'm pretty damned tired after waking up ridiculously early three days in a row and working like a busy-working-thing, and for some reason my sleep-deprived mind suddenly conjures up lots of resounding exclamations, all saying "Benway!", and I realise it's a moment from Cronenberg's Naked Lunch infiltrating my mind, with cigar-chewing Roy Scheider leading the "Benway!" charge and lots of bumpy mugwumps all echoing the cry. And, so for the remainder of the journey, I'm accompanied by cries of "Benway!" which seemed amusing and odd and vaguely giggle-inducing at the time, but now that I've found a clip of the scene just to understand what the hell my brain is trying to tell me, I'm disturbed. If this is some kind of example of lucid-dreaming funtime that my mind is trying to entertain itself with while sleep-deprived, then its clear I need to get some zzz's.

Friday, 24 June 2011

“1001 MOVIES” COUNTDOWN; #72 – A TALE OF THE WIND


UNE HISTOIRE DE VENT (Joris Ivens/ Marceline Loridan; Netherlands/UK/ France/ Germany; 1988)

“Filming the impossible is what is best in life.”

Ivens utters this epithet near the end of this exquisite film, and it may well be seen as a summation of the heart of this particular work as well as the summation of his lifetime of cinematic achievements. For his final film, at age 90, Ivens stepped out from behind the camera and essentially performed as himself, a elderly director determined to film the wind. After a lifetime pursuing lyrical and/or militantly political cinematic paths, this film can be seen as a culmination of all that Ivens set out to do in his entire career – capture and map the relationship between humans and their natural environment. Here, breathing and the movement of the wind are intertwined with cinema, each cyclically giving life to the other. Film animates and give life to the wind, and the wind enriches and shapes the movement of this film.

Ivens chose to shoot the film in China, and specifically to capture the wind in a desert. Why China? A past relationship with China, having filmed there in the 1930's and the 1970's, certainly must contribute to his return to this country. But I can't help but imagine there's a deeper reason, and I haven't fully nutted it out yet, although I'm wondering if the inclusion of martial arts (control of self through breath) and dragons (symbolic mythical embodiments of weather) provide clues – perhaps Ivens is seeking a different cultural relationship to this aspect of nature, a deeper relationship to wind and breathing? Or it may simply be that locating himself in China allows Ivens to tie together all the strands of his film-making career, not only the lyrical and political aspects but the 'travelogue' component as well.

The moments spent in the real or imagined everyday China are interesting enough, whether those moments be Ivens watching martial arts instructors guiding their students, or Ivens negotiating with museum staff regards filming the Qin terracotta warrior army statues, or a mock village being set up in a studio with Peking Opera, gymnastics, a political rally, and a Children's Communist Choir all vying for attention. However, the richest and most memorable segments of this film are when we return to Ivens, seated alone in the desert, back to us, waiting for the wind to arrive. When the wind finally arrives, and Ivens stands and smiles, hair whipping back, arms outstretched to embrace the breeze, its as if the purpose of his desire and the purpose of the film become clear – Ivens wanted to create his own epitaph, to put his final signature to his life making film by focusing on the thing that gives life – air, breath, wind. The last shot of Ivens, walking away from us, arms aloft, enraptured and joyous, has to be the most affecting final image I've seen in a very long time.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

“1001 MOVIES” COUNTDOWN; #73 - MR DEEDS GOES TO TOWN


MR DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Frank Capra; USA, 1936)

I was thinking just now how, for my tastes, Capra's comedies have never quite hit the same heights as those made by his peers. Films by Lubitsch, McCarey, Hawks, and Preston Sturges have remained more memorable, lingered deeper in the memory. His erring towards innocent, naïve characters leaves a semi-sweet taste, but I've been more beguiled by the fiery word-battles, snappy wit, and a kind of robustness that I've felt is delivered by all those directors. As a gloss on the memory, Capra feels thin.

But after casting my mind back to some of his other comedies, it seems there's a little more to Capra than I gave him credit for. For a start, his characters are not all innocent oddballs – Clark Gable's reporter in It Happened One Night out-does any other screwball-comedy character in the smart-ass stakes. In You Can't Take It With You, although the incessant happiness of the main family is vaguely cloying, there's a spark and energy that is allowed to naturally breath. No forced eccentricities here – just characters rich and satisfied with their own freed creativity. It's not 'big' moments, but 'small' moments that provide rich viewing. For some reason I'm thinking here of how Jean Arthur answers the phone with her teeth in You Can't Take it With You, because she's quietly nestled inside the moment of having her hands held by James Stewart and she can't be bothered to remove them for a ringing phone. A little moment, naturally played and not at all goofy.

In Mr Deeds Goes To Town we get another innocent oddball character, an out-of-towner who undergoes the scrutiny of the big-city media and the big-city public, driven to believing he's insane because of a handful of over-analysed idiosyncrasies. After consumption, the film, as usual for a Capra vehicle, feels fine but light. But there is weight to this vehicle. It's not via the delivery of any message, whether that might be questioning the meaning of sanity and normality, or promoting the ideals of the 'common person' as preferable to those of the 'city-bound cynic.' Messages are fine, but that's not the meat to this sandwich. This kind of weight is the same kind of heft that seems to fill Capra's other apparently-light vehicles – in the small details. Capra's camera seems to draw out a kind of minimalism in Gary Cooper's performance, lingering on his frame to highlight angularities and rhythms of movement. Cooper's sullen stillness in the early part of the courtroom scene allows for the minutest of glances to impart a visual richness. There's a kind of quietness inside many scenes in this film, and this lack of rushing seems to be particular to Capra. There's an unhurried air to his films, allowing for tiny yet noticeable gaps in dialogue and little spaces between one moment of action and the next. And then there's occasional symmetry, people carved into space to create appealing little visual sculptures – the moment when Mr Deeds and his three manservants all play with echo in the lobby of his house is an exquisite example of this.

So, maybe I've been a little too tough on Capra. I can't help but rate other comedies from this era higher than Mr Deeds Goes To Town, but that's not to say there isn't any visual appeal to this film, or any other Capra comedy.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Again with the 1001 Movies List? (And other bits'n'bobs)

Yes, again with the 1001 Movies List. That has been my recent decision, in order to segue back into regular film-viewing. I need a project, of sorts, to help me portion time out of life to view cinema, and I got it in my head to complete something I set out to do years and years ago - watch everything in the 1001 Movies dum de dum book. For some reason, I want to complete this before the baby is due, at the beginning of December. So I have six months to watch the remaining 65 films from the book that I've yet to see.
A-ha, no it's not 65. Bugger. Y'see, there's been 7 editions since the first came out in 2003, and films have entered and dropped with dull regularity. Even though I still only own the earliest edition, I've kept up with the additions and deductions in order to geekishly claim, at some future stage, that I've seen EVERYTHING that this book has thrown at me. Boy, won't the kids be proud of me. I mean, that must be one of the key reasons that people are obsessively devouring this list of films - a casual browse on the interweb reveals scores of punters all eager to tick everything off from this list. And, hello, i'm one of them. The obsessive nature of list-devouring kind of irks me, but the world is my mirror and hey look that's me in the mirror. But, here's where I defend my habit - this list is not the be all and end all of my film-viewing. I get the vague feeling that some punters are addicted to completing this list only, and once its done it's back to normal transmission. 1001 films is barely a scratch. At best, the book should be a trigger to source other films, to challenge the list by finding your own personal canon. Use it as a launching pad to explore the terrain of directors newly discovered. I'd heard of Bruce Conner, Ken Jacobs, Harry Smith prior to flicking through this book, but the obsession to view everything pushed me to see their work, and viewing Report, Blonde Cobra, and Heaven and Earth Magic has lead me to wander freely through a host of incredible experimental films. I'd never heard of Jean-Daniel Pollet's Mediterranee or Forugh Farrokhzad's The House Is Black, but I feel my cinema-viewing life is all the richer for actively seeking them out and seeing them with epiphany-stricken eyes.

Anyway, I wandering off track. So, there are a handle of films from the most recent editions that I haven't seen - 8 in total. that makes a total of 73 films to see from this list. So, there's my project. See all of these films before the baby is due in early December.

But, this project alone will drive me nuts, and I can't run the risk of hating cinema by the end of it. So, I've got a couple of other ideas to keep me cinema-sane over the next few months. I'd got a loose idea at the mo to focus on unheralded/ little-known documentaries, maybe make a regular series out of reviewing these kinds of films. There's a horde of intriguing documentaries I've come across recently that I'd love to absorb. Maybe I'll even post a Top 100 Docs list....hey, everyone else seems to be having a crack at it, who's it going to hurt?

One last little point - my blog-posting time seems to be quite constrained, due to other commitments, and in the past this has meant that if I haven't got a lot of time, i won't post. The bummer with this way of thinking is that I go weeks without posting. And then my blog looks kind of anaemic and pale. So, I'm going to throw this 'all-or-nothing" attitude out of the window, and just....ramble. The writing might be a bit loose and sloppy. I don't know. Maybe I'll free up a little more and get into new grooves. I've tried to hone and sculpt my posts, but sometimes I think I'm losing something in translation when I'm doing that. Perhaps the need to just get the thoughts out will free up the writing style. Dunno, don't know, je ne sais pas. The blog might finally start swerving closer to the actual title of this little shindig, become a ramble on cinema. I choose the term 'ramble' because it connoted a tumbling casual chat as well as a pleasurable idle walk, and I sometimes see my appreciation of cinema from a psychogeographical point-of-view, wandering across new terrain, stumbling across new sights, heading down a path and seeing all there is to see down that path before roaming off down another lane. The term 'ramble' ties together chatting, mapping, pleasure, and discovery. So, perhaps there'll be a bit more rambling from this point onwards.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

On Returning

It's been over two months, but I'm finally returning to the blog-fold. There's been a series of events that have precluded me from staying on track with blog-posting. I was ill for a brief period of time, then there's been the trials and tribulations of trying to sell an apartment, mixed with new teaching responsibilities at university, and throw in the hectic schedule of organising a wedding, with everything else I'm trying to do in my life, and whammo, that's where the time goes. I've had very little time to view much in the way of cinema these past two or so months, so there's been little to write about anyway.

There's only been one memorable film I've seen in the past few weeks. It's a 22-minute short film, comprising of ultrasound images of our baby at 12 weeks. Yes, that's another reason why I've been away....my fiancee is pregnant. The grainy black and white images of our baby rolling around for 22 minutes - often wriggling, sometimes hiding, occasionally sleeping, once it even waved, I'm sure - hold infinitely more awe than any experimental film I could ever think of. I'm getting dad-sappy already, but I can't remember the last time I've ever been so floored and moved by the moving image as I have been watching this wee life stretch and squirm. Film of the year. Seriously. Check out the image of the star of the film. Cute, yeah?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Getting Fixed Part Two - More short films

Once again I find myself trawling for fresh (and much-loved) cinema finds out there on the world wide interweb. Here's some more little nuggets of experimental cinematic bliss, to cleanse the head when you're in need of a cine-fix and you have no time for a fully-fledged journey. Bite-sized morsels of filmic joy. (Bloody hell, so far I've likened cinema to drugs, travel, and food. How many more obvious metaphors can I come up with?)

1. IN TITAN'S GOBLET (Peter Hutton; USA; 1991)


2. YANTRA (James Whitney; USA; 1957)


3. INHABITANTS (Artavazd Pelechian; Armenia; 1970)


4. BLACK IS (Aldo Tambellini; Italy; 1965)


5. OFFON (Scott Bartlett; USA; 1967)


6. BLACK AND WHITE TRYPPS NUMBER THREE (Ben Russell; USA; 2007)


7. VERY NICE, VERY NICE (Arthur Lipsett; Canada; 1961)


8. OUR LADY OF THE SPHERE (Lawrence Jordan; USA; 1969)


9. HOLYWOODS (Cecile Fontaine; France; 2008)


10. HAPPY END (Peter Tscherkassky; Austria; 1980)



11. 7362 (Pat O'Neill; USA; 1965-67)


12. RUMPELSTILZCHEN (Jürgen Reble; Germany; 1989)
13. WHITE LITE (Jeff Keen; UK; 1968)


14. NECROLOGY (Standish Lawder; USA; 1970)


15. SYNCHROMY NO. 4; ESCAPE (Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth; USA; 1938)