Monday, September 04, 2006

The Passion of the Joan

note: This post started as a blurb in my monthly film log, but quickly outgrew its spot in there. I'm not gonna edit it or anything like that, but I'd like to put it up here instead, because I'm curious if anyone has any stuff to say in response to this. If someone could convince me otherwise or whatever. Part of my intent when I started this blog was to put out my impressions in a fairly unedited way and then sit back and read comments and see discussions happen and learn stuff from them.

It was never my intent to make this a showcase of my film writing or critical work or whatever it is that I do on here, rather it was meant to be an extension of my studies, another tool for me as a film student to learn. And it's true that attempting to regularly articulate myself about the things I see is helping me engage more with film and learn more about it as a result, but I'm hoping that other people out there have some stuff they can teach me, too. If anyone's reading this and has seen this movie, it'd be pretty cool to hear from you. I suspect I'm largely typing to myself, but it'd be nice to be proven wrong.


You know, the big problem with me and this movie is that I wasn't moved by Maria Falconetti's performance. For some reason, I got really annoyed by her expressions, mostly that really wide-eyed one she uses throughout the film. This was a very gut level reaction that I had no control over and it more or less rendered me completely incapable of emotionally investing myself in the film's proceedings. That's a problem.

For a silent film, this movie's very talky. It's almost entirely constructed of conversations. This is one of the aspects of the film that seems useful to me. There is absolutely no way to keep track of what everyone is saying, so you can't really be expected to follow the conversation. This underlines a couple things, the inanity of the questions being presented to Joan, and her utter helplessness in the face of this tribunal. Her inability to say anything that can help her in a very literal sense is underlined in a figurative sense by the limitations of the technology at hand. It also means that a good part of the film must be told through people's expressions, which necessitates the technique of shooting the film mostly in close-up.

My problem with this is that it makes the proceedings difficult to follow. People pop in and out at random, and it seems as if the same territory is being covered in the interrogation over and over again. Perhaps this is meant to reflect the incessancy of the questions being thrown about in a structural way, the inability to keep track of what's happening reflects Joan's own confusion, but I don't think it's effective. Confusing the audience to reflect the protagonist's confusion works to an extent, but when the film itself becomes more or less unfollowable, as this did for me at times, I find myself becoming less and less empathetic and more and more aware of the artificiality of the proceedings at hand. Once more, maybe an intentional thing, but certainly not something that worked for me.

This isn't a question of visual literacy, either. I don't mean to say that I can't follow the conversations or the proceedings; simply that I can't follow the people, the cuts feel awkward to me to the point that the film feels very slapdash in a way. (I keep second-guessing myself and overexplaining because I'm aware that I'm reacting this way to a very heavily canonized and highly beloved film and I'm wondering if there's something wrong with me for not seeing what apparently so many others do, but I'm gonna stop doing that.)

Another qualm of mine is with the villification of the interrogators. I realize that Dreyer was working from actual transcripts and if that's the case then the questions can obviously be read as intended to ensnare Joan into condemning herself, but they can also be read as profoundly stupid questions being posed by profoundly stupid people. I always felt like the most effective aspect of martyrdom was that the martyr was condemned not by villainous assholes, but by people too dumb to know the wrongs they were committing. People condemned by assholes are simply victims. Martyrs are martyrs because people don't realize how stupid they're being and, because of the martyr, can later realize the ugly mistake they made and learn from it. By villainizing the judges to the point of near cartoonishness, Dreyer makes a statement not of redemption, but of condemnation and teaches us nothing. This film feels about as misguided as Mel Gibson's Passion was, just much less objectionably so.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

August in Review

This was a good month. Definitely a step in the right direction. I saw a couple more movies than this, but I didn't feel they were right to put up, since I slept for like a half hour during each. I'm going to rewatch them soon and give them my proper attention. Also, it picked up and started slowing again. This can be attributed to having a lot of work to do, being on a completely bizarre sleep pattern that turned me more or less into a walking zombie for all of my waking hours, Buffy/Angel progress and Turner Classic Movies, IFC and Sundance kind of having uncompelling schedules for a few days. It looks they're starting to pick up again, so that's a plus. Anyway, here's my usual array of blurbs peppered with swears, self-aware laziness and occasional moments of insight.

Grandma's Boy, who gives a fuck. [Z] august 3rd 2006.
[A friend really wanted me to watch this movie because he thinks it's funny. I work real hard to be polite sometimes, and I still don't always succeed.]

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. [B-] august 5th 2006.
[I dug this, although I didn't like it as much as Anchorman. Something about the whole NASCAR angle had me too self-consciously looking at it for political commentary. Was the product placement in the movie over the top because it was a satire of NASCAR's use of it in that way, or was it just meant to look like satire while actually functioning as mindless profiteering? Did I want the red staters to be treated humanely because I thought they were cheap targets, itself a patronizing idea, or because I thought they deserved fair treatment? I found myself watching the film so self-consciously that I had a hard time really relaxing and enjoying myself. That said, my big problem with it is that it's too much of a movie. I'm a comedy nerd and I kinda dug the fact that Anchorman had a flimsy plot that existed solely to string jokes together. That's what I wanted from it. Talladega Nights might be a better film, because of this, but I didn't go in expecting to engage it like one. I think I want to see it again.]

The Descent, Neil Marshall. [?] august 6th 2006.
[Went with drunk as fuck friends who shouted every 5 minutes and I spent the entire time nervously paying attention to them/occasionally trying to quiet them down because everyone within our general vicinity seemed to want to fight us. It seemed cool, the monsters were neat, good build-up. Too many cheap "BOO" scares, which put a bad taste in my mouth. I honestly couldn't tell you what I thought of it, on account of the circumstances, though. It seems like maybe it's got more going on than meets the eye, but I'd have to give it a proper look-see before I can comment.]

Brick, Rian Johnson. [A-] august 7th 2006.
[Showed some friends Brick today because they wanted to see it. They dug it. I still love it, although certain parts grate on me more than they did before. Thing is, each time I watch it something new annoys me and something that annoyed me before I don't mind. I dig it overall far too much. Also: I keep "figuring out" the story or whatever more, which is nice.]

American Psycho, Mary Harron. [B+] august 9th 2006.
[I haven't seen this movie since it first came out. When I was 15, watching it felt like a clandestine action, me and my friend in his basement breaking the rules or whatever; I was a relatively sheltered kid. Anyway, I never really saw it, because I guess I was too taken with the act of watching it. I'm surprised by how much I remembered of it, but more so with how little. Something about this movie reminds me of David Cronenberg. I guess its coldness, but its coldness also feels less studied than his, so that the film really feels more like a very warm, tongue-in-cheek Cronenberg. The actual criticisms that the film levels against consumerism and materialism are pretty standard-fare. The film itself is so fun to watch and charming, though, that you really don't care. And I'm aware that calling a movie like this charming is kinda messed up. It's really creepy and messed up, but in an endearing way. I'm not wild about the ending.]

Talladega Nights: etc, Adam McKay. [B] august 11th 2006.
[A couple friends of mine wanted to go see this and I had nothing else to do. I let myself be a little less self-conscious this time around and I dug it a good amount more. Laughed more, anyway. I still don't like it as much as Anchorman. This log is too much social moviegoing. In a few days I'm going home and the real film watching starts. Also, I've been chugging along in Angel/Buffy. I'm kind of addicted. That's been occupying me. I'm very far along in both right now. Probably be finished by mid-September. It's been quite an undertaking. It really is some pretty satisfying television. The Buffyverse stuff accounts for a lot of the slowness of my movie watching this summer, too. I've been watching a couple episodes a night, basically. The equivalent of a film. I just did the calculations. I've watched about 120 hours of these shows. It's absurd. Anyway, I guess this is the blurb where I talk about that.]

You, Me and Dupree, Anthony and Joe Russo. [B] august 13th 2006.
[I really did not want to see this movie. Not at all. Friends insisted. Man, I'm too lazy to write right now. I'm having some wine, I'm hanging out, I wanna relax. Here's the deal. The movie's a lot funnier than I ever expected. Occasionally I wonder what its agenda is with relation to marriage, there's some of that old, cliched "you lose your manhood when you marry" shit and there's a couple moments in the film that deal with masculinity in somewhat silly ways, but I wasn't bothered by that stuff so much. Rather, I was bothered by a couple moments in the movie where the characters did things that were completely inconsistent with their natures, especially near the end. I guess you could say the flip that Dupree takes around the midpoint of the movie is a bit of a stretch, but I wound up not minding that so much. There's other stuff, more near the end, that's a bit more objectionable. The disappointing thing about that is that there's all this funny stuff sandwiched in between and all that funny stuff could have remained there even if the inconsistent stuff was changed. It probably would have been funnier, actually. Bad ending, due to probably the most disappointing character inconsistency in the film. Still, I think I liked this more than Talladega Nights. I'm real shocked by that, by the way. The Russo brothers were responsible for some of the better episodes of Arrested Development, though, so I guess I shouldn't be that shocked. The writing isn't as sharp, but whatever. Oh, there's a pretty poopy Asian stereotype in the movie that totally didn't need to be there. That was disappointing, too.]

Mullholland Drive, David Lynch. [A] august 13th 2006.
[It's been some time since I've seen this movie. It took me a while to get into it this time around, I wasn't really in the mood for it, but I quickly found myself sucked into it as much as I've ever been by it. David Lynch has made some of the most captivating films I've ever seen. Films that, aside from narrative or anything else, are so hypnotic that they qualify as an experience as much as they do a work of narrative art. Their stories can be viewed as secondary to the feelings they evoke in the viewer. I'm trying to think of a good way to explain the way I feel I view his films, but I keep coming up with inadequate analogies. At first I thought about comparing the way I watch a Lynch film to the way I taste food or wine or whatever else, but my explanation wound up making me come off as indiscriminate, as if I don't think about what I'm tasting or what I'm watching, or that I don't try to piece together the narrative of the movie because I'm not concerned with it as much as I am with the "experience" of the movie, absorbing it like a sponge or something. Lynch's stories are very straight-forward and identifiable, they're comprehensible on a very base level, to the point that even if you don't get every single little bit of the story, like for me what the significance of the blue box in this film is, you still get what happened. You are made to feel the story more than it's told or shown to you. There's "show don't tell," the age old mantra for writers; Lynch appears to be on, not a different level, but a parallel plane that I can only think to refer to as "imbue through show." A lot of people cite The Big Sleep as a movie that contains an almost nonsensical plot that ultimately proves to be completely inconsequential to the viewer's ability to enjoy the film. I wouldn't place Lynch's films in the same place, because his plots aren't nonsensical so much as abstracted to the point of occasional incomprehensibility, to the point that they become textures. I got a friend hooked on Lynch with this movie, which I'm pleased about.]

Brick, Rian Johnson. [A-] august 14th 2006.
[And then I got same friend into this one too. I've talked about it enough. I like it a lot. It gets me excited to make movies.]

Funny Face, Stanley Donen. [C-] august 19th 2006.
[Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, an exciting combination, if a little creepy given the age difference. Funny Face starts off promisingly. The opening credits sequence is pretty great, and I like the opening number as well. "Think Pink" led me on a train of thought where I was going to observe how every old classic musical I've seen appears to have some semblance of subversive messages in them - Singin in the Rain functioning as a critique of cinema's transition to talkies, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as a critique of corporate practices and the domestication of men and women in the corporate world to essentially make them slaves, etc. I thought this movie would maybe have some stuff to say about the superficiality of the fashion industry, but the first song, with that line "if a woman's gotta think, think pink!" being a good example of the kind of stuff that was setting me off, but it quickly devolved into a celebration of anti-intellectualism and superficiality. Some of the songs were good, but for a Gershwin-penned musical they were surprisingly flat. The dance numbers were pretty neat at times, but I think there were only a couple musical scenes in the film that I didn't feel went on too long. The look of the movie was cool for a while, but the attempt to stylize each scene, drowning the free-jazz freakout in the cafe in red light, stylishly lighting the streets of Paris in green and yellow, gauzing up the image of the "wedding" scene to a ridiculous degree; some of these things looked cool, some of them rendered the frame at times borderline unreadable, but all of them put together resulted in the film feeling very unfocused and fragmented, due to the overwhelming disparity in styles on display. Audrey Hepburn's unbearable cuteness practically carried this film.]

Blue Velvet, David Lynch. [A] august 20th 2006.

The Dirty Dozen, Robert Aldrich. [C] august 20th 2006.
[Not really a fan of this movie. Totally didn't need to be as long as it was. It really dragged at parts. The raid at the end is awesome, though. So's the war game. Jefferson's Zidane attack in the bathroom is probably the most badass thing in the movie, other than Lee Marvin. And actually Charles Bronson too. Pretty poor ending. There was a certain point of no return where they probably should have all just died. The fact that they were so flippant at the end given all the people they lost disappointed me too. I'm not sure if I'm just doing the "looking for stuff to be offended by" thing right now, since I like being offended by shit or something, but Maggott's turn at the end, while somewhat projected and all that, really seemed pretty unnecessary to me. Where's the offensive part, you say? Well, I wasn't sure if it was symptomatic of a kind of mean-spirited villification of religious people or not. We as a culture seem to be doing that a lot lately, and it's interesting to see how far back that attitude stretches. And by we as a culture, I mean "we the educated liberal non-religious types" haw haw. But seriously folks. Oh. And no German is subtitled at all in the entire movie except for some small talk between two guards talking about how one is going on leave tomorrow. Why is it subtitled? BECAUSE HE'S GONNA GET STABBED IN TWO SECONDS! I'm all for being mean to Nazis, if I had one here maybe I'd kick him or something, but really? Is that how you're gonna play it? Beyond that stuff, movie was just kinda boring a lot of the time and something felt off about the whole thing. Shame Turner Classic Movies scheduled Point Blank so late at night. They show a lot of really badass stuff way too late at night.]

Point Blank, John Boorman. [B+] august 21st 2006.
[I stayed up. Second time seeing this. It's a fun movie. At times I found myself thinking that this is what it would feel like if Antonioni had ever made a revenge movie. Obviously this isn't quite as thematically loaded and ponderous as a lot of his movies, but the look and feel of it doesn't seem that off from Blow-Up or Zabriskie Point. It flips me out that this was a studio release, but I guess it was right on the heels of Bonnie and Clyde so that whole crazy thing was happening in Hollywood at the time. Anyway, great stuff and totally Lee Marvin just being a badass. I really wanna see The Limey again, now, so I guess that's going to the top of my Netflix queue.]

When the Levees Broke - Acts 1 and 2, Spike Lee. [A-] august 21st 2006.
[Looking forward to the second half. Some stuff was dragged out a bit too much, moments where he was cutting quickly between 30 people all more or less saying the same thing, although I think a lot of the reason for that is to demonstrate just how unanimous everyone was on a certain issue or how absurd some things, like the relocation of people out of the city without telling them their destinations, were. I don't really have much to say about this. I think it's probably going to function very well as a document of what happened to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for future generations. It's as effective as any text book I could imagine. I wish there was a little more diversity in the interview subjects. There's a lot of people in this film, but there are a lot of recurring faces and I keep wanting to hear other people's stories, rather than just this core group of twenty or thirty people that Lee interviewed. I like the way he's structuring this, though. The first act was just an objective look at the physical things that happened. People recounting their experiences with the storm. The second half was more politically charged, trying to explore what happened that resulted in the failure to send help to New Orleans sooner. I'm really looking forward to the second half. I hope Lee takes a more pronounced presence in at least one of the acts, because I'd really like to hear his take on this, too.]

The Baxter, Michael Showalter. [C+] august 22nd 2006.
[This movie's a lot worse than the people associated with it. It's good natured and occasionally funny, but it really should have been a lot less innocuous considering that some of the funniest comic actors working today comprised a good portion of the cast and creative team behind the film. I dug the concept, but I felt like it coulda said more other than just being a movie for losers to commiserate over. Also, the completely arbitrary and by now outdated jumping through time structure didn't help it not seem like an amateurish movie.]

When the Levees Broke - Acts 3 and 4, Spike Lee. [A] august 22nd 2006.
[Flawless. Third act was absolutely gut-wrenching. I think the explanation of the concept behind jazz funerals really brought the whole film together in a very interesting way. I spent three months in New Orleans and I still had a rather terrible idea of how brutal the effects of Katrina actually were. I saw the devastation in the ninth ward, but hearing people's actual testimonies really takes it to another level. I really think this is an important film that everyone should go out of their way to see. My admiration for Spike Lee grows and grows.]

Hard Eight, PT Anderson. [B-] august 25th 2006.
[This movie hasn't held up to repeat viewings for me. It's got great things in it, but I was struck by how self-conscious and unconfident it felt, especially given the strenght of the rest of PT Anderson's work. He's one of those guys that has managed to get better with each subsequent film. A real feat. An interesting depiction of a bizarre subculture of transient gamblers that for all I know actually exists and gives the film a real interesting push. The opening is kind of odd, it comes, it happens abruptly and then is thrown away in favor of a completely different story altogether, but the movie benefits from this. Even some of the acting seemed really stale to me at times on this viewing, which is really wild given the cast. Anyway, a good debut, but kind of stiff, like a film student getting a big break and wanting to do well but letting himself get real nervous about it, which is essentially what it is. It's a film I can identify with.]

The Aluminum Fowl, James Clauer. [B] august 28th 2006.
[A short film with a lot of great moments, but lacking a sense of completion or fullness. It's kind of like a hybrid between George Washington and Gummo, and was co-produced by Harmony Korine. This film also feels somehow less honest than Gummo, which consequently makes it feel a little colder and meaner than Clauer probably intended it to be. It's good, very promising and interesting. I dig the fact that there are people out there making movies like this. I certainly wouldn't even know where to begin creating something with this sort of tone, or something like Korine's, who I love. It's worth thirteen minutes of your time. You can find it on youtube here:]

Idlewild, Bryan Barber. [C-] august 29th 2006.
[I said this in the theater, then I joked that I was gonna throw it on my blog, and now I am throwing it on my blog: This is one of the most tedious interesting movies I've ever seen. It has a lot going for it, some really cool, creative moments, but there's too much caca in between that stuff to really say it's a good movie. Barber's got a good eye, he lifts a lot of material from other films/videos, but he does it well. Thing is, the story, the performances, they get in the way. Just as you think that the eccentricity and outrageousness that Outkast brings to the equation is going to keep this film out of the realms of cliche, the most hackneyed, boring thing imaginable happens. Just as often, though, when you think something is going to follow another event in a logical way, the movie throws a curveball at you. Ultimately not good and a disappointment, but too consistently inventive for me to not give it some recognition for it. It's overlong, though, and didn't have enough interesting moments to keep from getting bored and even dozing off for 10 or so minutes during it.]