Monday, October 23, 2006

Happy Together, but really the post is mostly about me and this thing.

As the format suggests, this is one of those things that started as a tiny blurb in the film log and expanded in size to the point that I felt like posting it on its own. I haven't set out to do a post post in a while now, but maybe soon. If I ever get around to watching the next film in my 8 year long Kubrick fest. Anyway, this one goes a little out there and I'm almost reluctant to post it at all, but it wouldn't really be in the spirit of things if I didn't and really who am I protecting myself from?

I'm gonna stick with this monthly film log thing for the remainder of October, but I've been thinking and realizing that not every post I make needs to be a big huge meaty substantial 500 word essay or whatever (You know I actually went to a post, copy/pasted it into Word and did a word count just to make sure that my estimate was accurate? I just stopped mid-sentence!), just that I ought to say some interesting things in them and keep this thing going. I like the idea of running a blog like this and I think having regular updates of substance means that I don't need to turn this into a writing assignment kind of thing. This should never be homework.

So anyway, starting in November I'm gonna be doing a regular posting of fragments of the log, something like every three films or days or whatever other arbitrary criteria I come up with to justify my posting. This is also meant to serve as a motivator, because since the semester started I've seen a lot more films (30 so far this month! [6 shorts.]) and it's getting hard to keep track. With the monthly thing I let myself get complacent and say something like "I'll write about it later."

So anyway, that's what's up. Here's my thing on Happy Together.

Happy Together, Wong Kar-wai. [B+] october 23rd 2006.
[God damn it dude, I love Wong Kar-wai. I don't own a single film of his on DVD, but he might be my favorite living filmmaker. It's weird. You know what else is weird? I don't necessarily love his films. I love his aesthetic, his sensibility, and I love the feeling I get watching his films, but I don't know if I'd classify any of them as favorites. It's this sort of bizarre hybridization of ambivalence and absolute infatuation. That's also not entirely accurate, because some of his films I absolutely love. It's tough to articulate. I love them and don't love them. They're always under my skin. Fallen Angels is my favorite, but there isn't a single one I haven't enjoyed.

Maybe the fact that my reaction to his films is ineffable is part of why I love them so much. I can't imagine how he goes about making his films, but I guess he doesn't really know either, considering how long his shoots go, sometimes. I'd love to be on set, helping out and watching this man work. Maybe that's an idea for an internship. I somehow doubt that would ever happen, though. Anyway, this is a real lovely movie, though I can't really tell you much about it. I want to watch it again, I can tell you that. And I guess I can probably tell you a decent amount about it, but I don't really want to.

Sometimes I'm lazy, I guess. I just don't really feel like talking about Wong Kar-wai's films in general, except to gush over them. I'm all about the intellectualization of cinema and all that, but I have a hard time reconciling that with the fact that I feel that films are largely experiential and should primarily be dealt with in this way. But I guess that's reflected in the way I often write about them: "Dudes, this fuckin thing was really great!" You know those guys that document their acid trips and post 'em on the web in this sort of stream of consciousness way? I feel like that's a really good way to talk about movies. Your emotions guide you through the experience. Alejandro Jodorowsky once said that he demands of cinema what others demand of psychedelics, and while that's especially true of his cinematic vision, I think the sentiment is applicable to films as a whole. At least when you want it to be. Otherwise, it's not. When I spoke about Chantal Akerman's film, "Jeanne Dielman," earlier this year, I had a more coldly intellectual tone, at least I think I did, but I was still just more or less stream-of-thoughting it and trying to work out my thoughts on the film immediately as they came to me. I mean, I went back and edited for readability, as I tend to do through these, but I don't really self-censor. *

This has been my tendency for a while. I write papers for school like this, minus the "dudes" and the curses, but with the same tone and overall flightiness. (Well, that's not entirely true, but whatever. I haven't even always been writing this blog like this. Not entirely, anyway.) I guess I'm evaluating my own writing style now and (maybe) coming up with the foundations of some sort of a personal critical style, although this isn't really foundational stuff so much as refinements of existing archetypes. Beyond which, I'd like to think that my general overall style is still at least a little bit respectable. Sorry if this post comes off as masturbatory or whatever, writing about my writing, but it's interesting to me and it's all coming out pretty quickly, no pun intended. I feel like this is important stuff I'm sorting out right now, although I'm not certain what it is I'm realizing. Regardless, I feel something going on in my head, like a lock turning in a key. You do psychedelics just once in your life and you wind up talking like this for the rest of your life. Jesus. Also, the coffee. Eh, but now I'm back in my usual defensive apology/clarification of context thing that I do, and now I'm in my self-aware commentary on said apology and now I'm in my awareness of that and it becomes this bizarre self-reflexive defense mechanism that kind of nullifies itself. I'm turning this blog into completely unreadable drivel.

That's alright, though. I feel as if this one is different and as if I've gotten somewhere with this little blurb and as if I've laid myself out a little more bare than I have a tendency to and I think this has been useful. I hope it's been interesting, too. Cheers.]

* That said, and I think this post is guilty of it (I'm writing this sentence after I finished the post and maybe it's symptomatic of that self-reflexive nervousness I speak about further down) I might be getting a little too cute or blasé. I was writing instantaneously, but I had a bunch of thoughts formulated and a general outline in my head before I sat down to write. Anyway, back to it.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

September in Review

Good month. And the cinemas around here have some pretty stellar schedules, not to mention the schools. This is going to be a really amazing semester. Either way, this is indicative of a return to form.

Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel. [C+] september 1st 2006.
[This movie is not the objective portrayal of Hitler's last moments it seems to want its audience to believe it is, nor is it in any way a strong enough indictment of his actions for it to be of any service. Obviously, just about everyone's on-board with the fact that Hitler was bad and the Holocaust was bad and Nazis are bad, to the extent that a movie functioning simply as an indictment of Nazism is about as useful or interesting as a movie about how sad it is that someone you love died. If it doesn't have anything to say about that sadness and what it reveals to the person experiencing it, then it's not very necessary.

I'm not saying that I wanted this movie to be an anti-Nazi film or anything like that, although I certainly expect some elements of disgust in anything dealing with the topic, but it's tough to figure whether or not the movie tries too hard to humanize Hitler, to the point that it shifts the balance of depiction a little too far over. Dude still comes out bad in the end, but not bad enough. In other words, the moments when he's nice - being sweet to his secretary, feeding his dog, etc. - portray him in a more positive light than the moments when he's being bad portray him in a negative light. The fact that the film doesn't deal with the topic of the Holocaust at all basically is also a bit alarming. Bruno Ganz is real good as Hitler, but I'm not sure Hirschbiegel had everything entirely figured out when he set out to make this movie.

I wanted to praise the movie for its lack of score starting off, but at the half-hour mark I first noticed some schmaltzy strings come in and they stayed for too long of a time. At the end of the movie, when going through all the profiles of what happened to everybody after the events depicted, those schmaltzy strings were still going. My dad got kind of pissed and wondered aloud why this sad music was playing over their stories. Me being a dude that likes to answer the same question six different ways started hypothesizing that maybe it was sadness about the war, about violence and hatred in people, or just sadness about sadness, that the feeling is so firmly integrated into these events on an ineffable level that its pervasiveness should not come as a surprise to anybody. Any of these are possible explanations, but none of them are satisfying. If there was silence over the credits I would qualify that as overly somber and self-satisfied; bouncy music would be wholly inapproriate. In other words, this topic is so heavily loaded and this film's approach so ambiguous at times, that the only justification I have for saying I didn't entirely like it is based within the realm of punctum; I can not readily identify what it is that puts me off about this film, but I can feel it.

This review articulates a good number of my feelings on this film in a much better way than I seem to be capable of:]

The Hustler, Robert Rossen. [A] september 3rd 2006.
[I've never seen a movie more infused with seediness than this one. Almost every shot smells like smoke. The Hustler's one of the most strikingly beautiful black and white films I've ever seen. The atmosphere is so strong that it could probably drive the film all on its own, and in a sense it does. The first hour or so of the film proceeds almost conflict-free; it is as much of a "character study" as I imagine a film can be, but there's a sense of purpose and drive lingering underneath the surface.

It's clear that Newman's character wants something, but that desire only manifests itself a couple of times, allowing for a conflict and a plot to develop, while not allowing it to envelop the movie within itself. By only letting the story come out in slight bursts, it allows the movie to consume it in the same way that Eddie is consumed by his desire to win, to be somebody. It also allows the movie to consume the audience within its environment and ambience, so that we become a part of its world and really start to feel the darkness digging away at Eddie, which of course makes us all the more invested in his character when things really start happening.

It's a masterfully executed maneuver that really takes this film to a much higher level. Of course, the fact that the rest of the story progresses in a satisfying and appropriately painful way, and that the performances that drive it are all so picture-perfect and convincing, only serves to elevate The Hustler even more.]

Brick, Rian Johnson. [oh u know] september 3rd 2006.
[Showed this to my folks because they wanted to see it. I didn't expect them to dig it the way I do, and I wasn't surprised when they didn't. A lot of the appeal has to do with having some familiarity with what high school is like in the US, or at least in a country that isn't ruled by a communist dictatorship, something that they don't have the benefit of. My mother thought the events in the film were inconceivable, I thought they were completely plausible. There are many fantastical elements to the film, but none of them are really the plot. Anyway, still dig it, but I think I'm gonna chill on it for a while now. I wanted to show it to the folks, but I don't want to let this well dry up, so it'll probably be a while until I revisit this film again.]

The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Theodore Dreyer. [C+] september 4th 2006.
[see the post]

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Chan-wook Park. [B] september 10th 2006.
[I didn't dig on Oldboy much, but I liked Park's short in Three Extremes, so I went into this with a relatively open mind and wound up being pleasantly surprised. For all of the ultraviolence that fills his films, Park has an excellent eye for beauty, occasionally managing to make even the gruesomeness pretty.]

State of Dogs, Peter Brosens and Dorjkhandyn Turmunkh. [A] september 13th 2006.
[This is a Mongolian/Belgian co-production that, kind of like Gummo, blends documentary, narrative and pseudo-documentary elements together to create this sort of weird, amorphous narrative that is as much based in atmosphere as it is in story. Gorgeous and fascinating. I haven't been this blown away by a movie in a while. It basically starts as a riff on all the stray dogs the Russians left behind in Mongolia, starts following a dog hunter hired by the government to keep the dog population in check, and then starts following the spirit of a dead dog, first retroactively through his life with a family in the steppes and eventual abandonment, to his wanderings through Ulan Bator - the city he's eventually killed in - both as a living dog and eventually as a dead dog, offering a strange and beautiful portrait of Mongolian life. Then he gets reincarnated as a human, or is about to anyway.

Wowow, great movie. Unfortunately it's not available on DVD or VHS or anything. My professor showed it to us on a shitty VHS copy that a friend of hers dubbed when she screened it at a festival like 8 years ago. It's not on Karagarga, either. It's really unfortunate, as I'd love a copy and I think it really deserves to be seen more.]

The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg. [B+] september 13th 2006.
[A low-budget inspiration, and not at all what you'd expect the first Dogme film to be after reading the Dogme95 manifesto. Which I guess is partly the point. This is a real entertaining story that I think benefits from the impositions that Dogme places upon it. The film wouldn't be as affecting if it wasn't shot verite style. I don't really have much more to say about it. It's just a solid, fun movie.]

Kicking and Screaming, Noah Baumbach. [B-] september 14th 2006.
[See, this is a movie that I heard was infinitely quotable and real fun and charming, but I just found annoying. None of the characters endeared themselves to me and I wound up just getting frustrated by the fact that they thought they were so clever. I really loved The Squid and the Whale, oddly enough, but I couldn't take this. It had its moments, but eh.]

Various short silents. september 19th 2006.
[Dolly's Adventure, Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Lonedale Operator and A Corner in Wheat by D.W. Griffith. Various undifferentiated or titled Méliès. The Big Swallow by James Williamson.]

Forever Fever, Glen Goei. [B] september 20th 2006.
[Forever Fever is a film that, on its surface, appears to be, and really is for all intents and purposes, a light comedy about a guy in Singapore that discovers disco. It's also a pretty profound film about a country in transition and how its denizens are dealing with this period of transition. The film is set in a time when Singapore was starting to become more westernized and was just on the cusp of achieving "little dragon" status, of becoming one of the most powerful economic presences in Asia. Knowing this and thinking about it lends a story of a Bruce Lee fanatic who starts to discover disco music and John Travolta a greater level of profundity, especially when you see how the film explores, often comically, the way that each of the characters deals with personal and cultural identity.

The main character, Hock, doesn't westernize his name, and even retains some Bruce Lee style kung fu moves in his dance routines, he becomes a sort of hybridized person. His sister, meanwhile, goes by Francesca, reads trashy romance novels and fashions herself after a 19th century duchess. What's interesting is that, despite the fact that she adopts dated customs and ideas about womanhood, she could not have done this without the recent influx of western influence. Her antiquated behavior and mentality is entirely new. Hock's brother, Leslie, changes genders, despite being the most traditional of the three siblings. He encompasses the old influences and the new influences into his life and the confusion in between. He must completely restructure himself in order to be able to remain comfortable in this new world and culture.]

Hapax Legomena I: Nostalgia, Hollis Frampton. [B+] september 20th 2006.
Hapax Legomena III: Critical Mass, Hollis Frampton. [C] september 20th 2006.
A and B in Ontario, Hollis Frampton and Joyce Wieland. [B] september 20th 2006.
Wedlock House: An Intercourse, Stan Brakhage. [C] september 20th 2006.
[This was a series of four short experimental films that I saw at MassArt, so I'll just talk about them all in this blurb. Nostalgia was the most interesting of the bunch. It fucked with the concept of memory in really cool ways and was probably the most thought-provoking of the bunch. Critical Mass had its funny moments, but it was basically just two people arguing and the stroboscopic editing style got grating after a while. A and B in Ontario was probably the most fun of the four, just a couple people running around town with their bolexes shooting each other like they were in a spy movie or something. The Brakhage, disappointingly, didn't do much for me and I usually like his stuff a lot. I'm writing this blurb well after the fact, mostly out of a sense of guilt that the only experimental cinema being represented in this log was completely neglected, but I don't really have much to say about these at this point.]

Weekend, Jean Luc Godard. [A-] september 25th 2006.
[First time seeing this. I don't really know what to make of it, but I know it kicked my ass. I've never seen a film more teeming with rage, bile and fury. Maybe The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at its peaks. That's the last movie that I remember seeing and thinking to myself, "That was fucking FURIOUS." So much happens in this movie and I'm not really prepared to talk about or intellectualize any of it. As an experience, it was a thing unto itself. That long uniterrupted shot of the traffic jam's been hyped up so much that I didn't really know what to expect. Dude takes spectacle filmmaking, parodies it, creates a piece of spectacle cinema himself, and uses this spectacle to undermine it and itself. The film constantly feels like it's bursting at its seams, even when it doesn't hit, Godard's throwing so much stuff at the target at once that, at least some things are bound to. Jeez man, jeez. I really want to see more of his films. Everything I've seen I've loved.]

In the Park, Charlie Chaplin. [C+] september 26th 2006.
[Funny enough, I suppose. Has its occasional moments, but damn is it out there. The amoral world this film seems to take place in is terrifying. Three people get concussions via bricks being thrown at them, babies get cigarettes thrown on them, Chaplin kicks a guy into a river to drown him. What the fuck, dude.]

The Golden Chance, Cecil B. DeMille. [B-] september 26th 2006.
[Didn't blow me away as a film, but it's really beautiful looking at times. I don't have much to say about this one. I'm just glad to be watching a lot of silent film these days, on account of a class of mine. I'd always kind of put off watching silent films, and it's nice to know that every week I'm going to see at least a little.]

Cyclo, Tran Anh Hung. [A-] september 27th 2006.
[This is a pretty hard movie to watch. Very few good things happen, but I've rarely seen a film portray chaos so compellingly. And I don't mean explosions and violence chaos, though there's a bit of that, I just mean complete abandon. It's a pretty terrifying way to view humanity, and I'm
always chilled when seeing people being reduced to relying on just their pure animal instincts to survive.]

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper. [A] september 27th 2006.
[Speaking of furious movies, god damn. Second time seeing it, and this is like rage being captured on celluloid. Unrelenting, terrifying, brutal. Best horror movie I've ever seen.]

The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick. [B] september 28th 2006.
[Didn't do as much for me the second time around. The voiceovers that I once found so affecting seem almost cartoonish to me now in their relentlessness. As soon as one character stops talking, another begins. Also, the film feels less fragmented and starts revealing a narrative to me that isn't terribly interesting or well-executed and what I once thought was abstraction for the sake of poeticism becomes, at times, abstraction for the sake of salvaging a film that isn't doing so hot otherwise. I don't know, I'm writing this a few days after the fact, and I feel as if I'm being terribly harsh. I still enjoyed it a great deal, and I wonder how much I enjoyed it less because I was watching it with (presenting it to) other people, rather than just allowing myself to enjoy it by myself. This movie's still pretty dear to me and I imagine the third viewing will be more enjoyable for me. It seems sometimes like the first time I watch a movie and pan for all the good things, then the second time I go for the bad things. If the movie still holds up after that level of scrutinization, it stays with me.]

7th Heaven, Frank Borzage. [B] september 30th 2006.
[I'll bet if this movie was made today I'd dismiss a lot of it as schmaltzy. But because it wasn't, I really enjoyed it. I've always been a sucker for this kind of sentimental romance anyway, they've just gotta be well-executed, and this one was. It's kinda fun seeing older movies, like 1927 old, and seeing elements of them in other, more modern movies that you enjoy. My friend likened it to listening to an older record and recognizing a thing that got sampled in another song you've liked for years. It's a satisfying feeling. Some impressive set design and camera movements. At least I thought so, but a professor of mine that was at the screening and is a bit of a silent film aficionado told me that is not the case. I have a very limited set of references for silent films, so on the oen hand I'm just enjoying them and letting myself be impressed by what seems impressive, but on the other hand I have no way of contextualizing what I'm seeing in the general standards of the time, so I'm having a hard time figuring out what is and isn't impressive. That said, I know what I enjoy and that is a pretty static value. This is a really sweet little movie.]