HMWYBS: Colours and Threats in ‘The Exorcist’
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.
I’m probably underestimating the aesthetic value of these shots in William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist but I’ll start my entry with this scene because I did not know where it was going and when I did, it hit personal sides of me. Actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has exhausted many treatments for her daughter named Regan (Linda Blair, in the role that would make and break her career), who changed from being a nice girl into a cursing, welting, throwing, puking machine. The doctors and psychiatrists in white coats surround Chris and tell her that Regan needs ‘the best care’ in the latter’s situation.
And because this is an Ellen Burstyn movie, she says that she’s a strong woman and don’t you dare tell her how to raise her child and Regan is not going to an institution! This inquisition-like deliberation is reminiscent of methods decades ago where male doctors tell female hysterics how to be cured, which makes me wonder how that would subvert gender dynamics if the movie stuck to showing a possessed boy as opposed to the female characters in exorcism movies then and now. To ease the tension and since we already know that this movie is going in this direction, one of the doctors suggests an exorcism, explaining that –
It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the…Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of embarrassment, but uh, it has worked.
He’s all hand gesture-y about it too. Chris responds with –
You’re telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor? Is that it?
Witch doctor? Screw you, MacNeil. Well, at least she’s never fully passive through this ordeal. I can’t say that I’m offended, with all the implications of the word ‘witch.’ But even from a ‘sinner’ who looks at the Church from an ambivalent standpoint I, as a believer, still feel targeted when people, fictional or otherwise, talk about religions as hocus pocus.
But then it’s an adage from Film School 101 that horror as a genre casts doubt on our technology-age, secular society and ironically makes us return to the original way of thinking that we and our ancestors doubted in the first place. The last resort, the one that might cure Regan, is the one that has no scientific proof at all. Even the priests (including Max von Sydow) are shocked that a practice they believe is archaic can heal the possessed.
The threat against an individual as a mirror threat against Catholicism arguably isn’t Friedkin’s intention, although there’s enough visuals to harp for that interpretation to be real enough. One of the movie’s opening images is that of the Virgin, carved from white marble. White, the colour of the civilized hospital words, is also the colour of worship. This movie, as well as David Lynch’s horror movies, uses white or bright colours a lot which is the opposite of the black or red in other movies of the genre. It starts showing Her with the dissolve from an urban American street, perhaps showing Her omniscience. But Her pristine texture can also mean that she’s passive to the world going retrograde and evil, as Justine from Melancholia would say. It even makes me uncomfortable to watch the vandalism against Her image – I almost posted it and decided against it, and it’s probably out on the internet somewhere already – her statue degraded like the ‘evil’ ones that the elder priest’s archaeological team finds in Niniveh in modern Norther Iraq (evil characters as Iraqis, how typical), the Virgin’s body transformed by the changes outside her cloistered church. It’s the same difference when it comes to Regan, we the audience are taken each step towards her transformation into this outlandish creature, making us finally believe that the devil has invaded her.
Just like Regan’s slow changes, we can also feel this ‘threat’ or ‘dread,’ a particular requirement in the horror genre, especially in the other introduction sequences, like the one where the rock picks surround the priest get louder, more menacing and invasive. Or when Chris walks around Georgetown during the autumn and there’s already something suspicious in the way the wind blows and the leaves fall around her. And when Father Karras encounters that ‘former altar boy’ in the New York subway.
And since the demon-populated, pre-Christian beliefs represent human’s innate primeval side, the titular exorcism and thus, the Catholic Church is a force of civilization ironing out humans’ former kinks. Regan’s exorcism reminds me of a well-orchestrated theatre piece where three entities have physical and verbal beat downs, the movie finally going into the shadowed darkness to battle the evil out.
- E is for The Exorcist (nettiethomson.com)
- Tip of the Scalpel to The Scariest Movie of All Time – The Exorcist (dreadcentral.com)
I Participated in This Thing
The Second CAST Awards were announced like four months ago and I’m only posting about it now because I had to catch up on my 2011 movies. Or more appropriately, I said ‘Eff it, I’m going to list my top ten even if everyone’s clamouring about The Raid and no one cares about 2011 anymore.’
I’m also using this news because I always take advantage of any opportunity to make fun of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s overrated movie Drive. Because the other CAST voters placed it as their top film. Or maybe, give it a second chance, since the hype of the movie is the reason I started listening to Kavinsky and College (both bands’ instrumental songs are better than the ones with lyrics), which got me thinking about how I don’t tolerate the soundtrack’s use in the movie while Sofia Coppola’s use of anachronistic music is more palatable in her movie Marie Antoinette from five years ago. In a way both movies have us as an audience are layered on top of themselves as audience members, skewing the narrative and interpreting it as their own.
Me and my friend Sasha James of That Sasha James internet fame reenact or interpretation of Drive‘s dialogue of us just saying ‘Hey’ to each other. Since I have to play The Driver – boo ho me – I say my ‘lines’ with the Peter Fonzarelli accent that Gosling mysteriously has now (Hossein Amini‘s script is very descriptive by the way, making me wonder why that eloquence wasn’t used for the dialogue). And because I’m crazy I do these acting exercises to College’s music when it finally clicked, the sensitivity that’s difficult to catch when your mind is in the wrong place. But how does an actor express and externalize longing and loneliness through ‘Hey?’ I still think that the movie doesn’t do this successfully and I’ll probably never watch the movie again. I will also promise never to make fun of Drive again, but the terrible movies this year makes it difficult for me to find a movie to mock. I don’t like easy targets.
I also wanted to make my top ten post into some manifesto on what I like about movies, since the list may be that diverse. But then I got lazy. So here goes.
Blue Valentine – Because Grizzly Bear is that perfect dash to make Michelle Williams more beautiful.
Pariah – Because I like co-opting other people’s cultures.
Shame – Because it combines how good sex is and how frustrating it is to look for it.
Rampart – Because crazy cameraman are the best.
Tree of Life – Because understanding a movie emotionally should be enough.
Win Win – Because casts should also clown cars.
Jane Eyre – Because sometimes, the first few images are enough.
Essential Killing – Because dream sequences should always be in pink.
The Mill and the Cross – Because I’m a closet Catholic.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Because violence should always be presented with that sheen.
Now I’m going to wait for some more money, buy Carnage and Chronicle on DVD, watch Cabin in the Woods and whatever else that has a green Metacritic rating, do some laundry, go to the doctor and sleep. This emotionally shitty year is over, thank God!
My Movie Year
Andy Hart from FandangoGroovers sent us an e-mail asking us what our best movie years are and instead just blurting out what years I chose, I opted for introducing my reasoning behind the chosen years.
Because I’m suicidal.
There have been other posts like this obviously, citing the year that saw the height noir as a style in 1941. It’s easy to assume that the year before, 1940, might be a weaker year but I don’t think so (what were you thinking, Paolo?). I already said that 1941 was the year of the noir and it was the beginning of stylistic achievements that will be influential for the next forty years. But no one wants to peak young Those arguments, I admit, are me trying to put both years under investigation before I declare them as banner years).
What 1940 has is diversity. What other year could boast an animated movie that has different yet complementary aesthetics and another movie that successfully convinces us that the all-American Jimmy Stewart is European and/or a man of class? What year will we find such comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It was also a great actressing year that followed 1939. Joan Fontaine being the light anchor in only Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Katharine Hepburn returns and makes the studios realize that her sense of comic timing can crowd the movie theatres. And Vivien Leigh simply haunts us. The movies: Fantasia, The Shop Around the Corner, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Waterloo Bridge.
Because it was the year of (forgotten) classics.
1955 saw three movies so breathtaking that it almost makes me want to say ‘Revisionist Western,’ although it would be too anachronistic to use that phrase. But those movies subverts North American ideas of villainy, race and It was also the year of the blond.
Doing away with her Academy Award-winning de-glam, Grace Kelly has a career-best performance in another Hitchcock movie as a smart golden-locked woman. Shelley Winters plays victim to Robert Mitchum, too charming to be good, but she might not necessarily be dumb. Marilyn Monroe almost steals Evelyn Keyes’ husband and makes us think differently about the hot air on street vents. Julie Harris, a honey blond, steers the lost James Dean, in his best performance, into sanity and domesticity. But the brunettes represented too, James Dean also finding love in a hopeful teenager Natalie Wood. Jean Simmons making Marlon Brando fly her to Cuba and she still won’t give him the love that he doesn’t deserve yet. And Martine Carol, overshadowed by younger French actresses, gives us a 19th cnetury circus act that we should never forget. The movies: The Night of the Hunter, East of Eden, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Catch a Thief, Lola Montes.
Because I might be suicidal after all.
1974 saw most movies come back to the streets. Walter Matthau deals with a subway train gets high jacked in Manhattan, New York City by good for nothing British terrorists. Los Angeles saw its share of impersonators, near impossible water shortages and crazy ladies chasing for their children riding in school buses. In San Francisco, Gene Hackman and John Cazale do their job as many lovely yet suspicious conversations under wiretap. And the past catches up with the present as Michael Corleone does his best to escape chaos and brotherly betrayal in Havana, Cuba. But that doesn’t mean that the rural areas didn’t get some love, as a singer travels to find a job and a college student finds a crazy family.
When it comes to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese directs a melodrama (he needs to do another one and if you say Hugo I swear I’ll…). Francis Ford Coppola created a kinetic magnum opus and lost Best Picture against himself. A frazzled married woman played by Gena Rowlands and a tough woman with a tougher lawyer in Faye Dunaway lose to determined single mother brought to life by Ellen Burstyn. The movies: The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence.
Because I’m a hopeless romantic.
2010 was the year I started blogging, the year culminating the plurality that independent cinema has worked for in the past forty years. Indie masters like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Edgar Wright made movies with actors who will become Hollywood’s future and made hundreds of millions of dollars with them. I’m going to try to stop overusing the word ‘indie’ no, although I used it one last time to a movie so good that it doesn’t even need to be finished.
But in 2010, I surprisingly found sympathy within mopey characters aimlessly wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Or it could be London, where a reluctant king impersonates an Emperor penguin for the young daughters who themselves will make history. Boston also has its share of competitive brothers, both brothers and their entertainingly abrasive mother, sisters and wives. A brother and sister explore what we assume is Lebanon and learn a heart wrenching through, out of all things, mathematics. The fashionable Milan has a shy, Russian housewife learning what love is in its primal states, throwing her life away from him. And I learned how to love an overrated director since he created characters who can make the Parisian streets of their dreams shake and bend. The movies: Greenberg, I am Love, Meek’s Cutoff, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Fighter.
Other years under further investigation: 1927 – the year when the Academy started getting it wrong (Sunrise, Metropolis), 1939 – the height of the studios (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind), 1966 – the year when we said terrible things to each other a lot (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Persona), 1988 – when he loved and hated the Germans (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, Die Hard), 1991 – genre versus genre (Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 2001 – weirdest sexiest year ever (Mulholland Drive, Y Tu Mama Tambien).
Nicholas Ray’s “King of Kings”
The Bible is renowned for its simplicity but it’s more complex than Christopher Hitchens or most people give it credit for. I’ve ruminated about Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings, not to be mistaken with de Mille’s version. And it’s always been my obsession to know the differences between the four Gospels and its relation to the film adaptations.
I watched the movie when I still had TCM and couldn’t distinguish it from the other, overlong epic period movies at the same time. I didn’t give it a chance and I changed the channel, regrettably. Thank serendipity for the second run-in, when I saw Ray, through Orson Welles’ Godlike voice over contextualizing Jesus’ rise with Roman imperialism, infrastructure building and the burden of oncoming tribal hostility between Jews and Arabs.
I will say that the movie’s depiction of the historical figures somehow contradicts Biblical accounts and sometimes, one woman’s spirit is captured more so than the other. Mary (Siobhan McKenna) has a soldier-like loyalty to God, willing to ride an improvised steed to Egypt to run away from a Herodain onslaught, She also returns to Nazareth and showing to a Roman official named Lucius that Her young son is the only one who survives. The book and movie fork into the interpretations of the Virgin, as the Gospel of Luke already shows Her, in pregnancy, as an indoctrinated, militant woman poetically reciting Her knowledge of Her purpose in the Father’s master plan. Although the movie’s portrait of Her is delightful enough, the Mother learning from the Youth and His lessons of peace of love which counters the warlike ideology of the area and period. She shares these lessons with Magdalene, a possessed woman in the Bible but commonly depicted as a prostitute in adaptations.
Salome is also maligned as well as her family. In the movie’s first scenes, Herod Antipas ousts his ailing and genocidal father, the son having respect for his enemies like the unknown Saviour and His cousin who grows up to be John the Baptist (the interestingly cast Robert Ryan). Antipas marries Herodias, bringing her daughter Salome in tow. Salome dances her way into getting John beheaded, the texts portraying her as Herodias’ weapon. Ray’s version subverts these women’s characteristics. Salome becomes a lustful young woman, having her stepfather’s father’s violent streak, ending her dance by sitting on the same thrown that Antipas himself has stolen. It’s easy to joke that her similarities with Herod exposes Antipas’ subliminal lust for his own father. Herodias, on the hand, isn’t as scheming as she’s depicted in the Bible, the film actually placing her as one of the audiences on the Sermon on the Mount with Lucius, both authority figures attracted to the message that tries to destroy the system that makes them benefit.
Lastly, there’s Judas Iscariot, the Bible characterizing him as a thief and traitor. Contemporary interpretations of him have always wondered why Jesus would include Iscariot into His fold, most likely knowing that he needs someone to help Him sacrifice Himself. Norman Jewison has a black actor for Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and we can add whatever symbolism we can to the colour blind ensemble, keeping in mind the racial tensions in the 70’s. Ray also paints Iscariot as a Zealot but chose a different strategy in his casting. It’s already strange and absolutely typical of Hollywood to hire the all-American Jeffrey Hunter, who does his best as the quote-worthy preacher. For Judas he picks another dirty blonde, Rip Torn, showing these two men as mirror images, Iscariot’s double loyalties haunted by Jesus unwavering sympathy, a part of a complex, political rendition of the Saviour’s life and world.
Road to Hollywood: Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show, the title of what could be Peter Bogdanovich’s only good movie, begins in the early 1950’s with a teenager named Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) trying to have a smooth drive in his heap of junk of a truck while the Hank Williams on his radio fills in between the sound of tumbleweeds and violent dead wind. The scene develops, he gets out in front of a pool hall, meets the owner Sam (Ben Johnson), the latter’s son, and Sonny’s best friend Dwayne (Jeff Bridges). Methodically the grubby cinematography and the camera’s closeness is almost un-cinematically counter-intuitive but it also feels like a welcome change, like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren chronicling the smutty lives of straight rural Texans. It’s a good old evocation of mood while simultaneously cutting the BS.
These men are in between stages of feral wolf-boyhood and foreshadowed deep-voiced manhood. The older men see them as members of their incompetent football team but within the same day they neck with their girlfriends in the dark while watching an Elizabeth Taylor picture. The Last Picture Show, like many late 20th century young adult texts, is about sexual awakenings and missteps. Sonny meets an older woman named Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman, looking her best in a deserved Oscar-winning performance) and stands her for a few more minutes. While their friendship gets uncomfortably close, Dwayne’s girlfriend Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd, a more girly version of Faye Dunaway) does her own exploring. Both characters repeat the patterns of the previous generation, Jacy taking after her mother Lois (the versatile Ellen Burstyn being hilarious and foxy). All of these are going on while these teenagers, walking slowly into being roughnecks, express their cynicism for a school and town that isn’t worth saving.
The audience knows what’s going to happen when Sonny takes out the trash with Ruth the same way that they react negatively to the relationships and friendships that the insufferable Jacy ruins. And yes, you’re allowed to use that and the phrases in the previous paragraph as euphemisms as long as you give Bogdanovich and co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry some credit. Anyway, the impressions that these characters take in their worst and most shocking scenes are so strong that we forget how Bogdanovich and McMurtry plants the seeds for these outcomes to happen. The movie doesn’t give us alarum bells when Sonny’s coach asks for him to drive Ruth to the clinic the same way that we don’t see Jacy’s layered reaction to Lois’ lessons of shrewdness. These pivotal moments and decisions occur in seventeen seconds instead of minutes.
It has echoes in others tackling post-Western desolation but it also references past movies like the magnum opus directed by Bogdanovich’s idol Orson Welles. It has delightful moments, like a Western-styled non-standoff between Sonny and Sam, referred by the latter’s diner cook/hamburger expert Genevieve (the tough Eileen Brennan). Or real standoffs when its frank characters squeak their voices and destroy the English language, not that I’m one to talk. Then there’s all the awkward sex in between and all the scenes everyone else has talked about because this movie deserves it. The Last Picture Show is part of the Road to Hollywood, its next dates being April 3 and 5, promoting the TCM Classic Film Festival in LA between April 12 and 15. To the two people I know who are going to the festival, I am extremely jealous of you.
Parenthood: A Separation
I saw Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation after I wrote my Parenthood in 2011 Cinema post and I didn’t want to just write a sentence or two and ruin that post’s flow. And I’ll probably decide to discuss the movie outside its gender/familial dynamics. So voilà.
A Separation gives attention to how members of its society views and examines motherhood and womanhood, among the many complex topics upon which the movie beautifully touches. Nader (Peyman Maadi) deals with his father’s (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) incapacity by hiring working class Razieh (Sareh Bayat) as a daytime housekeeper and caretaker for his father while he leaves for work. After a dispute between them – some money is missing in Nader’s drawers and he of course accuses her of theft – he pushes her, possibly leading to her miscarriage.
If Nader is found guilty of causing the miscarriage, it’s murder under Iranian law. Nader’s pre-trial takes place in some bureaucrat judge’s office, where he has to bring witnesses like his daughter Termeh and her tutor to prove that he didn’t know – I also can’t help but point how as much as it’s perfunctory for both families to bring their children in to exonerate themselves, it’s still simultaneously hella classy and tragic, the daughters seeing handcuffs and Termeh seeing her father wearing a pair and being one of them criminals.
He has to prove that he couldn’t hear a conversation revealing Razieh’s pregnancy, etc. Both Razieh and her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) question Nader’s and the testimonies supporting him. How could he not have known? It’s obvious just by looking at her. I can’t look up Nader’s verbatim but he says something like how he couldn’t tell that she was pregnant because of the chador. I didn’t want to read it in a way that a first world perspective would, I coming from a third world background who sees the chador as a choice. Nevertheless, I still can’t help but hear this line as a critique of Islam, that article of clothing oppressively weighing her down.
I couldn’t see this movie any other way, as the chador is inescapably bound to Razieh’s character. It accentuates the waddle that she has as she goes up the stairs to Nader’s apartment, or her ghostlike running as she looks for Nader’s father or her hurried face and hands as she tells Hodjat not to take Nader’s money. Bayat’s award-winning performance fleshes out a woman whose duties as a mother and wife of a man drowned in debt is showing through her physicality, with or without that article of clothing. But that doesn’t mean that her words don’t matter neither, her Streepian revelation of ‘I have doubts’ contributing to the moral duplicity that the movie shows with sympathy and without judgment.
The movie can be seen as one with two halves. We spent the first half with Razieh while the second is where Nader’s wife Simin (Leila Hatami) dominates. A Western rendition of this story would have had to soften Simin up or villain-ize her. I don’t begrudge her for leaving home to move back in to her mother’s or being unable to take care of her father-in-law because she’s always at work although I know one or two wackos who would find a problem with that.
It is uncomfortable watching her push Termeh around, the latter reluctant to leave her father and Iran. Or that both husband and wife lock each other into a staring contest, waiting for the other to blink so he or she can blink back. She packs her bags into her car, waiting for Nader to agree with everything she wants. They’ve gotten to the point when compromise, an iomportant part in maintaining a family, is impossible, even if both can’t be seen as in the wrong. Both are proud, which I read as a masculine trait while neither character is ‘feminized.’ In the portrayal of their relationship, they’re even – their qualities and decisions aren’t divisible by stereotypes, Nader and Simin are the more ‘progressive’ yet flawed couple, unlike Razieh and Hojjat who are still bound by religion and patriarchy.
Let’s not forget that their separation occurs because she wants a better life for her family, their pre-trial being that electric Arthur Miller-like scene that sets the movie’s humanizing tone. She doesn’t have to prove anything as the story lets us know what her intentions are in the first place. And let me just say that my hesitation to view these characters’ tribulations as a critique of Iran’s theocracy and justice system. Every country sucks, every bureaucrat seen with disdain, especially ones who can sentence others although they don’t know the ‘whole story.’ Whether we’ve been struck by quandary like this, the movie still calls on our fears that we can be maligned. Either if it’s on a criminal standpoint, when people can get jailed for things they didn’t know were wrong – and you can’t get acquitted for ‘not knowing what you did was wrong,’ on a legal standpoint – or just under others’ piercing eyes of.
If the mothers in this movie symbolize a the state of benig broken, Razieh transgressing by taking care of two fractured families while Simin being the point of one fracture, the fathers then posit themselves as the fortress of the family. Nader tries to teach Farsi words to Termeh, despite her protestations that her school system prefers Arabic words. But if that means that he’s the ‘conservative’ stronghold of the family, then I don’t know whether telling his daughter that it’s ok to, spoiler, lie in court is deviance or traditional self-preservation. Every scene with Nader and Termeh has this slight sense of danger that a jerk is raising someone who will be a jerk.
Hojjat, however, tries to keep his family afloat through his creditors, sometimes forsaking his wife’s religiosity for their much-needed money. He’s a a man, after years of unemployment and trauma, whose version of protecting his family is harming others. It’s this sort of personal dysfunction that provides us with the most nuanced characters whom we haven’t seen for a long time until now.
Friend 1: I want Casablanca to be my deathbed movie.
Friend 2 and I: You won’t like it the first time.
That’s because I didn’t. This also reminds me of that time I went to a public screening of the 2009/2010 Oscars when they were trivia-ing about the last year when there were ten Best Picture nominees, 1943 being that year when Casablanca won against nine other movies that no one remembers about and these two college-educated yet ditzy sounding girls behind me said ‘I HATE Ingrid Bergman.’ At that point of the night I wasn’t drunk enough to yell at her. But that’s also due to realizing that there’s a vocal minority that’s been maligned against Bergman and the other cast members because of their average performances in this movie. And I was one of those people. It took me the second time to realize that it was good and a third time to see its details while making fun of Drive on Twitter procrastinating on getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party that, no offense, could never have been as classy as the one I was watching.
Casablanca is a decidedly different background for a reunion for stars Humphrey Bogart, Hollywood’s first yo-yo dieter Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet or as I like to call it, this movie makes these ugly guys look good. Warner Brothers had the beat-up looking stars, Paramount despite of what we know has the hottest ones and MGM had the ones who could dance and sing. This summarizes our lecture on American Filmmaking in Studio Era Hollywood. Anyway, director Michael Curtiz turns these actors who, during the Maltese Falcon, looked scrappy with some disposable income, into white tuxedo, bow tie wearers who have more disposable income. His camera flattering them as they’re on ‘vacation’ – they might stroll on the streets and get a little tan and they look well rested despite their anxieties of exile and war and morality.
It didn’t start to impress me until the scene when Sam (Dooley Wilson) performs “Knock on Wood,” when I realized that the first seventy minutes here make up for the most fluid musical ever made. Two or three scenes of dialogue between songs in the right mix for the genre. And when the songs happen, Sam or the other performers have the same spotlight on them but they’re integrated with the bar/saloon’s patrons. Other musicals would have the performer and his spotlight dominating the screen, either forcing an externalized manifestation of their inner thoughts or the performer altering the world around him. It’s a kind of cheat that this ‘musical’ takes place in an environment where one can hear music but it’s more natural and we’re all the better for it.
I remember the second time I saw this, realizing that the reason for this movie is to make love to Bergman’s luminous, youthful face. As Ilsa Lund, she and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) unknowingly enters her ex boyfriend’s namesake bar Rick’s (Bogart). Repeat viewings shed light on the familiar, also showing her maturity at 27, when actresses today don’t get taken seriously until they’re 31. She’s the most beautiful actress to beg Bogart for something and simultaneously break his heart. Acting wise she does all the work while Bogart, for what seems to be the first time in his career, is cool and collected. But somehow these opposite acting strategies work together. And as I’ve said before, he looks good here, blissfully enjoying Paris during the flashbacks.
The cinematography serves the leads as it does with Rick’s establishment, the glitters from dresses worn near the bar and casino and the darkness when the patrons have all disappeared. The symmetry of these deep shadows evoke noir techniques I’ve seen in British romance movies of the era, where the love can forbidden despite the lack of guns. And unlike noirs where the men’s silhouettes haunt the alleyways and doors, the chiaroscuro stays indoors and somehow the frame doesn’t make me feel cagey. These sequences also reminds me of Curtiz’ later work in Mildred Pierce.
I don’t know why I didn’t like it the first time and that would have made an interesting post. I thought that the lines were cheesy, perhaps? But all cylinders fired off in repeat viewings and I don’t know why it took me this long for me to love this movie.
Friday Film: Fanny och Alexander
Ingmar Bergman‘s Fanny och Alexander is not just a pretty gilded portrait of a well to do Swedish family, the Ekdahls, who face constant threats towards its dissolution. Interpretations of this movie are boundless, whether we’re looking at it in terms of class, religion, life reflecting art, human fortitude and intentionally terrible child rearing.
I also see the widowed actress Emilie Ekdahl’s (Ewa Froeling) second marriage to Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo) and their inevitably toxic relationship as a metaphor for the austere nature of mourning.
Critics have applauded the film’s lack of neuroses but let’s be tools and look at it in that perspective anyway. Besides, this is about Emilie’s son Alexander’s (Bertil Guve) childhood and the events in that stage of his life will be the one he would most likely recall as a functioning yet fractured adult would. The spirit of Alexander’s father Oscar first appears while playing the piano and seems to rest after he gives his son advice. What haunts me the most is when Edvard visits Alexander. As if by helping killing Edvard off – there’s a part of me that wants that scene remade so that I can see what Jessica Chastain, who so really needs more work, can do as Ishmael, Alexander’s mystical ally – Alexander replaces his father with his strict stepfather. ‘The horrible, dirty life engulfs us’ as Alexander’s grandmother Helene says as she wipes her tears and leans on her Jewish paramour Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). But the Ekdahls are a well-natured bunch and their happy moments cushion the movie’s scary message.
LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring
While watching Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen, my friends, as you, realize that I have never seen it until now. Yeah, it’s really sad.
Movies with people with long hair look more dated than movies with people with short hair. This is the conclusion I got from looking at Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) hair. But I don’t say the word dated as an insult and other elements in the movie that give it that vintage-y vibe. The colors here are deeper as opposed to saturated or drained. The CGI, which is unfortunately becoming director Peter Jackson‘s signature as of late, is almost absent if not beautifully seamless.
And yes, I’m surprised at how Peter Jackson-y this movie is, having fewer similarities with King Kong and more with his earlier and raw work like Heavenly Creatures. He takes shots of Frodo and other characters in a voyeuristic way through windows or through uncomfortable arm’s-length distances. It’s also close-up heavy, like that of Gandalf the Grey’s (Ian McKellen) who makes us feel like he’s larger than life. Jackson also gives that sense of urgency, telling Frodo, and us the audience, about strange lands from which Hobbits are supposed to stay away. In the same vein, tracking shots and zoom outs, like the one when Gandalf visits Saruman (Christopher Lee), have just enough wobble to let its audience know that a human being is behind the camera.
After a prologue, this trilogy starts with peace, showing the Hobbits living within the greenery of the Shire. Short shot lengths follow the unnamed citizenry of Hobbiton, their images accompanied by the bucolic music. The Hobbits seem immortal and magical but they’re more relatable because their lives aren’t as busy as the other races living miles away. The movie is more famous for its fantasy and its battle scenes, but this beginning shows how the hobbits are beautifully oblivious towards what could be lost. The same short cuts are employed when other races disturb the peace, as Jackson introduces the black riders. His camera bordering on sadomasochistic fetishism as he closes up on their hooded heads and horses’ hooves or mouths – i.e. they might be scary but those armored gloves look shiny and intricate. And when the Uruk-hai assemble their army, the Orcs’ faces crying out for battle.
The same rapid cuts are used when Arwen (Liv Tyler), a female elf, rescues Frodo, a male, and says something in Elvish to wash the black riders away. I mention the genders to obviously point out how the scene subverts expectations towards them. The only other thing I can say about that is that it reminds me of how these horses are weapon as they were used in historical crusades, the riders evoking evil Conquistadors while Arwen rides on with her virtuous looking white horse. It’s an intensely badass scene, transitioning into one of two hallucinatory hazes, the first one involving Frodo convalesces in Rivendell, as he sees other elves comforting him. These white flashes strangely fit into the movie itself.
Ok I lied. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Fellowship, having seen glimpses of it when Teletoon was constantly playing this movie. They go to Mount Doom via the Mines of Moria where the titular fellowship made up of men of random races fight the Orcs. Gandalf and a Balrog have a death match culminating into Gandalf saying ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!,’ that seminal moment in gay history. Gandalf’s loss is one of two blows against the fellowship, but I held back my tears because rangers from the noble race of Men like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean) are on the screen. I had this irrational feeling that if I did cry, those men would have jumped off the screen and made fun of me for being such a wuss. Which says a lot about how it handles that event, these characters gaining control despite Gandalf’s absence.
The rest of this leg of the epic journey is pretty masculine with the well representation of Aragorn and Boromir, but it’s masculine in a valiant and not in a constricting way. The movie also questions that aspect of themselves, with Aragron’s self loathing doubts and Boromir’s close calls with temptation. It’s a great story about clashes and friendship set in the most luscious of fantasy worlds.
- Apocalypse World moves in the Fellowship of the Ring (takeonrules.com)
Bergman’s The Virgin Spring
The Virgin Spring seems to ask: Why are teenage girls perpetually dumber that we expect them? Tore (Max von Sydow) sends his daughter Karin (Brigitta Pettersson) out on a simple errand but within her little pilgrimage she does things that common sense would tell the audience not to do.
Why would she go into a dark forest without hesitation or go on without her escort? Why would she let herself get distracted by suspicious looking men?
This movie seems different from Ingmar Bergman‘s later, more excellent films because of its straightforward approach towards storytelling, but he comes up with a great formula nonetheless. He compartmentalizes every part of the narrative, the script firing off one section or character evenly.
And I know that Hollywood rules don’t apply to him but I also somehow applaud his decision to show a graphic sexual assault but not a murder. In 1960.
It has a straightforward enough of a message but we can also dig for the complexities within this cautionary tale. We can say that this movie exposes the arbitrary and cruel nature of violence, as she’s taken away without warning.
Instead of saying ‘bad things happen to people,’ we can say that God punishes a girl for her lack of judgment, innocence, gullibility, altruism and obliviousness.
They aren’t necessarily vices but I assume that contemporary audience’s eyes see her qualities as flaws working against her survival. We’re not looking at her merely as a victim because a victim is a blank slate and she is not.
And as much as it is about Karin it’s also equally about the people around her, and through them Bergman finds room for complex character studies within this simple movie. An example is Karin’s more beautiful yet pregnant escort Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom).
In the earlier part of their journey they argue about Karin dancing with the father of Ingeri’s child, being doubtful of anyone’s purity. She leaves Karin for a while, making a pit stop at a cabin and then running away to follow Karin from a distance.
Ingeri inadvertently watches as Simon and his cohorts assault her. Keeping her pregnancy in mind, she also behaves as if constantly troubled, and being a constant survivor doesn’t help her guilt and powerlessness.
There’s also Tore and his reactions towards the news of her daughter’s violent murder. As luck would have it, Karin’s murderers would ask to lodge in his home. He avenges her but his act doesn’t satisfy him.
The titular spring appears where her body is found, a sign of her family’s redemption. But since the movie has gotten to the point in depicting Tore’s part of the story, it shows a family with one less child, a community broken from a future that could have been.
- My 15 Favourite Moments in Ingmar Bergman Movies (via Southern Vision) (manonmona.wordpress.com)
Birthday Movie: East of Eden
East of Eden has the best hair. Aaron (Smiths album cover boy Richard Davalos) resting with his girlfriend Abra (Tony-winning Julie Harris) after running around a barn, as his good-natured yet impish younger brother Cal (James Dean) watches from behind an ice-cube. Cal perpetually looking like a teenager who just woke up, perpetually watching. Later on, Aaron again lies down on his stomach on his father’s lawn, face up, the picture of pastoral boyhood, weighing in on the Great War and money concerns as if from a distance. Cal lying down on neighbouring farm land, impatiently watching his rows upon rows of bean sprouts grow from up close. Blessed with bounty, the citizens of Monterey establish civilizations under the guise of creation, of failures and successes but are nonetheless wary of the tension that is actually closer than they think.
They are brothers and therefore born rivals, the story marking their competition even through the different personalities of their parents. Aaron taking on his father Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) and Cal with the mysterious Kate (Jo van Fleet) who lives on a suspicious house on a hill. But the lines within the family criss-cross too. Cal’s entrepreneurial skills come from both parents – as much as his business ventures are unethical, he also gets Adam’s wild yet good-intentioned visions of their Californian goods reaching outside the state. The performances also serve as a key to their genetic similarities, Aaron echoing Kate’s tough-love parental instincts towards Cal, in one scene telling him to go watch the rally. Dean, in turn, plays Cal as fidgety as a regular teenager.
The sequence when Cal and Abra go to the circus, one of the most novelistic and symbol-heavy patterns of storytelling in cinema. These friends walk through a hall of mirrors, skewing one of the most handsome faces in film into monsters. They meet one of Cal’s Mexican girlfriends, he kisses Abra on the Ferris wheel, he climbs down and jumps on a mob. All these events awakening innocent Abra’s sexuality, although her reaction towards him is tame by today’s standards. He becomes an imp again, his jealousy and Adamr’s rejection causing him to tell a family secret that would destroy Aaron, proudly telling his father what he has accomplished. He would twice destroy the angelic female that Aaron holds dear. In a movie about beauty and broken purity, Cal redeems himself, fixing things with his broken self and family as he has always intended.
- James Dean’s Brother Love (MNPP)
TIFF Hangover: Fish Tank.
Sleep deprivation in 2009 would probably have made me wonder ‘What is this HORSE doing in Fish Tank?!’ But the day before this year’s festival’s kickoff might be the perfect time to watch this to prepare for Michael Fassbender and Andrea Arnold‘s new works. This movie also has the funniest one liners and might be the only Criterion that features a Cassie song.
Nick wrote that Katie Jarvis should have been nominated for an Oscar, which my friends doubted because she was playing ‘herself’ here. I’ll never know what ‘herself’ is, but it’s probably the only time I’ll see an actress convey emotion even when her back is towards the camera. Her performance, the imagery and even the horse adds to its novelistic feel.
The Golden Age: Gosford Park
The first time I saw this film I thought it was lighter and less stiff upper lip than its reputation. I even tolerated that it used the oldest joke in the book – ‘…deaf in one ear.’ ‘Sorry?’ I also thought that this would end up being one of those movies where ‘nothing ever happens,’ even if it does.
Pardon the socialist reading of the film, but Robert Altman‘s GOSFORD PARK shows the class stratification between the dying British noble class and their servants. The latter is both gossipy best friend and lap dog to the former, this dual role making the relationship more complex, nuanced and multifaceted than any worse ‘camp’ possibilities it might have already had.
This latent function of the servants make them the eyes or the audience stand-ins for the movie, especially Mary MacEchran (Kelly MacDonald), the ‘Miss Trentham’ to Countess Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), Mary being new to the country world as we are. She’s the one finding out things like bringing a small box to store jewels that would be used on the first night. The secrets of the house falls under her lap, and she spends a significant time in the film running around the servants’ level to ask her coworkers why they’ve done certain things she wouldn’t.
What I love about this film are the scenes like Constance throwing a scarf at Mary to pack while leaving the house. It’s simple moments like this that can create a feeling of outrage within an audience, specifically because of how fast they can happen. Constance also does this childlike, as if she’s doing nothing wrong.
Then I realized that Constance, just like the upper classes in most movies set in the first half of the twentieth century, is a child. She needs an allowance that is threatened by Lady Sylvia McCordle’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) husband, businessman William (Michael Gambon), who for some reason has control of the finances that would be passed down from centuries long lines of nobles. It also reminds me of Vera’s condescension towards her own mother in “Mildred Pierce,” a warped and archaic mind-set that income is a birthright.
By earning his, William is threatening the nobility’s old world order, although that doesn’t stop them from depending on him. He is the one to ask for allowances and investment money, having created many businesses that continually exploit the poor in many ways. And they get disgruntled when he ruthlessly takes away.
The movie also shows the characters’ diverse reactions what is happening around them. Constance anticipates the shame in the inevitable event that would lead all of them to confess their grievances about William. Mary grows, although the sills she attains as a novice servant may eventually be useless. Sylvia’s callous, thinking about selling the house as if that is only a minor change.
However, there are characters like Elsie (Emily Watson, who usually plays innocent roles), the first head maid, the woman who teaches Mary about the big and little things about serving in a country house. She’s like the older sister, smoking a cigarette and telling a younger Mary on her lovers and the realities of romance and sex in the upper and middle classes. She wards off Henry Denton’s (Ryan Philippe) come-ons. She gets sacked for speaking to Sylvia out of turn but she bravely says that this even ‘might be the making of me,’ riding off in Hollywood producer Mr. Morris Weissman’s (Bob Balaban) car, a beginning in itself.
Similar Images #1: Parent and Child
A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes; 1974)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick; 2011)
Series idea via Tomas Sutpen. Yes, I should get tumblr but I just got a gmail this week. Baby steps. Yes, I am a copycat. Yes, I may have just helped you write a thesis. And yes, these shots summarize half of the movies they come from Check out the other half next week.
Judy Overload: Wizard of Oz
Frank L. Baum‘s book The Wizard of Oz was a downer when it reveals that Oz is a fake. Either he’s posing as a wizard to stop the anarchy that the bad witches represent or the picture show is his way of fitting into the magical world. The adaptation’s loyal to the source material, as Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) shitty life in the middle of nowhere changes when a hurricane transports her into the magical world where, among many things, she meets Glinda the Good Witch of the North. ‘I beg your pardon, but, I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.’
She’s not that pretty. And for a good witch she’s not hesitant to make a girl walk alone in heels with three strange men. Or the ‘munchkin’ explosion – this is the kind of high quality film criticism you can expect from me – at ‘The Witch is Dead’ number, one of the munchkins being a very tall child. There was like a hundred of them MGM, you can’t give up now! Yes, seeing this as a young adult, I couldn’t help but snark at some of the film’s dream logic or gay innuendo.
But as the colour sets in, the performances become livelier. Matt Mazur wrote about Margaret Hamilton’s work, but my MVP is Ray Bolger. Playing Hunk, his klutziness during the BW parts dialed down to 1930s bit-part standards, but when Dorothy meets Bolger as Scarecrow his physicality astounds. Along with this technicolour cast he is more believable, ushering a new era in cinema. Colour doesn’t hide anything. This should have won Best Picture despite the competition, because it presents a challenge for movies to reach new heights.
That doesn’t mean it abandons all ‘older’ methods and cues. The ‘oh-we-oh’ tune sounds like something you’d hear in a film half a decade earlier than this one but it doesn’t make the film feel dated. The way the film can borrow little hints from older and newer styles is simply magical.
Speaking of Judy Garland, Judgment of Nuremberg is playing at the Lightbox today at 6:30. Vincent Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz is part of TIFF in the Park showing selected musical films. Tomorrow’s is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
- This isn’t Kansas Dorothy (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)
Malick’s “The Tree of Life”
The Tree of Life is a film more expansive than director Terrence Malick‘s previous work. A quote from the Book of Job. A nebulous entity with an adult Jack O’Brien’s (Sean Penn) voice. The O’Briens losing their 19-year-old middle son R.L. to an unnamed war. Jack’s voice accompanying fast, neon lights. Urbanite Jack living his architect life, having a tense phone conversation with his father, lighting a candle to commemorate his brother’s death. Jack and his mother’s (Jessica Chastain) voices on a quest for answers as we see the world’s biological prehistory. Short moments of Jack’s mother as a child. Jack’s mother becoming Mrs. O’Brien because of a dashing man in a white navy uniform (Brad Pitt) and starting a family in Waco, Texas. Giving birth and being there as Jack, as a toddler, learns and experiences things for the first time.
I do stand by one thing about this movie – Jack’s father is an asshole, for some reason the scenes that feature him having more personal importance than others. Given the film’s length, it’s generous enough to show its audience a diverse set of moments including Mr. O’Brien’s, starting us off with his seemingly innocent sternness. But he inadvertently indoctrinates them in this world of machismo and class angst, strangely enough since it looks like they have nothing to complain about property-wise. The film also uses one scene for its audience to distrust and hate that character, to show that his relationship with his family might never be mended, despite keeping up appearances.
Mr. O’Brien is a monster but thanks to Pitt building a great character, he is not a violent caricature. Eventually, young Jack’s (Hunter McCracken) anger towards his father surfaces, and the latter’s reactions vary. It’s his human moments that make Mr. O’Brien more fearsome. We see Jack’s father through his eldest son’s flashbacks, a strong balance of a detailed, mature understanding and a childlike/adolescent fear. It’s more difficult for someone to be hurt a few times by someone who they love, knowing that a person is inseparable from the ones who cause them pain.
Mr. O’Brien isn’t the only character subjected through this impressionistic depiction. Mrs. O’Brien, her disgusted face at her mother(-in-law?)’s (Fiona Shaw) terrible advice showing us that she would blossom more if she was born ten years later and/or read Simone de Beauvoir. To her sons, she’s a playmate, and especially to Jack, she’s a teacher, an inadvertent target of Freudian tension, disciplinarian, a Saint Veronica and a terrible cook. Or young, cherubic R.L. (Laramie Eppler), trusting of Jack and doesn’t treat his older brother as a competitor. The two, with the neighourhood boys, play like they want to win Darwin Awards. They add subtle humour to the film’s spiritual and philosophical film, mixed with both a childhood and an inarticulate yet poetically working-class experience.
This voluminous film turns its audience into lucid viewers, observant of its every detail as well as making us ask why Jack doesn’t talk to his wife or father about these issues, why in such a big house would the three sons room together or why the youngest son is treated like a prop. Devoid of obvious musical cues or other director tricks, these stories are intertwined, devastating moments seamlessly mixed in with more idyllic ones, letting its audience judge what Jack’s life and inner thoughts are like, if the part about the world’s biological prehistory influences the way we look at the O’Briens as they love and hurt each other, and if the ending provides closure or not. 4.5/5
- Review: The Tree of Life (thestar.com)
The 400 Blows
I saw The 400 Blows for the second time without subtitles which was brutal, except that I paid more attention to things like Jean-Pierre Leaud‘s acting tics as he plays Antoine Doinel. He quickly looks away while he’s talking to his mother, scornfully dismissing her. He’s not necessarily that cruel, telling her about his problems at school, a normal frustration for a child that she understands. Or when he’s being interviewed by one of the officials in the youth camp where he’s sent, talking about abortions and prostitutes with frankness or the occasional impish grin. Leaud’s Antoine seems more experienced in life than his character in Masculin Feminin. Director Francois Truffaut is lucky to have found him.
Or the camera work, like when a line of schoolboys get shorter and how half of the adults in the area are so complacent about this as well as towards Antoine’s antics. If only we were schoolboys in Paris too. Antoine’s predicament is unfair since everyone does what he gets repeatedly punished for. Kids should never be treated this barbaric – there’s a racially ambiguous child in this film being fed toothpaste – but how do adults act when a child does bad things again and again?
Or Antoine and his best friend’s costumes. The best friend wears a suit and tie while Antoine wears flannel. The rich one has the ideas and the poor one does the work, thinking their plans are foolproof. I can marvel at the film’s shot compositions while the ghetto side of me comes out and thinks ‘punk ass stillin’ a typewriter, yo!’ I used to meet older Antoines and hear their stories about starting theft under $5000 in middle school. It’s a relief that my generation isn’t the only one who are guilty. I also get angry when he’s being treated badly, but the music calms me, toning my range down to defenseless pity. Melodrama wouldn’t suit a film about Antoine – in spite of oppression he never cries, and he totally can pull that card since he’s young enough. Whether it’s the occasional home troubles, mixed in with happy moments or the downward spiral of the film’s last 25 minutes, the film doesn’t allow for those kind of heightened emotions.
This film is also why you shouldn’t go to theory-based film classes. The first text I got writes something about how Antoine’s final close-up is unsettling, which thanks for the spoiler – and yes, I’m a hypocrite. The ending doesn’t close the plot, but I don’t necessarily see that as unsettling as opposed to showing him as a representative to a generation. Truffaut made sequels for the film, but for now Antoine’s future comes to a stand still.
Shots of Fantasy: Heavenly Creatures
This post is for Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.
The second time I saw Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was on the big screen, brought by CINSSU in the winter of 2008. Peter Kuplowsky introduced it, saying that this movie never gets shown in its proper format and getting it on 35 and screening it will do the film justice. Which makes my best shot above gloriously majestic. Peter Jackson doesn’t need to go the extra mile to show the girls’ fantasy world. This shot, instead, is all about inclusion, Jackson including Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Yvonne (Melanie Lynskey), making them as small as the unicorns on the right hand side. They’re immersed into the fantasy instead of being its voyeur, legitimizing the [ETA] Fourth World’s tangibility.
It’s a self-imposed challenge that if I haven’t written about the movie on my blog, I have to rewatch it. By 7:06 PM of the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I would have seen this movie a whopping four times. On Facebook, Chris D. Mischs called it an ‘ugly’ movie. This is the first time I have heard the movie being called that, and it let me cloud my mind. But I guess it’s a marvel that it took that fourth time for me to see its flaws, like the pans or zooms ending with either Juliet or Paul of them turning around to face the camera that makes the film less naturalistic. Or when Juliet exclaims ‘That’s great!’ while finding out that Pauline can break into the latter’s dad’s safe for their fare money. Which leads us to how this movie is about two hormonal teenagers who act without hesitation, and the queer politics involving them and their crime.
I did see positive aspects of the film. Its cinematic references, despite the obvious one from The Third Man to the subtle homages to Throne of Blood and the Sound of Music. How Winslet, although imperfect in this film, can seamlessly switch from one emotion to another. Or that yes, Lynskey and Sarah Peirse look the same but I never realized how much the actress who plays Juliet’s mom looks much like Winslet herself.
My second and third viewings made me assume that Juliet is the dominant person in the relationship, the one with the nice big mansion. Paul hangs on to her every word, subscribing to Juliet’s fantasies and crushes, but she does get to hold the reins too, like when she tells Juliet that her breath smells like onions. Juliet couldn’t have suggested to kill Paul’s mom (Peirse), Paul did. There’s even the moment when Juliet hesitates in the act but Paul looks at her as if to do her part. It’s the same ambivalence when I watched it those second and third times. My focus then was on Paul’s relationship with her mom. The second time, I sided with Mom, the third with Paul.
I first saw this film when I was ten or eleven, airing on a local channel. Winslet became more recognizable worldwide because of Titanic, and for some reason I remember her movies being played a lot back in the Philippines. The opening scene just shocked me. Kate wasn’t just the girl in Titanic, she was an actress.
I can’t remember any other time I’ve felt that in between then and now. I guess that means I’m easy to impress, put a little blood and screaming and I’m captivated. I’ve noticed that except for two movies, she’s always made great entrances. Whether she adds scenes that top the first one or not, I’d still remember how her character is introduced and rely on either the pathos or enthusiasm there. And good God can the girl cry.
How did this movie slip through the cracks of the Philippine censorship board? Back then I thought that everything in Hollywood spoon-fed me was great, but movies like this gave me a new criterion for what makes a great film, a criterion that I stood by until my second year in University – the more fucked up a movie is, the better. Which is obviously reductive, since I needed the few more viewing to appreciate its cinematography, pacing, acting and all of that.
It also felt rebellious as a boy who has yet to discover his sexuality to have seen two characters who cross the line without blatantly calling themselves that. I distinctly implanted the close-up of the psychiatrist’s teeth as he diagnoses Juliet and Paul with the condemning word ‘homosexuality,’ and back then I defended them as not homosexuals because I thought their intense and pure friendship shouldn’t bear that denigrating title, which reflects my innocence or ignorance on the subject itself and that they weren’t homosexuals because they didn’t look the part.
On Ingrid Randoja’s seminar last year
because I’m so cool, she noted this as one of canonical lesbian films in the gay 90’s. This and the one with Jennifer Tilly where she and her girlfriend kills someone too. Which again subverts my recent reading that it’s one of those ‘gays who KILL’ movies. I still don’t know how to feel about a movie that packages a stereotype differently. Despite the little flaws that I see now, watching this film is like the girls seeing the Fourth World. It’s something radical and I hope it’s not too much to thank Jackson and the actors for making a movie that shook my world.
Image Erudition: Thelma and Louise
I first saw Thelma and Louise in its entirety on AMC. Rape scenes should make the most of us uncomfortable, but what makes this one so unsettling is how its choereographed and lit. Medium close-up of Thelma (Geena Davis), medium close-up of salivating skeevy rapist Harlan, close-up of Thelma’s bum, close-up of feet as the two go on an unconsented paso doble, all of them back-lit. The third thing on the list got to my nerves because we’re watching the light fabric of her dress caressing her body, if you know what I mean. I haven’t watched the channel in a long time, but it has a glare-y finish than other channels, this scene is bright and for that matter the desert scenes are more arid. The second time I watched this was in CTV, and this time there’s less lighting in that scene and I notice the lighthing elsewhere.
Oh, and that Thelma’s body is depicted in the same objectified way when she makes love to a hitchhiker JD (Brad Pitt). Both men exploit her. I’m not sure how aware director Ridley Scott is of the similarities between the two scenes.
Jonathan Rosenbaum talked about the unpredictable verve that Davis and Susan Sarandon being in their nuanced performances, which matches the film’s electric unpredictability. The average shot length of the film is slightly more than six seconds and we can actually hear the dialogue, so the film is THAT set up. But the film produces a documentary tone with the cars and trucks along the road, like when the titular Thelma and Louise (Sarandon) make a pit stop while escaping the crime scene. On the interstate, their conversations with JD get interrupted by the trucks honking while they’re passing by.
Speaking of their first pit stop, there’s a lot of abject in this movie. Salivating men, vomit, the women’s faces bloodied or with stained make-up or dirty since they haven’t had a proper shower in forever, Thelma’s husband stepping on his pizza. Which also reminds me of their two transformations. One, that Thelma goes from being the one who has to hand over the money and dependence to Louise to being the gun-brandishing store robber. Two, that they came from dress-and-headscarf wearing Southern belles to women you’ve avoid if you happen to walk in to a Lynrd Skynrd concert, not that the latter is a bad thing, mind you.
I also noticed while screen capping the movie that the characters spend a lot of time talking on the phone, the women mostly talking to men (Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen). Unfortunately the women don’t hang up on time.
So this guy Mark Hogencamp of Kingston, NY get ‘queer-bashed,’ leaving him brain-damaged, but comes out of it with the best revenge – better artistic skills and penmanship than me? I’m not saying with schadenfreude that his skills as an artist should be as stalled as mine, but not fair, world.
Hogencamp is as multifaceted as the aesthetic of the fictional town he has created with his two hands, Marwencol, a portmanteau of his name and the two most important women in her life, Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The film, as much as it is dedicated towards his fictional world, also focuses on the man who has created it. He talks normally except for stressing the words ‘angry’ and ‘drink,’ two of his past vices. He’s honest about the porno tape that an old VCR has eaten up or other revelations about his views and practices on sexuality as revealed through the real world and his fictional one. The film lets us watch the man evolve.
Significant portions of the film is devoted to showing storyboard stills of Mark’s stills of the WWII dolls placed in both the town he’s physically constructed, both within 1/6th scale, and seamlessly within natural settings. I’m gonna nitpick and say the the zippers seem larger than scale, but that’s about it. His friends say that he expresses his anger through the dolls, an admirable action because of how he does it. He carefully paints the scars and bullet holes into the body of these dolls instead of attacking them. At first this feels like he’s staining those dolls until we see the effect he successfully conveys, making the violence look like the dolls have inflicted them on each other, as certain plot points of Marwencol’s story go.
Those stills are more colorful than the less glamourous people like Mark and certain townspeople of Kingston, NY from whom some of the characters in Marwencol are based on. No human Barbie dolls and war hunks in Mark’s real world, which make them more special since the film lets us see the beauty that Mark sees in them. These people are interviewed one by one, their reactions to his art as unabashedly honest as the fiction Mark creates. His best friend says that he’s ‘partaken in battles and come out on top,’ Marwencol then becoming a balance between communal fantasy and a symbol for the wars Mark endures to be healed.
Rewatching Cache, eerie as ever
This film was part of the Cinematheque Ontario’s Best of the Decade, a series that started last year, a list that I believe no longer appears on the actual Cinematheque website and I can’t remember exactly when the eff I saw it, but for narrative’s sake, we’ll pretend I rewatched it exactly a year after seeing it for the first time. And since I already saw it, I’m not gonna give it a real review, not that I’ve ever done that ever.
Parts of Cache include surveillance tapes capturing George Laurent’s (Daniel Auteuil) Parisian house or long takes showing car rides to his mother’s (Annie Girardot) estate or his adopted brother Majid’s (Maurice Bénichou) apartment building, and then I remembered this is the probably the first movie I liked that partially uses digital cameras, a technical filmmaking method that’s widespread now with at least four Best Picture nominees partially or fully using digital. Despite being printed in 35, the rest of the film feels like it has a digital finish when watched on television, especially with its white and gray colour palette. Cache doesn’t feel like a manicured film, through its form scarier as it captures lives of ordinary people just like those watching it.
Speaking of ordinary people, I understand the de-glam that comes with the ‘art of cinema,’ but this is the dumpiest Juliette Binoche ever looked. Of the two Haneke Paris film’s I’ve seen, he de-glams and modernizes the city. The most ‘Parisian’ thing about it is the salad with red wine, and I’m pretty sure white wine is better for salad. Anyway, I already talked about the colour palette. There’s also the contemporary architecture and interior design.
Thank God for close-ups though, when Binoche’s character Anne gets angry or teary eyed at Georges for hiding Majid from her. In revealing his dark childhood secrets, they share a secret, and she surprisingly doesn’t condemn him.
But Haneke is, and if you’re his kind of audience, you are too. At first I couldn’t buy it because of its in-your-face metaphors. Why are Majid and his son (Walid Afkir) so passive? Why doesn’t Majid think of his son in his last act in disturbing Georges’ conscience? However, Georges becomes such an unsympathetic figure because of his meanness towards Majid and his indifference towards the latter’s son’s declarations. His carelessness in telling lies about Majid is the first and most effective way to ruin the latter’s life.
Think about a scene in the middle of the film during his visit to his mother. He has a terrible dream, his childhood accusations against Majid becoming true, he wakes up and is haunted. Would some of us in the audience be satisfied to see that in the end instead of a jaded Georges sleeping as if nothing has happened? Majid’s son wants to see a man haunted by the latter’s decisions, and we still see that. Rest assured, Georges will be haunted from time to time. And as his mother warns, those dreams will be more frequent as he ages.
In this contemporary yet arguably obtuse adaptation of Plato’s “The Myth of the Cave,” an allegory of the stubborn insularity of totalitarian regimes or a depiction of terrible parenting, Dogtooth is set on a large house on an exurb in Greece where a family man wants his wife and children, the latter in their twenties, never to leave the house and to know anything about the outside world. Why do I never get interested or hooked in the first part of the films I’ve been watching recently? Sometimes the camera doesn’t show the characters’ heads, frustratingly obscuring them in long takes. I wasn’t even fully interested when the father brings Christina, a security guard, to his house to have sex with her son without intimacy, their bodies connected but separate. Maybe I answered my question there.
The parents misinform their children of the definitions and functions of objects associated with the outside world. For example ‘sea‘ is an armchair, ‘excursion’ is a floor material and that airplanes fall out of the sky into their garden.
For some reason, model airplanes mark the relatively exciting parts of the film, as the older sister Bruce – she names herself – steals an airplane from her brother and throws it out towards the gate. The first airplane incident creates a chain of accusations and violence. She accuses him of stealing the plane. In the next scene, she slices her brother’s arm. Next scene, Father slaps her. Bruce becomes the least favourite, having the least stickers, being hit in the head again by the VHS tapes she has watched. He inflicts lesser forms of abuse to the other members of the family, telling them to walk and bark like dogs in case a dangerous cat intrudes their home.
The father also hits Christina, who smuggles the tapes to Bruce, with a VCR player even if she’s an outsider. Violence in this film isn’t set up with intensity nor is spoonfed, happens surprisingly after calm dialogue, an animalistic release from the children who are raised by it. Other critics have assumed that the parents have secluded the children for protective purposes, but ironically, the most violent and sexually perverse encounters to ever occur to a child happens in their own home. That’s true in this film, and it would be less groundbreaking without showing this damaging effect of seclusion to both the children and parents.
In order to get the plane back, the son has to ask his father to drive the car outside the gate so that the latter can pick it off the ground. Here we have two different versions of maleness, the father obviously victorious over the son he has emasculated. The son’s practically a grown man but going outside is naturally verboten to him. He has the most stickers but he’s starting to lose contests. His arranged sexual encounters with Christina and Bruce – because eventually they can’t trust outsiders anymore – doesn’t have any intensity. He even has reservations on his second time having sex with Christina. It’s also arguable that the father is emasculated, carefully peeling off the labels of the water bottles he brings home, bloodying himself up when he discovers that a cat has intruded his home or mouthing words to his wife when they’re arguing. He’s so committed into his lies that he doesn’t break character both with or without his family’s presence.
Speaking of the differences between family members, the film includes a contest between the children on who gets a plane that falls out of the sky. The son almost gets it until Bruce trips him, grabs the toy and makes it to the finish line and doesn’t get punished for cheating. Bruce is the oddest out of these oddballs, and possibly the one who’s most experienced with the outside world. After having sex with her brother, she threatens him of killing his clan, as if quoting from a movie. The parents have also raised these children with competition, inevitably raising a child who years for freedom even if she’s never experienced it.
This film has been nominated for the Best Foreign Picture by the Academy in 2010. We’re going to win.
- Dogtooth: Disturbing dark comedy with a bite (theglobeandmail.com)
Good evening, San Diego. I’m Veronica Whoreningstone, Tits McGee is on vacation!
God forbid, however, if she say something bad about Ron Burgundy’s (Will Ferrell) hair. Yes, it’s ok to feel comfortable or to just point out the sexism within the jokes because the script wouldn’t be made if it wasn’t as a satire the sexism in the TV journalism industry in the 1970’s. There’s Whoreningstone, I mean Veronica (Christina Applegate) as well as Applegate herself, both having to think on their toes. I keep hearing Jennifer Aniston’s voice on Naomi Watts’ body. As I said earlier though, Applegate has the intelligence and something else. She really fits this film’s modified version of the 1970’s and her diction helps a lot with that. Of course there’s the steely blonde blue eyed-ness, allowing herself to be cold and ruthless when need be. I can’t wait for her and her co-star Will Ferrell reunite for Hall Pass this year.
Anchorman is a more masculine and funnier version of 200 Cigarettes, having a surprising all-star cast that includes cameos of people already famous (Chris Parnell, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Danny Trejo, Vince Vaughn, Fred Willard, Owen Wilson) and those who will be famous in less than a decade (Jon Hamm, Seth Rogen).
I like this shot, but even here in this little moment of beauty, director Adam McKay adds something hilarious. Why aren’t the other citizens of San Diego attacking him, though? Shh, don’t question it. Just laugh, because I am.
Although this post is coming out today, this actually was the first movie I saw in the New Year. Don’t hate.
The Fighter‘s first sequence places the camera behind Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), as his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) throws fake punches behind him. They play fight as Dicky welcomes a documentary crew to his hood at Lowell, Massachusetts. You see the brothers, the crew, the neighbors yet the neighborhood feels uninhabited and thus, artificial. The rest of the film feels that way, the small city, both depicted with interior and exterior space, feels sunny bot not vibrant. The camera then zooms out with the same speedy feel as director David O. Russell’s earlier work Three Kings or the opposite yet reminiscent of, dare I blaspheme, a shot in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Lowell, Massachusetts, where everyone wears a size too small except for Dicky, who, despite revealing musculature later in the film, has an emaciated face floating above ratty oversize t-shirts, and for a while, Micky, better dressed than his brother, who tries to hide that he’s getting fat for lack of exercise. When they’re physically in shape, Micky and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) would have their enviable three percent body fat sticking out on top of their boxing shorts or cutoff jeans.
The movie also makes Micky look short (in reality Wahlberg is 5’9″), since no one that jacked could weigh 145 pounds. I’m not saying that the clothing nor the physicality does all the characterization – I’ll have a lot to say later about those aspects of the movie. I just like those details within the costume or mise-en-scene popping up once in a while.
I’ve previously said that I can’t relate to trashy characters. How many times do I have to say that I hung out with a bad crowd in high school or work with the working class now before it sounds like I’m appropriating something that isn’t mine culturally? I don’t feel comfortable in saying that I can relate to the characters and the situations they get into. It has already thrown and turned off some audiences against the film. But I feel like I can relate to these characters.
The playacting violence that for some reason is associated with both fun and survivalist thinking more than performed working-class masculinity. Their gestures. Dysfunctional families and in-laws. Women who are tough and foul-mouthed. Trouble with the law. Characters who are oblivious to the self-serving nature of their actions. I especially like scene when Dicky realizes that he’s hours late to train his brother. Of course he’s late. I can assume, consuming drugs in his level, that if he starts a session at 8 o’ clock, he’ll be lucky to realize that he had to get out.
Or like mother Alice (Melissa Leo) booking Micky into one badly matched HBO fight after losing another, not realizing she’s hurting and exploiting a son who may not wanna continue into this career. Expecting different results. O. Russell shows how poverty can induce insanity without harshly labeling these characters as insane. If any of us does the latter, then that’s our fault.
Harsh verbal and physical confrontations. Terrible ideas of trying to unsuccessfully scam people out of their money. Any of these things can be a subject for one movie. And it all feels real coming from these actors.
Like movies with trashy characters, we see a substantial amount of physical antics, bad decisions and yelling here, but none of those three things take the forefront in the film. Or at least we aren’t welcomed into the storm, as the film’s continues that with the family explaining which of their members are Eklunds and which are Wards, treating this fact of their lives matter-of-factly and without shame. And then two bar fights happen, one between Micky and another guy and another between two women. O. Russell knows how to stir the pot at the right time.
Another instance showing the character of the Eklund-Wards is when they’re watching a documentary about Dicky’s crack addiction – they’re bravely confronting the reality of their situations. The only time they’re hesitant about the material is when Alice tells Dicky’s son to stay upstairs or when Dicky, now in jail, unplugs the big TV set to stop the schadenfreude from the other inmates. If anything they’re prouder to watch this than to watch the first rounds of Micky’s fights. While that doc is playing on HBO, Micky’s college dropout girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), instead of avoiding ‘white trash,’ knocks at his door and slowly, like a human being, reaches for his hand.
It also helps that Charlene has the best lines of the film and steals the show. From contending with pretentious film patrons on a better side of town while on a date with Micky as well as confronting his family members, she sure knows how to stand her ground. A scene with her in the lions’ den of Micky’s sisters and another when Dicky makes an impromptu visit to her house make her an integral part of the best ensemble acting this year. Even in a scene when Alice tries to explain to her why he’s not sitting on a stool. Yes, that was Alice’s moment but it says a lot about her character that they have made peace that way.
There are negative effects and connotations to the film’s ‘team effort’ feel. From the first sound of the film – hearing Dicky’s voice as he talks both about his career and his brother’s, the audience knows that this isn’t Micky’s film. Charlene and Alice dissuade Micky from giving up, which would be encouraged even by a different peer group within the town. Micky’s dependence towards other characters shows how weakly written his character is, and that can be said about the rest of the characters too. The script then, despite its wonderful cadence, serves to be a impressionistic work on characters grinding against each other’s nerves. The characters then, have to have these fights and verbal exchanges a hundred times to grow as human beings.
So is this movie trying to say that what happens about the characters are more important within the characters? And it is true that it takes a long time for people to grow, and that evolution gets slowed down by poverty, lack of education and drugs. Although those things allow perseverance.
I didn’t have those questions while watching the movie. If you sat in the same theatre as me, you’d think I was watching the best movie ever. 4/5 rating because of the arguably shabby script, but it created characters I’ll love and cherish until another charismatic ‘hillbilly’ comes along.