Sunday, June 19, 2011

La Dolce Vita

Reposted from Alt Screen

LA DOLCE VITA (literally, "the sweet life"; figuratively, less so) unfolds as a series of capsular stories. Nearly all of these vignettes conclude with tragedies of varying magnitudes. Possibly the most startling dénouement comes from the story of the intellectual Steiner, protagonist Marcello Rubini’s long estranged mentor in the literary arts. The two reunite amidst the pews of a church that Steiner frequents, although he’s not attended for religious reasons, but to gain access to the priest’s literary collection and the massive pipe organ. Pumping the instrument’s keys, jesting with a few strains of jazz until reprimanded by the padre, Steiner radiates a mix of confidence and tranquility, while Marcello skulks in the background, slinking into the shadows of the church’s corners, as though trying to shield himself from Steiner’s astute eye.

The reason for Marcello’s attempt to lay low? Shame. Marcello’s behavior, as a gossip columnist, has revealed him to be the type of person not easily cowed into ignominy. Confronted in a nightclub over a recent article in which he revealed an elegant, modestly bejeweled noble as an adulteress, he merely dons dark sunglasses, and shrugs. “I have to inform the public,” he says, “it’s my job. After all, it’s just a little publicity.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No Time

In the NY Review of Books, Zadie Smith reviews a tempting film by Christian Marclay, The Clock:
In my notebook I tried to state the obvious, to get it clear in my own mind. The Clock is a twenty-four-hour movie that tells the time. This is achieved by editing together clips of movies in which clocks appear. But The Clock is so monumental in intention and design that even the simplest things you can say about it need qualification.
 The movie sounds...well, amazing. A revelatory experience, perhaps, the impels you to think. After all, there is no plot whatsoever, and I imagine each image is relatively easy to digest. So, as you watch it, you begin to think. You think about how movies portray time, about how when certain things happen, in short, you focus on details that are thought out by filmmakers but generally not noticed by film viewers.

Buried in the piece is this little conclusion, that I like:
Principles dear to Denzel—tension, climax, resolution—are immanent in all the American clips, while their absence is obvious in the merest snatch of French art house. A parsing of the common enough phrase “I don’t like foreign movies” might be “I don’t want to sit in a cinema and feel time pass.”
I think there's some truth to that, although the aversion to 'feeling time pass' isn't a reaction that one has only while watching foreign movies. But long unbroken shots tend to make people uncomfortable, especially when the camera moves very slowly. People want something to happen, and they get impatient when the camera doesn't cut. Even a film like Weekend, with it's famous traffic jam choked with carnage, tests people. It's disconcerting for a movie to move so slowly, perhaps, and our ADD sensors are finely opposed to that sort of deliberate pacing.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Get Low (2009)

'Get Low' finds Robert Duvall playing an aging hermit by the name of Felix Bush who's lived in near seclusion on 300 some-odd acres for forty or so years. His main preoccupation, we're to infer, is caring for his mule and lands, punctuated every now and again with chasing off the errant youngsters that come to throw rocks through his windows. The tale is set in the early 20th century, perhaps, but it's conceivable that it might be set in some ideal, fictionalized version of Americana, in which everything is polished wood and old-timey.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009)

The true story of Mark Yavorsky, who stabbed his mother with a sabre while under the influence of Aeschylus is a strange one. It’s also bait for Werner Herzog, who obviously has a penchant for stories of the lone individual – and so much the better if that individual happens to be unstable (see also: almost every Herzog film). In ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?’ Herzog has kept the matricidal component of Yavorsky's story, while substituting his own background and resolution. What results is a chilling, deliberately paced film about madness, and about being blind to that madness.

The film is direct and to the point; rather than build to a dénouement, it starts with one. Within the first ten minutes, we know that Brad (Herzog has changed Mark’s name to Brad McCullum) has killed his mother and is holed up in a house across the street from the crime, surrounded by the police. We also know that this remarkable event is the central event of the movie; the mysteries lie in how this came about, and how it will end.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008)

Kleptomania, a compulsion to steal without any motive or thought for what one is stealing. We consider it a disorder, a condition in which the self has no control and acts reactively, thoughtlessly, and at times, foolishly. But how different is this from the vast majority of our everyday existence, in which we react to stimuli, mainly without deep thought or reflection? Sure, we may ponder difficult questions and put a significant amount of time and mental effort into solving problems, but most of what we do is ‘off the cuff’ and mindless.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Speed Clips

'No York City' by Rick Liss is a sped up stroll through NYC of the '80s. There are many things of note in the flick, which seems to represent the coke binges of the time as much as it does the fast-paced nature of 'the city that never sleeps' - the Twin Towers, the Lower East Side as burnt out shells and hulks of empty buildings, mimes in Central Park, street fairs and vendors...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

F*ckin' Fascists

 How do seemingly good people fall prey to the seduction of evil movements? Bernardo Bertolucci and Federico Fellini try to address this question with two differing accounts of the rise of fascism in Italy prior to the Second World War. In both accounts, fascism is an intoxicant, capturing the minds and souls of Italians by appealing to their base instincts and susceptibilities. In Bertolucci's account, fascism appeals to perversion and power lust, and emerges in a horrid expression of anger and ressentiment. Fellini paints a different picture, though; one of misguided Italians, intoxicated by the symbols at play into drunkenness akin to religious zeal. It manifests through a people who are childish and immature, unable to see the ramifications of the movement that they’ve fallen capture to.