Archive for August 2009
“A connoisseur of longing and remembrance who brings great sensitivity to each of his reflective fables, Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda should be better known in the States, as his films extend the tradition of world-class artists like Naruse and Ozu. Enthralled with the operation of memory and the impact of grief on the lives of everyday people, Kore-eda has created a body of work that’s as rich with feeling as it is modest in tone. In Maborosi (1995), Kore-eda told the story of a quietly devastated young widow struggling to move on after her husband commits suicide. He then departed from this film’s elegant compositions and moody, color-saturated production design to draw on the observational techniques he’d developed earlier in his career as a documentary filmmaker. After Life (1998), built around interviews he conducted with hundreds of participants, visits an institutional purgatory where the recently deceased are asked to choose a single recollection to relive for eternity as a film. Distance (2001) and Nobody Knows (2004) are both loosely based on high-profile news items: the emotional aftermath of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin-poisoning tragedy and the heartrending story of three school-age children who survived for 200 days in an apartment after being abandoned by their mother. Even Hana (2006), an Edo period piece, has none of the usual trappings of the jidai geki genre, instead emphasizing the gentle, domestic rituals of a reluctant samurai-turned-village teacher who elects not to avenge the murder of his father. Throughout these films, Kore-eda studiously avoids the pitfalls of cynicism and sentimentality, exploring the private worlds of vulnerable, emotionally complex people with extraordinary grace and subtlety.”
“Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven deals indirectly with the Troubles, the legacy of violence that engulfed Northern Ireland for three decades until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 put an official end to the discord. Though this history is vividly invoked in gritty newsreel footage in the film’s opening minutes, and plays a crucial role in the backstory of Hirschbiegel’s fraught protagonists—one Protestant, the other Catholic—the true subject of his arid, minimal social drama is not violence or politics, but the more delicate act of healing. Or rather, the possibility of rapprochement between adversaries. Instead of pitching us headlong into the past and fastening onto heroic intrigue, like the new Fifty Dead Men Walking, Hirschbiegel limns the present-day inner turmoil of two men linked by fate. One is a killer, the other his victim’s brother. It’s a gaunt two-man show, told in three acts.”
While meandering alone in the outer precincts of the World Wide Web, surveying long stretches of benighted digital landscape like one of W.G. Sebald’s history-haunted narrators, I happened across an unusual new biannual publication: World Picture Journal. The editors are Brian Price and Meghan Sutherland, professors at Oklahoma State University, and John David Rhodes, based at the University of Sussex. I’m not familiar with their work, but a few names on the editorial board immediately popped out at me: Marxist theorist Ernesto Laclau, Homeland novelist Sam Lipsyte, and “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” essayist Laura Mulvey all play an advisory role at WPJ. Apart from that, details are hard to come by. There’s no mission statement on the Web site (although a conference announcement mentions the journal’s interest in “the intersection of political and aesthetic questions concerning cinema, visual art, and visual theory”), nor is there any indication whether this is a print or online-only review. Thanks to a link at Film-Philosophy, though, I learned that it is a free, open-access digital digest.
Why do I bring this to your attention? Because the quality and range of the essays on the site are impressive. Read the rest of this entry »
Thomas Pynchon, whose gumshoe stoner novel Inherent Vice debuts today, exerts a peculiar fascination on the imagination of film lovers. Jonathan Rosenbaum reviewed the book this week for Slate. John Carvill just penned an excellent piece in the new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal about Pynchon’s literary legacy and his rich invocation of cinematic referents. Anecdotally, nearly every book reader I know working in film has a jones for this high-minded jester, whose carnivalesque historical novels (Mason & Dixon, especially) I count among the best reads of my life. So what accounts for Pynchon’s appeal to cinephiles? Carvill has an angle on that:
“For Pynchon has always been a movie nut, a fact that has long been apparent to his readers. In particular, Gravity’s Rainbow fizzes with film references, from Laurel and Hardy to German Expressionism, King Kong to Rita Hayworth. Characters often “act” the part of movie stars, taking on their attitudes and modes of dress, affecting a Cary Grant accent, say, or donning a “flopping Sydney Greenstreet Panama hat.” This is all great fun, but Pynchon also uses these acts of emulation to explore and illuminate a number of his perennial themes, not least the impact of technology on our lives.”
He goes on to elaborate the ways in which Pynchon “recognizes the contradictions inherent to the medium itself,” and provides, as evidence, a sustained reading of Inherent Vice. Is it any surprise the new novel, set in 1960s California and featuring a perpetually drugged-out detective, should echo both The Big Lebowski and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye? Read Carvill’s piece: it’s smart and exceptionally engaging.
Not long ago, I wrote a ruminative post entitled “What Makes a Novel Cinematic?”, in which I surveyed some of the other cinema-besotted authors (Don DeLillo, John Haskell, Steve Erickson) whose work seems to bear the influence of filmgoing experience. Pynchon isn’t mentioned (except as an adjective), though he should have been included in my mini-roundup. Nevertheless, some of the questions I pose at the top are relevant to this line of inquiry.
By the way, the creators of this video essay, which I discovered at GalleyCat, have just the right take on what makes Pynchon so fascinating:
Last November 4, I wasn’t the only election-night viewer discomfited by CNN’s “beaming” of correspondent Jessica Yellin from the Chicago Convention Center into the studio with anchor Wolf Blitzer. (Blitzer referred to this remote satellite interview with Yellin as a report via “hologram.” Of course, as bloggers and others were quick to point out, this image wasn’t a hologram at all, but an old-fashioned special effect.) In the latest issue of Rouge, Harry Tuttle puts his finger on exactly what made me squirm while watching this penny-arcade ploy on a major news network during one of the most important events in modern American political history:
“TV is now capable of manipulating live video content with such mastery that the audience will mistrust anything presented as a filmed document normally put forth as incontestable evidence. It makes one wonder about the invasion of cinematic special effects into our (inter)national news. The nightmarish fantasy from Zelig (1983) or Forrest Gump (1994) — of rewriting history by inserting foreign characters into archival footage of historical scenes — has finally become possible: seamlessly, and live. The era of television imposture is just beginning.”
I’ve long admired Cinema Scope, the Canadian film journal edited by Mark Peranson and filled out by a roster of formidable writers, critics, and curators. The quality of writing is always excellent, and certain pieces—like Andrew Tracy’s recent survey of a John Ford boxed set or John Gianvito’s sprawling interview with Peter Watkins from a few years back—linger in the memory. Aaron Hillis already gave Peranson & co. a shout-out for the new summer issue #39 (“Cannes 2009: Bloody Hell”) over at GreenCine, but I should add that a lot of great material is available directly on the CS Web site, including Scott Foundas’s piece on Marco Bellocchio, Dennis Lim’s profile of Joao Pedro Rodrigues, and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essential column, “Global Discoveries on DVD.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Flame” and “Citron” are code names for Bent Faurschou-Hviid (Thure Lindhardt) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (Mads Mikkelsen), a resourceful pair of real-life underground assassins who waged a corpse-for-corpse war of wills with Nazi occupiers and Danish sympathizers in their native Copenhagen in 1944. Like the French Resistance fighters in Melville’s Army of Shadows or the Mossad strike unit in Spielberg’s Munich, these are men who live in a precarious, morally ambiguous world of intrigue and treachery. They are consumed with disgust and rage at the Occupation, and driven by a personal conviction that their actions are not only justifiable, but necessary. Working from their own research and eyewitness interviews, director Ole Christian Madsen and screenwriter Lars K. Andersen memorialize the pair’s heroic efforts utilizing all the conventions of wartime suspense thrillers: noirish atmosphere, cloak-and-dagger tension, double crosses, and devastating reversals. But they are careful to delineate the ways in which these hunted, haunted patriots (both were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor) are manipulated by friend and foe alike, eventually losing their way in a quagmire of moral conflict.”
It isn’t often that I have the opportunity to converse with filmmakers as admired and accomplished as Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, La Promesse, L’Enfant, The Son). So I was delighted to speak with them twice in six months’ time about their powerful new film, Lorna’s Silence.
The Hands of Bresson have been empty of late, you may have noticed, but not idle. Not at all; far from it. (Though there is nothing wrong with idling! See here.) Six weeks away from the HoB dashboard gave me time to ponder some issues with the present format (a badly needed design update is finally on the way—stay tuned), as well as ruminate on a few chronically unsolvable conundrums, such as my tendency to swing wildly between logorrhea and aphasia (a/k/a “blog death”). What I needed was a more manageable list of priorities, better ergonomics, a cushier task chair…
While waiting for Staples to deliver my new office accoutrements, I did find time to scribble a few items, such as this review of Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s Soul Power:
“Like Wattstax, shot in 1972 at an L.A. Coliseum concert commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Watts riots, emceed by Richard Pryor and headlined by Isaac Hayes, Soul Power is a booty-bumpin’ verité film that illuminates a specific moment in black political culture. Part time capsule, part chronicle of a transatlantic journey to Mother Africa, Soul Power captures the spirit of optimism and celebratory, homeward-bound impulse of notable black and Latin musicians through the backstage banter and energetic performances of its most legendary participants: James Brown, Celia Cruz, Bill Withers, Miriam Makeba, Fania All Stars, the Spinners, B.B. King, and many others. Distilled from 125 hours of archived footage, the movie documents “Zaire ’74,” a three-day music festival held in Kinshasa on the eve of the “Rumble in the Jungle,” Muhammad Ali’s famously seismic title bout with then-heavyweight champion George Foreman, previously anatomized in Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning When We Were Kings. Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, a prolific producer (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Mysterious Skin) and an editor on Gast’s film, mines the leftovers, reconstructing a star-studded event that languished in the vaults for two decades.”
More to come!