Recent Musings about film, etc.
After bitching about Golden Eye for an hour or so we went back into the theatre to see Get Shorty. I enjoyed this film a lot. I won't say it's a great film, but it made me laugh, which is very rare for a Hollywood film. As usual I found the supporting actors much more entertaining than all the big Hollywood stars (although Bette Midler was wonderful in her cameo role). Most notable among the smaller actors in the film was Jon Gries, who was most memorable as Lazlo Hollyfield in the classic Real Genius. And Penny Marshal and Harvey Keitel as themselves at the end were a nice surprise. I really like seeing films that Barry Sonnenfeld directs because he started out as a cinematographer, so he never makes mistakes with the camera. If he uses a hand-held camera he does it well, and he never uses shakey-cam. I don't think it should get any acting awards, but the production and screenplay were finely crafted, so I won't mind if it wins some in those categories.
After sitting on my ass in a movie theatre for 4 hours on Sunday, I repeated the act on Tuesday with Fargo and my second viewing of 12 Monkeys. I had been twitching in anticipation of Fargo since I first saw a preview two weeks ago. Anyone who knows me knows how devoted I am to the Coens and to Steve Buscemi, so this film could hardly go wrong for me. And it lived up to all my expectations. Some have criticized the characterizations in the film as being derrogatory stereotypes of Mid-Westerners, and I can understand that point. So here I'm going to quote Joel Coen in an interview Veronica e-mailied me: "It's a fundamental misperception, the charge of condescension. Because the only people who can really answer that is us, and we feel very affectionate toward all of these characters. You create them, and sometimes the more shmucky they are, the more you like them." So there. I especially liked the character of Marge, the pregnant, small town police chief who takes up the case. She is bright, caring and self-assured. Other than that point, there can be nothing wrong with the film. The script was much more realistic than most of their previous films. It didn't have the theatrical feel to it that, say, Miller's Crossing did. But I think that that was very appropriate considering the characters were much more ordinary than the gangsters and playwrights they have created in the past. I think my favorite aspect of the film was the vast empty white spaces. Nothing has reinforced my belief in the non-existence of North Dakota than the way they shot this film. The shots of the near-empty parking lots, the snow-covered highways, even the harsh white light seeping in through the windows in the interiors, left me with a very bleak and cold feeling. I feel I must quote the filmmakers here again: "Everything is white, just an empty field of vision." The self-lighting by the car headlights narrows the field at night, but the field is still empty. Steve's performance was brilliant as usual, and everyone else did a fine job, too. Even more popular these days than death by liquid gas (see my review of Golden Eye, above) seems to be woodchippers. I've been a fan of this technique since I first saw it used in Universal Soldier (a terrible film, but I enjoyed it). I am looking forward to more inventive uses for this piece of equiptment.
After Fargo, Jemiah and I hopped the bus to go see 12 Monkeys for the second time. As with all Terry Gilliam films, it just gets better and better. Brad Pitt really impressed me, and I used to really hate him. I think he does have talent, but no director has ever made him work before. They just put him up on the screen and have him look pretty. I am really tired of talented actors being used this way. I hope this role (and his subsequent Oscar nomination) means he will start getting more challenging roles and prove to the world that he is not just a pretty piece of ass. (I was just remembering that this is not the first time I liked him. He was great as Floyd, the stoner housemate in True Romance) One thing about 12 Monkyes that really impressed me was that I didn't figure out the ending until the day after I first saw the film. I kept thinking it was a bummer ending, that Cole's mission failed, then all of a sudden I remembered that the mission was only to get a sample of the original virus, and that's why the woman scientist from the future timeline was on the plane. The major plot point that many viewers did not seem to like is that you cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. This gives me an opportunity to rant about Gilliam, and why his films and ideas are not readilly accepted by American audiences. (This is an rant that applies only to his earlier films, not to 12 Monkeys) To Gilliam there is not difference between reality and fantasy. Everybody lives in an entirely subjective universe, and imagination and dreams are just as important in that universe as so-called reality. If we ignore the power of the imagination we become the rationalistic villains of Baron Munchausen, or featureless bores like the parents in Time Bandits. For this reason I see Gilliam as the only true surrealist filmmaker working today. The surrealists viewed the dream state as an intergal part of human existance. To deny its validity is to deny life itself. OK, enough ranting. I will probably go into this further at a later date since this is one of my favorite subjects. Until next time.
(On a Post Script: A local movie reviewer who shall remain nameless said of 12 Monkeys that it "had too much plot and was too difficult to understand." This statement epitomized what I loathe about typical american film goers, they don't like to think. They want the film to hash out every point to such an extent that they don't have to force their lazy brains to come up with their own conclusions. If the politicians wanted to make a rational point about how Hollywood is corrupting "american society" they should dwell more on how this manipulative approach to entertainment is turning us into a nation of morons instead of trying to convince us that movies are driving up the violent crime rate. This particulr reviewer had made me want to slap him if I ever saw him on the street for some of his past comments, but his review of 12 Monkeys made me want to kick him in the groin.)
Oblique Strategy of today: "Don't be frightened to display your talents"
Cinema 21 as part of a festival of early Greenaway films. The first night of films was a bunch of his early shorts. Some of these were highly enjoyable ("H is for House" and "Water Wrackets" in particular stood out), but the last two were excruciating. They were "Vertical Features Remake" and "A Walk Through H," 45 minutes each, and they both made Prospero's Books look like Speed. I went to these films with about 5 other people, half of them fell asleep, and the other half had to restrain themselves from running screaming out of the theatre. "Vertical Features Remake" centers around 10 or so different edits of the same film, the subject of which is vertical features: trees, fenceposts, telephone poles, you get the idea. "A Walk Through H" spend 45 minutes following a white line through 92 of Greenaway's map-like abstract paintings. It would have been a fine film if it had been 10 paintings, but no, the number 92 is really special to Greenaway for some reason, so he had to have 92 paintings. After that experience the only one of my film geek buddies who had the balls to go see The Falls with me was Nelson, brave soul. The rest of them all bailed as soon as they found out it was 3 hours long.
So the next day we got really buzzed on coffee, gritted our teeth, and plunged in the theatre. We were both pleasantly surprised. The film consists of 92 (again) biographies of people effected by the Violent Unknown Event, a very subtle catastrophe that "had randomly showered its victims with both benign and malign symptoms. The most identifiable characteristics include compund articulacy, immortality, and an identification with birds, with especial, though not exclusive, reference to a bird's enviable ability to fly." The 92 people whose lives after the VUE are chronicled in the film all have names that begin with "FALL." As usual for Portland audiences, they took the film way too seriously at first, and I think they may have been a bit confused since the film really doesn't explain what the VUE was, it just describes the after-effects. It was not until the 7th biography, that of Lacer Fallacet, that they started to loosen up and just go with it. The effect of the VUE on Lacer Fallacet was a fascination with flying, so much so that she was continuously trying to teach her dogs how to fly by pushing them out airplanes. The public outcry against her actions brought only a fine of "three cronen for excercising a dog in a public place witout a lead." The film gets even sillier as it inroduces characters who drowned in cruise ship swimming pools, starts to dwell in the Theory of the Responsibility of Birds, and introduces FOX, the Society For Orintological Extermination to deal with the pesky birds. Luckily not all of the biographies are complete Such as number 35, Cole Fallbird: "Cole Fallbird's biography is sub judice pending trial for mis-condict with a minah."
The film is also interspersed with "Tulse Luper stories." As Greenaway puts it "Tulse Luper was an invention who couls speak preposterously and authoritatively about many things for which I would not get the blame." Tulse Luper is the pretentious filmmaker of "Vertical Features Remake" and he made some appearences in several of the other shorts as well. If you watch the rest of his films carefully you will find Tulse Luper in almost all of them. Anyway, I thought this is a good place to share my favorite Tulse Luper story, "The Cassowary."
"A jet aircraft on a cloudless night began its landing flight-pat twenty miles due east from the airport where it was due to land. For the first five miles of its descent, the noise from the jet's engines disturbed no-one. At the sixth mile, an orinthologist, birdwatching on a reservoir, was irritated by the jet-noise just enough to give the aircraft a quick glance. He turned into a swan. At the seventh mile a naturalist and his wife was the aircraft through net-curtains and were turned into crows. At the eighth mile, four children in a school dormitory saw the aircraft through a skylight and turned into herons. At the ninth mile, seven night-nurses in an old people's home saw the plane and turned into swallows. At the tenth mile, twenty-one members of eight families saw the plane and turned into gulls. By the ninteenth mile, twenty-four thousand, nine hundred and twenty-seven people in two towns, four villages and a camping-site had seen the plane. Most of them had turned into penguins.
"When the plane exploded on the air-strip, a cassowary with a purple beak stepped from the wreckage and checked himself into the VIP lounge."
"When the plane exploded on the air-strip, a cassowary with a purple beak stepped from the wreckage and checked himself into the VIP lounge."
The reason all the talk of Greenaway came up in the first place was my curiosity as to why The Baby of Macon never seemed to make it to the states. I guess I was prescient, since it seems to have just arrived in SF and Boston this week. That means it will get to PDX in about a year. I've heard unanimously terrible reviews of the film, even from die-hard fans, so I'm not stressing about missing it anymore. Plus I found out it has Ralph Fiennes and Julia Ormond in it, niether of whom can act their way out of a wet paper bag. I'm much more excited about his most recent film which just premiered in England, The Pillow Book, which stars Ewan McGregor from Shallow Grave. (Gotta love a scotsman named Ewan!) I assume this one will go the same way as The Baby of Macon, and it will be several years before I get to see it. Oh well. I'll just have to content myself with watching The Draughtman's Contract and A Zed and Two Naughts over and over again. And when I do I'll be sure to write about it.
Above quotes by Peter Greenaway are excerpted from "The Falls" and "Fear of Drowning" both published by Editions Dis-Voir, Paris.
Oblique strategy of today: "give way to your worst impulse"
Both nights that I was down at Reed watching "Twin Peaks" I had disturbing encounters with a large gray owl. The first night I was walking towards Old Dorm Block when the large bird of prey glided across the lawn towards me and landed on a tree branch right above my head. It just sat there staring at me for a few minutes, then flew off. The next night a similar thing happened farther down the path. Now, wildlife on the campus is not an unusual event. There is a wildlife preserve running through the center of campus full of beavers, racoons, possums, herons, ducks and the occassional kingfisher. I guess there is a need for a bird of prey since the rodents get a little out of hand. But after watching "Twin Peaks" and encounter with owls is bound to be a little spooky. "How big was the owl?" "Large enough to cloud my mind and memory."
Oblique strategy of the day: "WATER"
Obscure Actor Pick of the Week, Brad Dourif, Jemiah and I rented Sonny Boy and Wise Blood. From the first few seconds of Sonny Boy it reminded me of an old Peter Fonda "sensitive western." The soundtrack was excruciating, the screenplay little better. The only reason to see the film (unless you are obsessed with Brad Dourif), is to see David Carradine in drag. Yes, that's right. As Jim put it: "Dave makes Patrick Swayze in Too Wong Foo look scrummy." Very bizarre film, but this time that is not a recommendation. The film also stars Paul Smith (The Beast Raban) and Conrad Janis (Mindy's dad on "Mork and Mindy"). It portrays a bloodthirsty group of thieves in the New Mexico desert bringing up a child to be an animalistic killing machine. Of course he's just misunderstood, and you have the classic scene with the posse of ignorant townsfolk chasing him down in the desert on dirtbikes and battered trucks (very Mad Max). Dourif's role as Weasel was sadly quite minor, and I don't think he really cared about the film at all. A big letdown.
Wise Blood, on the other hand, was a fantastic film, and Brad was the star. I give a hearty recommendation to this film. Directed by John Huston, based on the Flannery O'Conner novel and also starring Harry Dean Stanton. This film totally inflamed my passion for Brad; perhaps it was the slick blue suit and the big preacher's hat, most likely it was his brilliantly twitchy, obsessive and haunted performance. See my page on Brad Dourif for more ranting about his performance in Wise Blood. Again the soundtrack for this fim was terrible to the point of being distracting, but that is the only bad point that I could find with the film. For all you Ministry and Butthole Surfers fans out there: this film is the source of all the samples in the song "Jesus Built my Hotrod." "Nobody with a good car needs to be justitfied." "Nobody with a good car need to worry about nothin'." "Where you come from is gone. Where you thought you were going, weren't never there. And where you are ain't no good unless you can get away from it." I give this film two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Go out and rent it now.
Oblique Strategy of the day: "trust in the you of now"
Reed College Quest as well, but if I remeber right the film was gone before it even went to press. Thins film goes into one of may favourtite genres: smart kid left to fend for himself in a very difficult situation. The other films I love of this genre are The Empire of the Sun, starring Christian Bale (*swoon*) and The Black Stallion, which I love just as much now as I did when I was 10. King of the Hill is about a kid, Aaron (played by Jesse Bradford), whose parents are struck hard by the Depression and end up abandonning him while the father travels for work out of state. The most difficult part for Aaron is the social stigma he suffers at the hands of his schoolmates for being a "charity case." He makes up grandiose stories to cover up his parents' absence, but the lies all fall apart at his junior high graduation party. He locks himself in his hotel room to prevent the evil bellhop from locking him out, and survives on stale dinner rolls until his little brother arrives back home. At the height of his desperation he starts to eat cut-outs of food from magazines, perfectly arranged on his plate.
The supporting cast of this film is spectacular: Karen Allen as the sympathetic teacher, Spaulding Gray as the lecherous old man across the hall, and Adrien Brody as Lester, a street-wise hood who does all he can to help Aaron get through his troubles. As always with Soderberg, the production design is impeccable, with loving care given to the details of the period. The focus on the details is strictly from the kid's point of view: cigar bands, marbles and Converse All-Stars recieving very close attention from the camera. This film certainly deverves a lot more attention than it got when it first played in the theatres. I can only hope that it gets more respect in retrospect.
Oblique Startegy of the Day: "it is quite possible [after all]"
The film begins with a startling image of death, the accident. A large swan has crashed into the windshield of the car, causing the accident right in front of the zoo where the brothers work. The headline in the paper reads "Swan Crash Two Die." It is soon revealed by the policemen at the scene that the swan was female and carrying eggs, which were smashed on the hood of the car on impact. It is also soon revealed that one of the wives was pregnant at the time of her death. The beginnings and the ends of life are present in that very first scene. Oscar works at the zoo as an animal behaviorist, studying the lives and habits of the animals. Oswald studies the deaths of the animals, in particular the process of decomposition. After the funeral the brothers discuss the decomposition of their wives' bodies, caused by the bacteria that have always been present in the human body, which he traces back to the first kiss between Adam and Eve. The brothers watch a series of documentary films about the evolution of life in a vain attempt to "make sense of it." The films trace the progress of life, implying that if there is a beginning, and movement in one direction, then there must also be an end. Oswald studies decomposition through time-lapse photography, yet when we see the completed films there is much life evident in deaths of the animals, the movement of the insects is constant, and the crocodile even seems to breathe in the film. In his first encounter with Venus de Milo, Oscar covers his body in snails, saying that they are a "nice primitive life form." At the end of the film after the brothers have died, their bodies, and everything around them, have been covered in snails. At the end of life the brothers are surrounded by reminders of the beginning of life.
The black and white dichotomy abounds in the film. Where most directors would just use this idea visually, Greenaway uses it in every way he can. The owner of the zoo systematically eliminates all of the black and white animals from the zoo, until there are only the zebras left. The reason that is given is that he is colourblind. Seeing only in black and white his world exists only within that contrast, a world that he is trying to beak out of into a world of only shades of gray. He even goes as far as running over a dalmation dog, and in the final irony, he kills the dog on a zebra-crossing in the road. Venus de Milo is always seen dressed in a black suit, Alba Bewick in white. The one character that consistanly dresses in full colour is the female assistant of the evil Dr. Vandemeer, who is always in a flambouyant red outfit, but she reveals to Oscar and Alba's daughter, Beta, that she prefers black and white striped knickers. The completeness in Alba's life comes with the arrival of the legless Phillipe Arc-en-Ciel (french for rainbow). Although he always dresses in white, his name implies all the colours of the spectrum, which of course come from the difraction of white light. His presence to Alba promts her resolution to exclude dichotomy from her life (the twin Deuce brothers) and join with the man who is all in one.
Greenaway uses light and dark primarily in the scenes in the time-lapse photography studio where Oswald works. The room is on the whole dark, but lit up at certain points by the lights of the cameras. Each light flashes at a different frequency, and the pool of light is confined to the individual subjects. This leads to a very strange lighting effect that is unique and very distinctive. Later in the apartment that the brothers rent for Alba Bewick the lighting shifts in a similar fashion within the scene. The apartment has also become a studio for observing death, the brothers' death and Alba Bewick's. While Oscar is viewing the documentary film he is in a darkened theatre, and these scenes are generally filmed looking back towards the projector, with the very bright light in the centre of the shot, and the dark shadow of the viewer in sillouette. Oscar spends his time in the theatre cutting up hundreds of newspaper copies (black and white) of the article on the car accident, possibly in hopes that the exquisite corpse (a surrealist game of cutting up and reassmbling text) will make more sense to him than the straightforward report does. While the light tells the tale of the beginning of life, the dark figure of Oscar is de-composing (tee hee) the tale of end.
Whereas most of the dichotomies in the film begin to blur by the end, some of the real/fake distinctions become more apparent. It is reavealed that some of the less active animals at the zoo are actually stuffed fakes, including the panda (a black and white animal). In an attempt to maintain the deception the zookeepers place fake droppings in the cage every day. The adults in the film do not notice the deception, it is the innocent children who are more observant. The Dr. Vandemeer character we are told is the descendant of another who painted fake Vermeers. The doctor as well attempts to recreate the deception by dressing Alba up in a costume duplicated from one of the paintings and staging a scene similar to a famous Vermeer painting. At the end of the film the main characters are unable to tell whether or not Dr. Vandemeer and his assistant are even the same people as they met in the beginning. Vandemeer attempts to get alba to live a deception by fitting her for a prosthesis, which she refuses. At the scene of Alba's death the brothers debate whether she should be buried in a long or short coffin, after they decide on the truth (a short coffin) they give up the idea when confronted by Arc-en-Ciel. The brothers themselves have been living a partial lie themselves for most of their lives, but when Alba realises that they are not only brothers, but twins, they also reaveal to her that they were indeed born siamese twins. They attempt even to recreate their reality by asking Vandemeer to rejoin them surgically. They don't undergo the proceedure, but they do have Milo make them a suit that joins them in appearence. After their two attempts to reveal the truth to the world, they settle on two deceptions.
Most of the camera positions in the film are stationary and symetrical. In the hospital and in the apartment Alba is always in the center of the shot, and the two brothers are on either side. At the center of the foot of the beds there is a circle, a unifying element that is associated with Alba. The brothers, through their association with Alba, become more and more like each other, until Beta can no longer tell them apart. They are only distunguishable by what physical side they take, on the left or the right of the center element. After the accident one of Alba's legs is amputated, and she declares that the other is dying without its mate. "Symetry is everything" she declares to the brothers, a statement that applies not just to her physical body, but to her relationship with the brothers and even to the cinematography of the film.
The alphabet is another element of the film that comes full circle through the film. Beta is often shown playing an alphabet game with other characters where she names an animal that begins with successive letters of the alphabet from A at the beginning of the film to Z is for Zebra at the end. The name of the film begins with the end, the letter Zed. The two Os are symbolic of the brothers Oscar and Oswald, as well as being symonomous with the number 0. The two noughts (the brothers) added together, is equivalent to one nought, another indication that the brothers are one and the same. The sign for the zoo is the three letters ZOO, very large and blue. The are seen throughout the film, but in the final scene at the zoo, when Milo goes into the zebra enclosure they are seen from behind and are therefore backwards. The two Os are unaffected by the reversal, but the Z (a non-symetrical letter) should be backwards, instead it is normal. I think that this can be interpreted in two complimentary ways: the Z is backwards when the sign is viewed from the right direction, meaning that the alphabet is going back to the beginning only to begin again at A, or that the order of the letters has been reversed, and we are seeing the end and looking back to the beginning. In either interpretation we can assume completion and renewal.
Oblique Strategy of the day:"the tape is now the music"
March 26th, 1996I must say this this was the least disappointing Academy Awards that I can remember. Almost all the people I was rooting for took home an Oscar. I'm still pissed that 12 Monkeys was passed over for an adapted screenplay nomination, but Emma took that one for her impeccably scripted Sense and Sensibility, so I can't complain. I was especially excited about the two awards that The Ususal Suspects won, Kevin Spacy certainly deserved the best supporting actor award, as the did the writers for that screenplay. The best supporting actor category was the one that could hold no disapointments for me, I really thought they were all fantastic. Perhaps if Rob Roy had been even vaugely watchable Tim Roth would have taken that one. Mel (fag-basher) Gibson took home too many for my preference, and the Scientologists were out in force, but that's really all that's bad that I can think of. The only one to bring up God was an italian, and I can forgive that. Susan Sarandon and Nick Cage were no surprise, they both certainly deserved it. Quentin Tarrantino can now be happy since he can't be an Oscar winner himself at least he's fucking one. No beer bottles were thrown at the tv, and most of the drinks in the awards show drinking game were awarded for shots of Scientologists. No over-abundance of ribbons, no excessively long speeches, and very few of Whoopie Goldberg's jokes fell flat. Let's just hope it goes this well in the future. Last night certainly renewed my slagging faith in the Hollywood establishment.
My friend Nelson, whose taste I trust, has always maintained as one of his favorite films the Richard Burton classic Equus. I used to just chalk this up to his unnatural affection for the star, but watching it last night I really began to understand the appeal of the film. This is a truly excellent film about the power and passion of the mind. The view of psychiatry that is espoused by the film is probably the healthiest I've seen since Ordinary People. It concentrates on the problem of psychiatry destroying the passion in the human soul, and how taking away that passion makes the individual flat and bland. Burton's character is tormented by this aspect of his profession, to the point that he is reluctant to treat a young boy who is brought to the hospital after he blinds six horses in a stable where he worked. The boy has built up a mythology in his mind, a secret religion centered around the spirit of horses. Burton's character does not try to debunk the boy's faith, as he recognises the validity of everyone's personal dieties. "Worship everything around you, and you will see more."
Oblique Strategy of the day: "use fewer notes"
James and the Giant Peach
Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie
Gilliam's rants against materialism, ambition and technology go hand in hand. The parents think of nothing except having better consumer goods than their neighbors. The "most fabulous object in the world" which Evil uses to tempt the adults is a kitchen full of shiny, chrome appliances. He sums it all up in a brilliant monologue delivered deliciously by David Warner's Ultimate Evil:
The next film up here should be the long awaited new feature from Jim Jarmusch. I'll be twitching in anticipation all week.
Oblique Strategy of the Day: "a very small object [its centre]"
June 8th, 1996I known that the next one was supposed to be Dead Man, and I did see it as soon as it came out, but I missed the first 15 minutes due to traffic problems, so I figured it wouldn't be fair to write it up until I had seen the whole thing. So, probably next week.
Oblique Strategy of the day: "allow and easement [an easement is the abandonment of a stricture]"