Angels Always Speak German, It's Tradition: A Dangerous Method (2011)

While I had seen a few David Cronenberg films well before I had decided to "get into him" as a filmmaker, it was around June of last year that I finally encountered him as a director proper and slowly notched his oeuvre off of my needs to be seen list.  Considering that yesterday was his birthday and that I had A Dangerous Method delivered the other day via Netflix, it seemed far to serendipitous an opportunity not to take.  I am aware that there has been a sort of tapering off of the love for Cronenberg by his fandom as his films have move far away from their more gore inspired roots to something that at first glance seems to be cerebral and less physically affective.  I can see the confusion for certain, but I am also wholly aware that body gore and affect do not need a visual component to work wonders.  Indeed, it is with almost perfect precision that Cronenberg is able to take the deeply psychological and disturbing elements of the interior and make them work on the body without really showing the gore he has become synonymous with the director.  Sure there are some deeply graphic scenes and the film is disconcerting, but this is Cronenberg moving in a new direction, after all as of yesterday the man is seventy one years old!  To make The Fly or Scanners is simply not his world anymore, like most directors (Tarantino excluded) maturity brings forth a new look at the world and a far more introspective execution in his films.  Hell, even Michael Bay seems to be moving in this direction and it should be no surprise that it occurs with the master of gore.  If one is looking for film to affect them on a deep level, then Cronenberg is continuing to succeed in a way few are and were he not being overcome by the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, I would be prepared to argue that he is one of the most important directors working today, but at seventy one to be mentioned in the same breath as the former filmmakers is a success all its own.

A Dangerous Method focuses on the work and life of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as he continues to establish himself in the field of psychoanalysis, despite having to do so under the rather intense and broad shadow of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).  Although, Jung knows that this is a near impossibility when he is provided with the patient and prospective psychoanalyst Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) things change drastically.  A frantic and disheveled woman, Spielrein, nonetheless, proves a counterpoint to so many of Freud theories, completely throwing the theorists understanding of abject desire and erotic fixation out the window.  Jung begins pouring his entire studies into working with Spielrein, while also guiding her along in her endeavors.  This act comes at the frustration and anxiety of Jung's wife Emma (Sarah Gordon) who is busy attempting to provide the doctor with a son, the only way in which to assure that his name will continue to possess legitimacy and avoid the existential fear of losing one's name.  Yet, this seems to be of the most minor concern to Jung, who finds the navigation between patient learning and desire for Spielrein to become less and less clear, particularly when she begins making advances towards him, seeing his role as authority figure and teacher, overlapping with her own problematic relationship with her father.  It is not until Jung is given another psychoanalyst turned mentally ill patient in Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell) that things change.  Gross argues that Jung must engage in relationships with his patients in order to assure that he will become happy and better achieve a relationship.  Blinded by his already repressed desire, Jung takes Gross's ill-offered advice to heart and begins a relationship with Spielrein, one that puts his familial relations at odds and eventually leads to his contentious and troubling confrontations with Freud.  Finally, believing he has become friends with Freud, Jung offers up his dreams for interpretation, hoping to receive the same in return.  When this does not happen, Jung questions the entire structure of authority, although this happens far too late to solve things with either Spielrein or his family, instead, Jung pours everything into work and solitary studies.

If one were to extract the psychosexual element at play in this film, it would read as pretty much another period piece of desire, lust and repression in a time of hyper-conservative conformity.  There have been other films about the era of psychoanalysis, but the limitations of censorship often cause them to be confused and lost in safe narrative construction.  Cronenberg, as most know, has always pushed the boundaries and buttons of censors, using giant bugs and non-linear narrative to make one of the greatest examinations of repressed sexual identities in modern cinema.  Here, he is dealing with the perverse and in no small way he does so with it expressly meaning to shock.  Under the guise of the cold medical rhetoric, Cronenberg is able to talk about the most uncomfortable of human functions in banal terms.  When the psychoanalysts talk of the various fixations, many of which involve relieving oneself, the overlay of Jung consuming things makes a clear connection that human bodies are subject to exchanges that are in a constant ebb and flow.  It is not so much an act of pleasure in the context of this film as it is replacing voids that are physically lost.  Cronenberg takes the guise of excretion and argues that it is in these basic human desires that psychoanalysis seems to be replicating a mental understanding of something physical.  It is heady academic theory and at this point has become more a point of literary consideration than anything certifiable, indeed, most psychologist just teach it as a point of historical curiosity.  Where Cronenberg seems to relish most in regards to narrative is within a consideration of authority, it is in this space that he seems to find the body at a loss, a surprising moment for Cronenberg, who had prior tied the body to the world of television and video games.  In the space of this narrative the body is a thing that can only be punished by authority, because rewards are seemingly less physical and far more cerebral.  The basest of human desires often coming in as, again, fillers for hopes of approval.  In the vague and dreary endings that have come to signify the filmmakers works, desolation and ennui fill characters who are blindly hoping for something far grander, but still linger on the failure and limitations of the body.

Key Scene:  I was initially hesitant to embrace Knightley's performance as it seemed to be very Oscar-baity, however, one scene involving her recollecting a dream to Jung where she is in the foreground and he in the background.  It is deeply intense and cinematically engaging.

I rented this, but intend to buy it soon.  However, it is a different kind of Cronenberg than most expect, so I would suggest doing the same before pulling the trigger on a purchase.


I Do Not Do Animal Acts: Body Double (1984)

I really do not have the time in my day to throw out to blogging, because I keep squandering any free time available watching movies, but it is also spring break around these parts so I am mastering the art of unproductively quite expertly, paired ever so dangerously with the recent change in time via daylight savings.  I really wanted to talk about The Lego Movie when I saw it two weeks ago but kept putting it off, so you are now forced to read as I wax poetic about what might be my new favorite Brian De Palma film in Body Double.  While I know that I have promoted my adoration for Blow Out in the past and, indeed, have been known to even outwardly defend that film, it cowers in comparison to this meta, post-modern film about making films.  I often find myself deeply frustrated when cinephiles or fans of De Palma point to works like Scarface as his crowning acheivement, because to me those are rather cursory works that are accessible, but do not truly possess the seedy, grotesque absurdity that makes something like Blow Out, or Body Double work.  What pushes Body Double to the next level is more than it simply being the better of the two film, indeed, it also involves what I see as an outright homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock to a point of knowing satire.  There are sequences that are ripped wholly out of Rear Window, while others are expertly inserted from Vertigo and even lesser works by the master of suspense.  However, what should be cinematic remains disconcerting, because De Palma works in a medium that no longer holds the unknown attachment of viewer to subject that was classic cinema.  Between the humorous homage to the now long forgotten video rental store and enough point of view cinematography to make a found footage film seem derivative, Body Double taps into a moment of change in the genre film and absolutely revels in the ensuing nonsense.

Body Double focuses on Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) a struggling actor whose claustrophobic tendencies lead him to fail miserably when cast in a part as a vampire.  To make matters worse for Jake, he returns home to find his girlfriend in bed with another man.  Distraught and desperate, Jake begins drinking and perusing ads for a new job opportunity.  During a tryout for a part in a Shakespeare adaptation Jake meets Sam (Gregg Henry) another actor who is on a string of success.  After befriending Jake, Sam invites him to stay at a friends house while they are out of town.  While Jake is already grateful for the offer, since he has moved out of his apartment, the added benefit of having a neighbor, one Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) who performs stripteases in the house across the street is purely added benefit.  While Jake's voyeurism is unchecked at first, when he is enjoying the spectacle one evening he notices that an electrician has also taken a liking to the show and the two are witness to a moment when Gloria's boyfriend beats her.  Attempting to help Gloria, Jake begins stalking her, only to have the electrician from earlier do the same, even going so far as to steal her bag on the beach.  Jake attempts to stop him, but is slowed down by his claustrophobia.  It is after this that the electrician breaks into Gloria's home and manages to kill her, leading to Jake becoming a suspect with the police, although he is able to evade guilt as he was clearly out of the space of the murder.  Suffering from insomnia, Jake takes to viewing pornography, wherein he notices a girl named Holly Body who looks and dances quite similarly to the now dead Gloria, leading to the curious and still infatuated Jake entering the world of pornography.  When it is revealed that Holly's similarities were not accidental the narrative takes a turn regarding deception and identity all the way till the closing shots of the film, which are followed by an equally mocking final sequence that suggests all cinematic endeavors are predicated on duplication and deception.

I mention that De Palma's film is an exstension of the work of Hitchcock, precisely because it is so heavily and blatantly invested in voyeurism.  In a previous post I discussed the manner with which a film like Friday the 13th, if wholly accidentally, reimagined the understanding of voyeurism and the viewers involvement in violence on screen.  If it was purely a sign of a changing relationship of gore cinema to the viewer, then one could certainly argue that De Palma is acknowledging such a binary and knowingly mocking it.  Indeed, the opening panning shot of the film undermines the viewer complacency tradition by going for a jump scare immediately.  Yet, in a doubling down of subversion, the scene quickly becomes less scary when it is revealed that the scary figure is Jake in makeup and that Jake is failing at his job.  This is repeatedly drawn attention to throughout, whether by the narrative jumping spatial and temporal bindings to show the fragile mental state of Jake, or by never clearly distinguishing a diegetic divide between the voyeuristic acts of Jake and those of the viewer.  Indeed, this comes to nearly perfect fruition during Gloria's murder where the camera shows the murder happening in a more traditional sense, while Jake's point of view is invaded by an attacking dog, as if to imply that the viewer is invested in seeing gore so much so that they are willing to negate the viewer/subject construct when it no longer fits this mold.  One might recall the work of Linda Williams in Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess wherein she suggest that voyeurism and masochism occur in three genres of film, the slasher, the melodrama and hardcore pornography.  The former and latter being rather distinct within the film and openly mocked for their fabrication.  However, the use of melodrama is also knowningly incorporated to subvert viewer ideologies, when Jake and Gloria kiss, almost wholly borrowing from the famous Stewart/Novak kiss in Vertigo, here with the same disjointed paranoia, one whose doubled body implications layer on as the narrative moves forward.  If anything, Body Double is the concerns of Williams at their most realized.

Key Scene: While there is so much to choose from, the sequence leading up to Gloria's murder is perhaps the most realized, particularly in terms of editing and its affects on narrative constructs.

This is a must see film and a gem from De Palma's ouevre.  While I would say get the bluray, it appears to have gone OOP immediately after release.  As such, the DVD will suffice accordingly.


Two Old-Fashioneds, For Two Old-Fashioned People: Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)

I realized as today rolled in that I had all but failed to blog this month, which I am constantly apologizing for during this semester.  It might get better in the upcoming weeks, but as it looks there is hardly any end in sight.  I even had big plans to do a Zatoichi marathon this month and that has managed to fall to the wayside.  My busy status is wholly revolving around things that I enjoy thoroughly though so it is far from a complaint and merely a reality, so for me to report back on the movies I am encountering necessitates two things to work simultaneously.  First, I have to be deeply moved in a way by such an encounter as to be determined to set aside time to write a blog about the film in question.  Second, this being profoundly moved by a film also has to occur at a time when I could still manage to set down for more than a few minutes and compose valid thoughts on the subject.  Since writing nearly half a month ago about Lilies of the Field I have seen some great stuff (Nanook of the North, Stalker and Love Jones) and I also saw some atrocities (Arcade and Broken Arrow).  I wanted to write at great length, but alas time did not allow.  In fact, Broken Arrow took me four miserable late nights to finish.  What I come to write about today is something so off the radar that had I not been fortunate to be a member of The POV Cineclub, I would likely have never encountered the work.  The film in question is Leo McCrary's Make Way For Tomorrow, a little film from 1937 that just happens to fit so delicately in the cracks between the classics of the silent era and the wonderful works of World War II America.  Were the movements altered in even the slightest of ways, this film would be completely overlooked.  While the subject matter is hardly related, I would not hesitate to assert that this has the same sort of rediscovered classic status that is afforded to The Night of the Hunter, here, however, the sentimentality runs thick only to dry up by the end and the narrative is not something that causes a viewer heart to begin racing, but, instead; to wrench in the most jarring of manners.  The open acknowledgement on the part of Yasujiro Ozu that this film was one of his major influences is no surprise, particularly given the staging and angles incorporated in this shot, never mind it possessing what might be one of the most curious breakings of the fourth wall ever committed to celluloid.

Make Way For Tomorrow centers around the Cooper family, more specifically the parents of the children who are now grown and living on their own at various locations within the United States.  The father George Cooper (Thomas Mitchell) is facing a reality wherein his old age and failing vision have led to his being less successful at bookkeeping and subsequently retiring.  Alongside George is his loving wife Lucy (Beulah Bondi) who is also dealing with aging and the inability to take care of major chores in their home, one that in the past had housed their four children, centering specifically on their oldest son Barkley (Victor Moore).  With the impending mortgage on their house becoming due George and Lucy are threatened with eviction, calling all of their children home to deliver the rather unfortunate news.  When it becomes clear that staying in the home is not an option, the two parents ask for help from their children, minus one who cannot extract herself from life in California.  While the children all attempt to save face, while also side stepping the burden of taking care of their children, Lucy ends up moving in with Barkley and his wife and daughter, while George moves in with the considerably disgruntled but nonetheless accepting daughter Anita (Fay Bainter).  While the two parents prove to throw off the tense infrastructure of the various spaces they occupy, they seem to want nothing more than to live under the same roof again, George hoping to find a job and have Lucy move in with him again, whereas Lucy attempts to be as amiable as possible to Barkley, even going so far as to help her granddaughter Rhoda (Barbara Reed) hide a burgeoning romance from her mother.  Yet, when these tense structures fall apart, it is the parents who are deemed the problem and Berkley succumbs to the reality wherein he must send his mother to a nursing home, while the family agrees that it is best for George to head to California.  Given then only a few hours of time together before what will likely be their last time together, George and Lucy spend the evening as thought it were their honeymoon all over again, completely overlooking the dinner they had planned with their children.  In the closing moments, the aged couple share a kiss and a goodbye that could give Casablanca or Brief Encounters a run for their money in melodramatic despair.

One might be a bit curious as to how a seemingly innocuous and overlooked romance/drama film from the 1930's could even begin to reflect the ideal film for this genre, but I will gladly put this in the same framework as Brokeback Mountain or Her, wherein it requires viewers to renavigate their understandings on how love works in film and who is allowed to be depicted in such engagements cinematically.  Indeed, if their is a more heartfelt couple in cinema than this, it is only in gradations, because where other romantic films are wrought with melodramatic sacrifice or one-sided desire, this is as intense a shared love as any and one that is delivered with such earnestness from Mitchell and Bondi respectively.  A 1930's romantic film is usually signified by its over-the-top performative elements, but the subtlety and simplicity at play here work wonders for the narrative arch as a whole.  The struggle here is not one of unseen forces (sickness, war or Shakespearean rivalries) which create an insurmountable barrier, but a unwillingness on the part of a few children to return the care and love their parents directed at them, assuming this entitlement to go on forever.  Indeed, as George carefully observes, it is at after the age in which it is alright to tuck them into bed that things get complicated, because while they still expect that sort of guidance, care and aid, their gratefulness will have either manifested itself or completely gone to the wayside, and in the case of the Cooper children it is decidedly the latter.  Even Rhoda who is capable of exploring the world of romance, is only able to do so out of the kindness of her grandmother, who is later exploited and blamed when Rhoda attempts to elope with an older man.  As such, when the two elderly parents are finally able to enjoy their last day together, the romance swells and the world suddenly seems wholly in their favor, between car rides and free cocktails the two receive more than they had hoped for and certainly everything the viewers had desired for the couple, making the fourth wall moment all the more curious, because it is as though the viewer is willing that kiss and George and Lucy break the fourth wall to remind viewers that it is their story.  It takes Linda Williams's notion of genre, gender and excess to its most...excessive, all the while blowing the lid off of presumptions about cinema of the particular era.

Key Scene:  The almost kiss and the turn to camera is so unusual that it takes the best scene, although Lucy on the phone during the bridge game is also quite good.

The Criterion disc looks about as well as a film from 1937 could hope to and frankly it is so overlooked that any love directed towards it could only aid a better transfer in the future.  Buy it accordingly.


To Do Good Work, You Gotta Have Good Tools: Lilies Of The Field (1963)

Popping in to post a blog as it is yet another snow day here in Columbia, South Carolina.  Apparently these things are rather rare in a decade, but we have somehow managed to have two in the same month.  I knew last night that I would sit some time aside to throw together a blog, but was rather uncertain as to what film I would discuss, as my viewing has still been predominantly directed at all things related to Godzilla.  Indeed, I watched the marvelous Point Blank last night and was rather certain that it would prove the point of discussion, but earlier this morning, amidst my inability to justify being productive despite being given a full day to myself, I finally caught up with Lilies of the Field, a classic in cinema that I had long been meaning to view.  While I expected a few things going into the film, particularly a great performance by Sidney Poitier and some heavy handedness in terms of religious allegories, what I did not expect was to discover a deeply engaging and outright evocative look into the nature of humanity, when social connections and a desire to prove communal worth take on transcendent levels.  Indeed, if read at a very face value level, Lilies of the Field will come across as an idyllic look at persons from non-hegemonic groups coming together in the name of a collective vision and this reading is not of base at all, because that is what the narrative emphasizes.  I would tough contest that it is this and so much more, looking specifically at how individuals are willing to reappropriate and rationalize their own world views either in grand or simple ways to fit with a larger idea, one that might at first seem wholly abstract or completely built on faith, but if the work of anthropologist Anne Fadiman is any indication, eventually in these spaces the spirit will catch you, and you will fall down, although in a far less violent or physical way.  Here the falling down is more of a social realization, one that notes diversity and barriers as things that can and should be transgressed and perhaps the most frustrating blockades to unity are those we build around ourselves.  If all this can occur within the space of a rather succinct modernization of the Tower of Babel tale, I would call Lilies of the Field a rousing success.

Lilies of the Field begins with the arrival of Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) to an unmarked nunnery, wherein he hopes to merely borrow water from the women there, in order to jumpstart his overheated engine and be on his way traveling.  This simple plan is quickly altered when the nunnery's head sister Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) asserts that the arrival of Homer is an answer to her prayers.  While Homer is noticeably and verbally reluctant to help, the insistence of Maria and the other nun's lead to him agreeing to fix a hole in the roof of the nunnery.  Assuming that this will suffice his duty and allow him to leave, Maria ends up convincing Homer that he must stay for dinner, a task that expands in to her blatant refusal to acknowledge his requests to be on his way.  Bizarrely intrigued by the constant insistence of Maria that he should stay, Homer decides to keep in residence at the nunnery, while also beginning work laying road for a local contractor.  During Sunday's Homer also serves as a chauffeur for the nun's to a local truck based Catholic church, run by the well-meaning but constantly intoxicated Father Murphy (Dan Frazer).  Refusing to be involved with the mass, as he identifies as a Baptist, Homer spends the time in a local tavern eating large amounts of food to make up for the minimalist breakfasts and dinners at the nunnery.  When Homer yet again attempts to leave, he is ignored the request by Maria, somehow becoming, instead, roped into working on building a church for the people of the area, including immigrants with little or no English skills.  Taking this task as a building of his own self-character, Homer pours his heart and soul into the endeavor, only to become roadblocked when he runs out of materials.  However, the desire of the community to see the church into fruitions results in communal donations of the materials required, a process that causes the group to learn to talk in a collective language and navigate their own understandings of spiritual endeavors. While Homer is offered a steady job in the process, upon completion of the church, he decides he must leave, although the town and the nunnery he has stayed with will be changed in noted ways, but clearly it is Homer who has advanced in the most considerable manner.

Building structures and creating faith are two endeavors that seem to involve similar rhetoric and it is little to no surprise that the filmmaker and the author of the original text are fixated on overlaying the themes within this film.  However, while this is key to the text, I am far more intrigued by the manner in which this film focuses on the troubles and benefits that emerge from creating semiotic understandings, or, more in-line with the previous sentence, language structures.  Lilies of the Field seems to be a film about the constant navigation of similarities and differences as they relate to talking and positively working in a collective manner.  Indeed, this is most telling in the initial engagement between Homer and the women of the nunnery at which he stays.  Whilst trying to teach the women proper English composition, he starts with a series of labeling of very subjective ideas, noting items in the room such as a phonograph and a record and suggesting them to be singularly of an item.  Yet when he moves out to explain the difference between his skin color as black and their whiteness, things become more complex as they repeat his statement, claiming themselves to be white.  In this rather humorous exchange, one begins to understand that the idea of blackness, or "schwarz"ness as it were to the nuns, only holds value when the language agrees upon a social ascribed implication.  Essentially, Homer's blackness holds no value in terms of language, when the women do not understand its societal implications and even when they do realize what he is suggesting it does lack a layer of societal problems that would emerge in other situations.  As fascinating as this exchange does prove to be, it seems a bit curious that the filmmaker does not navigate a similar language issue in regards to gender, but that already seems well established in the segregated space of the nunnery from the onset.  This language issue becomes even more intriguing when the building of the church becomes communal and the pictorial and gestural elements of communication take precedence over verbal suggestions, particularly ones of ideas, as the immigrant works listen to not Mother Maria, but Homer and his use of drawings and motions to complete the task.  Intriguingly, this reworking of language allows the group to build the space without the necessity of capitalist endeavors, denying the use of high quality bricks in favor of the adobe that had sufficed up until this point. Money holds far less value because their language in the space is barter and trade based, the bricks becoming removed from the term 'valuable' thus only being seen as fodder for a gravel walkway.

Key Scene:  The Amen song that becomes the point of bonding between the nuns and Homer is something I was aware of prior to viewing this film, however, it was far more engaging and delightful than I could have imagined.

I lucked out and obtained this as part of a large collection of DVD's.  It is currently rather pricy on Amazon and considering this I would suggesting renting it before making a commitment to dropping that much money on it, although it is certainly worth its price.


Tread Softly, Because You Tread On My Dreams: Equilibrium (2002)

As predicted, my involvement here on the blog is taking a step back as I am increasingly overwhelmed with my studies.  Indeed, I have even made the foolish choice of submitting to present at yet another conference with the blind hope that I will be accepted (it is in Montana!).  Yet, I am retaining some semblance of a film viewing regiment, although that is proving increasingly difficult.  The only things I seem to have time to watch at the moment are a deluge of wacky and delightful Godzilla movies for research and my obligatory #cyberpunksaturday viewing.  It is this recent viewing that I have come back with a blogging vengeance.  Equilibrium, which marketed itself as 2002's answer to The Matrix appears to have all but fallen to they wayside when it was faced up against the likes of the impressively epic Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (my favorite film of the year) and now established contemporary classics like Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can.  In any other year, Equilibrium would have blown competition out of the water and much like Alex Proyas's Dark City, it has become a film that is adored in small circles and continually grows wider in its appreciation.  I am actually quite astonished that the mainstream filmgoer has not better latched onto this film, because frankly it has all the visual cues and elements to make it an ideal piece of popular cinema.  I cannot fathom how it did not fare better, aside from bad advertising or misinterpretation of its winding and precise plot, but it is absolutely worth even the most hardened of cinephiles time.  Both a visionary work in the realm of science fiction, as well as a love letter to its cyberpunk predecessors, Equilibrium does not ask to be viewed, but uses its hyper-sleek styling and techno-beat pacing to authoritatively demand that one watches it.  While it does not expressly set itself up as an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, it does have all the signs and symbols of the dystopian masterpiece.  Here, however, the sense of disillusionment takes on a prescribed and potent level, no moment lacking from a perfect crafting.  Indeed, the comparisons to The Matrix are suitable, because in terms of world creating, Kurt Wimmer's film is almost on the level of The Wachowski's work.  It is a surprise, and admitted curiosity that this director also made Ultraviolet.  It is almost enough to make me watch that generally reviled film.

Equilibrium focus in on the hyper dystopia world of Libria, a world where all forms of emotional response have been deemed illegal and any materials which could result in such affect are either burned or kept in lock down far from the citizens access.  All persons inhabiting Libria are also subject to shots of Prozium which help to stave off any feelings or emotions, by creating disaffected citizens who move through the space of Libria like robots.  In opposition to Libria are the occupants of the "Nether" a space where humanity strives to continually claim a world of emotion and learning, even at the cost of continual attacks by the soldiers of Libria.  These soldiers are headed by individuals known as Grammaton Clerics, whose skills in gun kata and noted lack of emotions make them particularly skilled at taking down Nether rebels.  One such cleric, John Preston (Christian Bale) takes it upon himself to be outdo other members in his elite group, even betraying his former partner when he finds him suspect to harboring EC-10 materials (anything relating to evoking emotional content).  When John 'accidentally' misses one of his shots of Prozium things change considerably, becoming aware of his surroundings in a new way, John begins to make egregious errors in front of his new partner Brandt (Taye Diggs) as well as falling for one of the EC-10 violators named Mary O'Brien (Emily Watson) when he finds her to eerily resemble his dead wife.  Attempting to perform disaffection, John now navigates the world of Libria, hyperaware of the ways in which the society is hyper oppressive and indeed quite violent, proving unable to stand his place as a cleric any longer after he is forced to watch a group of soldiers gun down puppies.  When the resistance comes to realize that he is removed from the performance, they recruit him to assassinate the figure of Father (Sean Pertwee) the panoptic figure who is constantly overseeing the state of Libria.  After layers of trickery and help from unexpected sources, John is able to get to the inner space of Libria and find the veritable man behind the curtain, coming to destroy him and the entire system of propaganda spreading in the process. While it implies that this change will move to a new world, the certainty of this endeavor is left open-ended.

The major criticism mounted against this film appears to be that it is a mash-up of perviously executed films on the subject of dystopian future spaces, borrowing heavily from the works of cyberpunk fiction, Huxley visions of the future and enough 80's future cinema to not justify its own existence.  I would argue that this is true to a degree, but it would be a different story if the narrative were doing so merely to appropriate its own self-righteous ideals.  Instead, Equilibrium knowingly and purposefully incorporates pasts films in a pastiche that works wonderfully, not pretending to be revolutionary in its narrative, but instead adding a new voice to a dialogue that has been occurring well before the film came along.  Indeed, choosing to situate the film in settings from thirties era Berlin works two-fold to legitimately incorporate the hyper-fascist elements of many dystopian spaces, while also paying homage to Fritz Lang's Metropolis a film whose structure and look are clearly an influence upon Equilibrium.  Indeed, nothing about Equilibrium is hokey or misguided, but displays nothing short of honest craft from a director who openly admits to making films with the audiences interests in mind.  Indeed, when I hear directors make such assertions I am often immediately dismissive, because this makes me think of Michael Bay or the works of the Fast and Furious franchise.  Here, however, Wimmer is suggesting that not only is an audience capable of engaging with a relatively complex and open-ended plot, but that they are also more filmically versed than most major blockbuster films might suggest.   I would be hard pressed to find a similar critical attack being mounted against Quentin Tarantino who is essentially doing the exact same thing with every single one of his films and in the past few attempts they have been less than stellar in their result, returning to marked territory, not by former directors, but by Tarantino himself.  While I have soured on Pulp Fiction over the years, I can admit to the genuine success of its post-moderning mining of genre, I would argue that Equilibrium works to the same success and in many ways is far superior in its result.  This is not The Matrix by any means, but it certainly stands in a realm of audacious force that should be supported and promoted in filmmaking, not chastised.

Key Scene:  The discovery of Beethoven is one of the more low key sequences in the film, but it is absolutely the crux of the film and played as such.

This film demands your viewing.  There are apparently some issues with the bluray transfers available, so it might be (in the rare occasion) safer to go with the DVD.


No Mothafucka Tells Me When I Can Split: Super Fly (1972)

Well it has officially been the longest amount of time I have spent away from the blog since its inception.  Usually, I have some reason for a two to three day split that is tied to being out of town or simply not having a film with which I feel passionate enough to devote a few paragraph to at any great length.  This most recent stepping away though is wholly due to the notable shift in my life priorities, ones that have led to me spending a very very large amount of time at school (four graduate school courses proving time consuming).  I am also working on a few film related conference presentations as yet another work for publication!  As such, this blog which has always served as a sort of space of reflection will serve, at least for the next few months, as a space where I might occasionally reflect on a film or two, as I will be dumping almost all of my time into research (whispers that it might involve Godzilla are abound).  Furthermore, while it is still in the early, early planning stages there is also a plan for me to become involved with a podcast, one that will invariably help me to gain exposure to the world of film review and criticism that will be a welcome alternative to my enjoyable, but, nonetheless, taxing work in academic film writing.  With that in mind, I am still catching up with as many films as possible, quite a few I had hoped to share on the blog, but am only now coming back to review Super Fly a film that I had been quite hoping to watch some time ago.  Stuck inside because Columbia, SC has managed to actually receive snow, it is the only thing I am aware of that is cooler than the temperatures outside and is quite indicative of everything that has made the blaxploitation sub-genre, not a thing to mock and dismiss, but something that is wholly embrace by cinephiles.  Taking on filmmaking in a way that is both noticeably amateur, but also quite in tune with neo-realist filmmaking practices, Super Fly is nothing, if not a fantastic character study and time capsule of a moment in black urban thought.  Edited frenetically and pushed forward with a poised pace, the film would be quite respectable on its own.  Adding the superb soundtrack of Curtis Mayfield only makes it something extraordinary.

Super Fly focuses on the struggles of characters in black urban New York City as they exist involved to varying degrees in the trafficking, selling and using of cocaine.  At the center of this entire trade is Priest (Ron O'Neal) a cocaine dealer himself, who occasionally takes a sample from his own stash.  Yet, tired of being nothing more than a pusher man for the higher ups in distribution, Priest gets a wild idea and believes that with the help of his partner and fellow cocaine distributor Eddie (Carl Lee) that they can make one swoop of success over cocaine sales that will help the two remain rich for years to come.  After pushing and prodding their former drug source Scatter (Julius Harris) the two are able to get in contact with the biggest cocaine distributor in the city of New York, one who no surprise has ties to the mob.  When Priest puts his foot down as to both his own legitimacy as a dealer, as well as his own assertion that he will take no degradation on the part of a white man, he is provided with a large amount of drugs and sets about dealing them to the community.  Showing no shame in his actions, he eventually has a run in with the police, who instead of arresting him decide that they want to be in on the profits, allowing them to continue in their distribution as long as they pay a hefty fine to the boys in blue.  Scatter who finally sees this shift in the selling dynamics as his means to escape the city, borrows money from Priest and hopes to flee.  In his exit, however, he is stopped by the police and is forced into a heroin overdose in the back of his own Rolls Royce.  Providing a moment of clarity for Priest, he decides to take his half of the profits and split, using his guile to extract his money from Eddie's home without even the slightest of suspicious on the part of the police.  However, when the chief of police attempts to use firepower as a means to suppress Priest, the empowered ex-drug dealer blackmails him and escapes from the situation unscathed, looking with much hope into his future with money, love and perhaps a lot less cocaine use.

Super Fly might well be the most wholly realized of all the works the complete the blaxploitation cannon, excluding post-genre items that are often looking back on the era with love and admiration, but more importantly a far bigger budget.  As such, gleaning any singular theoretical idea from the films of this era are somewhat of a challenge, because frankly they were engaged in as many social messages as possible in condensed narrative spaces.  Super Fly while it may be about a drug dealer, is certainly also a prophetic warning against the dangers that drugs present not only to the African-American community as a whole, but to all individuals, regardless of race, creed or religion.  Indeed, Priest and those who surround his drug trafficking are aware of the terrible world within which they exist, but their respective decisions are predicated on addiction, survival and feelings of entrapment.  Painting the narrative as something that manifests itself out of white, hegemonic power structures, the presence of the corrupt members of the New York Police Department, take Super Fly from simply being a hip crime thriller, to something with the most profound of Foucaldian implications.  Whether it be the bizarre layers of self-regulation at work when the tenants of the dilapidated slums simply cower in the corner as opposed to mounting a revolution, or Scatter flees from the game only to be killed via forced overdose, the narrative shows the way in which law and its assumed protective status cause people to self-regulate in wild and oppressive ways.  Priest, whose name thus takes on more layers, serves as a counter to this authority and finds means to look back at the authoritative gaze, questioning the grounding of their power and whether or not the figures in charge need to undertake their own self-reguation.  Of course, Super Fly is not a film entirely void of its own problems, most pertaining to its complete lack of positive female characters throughout, aside from those who have direct ties to Priest's worldview.  It is in this narrative structuring that Super Fly becomes a hyper-masculine text, one that is afforded a bit of balance when juxtaposed with pretty much any film involving the headstrong Pam Grier.

Key Scene:  The drug trafficking montage is cinematic in surprising ways.

The DVD for this is quite cheap and well worth grabbing.  Hell the soundtrack is also worth your time.


All These Moments Will Be Lost In Time, Like Tears In Rain: Blade Runner (1982)

I am walking down a very dangerous slope right now by reviewing Blade Runner.  Well, not really, it is just the first time I have decided to over space here on the blog to a film that I have a deep admiration for, so much so that it is my third favorite film of all time.  I have reviewed films since the blog started that have since made it into my favorites list, but nothing quite like this, where my attachment to the film emerged well before I ever thought of devoting time to writing about movies on the expansive web.  As such, I am wholly aware that my opinion of this film might be clouded by some bizarre mixture of over-zealous adoration, flakes of nostalgia and genuine belief that everyone should see this film.  Frankly, I am quite fine with that because Blade Runner is a masterpiece, even if half of the people I recommend the film to come back to me frustrated at being forced to sit through a two hour film that drones along.  Indeed, I am often mounted with attacks on the film being "boring." While I can understand such critiques, I would context that the very ambient nature of the film is what makes Blade Runner work twofold as a deep reflection on the existential questions of human life in a world where it can be easily and near perfectly replicated.  Furthermore, because it makes careful strides to exist as a neo-noir thriller, the malaise and sense of dread that comes purely with being alive and on-the-run comes second only to the absolutely dreary world of Le Samoura├».  One might assume a sort of cult attachment to a work like Blade Runner, something that is afforded a less realized, but certainly enjoyable sci-fi work like Soylent Green or Logan's Run, however, Blade Runner also happens to be a work of cinematic genius, one whose composition, editing and execution are all signifiers of how to compose a film and use the language of movies to their greatest advantage (although this did take upwards of five cuts and re-cuts to achieve, my personal preference going to the 1992 Director's Cut).  Indeed, if one of the great achievements of a film is to leave viewers not with a variety of answers, but a series of questions and inquiries, then Blade Runner achieves this to the highest degree, as it ends in perhaps the most perplexing of manners, asking the identity of its main character and causing as much of a contentious debate as the closing section of 2001: A Space Odyssey still demands.

Blade Runner focuses its neo-noir narrative on the future world of Los Angeles, at the time 2019, wherein humans living on Earth have begun to colonize the spaces of the farthest reaches of the galaxy, relying not only on the advances of weaponry and technology, but on the creation of living and synthetic being known as Replicants, whose sole purpose is to be a being that is "more human than humans," while also still existing as a form of slave labor.  A particular group of Replicants defined as the Nexus 6 models have come to realize that their own lives are of more value than mere labor for humans and seek not only to free themselves from this hinderance, but also to negate another issue with being a Replicant, which is the factor of only having a four year life span.  As such a group of these Nexus 6 models have returned to Earth and are attempting to reach the leader of Tyrell Corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkell) to bargain for their models begin upgraded for a further lifespan.  This navigation of neo-Los Angeles is not that simple though, proving difficult and bloody as the Replicant's leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) kills viciously in the name of achieving what he desires, life at a greater length.  To prevent such occurrence, individuals known as Blade Runners are introduced into the society to hunt down and stifle--often violently--any rouge Replicants.  In this case Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is the Blade Runner tasked with preventing the Nexus 6 models from reaching their goal.  Working against the clock, Deckard goes to the top and illicits the help of Tyrell directly, who places his own hyper-real Replicant Rachael (Sean Young) in charge of guiding Deckard.  However, when it becomes rather clear that Batty and his partner Nexus models, specifically sex model Pris (Daryl Hannah) are quite ahead of the game, Deckard moves into a state of paranoia and worry that is doubled by his own identity crisis as he begins to navigate his own memories in relation to the larger issue of Replicants.  Eventually, Batty is able to track down and kill the various engineers of his body, each failing to over him the one thing he so greatly desires, a chance to live longer.  This rage culminates in a confrontation between he and Deckard on the rooftop of a decrepit Los Angeles apartment, where Batty delivers a monologue on what memory means when it is lost forever.  Deckard confused leaves the scene and rescues Rachael, but not before one sequence suggests his own future to be tenuously short and dire.

I realize even as I attempt to hit the highlights of this film in a plot description that it is barely even skimming the surface of the layers of narrative and theoretical implications in the film.  The Los Angeles on display in this film is a space that is completely modernized, one that has built upon itself a new layer, wherein, like in the classic Fritz Lang film Metropolis, privilege is reflected in being above ground, here in a very literal sense.  Allowing for the navigation of the noir elements of the film to take place on the saturated seedy streets of Los Angeles that are so densely populated that to navigate them is an existential maze in themselves.  Here Ridley Scott reverts the expressionist streets of loneliness and anguish noted in classic noir films into something completely claustrophobic.  The existential threat here is not the individual in relation to an expanse of nothingness, but in relation to an inescapable sense of everything compounding upon a singular individual.  Indeed, it is this identity in relation to a larger, all-consuming pressure that makes the Replicant versus human debate all the more fascinating.  The question in Blade Runner is about the point in which emotion outweighs the physical advantages of being human.  Indeed, what individuals like Tyrell and Deckard seem to think advances them is the ability to think not about the logic of a situation, but how that situation might make them feel.  Their ability to look at a Replicant as an 'other,' is predicated not on any physical signifiers, but one's that are wholly of a theoretical space.  Yet, in a panoptic kind of way, eyes still factor in heavily to how this is judged as if perceptions of emotions and feelings are a thing that is tangible.  Scott, borrowing from the Phillip K. Dick novella seems to say that to have one physical way of testing an emotional "awakeness" of an individual is futile, because it is still predicated upon looking, which is a physical act itself.  The physical body as superior is indeed dealt with quite intensely, as Batty represents not only an insurmountable force of power that can navigate any space regardless of its physical barriers, but also as a replication of the Aryan ideal of perfect human.  The privilege in this film is predicated upon a belief that somehow the human can feel human, but can only know such a feeling if they are human.  The Nexus 6 Replicants spit in the face of this presumptive issue and very little is done to negate their actions as noting the illogical structure of humanity as a felt thing.  Embodiment and humanity within Blade Runner move full-on into the space of post-humanism by contesting that one must always and at once consider how it will be effected and and affected.

Key Scene:  The "tears in rain" monologue, obviously.

The recently released 30th anniversary bluray is stunning.  It has every conceivable cut of the film and enough special features to make any fan happy.  Obtaining it is of necessity.