It's Not Psychology, It's Metaphysics: Jules and Jim (1962)

Every romantic comedy involving an awkward and convoluted triangle love affair has Francois Truffaut to thank, his 1962 masterpiece Jules and Jim.  Truffaut's film, very much lodged in the ideals of The French New Wave, portrays two stalwart friends and a sexually free woman engaging in an intimate relationship in every sense of the word.  The stylistic nature of New Wave filmmaking allows Truffaut to portray the frantic nature of love between multiple people by undercutting dialogue, jumping to reactions early and even inserting long inexplicable shots of the natural world around the characters, all adding a genuine feeling of spontaneity to experiencing love.  Truffaut, as he does with many of his films, captures the essence of human nature, often focusing on the tragedies of existence, but always reminding viewers that even the most dire of situations can procure moments of happiness.  Jules And Jim is an unconventional look at the trials and tribulations that is at all times honest, absurd and heartfelt.  It should be no surprise that the film is tied very closely to Truffaut's own life experiences, a practice reflected in many of his works, most notably The 400 Blows.

The title characters Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are the ideal male pal combination.  Jules an Austrian novelist and critic and Jim a French poet find themselves enamored with each others intellect and love for the written word.  Throughout the early portions of the film they find themselves perusing the nooks and crannies of Paris, often translating the seminal literary works of each ones respective countries and relating it to their own seemingly mundane lives.  It is assumed that their rather repetitive existence promises to remain untouched, however, when both of them meet the quirky, yet attractive Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) infatuation occurs instantly, for both Jules and Jim find themselves attempting to win over the heart...and body of Catherine.  After a variety of humorous competitions, mostly of a verbal nature, it is Jules who wins Catherine over and takes her to live on the Parisian countryside.  Jim accepts his loss and succumbs to loneliness.  Both accept their situations and even fight a in a war that pits them against one another and all seems fine, however, a few months after the war Jules invites Jim to visit him at his country home.  While doing so, Catherine, whether inadvertent or not, seduces Jim and the two begin to confess their previous feelings.  After a series of miscommunications and letters, Jim discovers that he is to be the father of Catherine's child.  However, Catherine loses the child, but not her affection for Jim.  In a rather awkward moment, Jules catches Catherine and Jim in a moment of intimacy, but chooses to pretend it never occurred and instead passively asks for Jim to remove himself from their home.  Realizing that she is madly in love with Jim, Catherine drives herself and Jim off a bridge into water to assure that they can be together in death.  The film then cuts to Jules, narrating the funeral of both Catherine and Jim explaining that Catherine's casket was relatively small, while Jim's was quite large, reflecting his rather grandiose nature.  This final commentary by Jules says it all, the relationship that proved most important was the one between two friends, who know each others most intimate secrets and that Catherine, for all intents and purposes, ruined their bond both figuratively by becoming a romantic interference and literally by killing Jim, thus separating him from Jules indefinitely.

As I noted this film is a very intimate work on the part of Francois Truffaut, particularly because this film is quite reflective of his close, though brief, relationship with Jean-Luc Godard.  Godard and Truffaut share the spotlight in The French New Wave and film critics continue to debate which individual can claim rulership as the film movement's leader.  The duo built their close relationship while working as film critics for the Cahiers Du Cinema and began making short films as side projects; often incorporating each others help as it proved necessary.  The ultimate result was the creation of two distinctly different directors that just happened to use a lot of the same methods.  In fact, the two worked so closely that many actors appeared in both directors' films and both directors borrowed the others unused footage.  Their friendship proved most productive with the release of Breathless, a film written by Francois Truffaut and directed by Jean-Luc Godard.  Both Godard and Truffaut received international acclaim for this film, as did Truffaut for the previously mentioned film The 400 Blows.  It seemed as tough Truffaut and Godard were destined to be best friends for life and continue to work in collaboration well past the fall of The French New Wave.  This change, however, with the rise in workers revolutions in France during the early 1960's.  Godard and Truffaut found themselves promoting differing political ideologies during the revolts high points.  Their relative views became so severe that the duo broke off their friendship and ceased contact up to the point of Truffaut's death in 1984.  In my opinion this film reflects this occurrence in Truffaut's life, even if it predates the actual fallout between the two directors.  Jules is intended to represent Godard, particularly given the directors Swiss origins and Jim is undoubtedly Truffaut a fact that is only made more probable by Godard previously making a film titled Charlotte Et Son Jules.  Jules and Jim end their relationship and fail to rekindle it before Jim's death and the same thing occurred between Godard and Truffaut.  I know this all implies that Truffaut is a psyching, but I am not saying it is meant to reflect it perfectly; instead it just shows how much a director like Truffaut pulled from personal experience for his films.  Perhaps this helps to explain the intimate and very honest nature of the late director's work.

This is one of the staples of art house cinema and one of Truffaut's finest outings.  I highly recommend checking the film out and getting the Criterion release, because the supplements are phenomenal.


100 Posts, 100 Movies

So this is my 100th post and I figured no better way to celebrate than compiling my list of Top 100 films.  I am sure it will change in the years to come, but here it is at is stands.

100. American Psycho
99. Paths of Glory
98. Freaks
97. Black Narcissus
96. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
95. Children of Paradise
94. Forbidden Games
93. Network
92. Singin' In The Rain
91. Psycho
90. Eraserhead
89. Ugetsu
88. Repo Man
87. M
86. Howl's Moving Castle
85. Boogie Nights
84. Tiny Furniture
83. Patriotism
82. Kiss Me Deadly
81. The Passion of Joan of Arc
80. Ivan's Childhood
79. Carnival of Souls
78. Nashville
77. The Maltese Falcons
76. A River Runs Through It
75. Blue Velvet
74. The Music Room
73. Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
72. Persona
71. Wings of Desire
70. Raging Bull
69. Mystery Train
68. Touch of Evil
67. Withnail and I
66. Easy Rider
65. A Clockwork Orange
64. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
63. The Wrestler
62. The Future
61. Belle De Jour
60. Clean, Shaven
59. The Squid and The Whale
58. WALL-E
57. Hustle and Flow
56. (500) Days of Summer
55. Spellbound
54. In Bruges
53. Dogville
52. Gummo
51. Viridiana
50. The Naked City
49. The Shining
48. North By Northwest
47. The Milky Way
46. La Haine
45. 28 Days Later...
44. The Long Goodbye
43. Oldboy
42. The Harder They Come
41. Pulp Fiction
40. Tokyo Story
39. Taxi Driver
38. Charade
37. Monty Python's Life of Brian
36. The Tree of Life
35. Gojira
34. House
33. Little Miss Sunshine
32. Last Year at Marienbad
31. Metropolis
30. Dog Star Man
29. Breathless
28. Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
27. Seven Samurai
26. Cinema Paradiso
25. There Will Be Blood
24. Annie Hall
23. La Jetee
22. Un Chien Andalou
21. Bottle Rocket
20. Alphaville
19. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
18. Le Samourai
17. Chungking Express
16. Hoop Dreams
15. Akira
14. The Bad Sleep Well
13. The Graduate
12. The Last Temptation of Christ
11. Citizen Kane
10. The Saddest Music in the World
9. Hard Boiled
8. The Night of the Hunter
7. Casablanca
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
5. The Seventh Seal
4. Kicking and Screaming
3. Blade Runner
2. Cool Hand Luke
1. Do The Right Thing

So there you have it...I will add pictures and years sometime in the future.


Magicians Do Not Exist: The Illusionist (2010)

I stumbled upon The Triplets of Belleville by accident upon purchasing a copy at one of the many rental stores that has went out of business in the past few years.  Not knowing what to expect, I was taken back by the surreal beauty and existential ennui that engulfed Sylvain Chomet's cinematic world.  So when I heard that he was adapting a Jacques Tati play into an animated film, I was elated.  I expected a brilliant piece of animation that would have me gasping with delight at its grandiose composition and zany subtleties.  The Illusionist gave me those expectations full force, however, what I was not expecting was an achingly tragic movie.  I assumed without reading any synopsis that The Illusionist would be completely comic and slapstick and from the beginning this proved true, yet by the films closing the viewer is left in such a state of existential despair that would have the most stalwart of people questioning their purpose in life.  The Illusionist is a masterpiece of animation that captures an idea and identity magnificently, and Chomet stands beside Miyazaki as one of the few animators whose work truly transcends the world of children's movies into a much more mature and darkly tinted place.

The Illusionist opens with black and white imagery of a magician executing tricks masterfully implying a man whose days of popularity are antiquated, this notion is quickly affirmed by cutting to present day imagery in color displaying the magician performing to a much smaller crowd and having little success with his act.  His inability to attract audiences and perform efficiently leads to his dismissal from the theater and his subsequent traveling to perform at various venues throughout Europe.  Performing in the face of an ever changing audience, which is exemplified by a rock group whose lead singer does nothing more than grunt into a microphone and roll around on the ground, the magician seeks an audience at a party.  Despite having very few people pay attention to his tricks, the magician is able to impress a drunken Scotsman who invites him to perform at a pub in his hometown.  The town the magician visits is very rural and is celebrating the introduction of electricity on the same night as the magician's performance.  Given their rather mundane lives, the townsfolk become captivated with the magicians performance, particularly a bar girl named Alice, who sees the magician as a procurer of valuable items.  Infatuated with the magician, Alice sneaks onto the ferry with the magician who takes her under his wing out of what appears to be guilt.  Viewers are now introduced to the rather sad life of the magician who lives in a small one-bedroom apartment whose other tenants are also performers.  Alice, assuming that the magician can create items out of nothing, hints at desiring various clothing pieces, to which the magician abides out of fear of failing the girl's imagination.  Eventually Alice's demands become larger than the magicians ability to produce and he must sell himself to corporate exploitation in order to gain money.  Despite continuing to provide her with gifts, Alice decides to pursue a romance with a young man across the street.  Discovering their relationship, the magician leaves in despair and simply offers Alice a note that states, "magicians do not exist."  The magician, Alice, and even the viewers have come to realize that the small magic of the world to which they hold dear is simply an illusion and that once this is discovered they can do little but live a jaded life.

The Illusionist did a very interesting thing to me.  It caused me to question what constitutes comedy.  Prior to The Illusionist I found it quite simple to divide comedies into either slapstick low key comedy and philosophical high art dark comedy.  The Illusionist, however, is both of these comedy styles from beginning to end, never failing to cause the viewer to laugh and suffer simultaneously.  At first, I wanted to place the blame for this comedic gesture on French sensibility, but I found The Illusionist to exist as something far different from even Godard's most politically fueled comedy.  It seems as though Chomet, and to the same extent Tati, wanted viewers to laugh at the tragedy of human nature.  The film posits that reality sucks really really bad, but if you cannot laugh at it then living in the tragedy becomes unbearable.  This unbearable nature is shown through the clown character who attempts to commit suicide only to be stopped when Alice offers him a bowl of soup.  The clown, as the film implies, had lost his ability to laugh and it was in that moment that he almost lost his ability to live.  In fact, it is only the Scotsman whose character remains happy at the films closing, yet even his jovial nature is a direct result of alcohol.  I guess this is all really my personal ranting, but the film works for contemporary society, because economically speaking the world is terrible and Chomet is reminding us that laughing is the only way to deal with it, because if we cannot do that the crisis becomes unbearable.

I found The Illusionist to be far superior to Triplets of Belleville and I cannot recommend it enough.  I was fortunate enough to see it projected on film, but I am sure the blu-ray will garner a similar experience.


They Said, We'll Come Back For You Paw-Paw: The Future (2011)

There are only two names in American Cinema that reflect truly unique and standalone filmmaking that reflects a director pouring their inner most insecurity into their work.  The first is Harmony Korine with his abrasive imagery and bizarrely accurate portrayals of the effects of those disillusioned by the American dream.  The second is the director/author/musician/performance artist Miranda July whose rapidly growing cult following is becoming more evident with each film and novel she releases.  Her most recent directorial offering The Future combines all the indie fueled art-house elements of her first work You, Me, And Everyone We Know (2005) along with a much heavier dose of what I can only describe as magical nihilism.  For those familiar with Miranda July it is easy to expect a sad movie that leaves the characters at the most debased, showing little advancement for themselves...and humanity in general.  At times, Miranda July's scathing criticism of our internet-laden society is hard to watch.  Yet, as is always the case with July's work, some heartbeat ticks deep below the film making the experience transcendental causing the viewer to realize that what they have watched is much grander than a social critique.  The Future is a self-reflective and fully realized poem about the tragedies of aging in a society where individuality is manufactured and intimate relationships are as much about cohabitation as they are about love.  However, the nihilist that is Miranda July reminds us that no amount of change will allow us to escape from this trap and that sometimes death is a far more rewarding alternative.

The Future is a non-linear narrative of sorts and borders on being a time travel film.  It begins with the introduction of a talking cat named Paw-Paw, voiced by the films director, who longingly awaits the return of her soon to be owners, a thirty something couple named Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater).  The couple who was intent on adopting the cat discovers that they must wait an additional thirty days before they can take the cat, because it has suffered a rather serious fracture.  Upon returning to their apartment, the couple decides that their lives are terribly uninspired for pushing forty and vow to make serious life changes before adding Paw-Paw into their lives.  For Jason this means taking up environmental activism and meeting up with Joe (Joe Putterlik) an old man who sells severely used hair dryers in the penny savers and writes raunchy poetry for his wife.  Incidentally, the man who inspired July's entire narrative for the film plays Joe.  Sophie, on the other hand, finds herself attempting to reinvigorate a flailing dance career by performing "30 Dances for 30 Days" following the inspiration of other Youtube sensations.  Sophie also finds herself entering into a sexual relationship with a divorced man named Marshall (David Warshofsky), who, while obviously only concerned with sexual conquest, provides Sophie with attention that she finds lacking in her relationship with Jason.  Both Sophie and Jason continue to "find themselves" as a narrative from Paw-Paw reminds viewers that he too is awaiting a major change in his life.  Happiness, tragically is not the end result for the couple, as Jason discovers Sophie's infidelities and decides to end his relationship with her, while Sophie, similarly realizes that her own eccentricities and attachments to unusual things are bizarre to Marshall, yet endearing to Jason.  Sadly, the couples own turmoils cause them to forget abut Paw-Paw who was euthanized due to the couples failure to pick him up in time.  As the couple notes, they both went back for the cat, yet, as is often the case in life, it was simply too late.  The result leaves the viewers watching the couple return to their previous state of co-habitation as Jason literally turns the next page in their rather bleak life, implying that the future is indeed very unexciting.

As is the case with Miranda July, criticism is tricky.  Her films live in a world that dances wildly between purely artistic outpouring and finely crafted social critique.  However, the commentary in the film is rather apparent, given the film's title and subsequent narrative.  July's work is preoccupied with living in the future and assuming stupidly that positive change will simply happen to those who wait.  This is apparent in both Sophie and Jason's career choices.  Sophie, an aspiring dancer, works as a children's dance instructor and shows no pride in her work and actually realizes in a rather hilarious scene that if she were to stay at the dance academy she would inevitably teach the children of the children she currently instructs.  Jason's job is no more satisfying, given that he works as an at home tech-support agent.  He mocks his job and is completely blocked off from the natural word, yet when he takes up his job as an environmental activist, he realizes that the rest of the world is equally indifferent and chooses to ignore nature freely.  Even Paw-Paw waits illogically, he idealizes his future life with Jason and Sophie, only to realize that no matter what happens in the world only two things are for certain, darkness and light...a rather existential realization for a talking cat.  Finally, in one of the films most brilliant scenes Marshall's daughter Gabriella (Isabella Acres) attempts to bury herself neck deep in the ground to grow like a tree, only to realize in the dark and cold night that she is inextricably stuck in the present and no amount of change can stop the ebb and flow of these things, except of course the work of a talking moon and the tai chi moves of Jason, but even those are futile.

I have seen The Future and it was good. The film is still making its way through some indie theaters, and is well worth checking out if you get the chance.  I am certain it will make my top films of 2011 and will likely only be succeeded by Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.


There's A Thousand Sides To Everything: Zabriskie Point (1970)

I often think that I am the only person on earth who does not appreciate Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura.  To me it reeks of bourgeois pretension and lacks any real underlying value aside from a couple of aging men and women coming to existential realizations within themselves.  I was dreading the possibility of having the same experience with Zabriskie Point, particularly in the films opening scenes, which consist of nothing but debates amongst angst ridden college kids.  However, as the film picked up and began to gain some pacing I found myself infatuated within its eccentricities and stunning visual pondering (something that I can credit to L'Avventura).  I thoroughly enjoyed Zabriskie Point, which is funny given that it is one of Antonioni's less respected films.  Perhaps I just do not get Antonioni, but to me this is a far superior film to L'Avventura in its believability and subsequent accessibility.  It could of course have everything to do with Pink Floyd helping create the soundtrack, because after all they are one of my favorite bands.

The narrative of Zabriskie Point is incredibly disjointed involving a vague story about a group of college students revolting against "the man."  This is problematic, because the only image of "the man" we are given is that of a corporate organization whose aim is to sell homes in an idealize suburb that is so fabricated that the commercials use mannequins in place of humans.  It is obvious that these kids are revolting against capitalism, the irony, however, is that these kids are inextricably stuck inside the capitalist beast, an image that Antonioni reinforces by placing characters in the corners of frames that consist of large advertisements and corporate imagery.  This seems to be the case for every character until Mark (Mark Frechette) appears.  Mark is a spitting image of Peter Fonda's character in Easy Rider and matches him in his indifference and desire to rebel at any cost.  His rebellious nature is so strong, in fact, that he commits murder in response to what he believes to be an unjust murder at the hands of local law enforcement.  Realizing he has committed a crime, Mark flees, by plane, to the desert.  While flying he views a women fixing her car on a long desert road.  After a aerial game of cat and mouse, Mark lands and meets the girl named Daria (Daria Halprin), a woman who works for the corporate group shown earlier and is on her way to meet them at their desert abode.  Deciding that Mark is a far more interesting character the duo decide to traipse through the desert that includes intense political debate and what can be read as an LSD-induced orgiastic sexual encounter.  The result is that the couple is now reunited with the earth, Mark returns to the city with the plane he has stolen and Daria continues on to her job.  The only difference now is that Daria realizes her place in this capitalist machine and decides to sabotage the cogs in the only way she sees fit, explosive obliteration.  Thus, the film ends with images of consumer goods being literally blown to smithereens, implying that a destruction of capitalism is possible, and a very beautiful thing indeed.

I incorporated my bit of analysis into the plot, because I have a different issue to bring up as it relates to this film.  I noted that this film, to me, is far more enjoyable than L'Avventura.  This led me to reconsider the notion about a director having an undeniable masterpiece.  Many people point to L'Avventura as Antonioni's masterpiece.  While I am at no point to say that Zabriskie Point may be his best work, it does have me reconsidering the validity of a masterpiece.  For example, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is often cited as his best film, but I am of the opinion that is simply his most widely viewed and recognized, to me The Bad Sleep Well or Kagemusha are far more realized films than his early work.  This action also occurs with directors like Orson Welles whose most widely acclaimed work is Citizen Kane.  While Citizen Kane is certainly a crowning cinematic achievement, it often cast a shadow over his other fantastic works, most notably his late film Touch of Evil.  I am in no way trying to dismiss these directors other films, but I find it disconcerting that many people will cite one film as a directors best work without truly considering their entire body of work in the process.  I guess I am being a bit idealistic, but I am at a point in my film viewing life that I can say what I am about to say.  A person should not be able to definitively claim a director's best work until they have seen each of their films, it just seems illogical.  Sure, you can have a favorite, but that choice should not become the standing decision for the entirety of film criticism, and I believe this may be the case with a director like Antonioni.  Be what it may, Zabriskie Point is a better movie than L'Avventura, and I plan on viewing the rest of Antonioni's work before claiming it to be his best film.

Ignoring that rather long tangent into essentializing a director's films, I do strongly recommend getting this film, if only for its intensely captivating cinematography.  Sadly their is only a DVD copy available, but we can always hope that Criterion picks it up in the near future.


I Am Here To Save Your God Damn Life: The Beaver (2011)

Let me get it out of the way.  I did not see this one coming.  The Beaver was a great movie.  I foolishly mocked the directorial debut of Jodie Foster as a ridiculous concoction of black comedy and anti-semitic acting power with a hand puppet attached somewhere.  I mean I could not have begun to imagine the bizarre beauty of this film, let alone the superb acting that occurred in this film, most surprisingly by the film’s star Mel Gibson.  I am here to tell you that I have seen the light, and damn was it glorious.  The Beaver is not only a decent movie, but it is superior to many of its contemporaries, specifically in the genre of dark comedy.  To quote a friend who watched the film with me, I am scared by how much I enjoyed this film.  Perhaps it is a direct result of my very low expectations coming into the film that resulted in its surprising enjoyability or its relative honest despite being absurdist in nature, but The Beaver is a must watch film and not in the same sense that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a must watch film.  The Beaver is not so bad that it is good; I would argue that it is so good that it might be bad.  I know that statement does not make sense, but you will not understand until you have experienced this stand-alone piece of cinema.

If you are stumbling upon this blog while searching reviews for this particular movie then you more than likely no the movies ridiculous plot.  However, for the few of you who have missed this movie in discussions I will explain.  Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a severely depressed man who has inherited his father’s toy company, yet cannot manage to find a reason to enjoy life.  His indifference has led his oldest son Porter (Anton Yelchin) to despise every shared quality he has with his father and to his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) demanding his departure from their literally decaying household.  Realizing he has lost everything, Walter stops off at a liquor store and purchases an insane amount of alcohol.  While returning to his vehicle Walter discovers a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and decides to bring it along with him to his newly inhabited hotel room.  Walter, after becoming severely intoxicated, attempts to hang himself with no luck and then attempts to jump off the balcony of his hotel only to fall back into the room and have a television land on him.  After blacking out for some time, Walter awakes to a rough Australian voice.  However, this voice does not come from a human being, but instead from the beaver puppet which is attached to Walter’s hand.  The beaver explains to Walter that it is here to help him get his life back together and remove himself from his severe depression.  Agreeing to this change Walter reintroduces himself to his family and job with the beaver attached to him and speaking for him, explaining to his wife and others that it is part of a therapy suggested by his psychiatrist.  The puppet works almost instantly, excluding his son Porter, allowing him to rekindle his romance with his wife and take the flailing company into new and productive directions.  The joy ride does not last forever, however, and indeed becomes dark as those around Walter realize that his reliance on the beaver has not ended his depression, but instead serves as a veil to ignore it.  There you have it.  That is the plot for The Beaver.  I know it seems ridiculous, but somehow it manages to work and I am very glad to have taken the time to discover the film, which is inevitably doomed for obscurity.

I could do some sort of analysis concerning the vague discussions of religious salvation or its metaphors on the decaying nuclear family.  These are important themes in the film, but I would be remised not to mention how well the film deals with mental illness, both in regards to insanity and depression.  The character of Walter is obvious mentally instable in his possession of split personalities, one being the mute Walter and the other being the loud, foul mouthed beaver that is excellent with people.  As should be understood, people react with some degree of uncertainty to Walter illness often rolling their eyes and whispering uncertainties behind his back.  This seems to be the case for Walter’s illness for most of the film.  However, in a moment of self-reflection, Walter creates a toy that proves to be a big hit, causing people to exploit him for his creativity.  He is shown on various talk shows with the beaver, often being mocked indirectly while simultaneously being praised for his brilliant creation.  It makes me think of a musician like Daniel Johnston who has garnered large amounts of critical acclaim for his dark and brilliant lyricism.  Musical snobs often quote him as a masterful musician, yet many of those same critics shy away from befriending him due to his unconventional nature.  I felt the same thing being done to Walter throughout the film, both by the other characters and by myself as a viewer.  I though Walter was an insanely good character, yet overlooked his legitimate mental illness.  If I were to meet a similar person on the street today I would shy away from him immediately.  A film like The Beaver, despite its absurdity makes us acknowledge that mental illness occurs in various forms and that we must be careful to criticize it whether it is a person who suffers severe depression or more humorously talks through a puppet.  Often the latter is the one in need of more help, despite outwards signs saying otherwise. 

I am going to avoid recommending the purchase of this film, given that I am uncertain about its rewatchability.  Fortunately for you, Amazon.com has a digital rental version. Overall, I enjoyed The Beaver and will likely place it on my Top Ten Films of 2011.  A statement I never would have imagined myself saying months ago upon first hearing about the film.


Top Ten Thursdays: Horror Films

With Halloween fast approaching it seems like a decent enough time to devote a top ten list to horror films.  Sadly, I am rather lacking in cinematic knowledge of horror so my list may seem a bit bizarre.  Despite this I am offering up a humble list and welcoming all varieties of suggestions for film to watch in the expansive genre.  I should also note that I have withheld some of the obvious classics, not because they are undeserving, but because to me they border more on the genre of psychological thriller.  So do not be upset that this list lacks any Hitchcock.

10.) A Bucket of Blood (1959)

One part schlock horror and one part beatnik criticism, A Bucket of Blood is bizarrely suspenseful for being just under an hour long.

9.) Paranormal Activity (2007) 

Paranormal Activity picks up where The Blair Witch Project left off with found footage horror films.  I have a longer review that explains my opinions on this film.

8.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

George Romero is the father of the zombie film, and his 1978 critique on capitalist consumption is his finest offering.

7.) Eraserhead (1977)

The mind of David Lynch is a horror film all its own, but his early study on the loss associated with abortion is grotesquely disturbing.

6.) Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome is perhaps the most philosophical horror film ever made, and my review on Cronenberg's work helps explain why.

5.) House on Haunted Hill (1999)

This remake is not particularly brilliant, but I remember loosing sleep over it when I watched it over ten years ago.  Perhaps I need to revisit the film, but damn if it did not scare the crap out of me the first time around.

4.) Carnival of Souls (1962)

Easily the most poetic film on my list, Carnival of Souls is surrealist horror that is disturbing in its minimalist nature and experimental cinematography.

3.) 28 Days Later...(2002)

This is my favorite zombie film bar none and it is a lesson in editing in the horror genre.

2.) The Shining (1980)

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

1.) Session 9 (2001)

I once stated that this is the only horror film that matters.  I still believe this to be true, because it manages to be eeire and disturbing without relying on very much on screen violence.

Honorable Mention

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Saw (2004)
The House of the Devil (2009)
Zombieland (2009)


Life Is Much The Same; Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet: Sunrise (1927)

Sunrise, subtitled A Song of Two Humans is one of those gems that often separates a legitimate critics top film list from somebody who pretends to know what they are talking about when it comes to cinema.  I had yet to see this movie and felt as though I was missing something spectacular.  To be honest, as the film began I thought I was watching a rather dull film, but this notion ended quite quickly.  The moment director F.W. Murnau began overlapping images and incorporating bizarre camera angles, I was hooked.  This film is an expressionist masterpiece that pours out darkness almost consuming the the faint light that surrounds the characters, becoming a study in the blackest parts of the human psyche, most notably deceit and infidelity.  However, like any good film made before Citizen Kane, it offers redemption and viewers are left with a cinematic treat that is both rewarding and heartfelt, a feat that is becoming harder and harder to deliver in contemporary cinema.

I have mentioned in many reviews that some film plots are very simple and unapologetically plain.  Sunrise may  prove to have the simplest plot of any film I ever review.  With that being said, it may also have one of the deepest-rooted narratives of any piece of cinema I have encountered.  This simple story of redemption is so honest, emotional and beautiful that I could not look away, fearing that I would miss some subtlety that would turn the entire narrative on its head.  The narrative goes like this The Man (George O'Brien) is so deeply consumed by lust for The Woman From The City (Margaret Livingston) that he is making a fool of his wife The Woman (Janet Gaynor) and blowing his meager earnings to please the city socialite.  In an oneiric scene The Woman From The City demands that The Man kill her wife and move to the city with her, promising a world of razzmatazz and joviality that explodes off the screen in orgiastic joy.  Half-drunken on idealism The Man agrees and plans an elaborate method to kill The Woman whilst rowing to the city.  The Woman mistakes this offering of a trip to the city for a chance to rekindle their relationship, only to become shocked when The Man tries to kill her.  Unable to commit to the act The Man begs for The Woman's forgiveness as they dock on shore and approach the city.  Realizing the error of his ways, The Woman accepts The Man's apologies and the couple engage in a carefree romp through the city.  Their flame rekindled the couple heads back to their farm town by boat, only to get caught in a hectic storm that capsizes the boat.  Believing he has lost his wife, The Man goes into a severe depression while The Woman From The City believes his act to be purposeful.  Fortunately for The Man, it is discover that The Woman has indeed survived the wreck with little harm.  The Man dismisses The Woman From The City and refuses to continue his infidelities leaving the couple together in a happy embrace, thus ending the film, simply and poetically.

The film is full of critical analysis, Murnau was a director who was very self-aware about the images he projected and Sunrise is certainly no exception.  With a oeuvre that includes an adaptation of Tartuffe, as well as the critically acclaimed Nosferatu, it is clear that Murnau loved the study of human experience.  Sunrise particularly concerns itself with the tragedy of human desire.  The desire manifests itself in many ways throughout the film, whether it is The Man's desire for another lover, or The Woman's desire for normalcy within her family.  Even The Woman From The City desires the acceptance of the village people, despite engaging in infidelity which she fails to realize destroys this possibility.  These desires are rather blatant, but the larger issue of longing comes through in the form of capitalist desires.  Money is arguably its own character within the film, every main character is tied to it in some form and it is exchanged throughout the film.  In fact, the only reason that The Man and The Woman are capable of rekindling their love is because of an apparent excess of wealth produced by The Man.  It is implied at the films onset that The Man has no money, yet the couple spends lavishly in the city as though they had an unlimited well of finances.  It implies that happiness and the cessation of desire can only occur through monetary escape.  This argument helps add another layer to the film, particularly the possibility that the couple's trip to the city was actually a dream.  Many of the occurrences in the city are literally impossible, notably the instance in which The Man and The Woman walk through traffic without being hit, or when The Man plays the carnival game that appears to have a never ending supply of balls for him to throw.  The scenes are illogical and surreal, all indicative of dreams.  Contrast this with the literal stormy seas of reality that the couple must go through.  They are shot with close angles and become far more believable than any of the city scenes.  Furthermore, it is only in The Man's moment of severe loss that he realizes that the reality of nothingness makes the fleeting dreams of unlimited wealth ridiculous and that a life in poverty with love is far more rewarding than a life with riches that lacks love.  Sure, this particular reading of Sunrise is a possible stretch, but I cannot help but think Murnau has such ideas in mind.

This movie is on top film lists for a reason, it is perfect filmmaking and a shining moment in the silent film era.  I believe there was briefly a blu-ray copy of this released, but it is sadly out of print.  If you can drop money on that get it, if not a regular DVD will work fine.  The only thing that will not work is not watching this film, because you would be doing yourself a terrible injustice.


I Am Here To Protect You. You Have Nowhere To Go: THX 1138 (1971)

I had heard many positive things about THX 1138 prior to viewing it, particularly its technical achievements.  Given this, I expected the film to be visually amazing but lacking in narrative.  I am here to tell you that THX 1138 is far more than fancy cinematic magic and is definitely an enjoyable film.  I know it is a brave statement to make, but I find the film to be equally as good as Star Wars, if not better.  It represents a moment in independent American filmmaking that relied on directorial vision over producer's demands and it certainly reflects artistic vision as something of greater importance than inherent financial success.  In the vein of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, THX 1138 combines minimalist artistry and dystopian lyricism to make a film that stands alone as a work that has clearly inspired many of its predecessors.

As stated, the film is clearly inspired by Plato and as such, the narrative follows a society that literally exists underground.  The people, more insect-like than human, follow the orders of speakers, robot police officers and a print screen image of Jesus.  From the onset things appear to be forever entrenched in logical oppression, until a couple identified as THX (Robert Duvall) and LUH (Maggie McOnie) engage in solicit sexual activity that is for non-reproductive purposes.  This causes the couple to become political dissidents within their society, leading to their detainment in a stark border-less white world.  THX is separated from LUH and makes it his quest to rejoin her.  THX then joins with another member of the community named SRT (Don Pedro Colley), a former holographic actor who finds his job meaningless and seeks something new.  Together they attempt to find LUH while also escaping the city.  The duo quickly discovers that LUH has been captured and sent to organ donation, which leads to a bizarre sequence in which THX breaks down upon the discover of a fetal version of LUH.  Ultimately, THX is separated from SRT and continues his escape from the city, climbing towards the surface as the government pursues him.  Realizing that it is costing more money to chase THX than is allowed the government calls off the chase moments before he reaches the surface.  The film closes in the final moments with THX looking off into a large a blistering sunset that leaves his future uncertain.

I could elaborate on the obvious critiques here as they relate to bureaucracy and fascist ideologies, but it has been done, and to be honest it is rather obvious in the film.  Instead I want to touch upon how truly important this film is to American independent cinema.  Sure, it is not the iconic film that Easy Rider became, but it is the only production released by the powerhouse that was American Zoetrope.  Led by the burgeoning director Francis Ford Copolla the group included the young genius of George Lucas and editor Walter Murch, the two whose names are most closely associated with THX 1138.  They, as a group, took an image from their days as college filmmakers and created a fully realized film that is magical, critical and enjoyable.  It is an intimate fully realized film from a very famous director.  In fact, I would argue that were THX 1138 never made, the world would never have received Star Wars down the line.  This film represents an incredibly significant moment in filmmaking and it is well worth watching for that, the enjoyability is just an added bonus.

I recommend this film highly and there is an excellent two-disc version that covers the American Zoetrope years in great length.  Any film scholar will benefit from this viewing.


Have You Got All The Troll Footage You Need?: TrollHunter (2010)

This was an impulse viewing if ever such a thing existed.  I was expecting to see an over-the-top special effects heavy movie in the vein of Cloverfield that was visually intriguing, but lacked very little beyond that.  Fortunately, for me, TrollHunter was so much more.  A very self-aware film, TrollHunter takes as much time perfecting the monster movie genre as it does mocking it, incorporating the found footage elements to make a heavy political statement while also dodging heavy reliance on technical wizardry to captivate audiences.  It is a fun movie that is thrilling not for its suspense, but because its genuine captivating qualities which range from humorous dialogue to enthralling imagery of Norwegian wilderness.  I am surprised that it took me so long to hear about this film and feel completely obliged to share it with as many people as possible.

As a found footage film, TrollHunter posits itself as a factual account claiming to be uncovered in a recent release of government documents.  It centers on a group of students who are intrigued by a recent rash of bear deaths in the area, believing it to be a direct result of unethical hunting practices.  However, they quickly discover that what they though to be the actions of a group are instead centered around the work of one mysterious and continually elusive man named Hans (Otto Jespersen).  When the crew finally catches up with Hans, they persistently demand he answer for his ways, assuming him to be the bear murderer.  Hans dismisses them and warns them to avoid his lifestyle because it will prove deadly if they do not.  The group refuses to yield to the warnings and follows Hans into the woods only to lose him instantly.  Taken back by disturbing sounds the group stalls only to discover Hans fleeing out of the woods while yelling out the word “troll.”  It is in this instance that the group discovers that the bear deaths are reflective of something much larger, literally.  Hans explains to the group that he is tasked with maintaining the troll population in Norway and that it is a process enacted by the government.  Realizing that they have stumbled upon cinematic gold, the crew follows Hans on his daily activities realizing that his job as troll hunter is as bizarre as it is lonely, which slowly leads to a bonding amongst the group.  As they continue their quest, they realize that the government’s insistence on hiding trolls is indicative of larger issues and that Hans is a pawn for the government who sees the trolls as a hindrance and wants nothing more than to destroy them all.  It is in this realization that Hans uses the documentary as a call for help to the dying trolls, hoping that all that view the material will realize the trolls indifference towards humanity and that a possibility of a harmonious existence.

In typical Scandinavian fashion, the film is incredibly liberal and blatantly uses the trolls as a commentary on environmental decay.  The film’s writer and director André Øvredal seems fit to blame the entirety of this downfall on conservative ideology, particularly that which is concerned with capitalist advances.  It is clear throughout the film that the government’s only reason for hiding the trolls is that as large, lumbering beasts they interfere with the extension of power lines and other forms of industrial evolution, which inevitably rely on destruction of the natural world.  To the government officials in the film murdering the trolls is a simple and cost-efficient answer to industrialization, particularly given that Hans is the only troll hunter in existence.  Øvredal also has no qualms about attaching the problem to Christianity as well, using Scandanavian folklore as inspiration.  Hans notes that trolls lust for the blood of Christians, which inevitably associates their negative relationship to the natural world.  The critique is logical in a liberal sense, because in many discourses Christianity is a root for modern oppression.  The films narrative is even careful to note its fondness of Michael Moore, who the crew cites as a role model.  Finally, the film is obviously a call to maintain the natural world through its cinematography, which often consists of long panning shots of the Norwegian landscape, which are simultaneously breathtaking, and a sobering reminder of the continually vanishing natural world and the hands of technological advances.  In the closing scenes, the film brilliantly edits a interview with the Norwegian Prime Minister to make it appear as though he acknowledges the existence of trolls, or in a metaphorical sense a nature in need of preservation.

As I noted this is a Norwegian version of Cloverfield, but is considerably better, and getting a copy on Blu-Ray should be understood.


We Are More Than Flesh and Blood, More Than Revenge: Valhalla Rising (2009)

In cinema, there are a certain set of films that are notable for either being incredibly brutal or unbearably profane.  These films include works like A Clockwork Orange, Salo: Or The 120 Days of Sodom and in recent years Antichrist.   These films are often panned by critics and popular moviegoers alike for their depraved imagery and seemingly unwatchable nature, however, it is these set of films that often provide some of the most rewarding viewing experiences for those desiring a challenging cinematic experience.  The previously mentioned films all exist as well-acted, well-shot and thoroughly written narratives and I am more than willing to add a film like Valhalla Rising to this list.  It is a very brutal film and makes elaborate use of aftereffects blood in a way that makes contemporary action films look like a kid's movie.  Yet amidst the violence and abrasive tone of the film, viewers are able to experience a visual treat in experimental narrative that is both your traditional mainstream action flick and a deep reflection on revenge as it relates to religious duty.  The film is disturbingly inspiring to say the least.

The organically flowing narrative of Valhalla Rising focuses primarily on the aptly named One-Eye, a mute warrior with vicious strength who has been inexplicably captured by a local tribe for exploitation in some sort of warrior games.  It is assumed that One-Eye will play pawn to his captors until he meets death in these battles, but due to his resourcefulness he is able to break free, rather violently, from his captors and eventually takes the tribes youngest boy under his wing.  Upon doing so One-Eye and the boy meet up with a group of Christian Crusaders who are in search of the Promised Land.  Believing One-Eye to have been resurrected from hell directly, the group agrees to take him and the boy along in their quest.  During a voyage down a river, they experience an disturbingly long spell of fog that leads many of the crusaders to become unstable, leading to the murder of one man who attempted to attack the boy.  Realizing first hand the strength of One-Eye, the crusaders give him leeway to act on his own freewill once they arrive on land.  This newly discovered land is not the Promised Land the crusaders had hoped for and is instead infested with locals whose sole desires are to attack the new intruders.  After a descent into a living hell, which includes suicide and sodomizing, the group is destroyed by the natives, leaving only One-Eye and the boy.  In a moment of sacrifice, One-Eye offers himself to the natives to save the boy and is quickly massacred by the blunt weapons of the aggressive tribe.  The film fades and leaves us with an image of One-Eye superimpose over an image of foggy nature, implying his godlike rule over the land, despite being disconnected from it physically.

The world of Valhalla Rising is wholly masculine and, with the exception of a group of what the viewer can assume to be sex slaves, shows no images of women.  Given this set up it is no surprise that the film is full of illogical violence.  Nicolas Windig Refn is arguably positing the notion that a world ruled by men for men can only be deadly.  In fact, no amount of honor, religion or sportsmanship can assure safety, because under this set-up all three elements are tied with mortality.  In fact, within this film the only form of power seems to come with age, because elderly males such as the village chief or the leader of the crusades have unquestioned power, while the boy is young and visually more effeminate, which results in him being tasked with dangerous work, most notably feeding One-Eye from the onset of the film.  Even One-Eye, who seems to approach life in a far more thoughtful manner, cannot escape this brutal masculinity and literally succumbs to it in the films closing images as he is bludgeoned to death with a swarm of phallic weapons.  This death is foreshadowed by him creating his own phallic statue as he commits a false suicide, implying his own death at the hands of male plays for power, which formulates itself in various forms throughout the film, ranging from violent sodomizing to brutal attacks.  This world, as the film shows, is doomed for failure given the closing shots of silent nature and shadows of the men who ruled over it, implying that in the near future such brutal patriarchies will disappear and only be fleeting memories in the foggy distance.  In doing so, the violent film Valhalla Rising becomes something far grander than an action film and transcends into a world of astute and well-executed social commentary.

Buy this movie if you are a fan of unusual cinema or are keen on special effects in films, it is a highlight in both respects.  I would also suggest it to anyone who enjoys experimental narratives, because this is certainly from the realm of filmmaking.  Copies are rather cheap and well-worth owning.


I Loathe Tragedy, Such An Inferior Genre: Children of Paradise (1945)

A film that is poetic realism realized, Children of Paradise incandescently studies the world of a struggling theater troupe through its moments of success all the way to its moments of abject failure.  The masterpiece of French director Michael Carne, Children of Paradise is a brutally honest look at love, lust and the troubling links of romance, ultimately, positing the failures of true romance in the face of bourgeois oppression.  The film is uniquely its own work, incorporating tight and claustrophobic cinematography that still manages to flow with grace, as well as acting that is theatrically excessive, yet manages to be achingly real.  The film clocks in at an epic three plus hours, yet the viewing experience seems all too short and ends abruptly, all be it appropriately, leaving those witnessing the magnificent work yearning for something more, but like the films characters viewers are left with a fading flicker of something soulful that has forever escaped their grasp.   

As noted the film follows the interconnected narratives of a theater troupe located on the appropriately named Boulevard of Crime.  The films central character is certainly the aging beauty Garance (Arletty) whose illustrious beauty proves irresistible to the men living on and around the crowded boulevard.  The first to approach Garance with interest is the aspiring actor Frederick (Pierre Brasseur) who at first sees the gorgeous woman as a conquest, but quickly finds himself in a state of perpetual infatuation with Garance.  Not soon after Frederick’s advances, Garance is accused of thievery, however, she is saved by a mime named Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) who explains that it was in fact a conman named Laceneire (Pierre Renoir) who stole the watch, while also expressing his own interests in Garance.  Garance thanks Baptiste for taking her side and offers him a flower in gratitude.  Baptiste, like Frederick, is quickly infatuated by Garance, however, it appears as though she actually shares similar feelings.  All appears set for Baptiste and Garance to fall madly in love, until Count Edouard  (Louis Salou) enters the picture.  Described in the film as a dandy, Edouard is an extravagant man who uses his monetary extensions to get what he wants, proving successful even with Garance.  Garance is shown choosing Edouard over the other gentlemen at the end of the first act, and we are brought back in a few years later showing both Frederick and Baptiste as successful actors, although Baptiste appears to be in a state of constant depression over his loss of Garance.  These issues are only made more severe by the constant meddling of Laceneire who believes he can use guile to win over Garance.  Ultimately, the four men roguishly trick one another into winning over Garance, who is obviously lost in thoughts of Baptiste.  Tragically it is their relationship that is never rekindled as they fail to cross paths and Baptiste is left chasing after Garance in the crowded Boulevard of Crime, only to be consumed by the mass of people.  In this moment, Garance dismisses Baptiste as nothing more than a face in the crowd, literally becoming a faceless man behind the makeup of a mime.

The film is stunning and absolutely enthralling, yet in the back of my mind I fell bothered by the overarching assumption that all masculine camaraderie is somehow ruined by the interference of a female.  All the men act in a ludicrous manner over their desire for Garance and at times the film suggest that it leads to their disconnection.  In fact, a rather endearing scene between Baptiste and Frederick over their mutual respect for each others craft, is quickly dismissed when Frederick sleeps with Garance, despite knowing that Baptiste is only a room away.  This assumption is only made worse as it is assumed that Garance is entirely incapable of truly choosing her own mate.  Garance only settles with Edoaurd in order to avoid a serious prison sentence, however, once she chooses to settle with the count it is mutually believed between viewer and characters that she is inextricably tied to him, despite her continuing longing for Baptiste.  Incidentally, a male character must even assure her of her love for Baptiste, specifically when Baptiste’s son states that she cannot have his father, because he is happy with his own family.  It is patriarchy working at its most destructive level, one in which even a male child proves to have more authority than an aging woman.  I consider most of the problems to be indicative of forties Europe, yet I could not praise this film, without also making note of these glaring gender issues.

Sadly, Criterion has yet to release this gem on Bluray, however, that should not deter you from getting a copy, because it is one of the rather moving pieces in the collection and a definitive example of French Poetic Realism. 


The Eighth Wonder of the World: King Kong (1933)

I am often wary of approaching the classics I have not seen, particularly ones that receive a constant stream of praise.  The original King Kong is one such film.  I was familiar with all the classic scenes and knew the whole plot, yet when I finally got around to watching this classic I was enamored by its incandescence and narrative mastery.  King Kong is often placed on top 100 lists alongside Citizen Kane and Seven Samurai and I was uncertain that it was deserving of such praise.  I was sorely wrong.  It is deserved of all critical praise, particularly is well-executed narrative, technological advancements and stellar cinematography.  In fact, my only criticism for the work is its acting, which while overly exaggerated only reflects the accepted style of the early thirties.  King Kong is the veritable beast of cinema and exudes all he elements of the magic movies can bring viewers.  King Kong is magnificent.

As many of you may know, from either the original or the many subsequent remakes, King Kong follows Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) as he searches for the next big thing in cinema verite.  On a hunch, Denham hires a crew to begin filming on an unnamed island.  This crew includes the perfectly American John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), as well as a very large amount of uncredited actors, including a rather racially insensitive Chinese cook, not to mention the pseudo-minstrel village people of Skull Island.  Denham's unspoken quest is soon revealed to be a quest to capture images of the elusive beast King Kong.  This entails using a young woman Denham has hired named Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) as bait.  The bait works and leads to King Kong taking Wray into his lair that is a literal pocket of the prehistoric era, complete with a variety of long forgotten monsters.  In an act of love, Driscoll enrolls himself, as well as Denham and the crew, in a rescue mission.  This portion consumes a considerable amount of the film and is a masterpiece of technical achievement and cinematic composition in its battles, multi-layered scenes and editing.  Eventually Denham and Driscoll rescue Darrow and manage to subdue Kong deciding that their best bet is to take the beast back with them and exploit it for monetary gain.  At this point, you are probably familiar with the story, it goes awry quickly and Kong attempts to take his prize in Darrow, unfortunately, Kong is quickly attacked by planes and falls to his death, a fatal case of beauty consuming a beast.  A simple film that is eloquently told and forever timeless.

I will exempt myself from critical analysis for this work, because I would only touch on the issue of exploitation of others as it occurs so obviously in this film.  Instead, I will offer up AFI's list of the best movies ever, which includes King Kong.  While it is not the best list ever composed it is rather respectable and one that I plan to knock out sooner rather than later.

Obtaining a Blu-Ray should be understood on this one, a copy is necessary or you cannot even consider yourself a fan of film.  Buy a copy and share it with your family and friends, they will thank you.


You May Say That I Ain't Free, But That Don't Worry Me: Nashville (1975)

Robert Altman was one of the most prophetic filmmakers of the second half of the twentieth century and continued to make respectable films until his passing in 2006.  Critics claim his 1975 work Nashville to be his masterpiece and the statements are more than justifiable.  In a film that weaves between a nonlinear experimental film and a astute political satire, Nashville becomes something tragically real yet absurdly impossible.  As a viewer I was uncertain whether to take the film as a blatant social criticism or a preemptive parody of the political thrillers that would soon follow Nashville, most notably the works of Oliver Stone.  This hybridity of narrative makes the film incredibly enjoyable and makes the lengthy viewing seem rather brief, given that dispersed focus of plots and constant flow of hilariously tragic characters that result.  Nashville is its own film, by an auteur whose main concern is creating a seemingly illogical film that still has a very cohesive underlying statement, one that is quite cynical, yet seems to be proving truer as American politics evolve into the 21st century.

Given the rather sporadic nature of the narrative, I am going to approach my discussion of the plot through the various vignettes within the film, as Nashville is more about the characters as they relate involuntarily relate to a political movement much larger than themselves.  Altman makes it very clear that the film is about the actors and their characters given that the films opening credits are done in the fashion of a concert commercial.  It is made clear that this is a film about actors playing characters, one that just happen to be tied to political ideologies, whether by their own decision or not.  The political party discussed directly in the film is that of the Replacement Party, which proposes bizarre changes to politics.  This party throughout the film is led by the unseen voice of Hal Phillip Walker, whose image is obviously so important that he cannot afford to be seen interacting with the rather remedial characters that exist in Nashville.  In fact, the only semblance of an individual from the Replacement Party comes through John Triplette (Michael Murphy) who is obviously using this job as a stepping stone to his own political future.  Triplette has been assigned to create a fundraising event involving prominent Nashville musicians and understands both the delicacy of the situation and the necessity of it being a very broad night of music.  His first acquisition for the event is the Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) a staunchly patriotic, sequin suit donning country star whose fading image is obvious to everyone but himself, particularly when he dismisses Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) the overzealous and misguided BBC reporter whom he believes to be sabotaging his recording session.  Opal simply desires to get a real image of Nashville, which in her mind is as faded as the garbage dumps she frequents.  Triplette also garners the help of a young musical folk trio that are constantly breaking up and reuniting without logic and seem rather lost as musicians in the god fearing and flag waving musical styling of the rest of the city.  The trio's most troubled member is Tom (Keith Carradine) whose womanizing tragically leads to his downfall, particularly as he takes advantage of a Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin) a depressed housewife whose only joy appears to come from taking care of her two deaf children.  This depression also stems from her disconnect with her husband Delbert Reese (Ned Beatty), a real southern boy who is more concerned with advancing the image of his fading starlet Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakely) whose recent unexplained accident has left her mentally unstable and physically drained.  It is Barbara Jean, in fact, who proves the most important character in the film as she ultimately becomes the victim of an implied political assassination.  I have only mentioned a handful of characters, which fails to represent the entirety of the films twenty plus interacting major characters.  The characters all react to the assassination of Barbara Jean in various ways, however, each individuals actions are obviously for personal advancement and not a single one of the characters shows a genuine concern for the dying starlet.  It is terribly cynical but rather reflective of Robert Altman's worldview, particularly as it relates to politics.

Robert Altman's films posit a notion of futility as it relates to political movements and attempts to form grassroots revolutions.  He delivers this most effectively in his mini-series Tanner '88 which features Nashville star Michael Murphy playing democratic candidate Jack Tanner, a "for real' political candidate who is genuinely concerned with changing the corruption in American politics.  However, in the cynical cutthroat world of politics, Tanner is doomed from the start and is undermined not only by news media and other candidates, but by his own campaign team, who, like Murphy's character in Nashville, have their own ulterior motives.  In the end Tanner is left disillusioned about politics and realizes that people will only vote for the person they "like the most," which rarely has anything to do with politics.  Similarly, in Nashville, Altman creates a world in which politics are won by who you know, not what you know.  Hal Phillip Walker's image relies on his political ties, thus explaining Triplette's concern with accruing not only staunchly conservative characters like Hamilton, but allowing for their image to be mixed with someone like Elliot Gould, who makes a cameo in the film at a mixer for the Replacement Party.  This particular scene is brilliant because neither Hamilton nor Gould recognizes the other, yet they are at the same party, performing their believed duty to a political candidate.  It is precisely this act of performance, which Altman criticizes throughout the film, everything is done with imagery as an underlying concern.  For example, the films opening scenes involve Hamilton singing an obnoxiously patriotic song about the bicentennial celebration in the United States.  His performance is rather uninspired, yet he decides to criticize his hippy looking pianist for its terrible quality, as though the guys look will be reflected on the entirely audio.  Similarly, the Grand Ole Opery night shown is both riddled with ridiculous uses of advertising as well as a token performance by a black singer, which borders on minstrelsy, both to assure revenue for the dying musical venue as well as a new more politically acceptable image.  The brilliance in these images is that Altman is attaching them to the overarching issue of political actions claiming that they are nothing but a performance and those involved concern themselves with images and not ideas.  It may seem cynical, but it is proving rather pertinent in our previous political elections, and particularly so in our upcoming primaries as well.  The next time you watch a debate, keep this film in mind.

I am particularly fond of Robert Altman and this is right up there with The Long Goodbye and Tanner '88 as one of my favorite films by the director.  I cannot emphasize how necessary owning a copy of this film is, although I would also strongly encourage you to share it with your friends, as it is a brilliant and continually pertinent film.