30.5.12

The Hardest Commandment Is To Love Your Enemy: Secret Sunshine (2007)

I understand that claiming something to be the greatest film performance I have ever seen is a heavy statement.  However, at this point in my film viewing life I think I have found such a skillfully acted performance deserved of this claim.  Much to my surprise, this discovery did not come from a Oscar winning performance nor did it come from some brilliant performance from a Classic Hollywood film.  Instead, it came from a Korean film made only five years ago, and one produced independently nonetheless.  Chang-dong Lee's Secret Sunshine contains a performance so ranged and realized that I sincerely found myself thinking I was watching a documentary and not a piece of narrative filmmaking.  Delivered by Do-yeon Jeon, the film is something so unbelievably visceral and honest that the single performance consumes the entire film without thinking twice.  Fortunately for viewers, Lee plays into this consumption and centers his film around Jeon's craft, allowing his other actors to simply exist behind her and only interjecting moments of cinematic provocation as subtle reminders that Jeon's character, despite her magnitude, only reflects a very tiny portion of a larger world.


Secret Sunshine centers on one Shin-ae (Do-yeon Jeon) a thirty something woman who has decided to relocate herself and her son from the bustling city of Seoul, to the small province of Miryang, after the untimely death of her husband.  There she intends to open a piano school, to pursue her dreams of playing piano, which we are led to believe were cut short after the birth of her son.  Shin-ae is clearly at a loss for trying to place herself within this suspicious city and seems to only find assistance from a single auto-repairman named Jong-chan (Song Kang-ho), who clearly has desires to be with Shin-ae.  Although things are by no means perfect within the small town, Shin-ae manages to find comfort for her and her son, despite being proselytized at and condemned for her citified ways.  It is not until her son suddenly goes missing that her world turns upside down, she spirals into a depression, which is only exacerbated by the discovery of his dead body floating in a nearby river.  What makes matters worse is that the killer was the child's own teacher, an unassuming man who Shin-ae had shared drinks with only days before the boy's disappearance.  Shin-ae seems destined to exist in a dark state of anger, until she decides on a whim to enter a church prayer service.  Here she finds a sort of cathartic salvation and turns into a loyal Christian.  The whole time Jong-chan follows Shin-ae with the hopes of winning her over, even playing along with her newly found religious devotion.  Shin-ae quickly climbs the ranks of the church and is seen as one of its brightest members, particularly at the point when she agrees to visit her son's killer and forgive him for his actions.  Upon reaching the prison and meeting with the man, she is bewildered to discover that he too has found the salvation of the lord and has already received his forgiveness.  Enraged and disillusioned Shin-ae separates herself from the church and falls even deeper into depression, eventually attempting suicide.  At this point, the film returns Shin-ae to Miryang after a stint in a psychiatric ward and after a run-in with the killer's daughter, Shin-ae decides to return home and cut her hair.  In a poetically symbolic moment, her hair falls to the ground and lands in a puddle to the side of her chair, the screen fading to black reminding viewers of the temporal and fleeting nature of human existence, no matter how enthralling it may seem.


Do-yeon Jeon's performance in this film is one for the ages.  As an actress, she is asked to move between not only various emotions, but various philosophical states of mind as well.  From a stoic single mom with hard-lined atheist views to a lost motherless child with blind faith, Jeon plays each part seamlessly and with such precision that it is damn near impossible not to become lost in her character alone and overlook the rest of the film entirely.  Despite this, Chang-dong Lee does manage to captivate viewers with the remainder of the narrative as well, always placing other characters directly behind Jeon to allow for their reactions to pass through in a spectral like manner, almost suggesting how those viewing the film should react to each of Jeon's subtle acting shifts.  Furthermore, the director cleverly relies on the diagetic world around him to play up on the reality that is her performance, in days of old (or the trailer for this film) a heavily emotive soundtrack and jump cuts would have been used to express Shin-ae's deteriorating mental state in a melodramatic fashion.  Lee avoids such methods and simply allows the camera to capture Jeon's performance in its slow, yet burning pace.  At times, Lee does nothing more than cut the camera to a scene of the small province or to a shot of clouds floating in the daytime sky as a means of pondering for the viewer, but also as a reminder that like the world, a characters existence within a film is only one aspect of a much larger picture.  As such, Jeon's performance as glorious as it may be fits beautifully into a expertly crafted film and as such allows it to organically grow as one of the best performances I have ever seen, which also happens to exist within an excellent film, something that is usually not the case.

Own Secret Sunshine, Do It!

28.5.12

For That, I Need A Clean Shirt: The 400 Blows (1959)

Truffaut and Godard stand as the two geniuses of The French New Wave, something I am sure I mentioned during my old review of Jules and Jim.  I am constantly reminded upon viewing either of their earlier works about how brilliant both filmmakers were during their youth.  Their style and narrative format have become resonant in the world of cinema since their introduction and both deserve equal praise.  However, the more work I see from the two directors, the more I realize that the two work in completely different spectrum of filmmaking.  Godard was clearly concerned with expanding the conventions of cinema from a visual standpoint, while Truffaut found more in rethinking narrative normalcy.  Both excelled in their respective pursuits, we see this with Breathless and we certainly see this with The 400 Blows.  Truffaut's film on a very basic level is about a kid rebelling against his parents; however, it is something much larger than that and what unfolds is a piece of film that is profound, earnest and individually its own.  Alongside introducing the world to the cinematic figure that is Antoine Doinel, Truffaut's film reminds viewers that in order to love a movie the characters and their experiences need not be dramatic but instead beautifully simple.

As noted above, The 400 Blows focuses on the experiences of a young boy named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) as he wanders aimlessly between home and school in an unspecified section of Paris.  Clearly, indifferent to authority figures, Doinel defies his schoolteachers and mother on countless occasions, brushing of their physical attacks and acidic remarks with little care or concern.  In fact, Doinel is lacks such a concern for socially accepted behavior that he foolishly agrees to skip school, catching his mother having an affair with another man in the process.  It is at this point that the young boy's life begins to deteriorate.  Doinel becomes a point of vilification to some of the students who see him as a bully, while he becomes the prime suspect for all wrongdoing both at home and at school.  Doinel's behavior and lack of respect become so egregious that he is kicked out of school and subsequently avoids returning home.  Saddened by the loss of her son, Doinel's mother agrees to be kinder to him upon his return home.  This promise only lasts temporarily when Doinel returns to his bad behavior quite quickly, causing his mother and stepfather to become so aggravated with the boy that they ship him off to a reformatory.  Once again, Doinel's wily ways result in him being punished regularly and quite violently by the headmasters.  During a game of soccer, Doinel, pushed to the edge, pretends to retrieve a ball only to begin running for escape from the reformatory.  After successfully evading those chasing him, Doinel is shown running along the ocean and as he reaches the coast, he stops to look into the camera.  This occurrence breaks the fourth wall, thus reminding viewers that the young boy's story is now theirs as well.

Perhaps the division between Godard and Truffaut is not entirely one of visual over narrative concerns.  I would also argue that their basic assumptions of what it means to portray reality on film are decidedly opposing.  For Godard reality is a series of fabricated moments in which individuals engage in their own self-interests and often interact with one another in very hostile, if not violent, ways.  While the world of Truffaut is certainly hostile, particularly in a work like Shoot The Piano Player, it can be argued that at least one character within each of his films desires to affect change.  It is clear that Doinel's rebellion is problematic; however, what he is rebelling against is certainly justifiable.  In the world of The 400 Blows children are to be obedient and unquestioning in their actions while adults possess free reign over everything.  However, Doinel understand the absurdity of such logic, which is finally solidified when he catches his mother in an act of infidelity, the consequences of which is an explosive realization that adult sensibilities are a lie.  Ultimately, Doinel's tale is one of a child becoming disillusioned at far too young of an age to affect change positively.  Although I have yet to see Truffaut's other films involving Doinel, I can imagine his character struggles with ethics throughout them, and who can blame him considering the lack of proper teaching directed at him.  It could be said that Truffaut's film criticizes French, particularly Parisian, society for their misguided attempts at social values and its over arching affects on youth.  Fortunately, Truffaut would go on to deal with this issue much more thoughtfully in Small Change, a film which reminds viewers that children are to be dealt with sternly and reminded of the tragic world they exist in, yet it is also important to foster their creativity and allow them to maintain a decent amount of imagination.

The 400 Blows is easily one of the most important films ever made.  It is referenced alongside films like Citizen Kane and Seven Samurai, and deservedly so.  Owning a copy should be obvious, particularly considering the recent Bluray upgrade from Criterion.

24.5.12

I Can Control When It Grows: Big Man Japan (2007)

The monster movie is surely a staple of Japanese cinema, makings its glorious emergence with Godzilla.  Sure, King Kong came before and Cloverfield has proved successful, but nobody makes these hybrid horror/social drama's quite like Japan, and Hitoshi Matsumoto's Big Man Japan is certainly indicative of this.  Combining a mockumentary style with glorious CGI, the film becomes both a fun viewing and a contemplative film on the tragedies of aging in a society that values freshness and spontaneity.  Big Man Japan is neither a high-brow art house endeavor, nor is it a low culture schlockfest.  Instead, it is an earnest look at one man's struggle for meaning as he realizes the world around him is decaying and that all things he and those around him once valued have become consumed by media and its capitalist tendencies.  The film is certainly unique in its composition and questions what role viewers have in a situation and to what extent a filmmaker can claim poetic license when creating a work.  Having recently finished a book on Japanese cinema, it is interesting to consider that so much of the film is preoccupied with tradition, yet manages to undermine such things as frequently as possible.  Big Man Japan is so bizarrely different simply because it refuses to adhere to any singular definition.

Big Man Japan, in documentary format, follows Masaru Daisato, played by the director, a man who is better known as the title character.  His duty is to defend Japan from various monsters that appear at random throughout different cities.  Although he is always victorious, Masaru has become disliked by citizens for his continued destruction and decaying strength.  Persons in the community have gone so far as to throw rocks in his windows and vandalize his house in protest, particularly his consumption of electricity, which he uses to power up.  Masaru is clearly affected by such ridicule and is shown living a hermetic and desultory lifestyle far distanced from everyone, with the exception of his manager Kobori (Ua).  Kobori clearly has personal interests in mind considering that she uses Masaru's giant form as a means to advertise for various companies via tattoos, which are always colorful and counterproductive to intimidating Big Man Japan's foes.  His foes throughout the film range from a clearly Freudian one-eyed giant monster to a one-legged monster that jumps around like a child.  Masaru is even forced to fight two monsters that are far more concerned with intercourse than defeating him.  Things are going rather lackadaisically until a red demon monster randomly attacks Masaru causing viewers to take a new interest in his bouts.  Despite clearly having no interest in fighting this demon, Masaru ends up engaging in the fight and getting severely beaten.  At this point in the film, a screen is displayed that states that the film will now go to real footage of the bout, which is nothing of that nature and is more in line with low-budget monster shows that would be displayed on televisions in Japan.  Confused Masaru is saved by a group of costumed blonde fighters known collectively as Super Justice.  After the group obliterates the demon they fly away with Masaru in tow.  The film ends and the credits depict Masaru joining with Super Justice as they reflect on the fight, while ridiculing Masaru for his cowardly nature.

The film is loaded with a variety of commentaries and is ripe with possible criticisms; however, the most apparent upon this viewing was a focus on inner turmoil and a desire for redemption.  Masaru, as the film notes, comes from a long line of Big Man Japan's, he being the fourth in the lineage.  It is clear that he is nowhere near as loved as his grandfather and has no relationship with his father, considering that he died relatively young from electrocution.  It clearly plagues Masaru, as he repeats on countless times throughout the film that he longs for a return to simpler times in Japan, times in which he would be seen as heroic as opposed to being an outdated oaf.  In fact, Masaru's only friend appears to be an aging karaoke club owner, who seems only to love him out of pity.  Similarly, Masaru is dealing with being employed to a job that is considered wrongful in some individual's eyes.  What he does destory cities, but as he argues it is a necessity.  The turmoil caused by such a dilemma is clear and only further perpetuated by the fact that Masaru is scraping by and is by no means wealthy.  These things combined, help to explain the emergence of a demon within the narrative and to some extent some of the monsters he face, particularly the one that is nothing more than a small child.  Masaru is unable to defeat that red demon because he is ill-equipped to fight it.  Metaphorically speaking he is incapable of dealing with his own depression and thus his personal demons.  The film is clever in its answer to dealing with depression in that it provides us with an absurdist answer.  It is clear that Matsumoto understands that each persons turmoil must be dealt with differently and by ending the film in such a way only suggest the benefits of laughter.  At the end of the film, Masaru is shown engaged with people who at the very least tolerate him, something that was a far cry from his previous lifestyle.  It is clear too that the film promotes the necessity of a welcoming environment to a person and their stability.

Big Man Japan is extraordinary in every sense of the word.  If you even like Japanese film or monster films in the slightest, this is a necessary film to own

20.5.12

I Pray My Soul Comes To Maturity, Before It Is Reaped: The Phantom Carriage: 1921

When bringing up early silent cinema most discussion either lead to acknowledging the technical revolutions of Georges Melies, or the innovative narrative abilities of D.W. Griffith, and in most instances to the oneiric qualities of German Expressionist filmmaking.  Few, however, bring up Sweden's involvement in the movement, particularly Victor Sjöström and his horror drama The Phantom Carriage.  As technically unique as Melies and as narratively grandiose as Griffith, The Phantom Carriage is a thing of exceptional beauty and grace that manages to both astound general audiences and art house fanatics alike.  Not only is the film composed brilliantly and written with a astute understanding of human nature, but it has proved to be one of the most influential films to emerge from the silent era, something that has directly and indirectly influenced Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick amongst others.  The Phantom Carriage in a mere hour and forty minutes manages to take a deep look into human sacrifice and the nature of forgiveness with such meticulous care that it makes you wonder why this film is only beginning to reemerge as a silent classic, because it is equal to its contemporaries, if not a notch better.

The Phantom Carriage takes place on New Year's Eve in a small Swedish town.  Tragic news has emerged that a Salvation Army nurse named Edit (Astrid Holm) is in the through of death.  Meanwhile, at the local graveyard a drunkard named David, played by the director, spews out a story to his fellow drunks about the curse of the first person to die in the New Year taking over the job of the grim reaper's chauffeur.  After telling this tale, David is approached by an old friend named Gustafson (Tor Weijdan) who informs him of Edit's sickness and attempts to convince the inebriated David to return to her before she dies.  Confused and enraged a fight breaks out between David and the other drunks, which leads to David accidentally being killed right before the clock strikes midnight.  As a result, David's eerie tale becomes a reality as he is visited by death and is informed of his new duty for the coming year.   Death, however, turns out to be David's former friend from the story he told named Georges (Tore Svennberg) who realizes that he is in an unusual circumstance and takes David on a journey through his past before taking him to reap the soul of Edit.  In a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that David led a considerably bitter life, particularly following his bout with tuberculosis, which he spreads cynically to those around him.  He, in fact, is responsible for giving tuberculosis to Edit and desires greatly to receive her forgiveness before she dies.  In a bit of magnificently composed paranormal communication David is finally able to mend things with Edit and display his regret.  As such, Edit dies in peace and David is spared the job as the driver of the phantom carriage.  He is also allowed another shot at life, which he takes to the fullest, making sure to save his wife who was on the cusp of suicide.  The film closes with David and his wife embracing, as the previously cynical man now celebrates the fleeting moments that represent his life.


The Phantom Carriage is incredibly fixated on notions of sacrifice and forgiveness and the film focuses on these themes with a method that is both subtle and direct.  In the tradition of silent film styling, many of the title cards are composed with words like "forgiveness," "sorry" and "my fault," and are often followed by gestures of grand acting in which each performer depicts a hyper-sorrow, which ensures that viewers understand the characters guilt.  More subtly, the narrative approaches how one comes to deal with guilt and earn forgiveness.  In Sjöström's film one is not granted the comfort of forgiveness until they have gone through a Buddhistesque trial of loss, in which they learn the value of gaining.  It is not until David has assumed that he has lost everything, including his life, Edit's and that of his family that he realizes the true meaning of nothingness.  Prior to this he assumed that simply being sick was the worst thing God could do to him and that in rebellion against such an unfair treatment that spreading his disease was justifiable.  At this point his soul was not able to sacrifice for others and, thus, not able to receive forgiveness.  It is not until he can see the sacrificial actions of Georges, or the saintly patience of Edit that he comes to understand the nature of a truly loving soul.  Ultimately, the film reminds viewers that to sacrifice, means to accept ones own fortunes as well as ones own faults and that, in order to be forgiven, one must truly accept responsibility for their wrongdoings.  It is at this point that a soul can then be reaped.

The Phantom Carriage is yet another masterful release by Criterion.  The bluray is most excellent and comes with multiple scores to listen to while viewing the film, which is extraordinary and wholly captivating.

17.5.12

Top Ten Thursdays: My Favorite Actresses

It has been some time since I have posted a top ten Thursday list, mostly due to my lack of a solid topic, but that has all changed with the realization that I had yet to do my favorite actors and actresses as a subject.  As such my next two Top Ten Thursdays will consist of such posts.  For this week I will do my favorite actresses.  I should not going into this that it is not a "definitive best" actress list, because I am not an expert of the craft of acting.  Instead I will just choose my favorite actresses by pure admiration.  Some for their presence, others for their relationships with certain directors and in other situations purely because of a clear mastering of the craft of acting, at least from what I and their countless awards can glean.

10. Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman is perhaps one of the most vibrant actresses working in Hollywood today, yet on screen her beauty is understated and often delivered in a very minimalist fashion.  For being a big name Hollywood star, she certainly earns my respect for being brilliant at her job.  Key Performance: Eyes Wide Shut







9. Sanndrine Bonnaire 

French actress Sanndrine Bonnaire has become synonymous with art house French films as well as her willingness to expose everything for a role.  It is a shame she has become less of a presence in the past years.  Key Performance: A Nous Amours






8. Keira Knightley

Like Kidman, Keira Knightley has become a staple of Hollywood stardom, however, it appears as though she will still have her time in big budget movies for at least another decade.  Key Performance: Atonement









7. Chloe Sevigny 

Indie darling and, at times, bad girl, Chloe Sevigny has become a thing of avant-garde in acting alone.  It is a safe bet that when you see her name attached to a product that what you get will be something dark, contemplative and uniquely its own.  Key Performance: Boys Don't Cry









6. Isabella Rossellini

Like Sevigny, the attachment of Rossellini most certainly assures an unusual viewing experience.  However, Rossellini has a penchant for engaging in some rather dark roles, particularly when working with David Lynch and Guy Maddin.  Key Performance: The Saddest Music In The World





5. Marilyn Monroe

Monroe is Hollywood's timeless beauty.  She represents everything one has come to understand about classic Hollywood starlets.  Deservedly so I might add, but also want to note the problem of placing Monroe into a category of the pretty blonde actress with no brains.  She was much more than that and was, in fact, one of the greatest actresses to ever grace film.  Key Performance: The Seven Year Itch


4. Setsuko Hara 

Ozu's muse, Setsuko Hara had an ethereal presence on film that has become like her American counterpart Marilyn Monroe quite timeless.  She became a staple of Japanese cinema for a few decades and is an engaging presence to any viewer today.  Key Performance: Late Spring







3. Meryl Streep

 Simply put, there is a reason she has been nominated for 17 Oscars, 3 of which she has won.  Key Performance: Doubt










2. Tilda Swinton

A more composed actress does not exist.  Swinton often known for her gender bending performances is an enigmatic presence in her films.  Often choosing complex and tough roles, she has become a defining marker for how to act in film.  Key Performance: I Am Love






1. Ingrid Bergman 

One of the first actresses to have a deadly combination of looks and great acting, Ingrid Bergman is everything a person could desire in a film actress.  She is quite simply the greatest female film presence to ever live.  Key Performance: Saratoga Trunk










Honorable Mention

Anna Karina (Alphaville)
Julianne Moore (The Kids Are Alright)
Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel)
Shannyn Sossamon (Wristcutters: A Love Story)

14.5.12

For Your Awareness: Starcrash (1978)

In 1977, the world of sci-fi would forever change with the introduction of the masterpiece Star Wars.  It would be a harbinger of great and well-known space exploration movies, such as Alien and Serenity.  These movies in their own right would receive critical acclaim and advance what viewers came to expect from special effects in space movies.  This blog is not in any way about such a film, instead; it is about a little known Star Wars rip-off called Starcrash, a film that was directed and produce by Italians, but involved a slew of American and British actors.  However, to call it a rip-off is a bit problematic, because to be fair, the producers of Starcrash realized the imminent success of the Star Wars franchise and rushed a film into production.  Using a large amount of character arcs and plot twists from the now famous franchise, Starcrash exists as one of those so terrible it is endearing films that makes its rounds at midnight movie showings and on best cult classics lists.  It appears to border between taking itself completely seriously and not trying to push itself beyond its clearly restrained budget.  Furthermore, you can imagine that any movie involving David Hasselhoff, but the best part of this film comes from an inspired performance of recent Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer.  Essentially, Starcrash is glorious in its seemingly unending amount of "what the..." moments.


I will not bother with a plot explanation here, because it clearly parallels Star Wars in many ways and part of the enjoyability is making these connections during the viewing experience.  Not to mention it has a John Barry soundtrack that is both zany and grandiose.  I will instead tell you to keep an eye out for a few things throughout viewing Starcrash.  First off, continuity is thrown out the window in the film, something that makes a sci-fi film function.  Pay close attention to the amount of ships mentioned in any fight, this will help prove my point.  Secondly, the character of Elle (L) is magnificent, voiced by British folk musician Hamilton Camp, who dons a terrible American Southern accent, and is undoubtedly one of the funniest and most likeable parts of the film.  Thirdly, the women in the films are all ex-models, including one former Bond girl, Caroline Munro, and boy do they go through wardrobe changes, in many instances for no apparent reason.  However, as I noted before, the best part of this film is without a doubt Christopher Plummer.  He delivers monologues with such gravitas that you wonder whether or not he realized that everyone else round him could not act to save their lives.  From turn of the neck line deliveries to yelling out to "stop the flow of time," Plummer's performance culminates in one of the most ridiculous closing monologues ever put on film.  I hope one day to find it on the internet, because I will probably attach it to everything I post. 


Please do yourself a favor and buy this film on Bluray, it is worth getting and sharing with your friends.  Plummer, painted models, scantily clad women and Hasselhoff all combine for the makings of a filmic drinking game.  Also, I hear the commentary is something of unprecedented nerdom.  Shortly after watching you will become a "Crashhead," I know I am myself.

13.5.12

It Turns My Stomach: A Generation (1955)

When thinking on Marxist commentary in films,  one often reverts to the films of Godard or the work of experimental American filmmakers throughout the sixties.  One, however, usually overlooks the films released in countries that indeed experienced heavy feuding between proletariat and the bourgeoisie who felt no apathy towards their fellow citizens.  At least, this is clearly the case in Andrzej Wajda's 1955 film A Generation.  Set in Poland, it captures the true struggles of working class youth in Poland with an almost documentary like exactness.  From the opening scenes of desolate, yet crowded streets to focused imagery of workers in factories, A Generation realizes its place in a cinema verite structure and only fractures from this association when Wajda makes scenes particularly dramatic to affect an emotional response in the films viewers.  A Generation, is perhaps the most Marxist of films in that while it is certainly a product being produce and released for money, it is not done so with the attachment to a capitalist industry as is often the case for most filmmakers critical of bourgeoisie power, including controversial filmmakers like Godard, Bunuel and Von Trier.  Perhaps it is Wajda's close ties with the youth ideal or his keen sense of economic depravity, but the degrading nature of the world depicted seems so real and as a viewer it is near impossible not to find yourself cheering for the films good guys, while also vilifying the antagonists, a task made all the easier given that they are Nazi's.


 A Generation finds its narrative placed in a working class section of Warsaw that is being overseen by Nazi occupants.  Specifically it focuses on a young man named Stach (Tadeusz Łomnicki) who finds himself at odds after the recent murdering of his friends during an attempt to steal coal from a passing train.  Realizing the rather dead-end nature of his existence, he agrees to take up work at a workshop, despite knowing full and well that the shops owner works under Nazi supervision.  At first, Stach is rather complacent in the job and moves through the motions in a clear state of malaise.  However, his attitudes change when he is cued into the activities of an underground communist organization that desires to overthrow the factory and subsequently the Nazi's running the place.  He joins the fight primarily for its social and political implications, but also because he finds himself infatuated with the young woman who runs the organization Dortoa (Urszula Modrzyńska) both physically and mentally.  Along with Dorota come a group of other revolutionaries including the relatively quite Mundek, played by an incredibly young Roman Polanski.  As their zeal for revolt increases, a member of the group slips up and murders a Nazi in public, which leads them to become targets for the SS, resulting in a suicide of one of the members to avoid death at the hands of attacking Nazis.  Tragically, Stach loses friends in the resistance and is exiled from Warsaw, but in the closing scenes he is introduced to a new group of young revolutionaries that provide him with hope for Poland's future and the communist revolution.


While A Generation is, on a very real level, about a coming of age narrative, Wajda's work is far grander and concerns itself with understanding the political climate of World War 2 Poland.  This is evidenced by the varied opposing views within the narrative, whether it be the social conservative Nazi's or the diatribe spewing old man who is clearly on board with revolt, commentaries are made depicting both sides of the struggle during the era.  In a coming of age sense, Stach is attempting to find his own voice within the constant bickering of two countering ideologies.  At first, Stach appears complacent to lay low and remove himself from the discourse, but as he finds himself caring for the individuals involved within the struggle, particularly Dorota, and after losing a friend to the revolution, Stach realizes the very real nature of his voice in the political commentary and thus enters into the political rebellion with guns blazing.  In terms of the Marxist theory within the film, Stach represents the image and ideas of a working class individual who is attempting to affect change.  The existence in which Stach lives is one of daily survival and money, the source of power in communism, provides something far less than relief and helps to maintain a unspoken loyalty within the factory.  As many of the works note, to work under the Nazi's in rough conditions still trumps no work at all, or, even worse, death.  Wajda's film notes, however, that if this group were to quit collectively their opposition would surely be successful, because if they work in numbers their power will be unstoppable.  Similarly, Stach realizes that as the capitalist organization exists now he cannot purchase anything, nor does he possess financial power, which leads him to steal a gun from one of the higher ups, an act that allows him a powerful tool in revolt.  Such a scene could suggest that in order to destroy bourgeois power, one must steal their symbols of power, beginning with one that is incredibly lethal.  All of this manages to occur within eighty odd minutes and does so amidst some stellar cinematography, most notably the stairwell death scene.  To some extent, A Generation is revolutionary, like the characters shown on screen, purely by existing.

A Generation is part of a stellar box set released by Criterion some time ago and is well worth picking up if you find yourself with in a considerable amount of extra cash.

12.5.12

Thanks For The Effort: Ju-on (2002)

In my quest to watch a whole mess of Korean films, I got sidetracked visiting a Japanese horror film.  Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my eyes, because I thoroughly enjoy Japanese cinema, and next to Korea, they have been producing some of the best scary movies of the past decade.  Excluding the madness that is Audition, Ju-on is perhaps the most well known film to emerge from Japan's rise in horror popularity, mostly due to its being remade into the American film The Grudge, but also, because of its excellent composition, slow burning suspense and socially aware narrative.  It is perhaps so popular, because it is not necessarily a horror film, as much as a narrative of societal distancing and the general dissonance of Japanese culture as it moved into the 21st century.  Ju-on is incredibly scathing, but a cinematic spectacle that invites reference to all the great Japanese directs, including Kurosawa, Ozu and Suzuki.  However, Takashi Shimuzu's film is its own work that invites a variety of different film criticisms and praises and as noted earlier helped to affect a revolution in horror filmmaking not only in Japan, but on a global scale as well.  While not as universally known as Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre it, undoubtedly, has the same, if not greater, cultural presence.

Ju-on, as the title suggests, is a film about grudges, particularly those held by a vengeful ghosts.  These ghosts, as the opening sequence of the film implies is that of a young child and his mother, who died at the hands of an abusive and drunk patriarchal figure.  The result is that any person who comes in contact with the house containing the ghosts eventually dies at the hands of either one or both of these spectral beings.  In some cases, the ghost manifests itself as a pale version of the mother and son, other times as a black cat, and in the most disturbing instances as a large smokey projection that only reflects a human in the vaguest of senses.  The people who encounter the grudge ghost often have their own series of problems prior to engaging with the presence of the house.  In once case it is a group of high school girls who dispense their time drinking and slacking off as opposed to pursing academics, another is a security guard who is flippant and unreceptive to the requests of others to investigate issues in a building.  In other cases, the people who encounter the ghost often suffer from their own past failures, as is the case with a cop who was unable to save his family from an attack and thus harbors guilt over the situation.  Ultimately, it suggests that the individuals who encounter Ju-on are to some degree receptive to the ghosts, because of some act or failure to act in their lives up to the point in the film.  In fact, the only person who appears to be unaffected by the actions of the ghosts is a lone social worker Rika Nishina (Megumi Okina) who realizes the tragedy of the two ghosts deaths and makes an effort to console them, with a considerable amount of success.  However, as is the case with most horror films Ju-on ends with an implication that the curse will continue and subsequent sequels have assured this fact.


As I mentioned in the introduction, Ju-on is certainly concerned with issues of societal disconnect within Japan.  Despite the film depicting clear connections between each of the narratives shown, it is clear that their personal experiences are distanced.  The characters who engage with one another are either unreceptive to the individuals around them or completely unaware of their interactions.  This holds true for the young high school girls who are so preoccupied with their own popularity that they care little for the despair, and deepening madness, of their friend or their ultimate demise at the hands of the ghost.  Even the detectives assigned to the case fail to be aware of the overarching issues of the case, and disregard any possibilities of supernatural interference, despite warnings from many individuals within the film.  It is not until they encounter the ghost in person that they realize its validity, tragically, at this point neither are capable of escaping because they are frozen in disbelief and shock.  Rika is the only one who manages to move through this world, but as noted, she was also the single person to notice a picture that implied murder that resulted in suffering souls.  This all comes together as an astute social critique of peoples failures to notice a dissolving social unity in modern Japan.  While it is not particularly easy to pinpoint a result to this decay it is clear that technology and lack of questioning the patriarchy play some role in this problem as both are continually commented on within the film.  If this is indeed the case, it makes Rika's power as a heroine all the more pertinent.

Ju-on is a great movie and incredibly well composed.  If you find yourself with some extra finances snag the DVD, you will not be disappointed. 

10.5.12

Experiments in Film: Surface Tension (1968)

Have you ever pondered what would occur if a theoretical physicist were to grab a camera and begin working in experimental film?  Well thanks to Hollis Frampton we now have that answer, and it is most evident in his short film Surface Tension.  A series of speedup shots and mismatching non-diagetic sounds help to question the entirety of cinematic composition in ways that are both visually captivating and jarring to the senses.  Frampton was outspoken in his believe that what artists roles were within filmmaking were confined solely to what would fit within the confines of a rectangular box that was a screen, in his time a projector specifically.  As such, his works often pushed notions of place and time in ways that would not be challenged for decades.  Furthermore, along with the help of contemporary and colleague Michael Snow, he worked to dismantle the very thought of linear narrative in a new way, particularly the issue of placing a camera in a static position and only altering its outcome in post-production.  In a sense, Surface Tension is about what you can do the a piece of film with technology, as opposed to Brakhage whose work seemed more focused on what one can do with film itself.  To Frampton, the film was irrelevant it was what the film began once project that truly mattered, because to him that is when the artist no longer had control over it, even if they placed themselves in the narrative.

Surface Tension, as the name suggests, concerns itself with the way objects move on a surface with a varying degree of “film.”  Scientifically speaking, the greater the amount of film the more difficult it is for an object to move. In Hampton’s film this is not the case, in fact, it is how he alters the film that allows the material to move in an either slower or faster rate.  It is only the sound that seems to move at a consistent pace, but that, arguably, has nothing to do with film and exists on its own plane of experience.  Frampton even went so far as to claim that the film was about three separate notions of space, one being comedic, one scientific and a third being something in between.  With this in mind it helps explain the three segments of the film, one involving a man talking whilst standing next to a clock.  With the sound removed, we are left perplexed over the man’s discussion that is faster than normal and only have the incessant ringing of a phone as comfort.  The second section, the scientific portion of the film, follows a camera fast forwarded through the streets as incomprehensible German is dubbed over.  We are only able to pull worlds like “chocolat” from the man’s dialogue, which is juxtaposed with incredibly murky water.  The final section is of a fish in an aquarium on the beach.  The rate of the film is normal this time as we watch the ebb and flow of the tide consume the tank, but never take the fish.  Simultaneously words appear on the screen that have no coherent meaning, but appear to refer to the film as a whole in some manner.  Neither comedic nor serious, this portion of the film is clearly the hybrid of the previous portions, yet it is always affected by what Frampton has done to intervene with the film stock.  Ultimately, the film is book-ended by crashing tides, perhaps suggesting that no amount of intervention can stop surface tension, when the force is greater than the film trying to interfere.  A deeply profound commentary on the entire state of filmmaking, particularly considering it is a question film theorist haves struggled over for almost a century.  What Frampton does with Surface tension, is definitively answer that question, or at least provide a philosophical positing so grand that to overcome it would be to some extent inconceivable.

For more information about Hollis Frampton or to find information about Surface Tension, which was recently released as part of a new Criterion box set called A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, click either of the images below:



9.5.12

You Have An Obligation To Your Own Sanity: The Hours (2002)


When you have a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and Jeff Daniels it is almost assured that the film will be great for acting along.  When you add Stephen Daldry to the mix as the director, it is promised that the films composition will also be something extraordinary.  Combine this together and you have a perfect film that will, undoubtedly, leave you an emotional wreck by its end.  This is clearly the case with the 2002 film The Hours, which received unprecedented praise and hype, and deservedly so, because it is cinematic magic in its most realized form.  I may come to realize this as my favorite film of 2002 and one of my favorites of the past decade, although I would have to further examine my choices at a later date.  It is an incredibly movie film that reminds viewers of the beauty and fragility of love, as well as the innate insanity of human desires.  Furthermore, the addition of a Phillip Glass soundtrack only makes what should seem melodramatic incessantly emotive and provocative.  Psychologically speaking, The Hours will grip viewers in incredibly visceral ways, despite it being a decidedly understated film.  I would group this work along the lines of something like A Single Man or some of the more vivacious episodes of Mad Men.  The Hours is a film one needs to view, if only for its delicate use of literary material, but most certainly for its transcendent answer to monotonous Hollywood filmmaking.

The Hours follows three narratives, centering on the build up to the suicide of Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman).  The Woolf portion focuses on her relationship to her husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane), one that is tense at best.  Despite his best efforts to keep Virginia at bay, considering her increasing sickness, the ailing writer desires to be freed to write her work Mrs. Dalloway.  At the same time, Virginia anticipates the arrival of her sister and her children, only to scare them away considering her preoccupation with death.  Ultimately, the burden off it all proves to great for Virginia, and as history has told us, she loads her coat with rocks and walks to the center of a river to drown.  The second narrative focuses on a fifties housewife named Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) who is clearly disillusioned with her life and finds her self relating far to closely to the suicidal character in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  Despite having a loving husband, played on point by John C. Reilly, and the clear adoration of her son, Laura desires to escape her life because it only provides her a façade of happiness.  She plans to kill herself, like the protagonist in the novel, but decides that running away will prove more fruitful.  The third narrative ties the previous two together, focusing on the life of a openly gay New York writer named Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) who clings to her fragile relationship with her ailing poet friend Richard (Ed Harris) whose recent diagnosis with AIDS leads him to be bitter and distancing.  His attitude is only worsened by the fact that he is the son of Laura Brown from the previous narrative, causing him to suffer from serious abandonment issues.  Richard, keen to Clarissa’s suffering, nicknames her Mrs. Dallowy, a name that Clarissa carries with an unusual amount of pride.  Ultimately, Richard kills himself and Clarissa is left to clean up the pieces, most notably encountering a now aged Laura who states her reasons for abandoning her family, claiming that she does not feel guilty about her decision, because it was either that or to die.  Clarissa in a rather round-about way forgives Laura and the two’s narratives thus end, the film then cuts back to Virginia reading the final excerpts of her suicide letter, reminding her husband Leonard, that despite her imminent death that they will always have “the hours” they spent together. 

The Hours, as should be expected given its close ties to Virgina Woolf, is ultimately concerned with discussing issues of women’s lack of voice.  Woolf, clearly suffers the worst case of this throughout the film considering the era in which she lived.  Despite her clear genius as a writer and ability to be self-sufficient she is ultimately at the whim of her husband and the other males in her world, that deem her state of existence unsuitable for the public eye, thus forcing her to exist entirely in the private sphere.  After a failed attempt to escape such a life, Virginia kills herself to escape the despair of such a life, it is likely that if Leonard and other had allowed her access to the public world such actions would never have occurred.  Similarly, Laura suffers from such burdens.  The Laura narrative is indicative of the Betty Friedan notion of “the problem with no name.”  It is clear that Laura despises her lifestyle, yet given the conservative nature of the fifties and the patriarchal dominance that existed, Laura could not challenge any of these problems.  Even considering the clearly open nature of her husband, her option to rebel was not there, because to oppose the system then was simply not an option.  Even Clarissa, who represents the most advanced of women in the narrative, suffers from her own issues of silencing.  She is an openly gay woman with access to considerable wealth and education, yet it appears as though she still lacks a voice in some sense.  Perhaps it is her inability to win a prize or her continued desire to please the males in her world, but she suffers from a disillusion even greater than that of Laura.  In fact, it is not until Laura confronts her about her own problems in a past era, that Clarissa is able to take solace in her own state of power and freedom.  Ultimately, a film like The Hours shows an evolution of women’s oppression from the completely disenfranchised to the relatively free, yet is careful to note the continue need for forward momentum, while also acknowledging the advancement from the past.  Like the title suggests, reminds women that they should move away from oppression, as it is the only way to enjoy the hours of their lives.

The Hours was robbed of a Best Picture Oscar from Chicago, a film that I have not seen, but I, nonetheless, doubt is better than it.  Owning a copy is not essential, but it is well worth grabbing if you like any of the factors of filmmaking noted in the opening paragraph.

8.5.12

It's Strange Calling Yourself: Mulholland Dr. (2001)


Dreary, perverse, reminiscent of Los Angeles despair, sporadic, surreal, demonic, obtuse and minimalist are all terms and phrases that could to some degree describe David Lynch’s mutli-narrative expose into California disillusionment that is Mulholland Dr.  However, no one of these statements fully encapsulates the complexity that is this film, transcending logical linear narrative and taking mundane and comforting images and completely turning them on their heads is a result of what has by now become known as Lynchian filmmaking.  It is a scary film, not in the sense that Halloween or a zombie film is scary, but instead horrific in its incomprehensibility and reliance on the darkest corners of unconscious fear that allow the film to be broodingly gruesome.  Despite having a rather lengthy runtime and multiple plots to follow, Mulholland Dr. consumes viewers into its world so much so, that when the power went out at my house unexpectedly during my viewing of this film, I felt myself preoccupied not with taking care of my quickly thawing food items, but instead fixing power so I could return to the enthralling story being depicted by David Lynch with poetic.  Perhaps though, the most notable thing about Mulholland Dr., as is the case with most of Lynch’s work is that it borders ever so evenly between dream and reality, we as viewers are never certain about the actuality or probability of anything occurring in the film and whether the collective imagery shown even matters at all.  For in the world of David Lynch, individuals encounters are both fabrications of unconscious desires and happenstance occurrences within the nightmarish world of reality.  Simply put, nobody is safe in the world of David Lynch, because nobody is who they seem to be, something that becomes quite clear in Mulholland Dr., several times within the film.

I will make a passing attempt to explain the plot of Mulholland Dr., but given its rather convoluted and grand nature, what I attempt to discuss may seem like a stream of conscious reflection more so than anything.  The film begins with one Rita (Laura Harring) taking a ride through the hills of Hollywood, only to be pulled aside by her chauffeurs and held at gunpoint.  Her death seems imminent, until the men and the car they are driving is hit by a group of speed crazed teenagers coming around a corner farther ahead.  At this point Rita flees the scene and takes up residence in a recently evacuated house in suburban Los Angeles.  At this point, we are introduced to Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) who is an aspiring actress, despite having clearly sheltered upbringings.  Thanks the generous help of her aunt she is allowed room and board at an apartment in the city.  Upon her arrival to apartment, she discovers Rita in her bathroom completely distraught and suffering from amnesia.  Being the helpful person that she is, Betty agrees to help Rita find out what happened and get answers to her attackers’ motives.  Their relationship at first seems innocent, but as the plot advances, the two become romantically involved and end up sleeping together, a decision which proves rather fatal.  Along with this storyline is the experience of Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) who is a big time movie director suffering the wrath of illogical movie producers who demand that he hire specific people for his cast, particularly Betty.  We as viewers recognize her from earlier scenes, however, at not point is a logical connection made as to why she must be hired, we are only shown an Ozesque character behind a curtain whispering demands.  There is yet another layer of narrative, which involves a bounty killer (or cop, it is never clearly specified) named Joe Messing (Mark Pellegrino) knocking off various individuals for what appears to be no reason whatsoever.  These three narratives collide together in a jarring fashion and it appears that they have nothing in common, but as we have come to expect with Lynch, perhaps they are intimately related.  The film closes with a rather unusual scene of repetition to the beginning moments, with little to no reason.  We as viewers are left pondering existence and the very fabrication of our reality.


What then are we left to make of with such a surreal and nonlinear plot such as that of Mulholland Dr.  I will admittedly say that I know nowhere near enough about Freudian or Lacanian theory to properly analyze the subconscious nature of the filmic text, however, I will attempt to explain how Lynch’s film exists within the state of unconscious, particularly in a Surrealist sense.  The surrealist movement, headed by greats like Breton, Dali and Bunuel, desired to tap into something inherent to human desire that was repressed for a variety of reasons, in their times mostly political and religious.  The result was artwork and cinema that was violent and sexually perverse.  A second intent of the surrealist was to invoke shock and awe in those who witnessed their works as being something both obviously wrong in terms of ethics, yet seemingly inherent to human nature as well.  With this in mind, a film like Mulholland Dr. is clearly the next evolution in Surrealist filmmaking.  One can look at any work by Lynch and see this, although it is mot apparent in his early work Eraserhead.  Lynch’s film is arousing to viewers, not because it is formally obvious or melodramatic, but because it is eerily close to each individual that watches it, even the most bizarre of scenes in the films appears to ring true to a viewers innermost workings.  We, as humans, have a capacity for inner turmoil that often remains unanswered and Mulholland Dr. forces us to acknowledge such issues.  As for the films repetition and seeming déjà-vu nature, one needs only to reflect again, on how their mind works.  I know I am constantly replaying particular life events through my head, particularly those that prove to have a traumatic effect on me; it is perhaps a ploy on Lynch’s part to replay the traumatic events of attempted murder to further its importance to the overarching narrative.  Of course, there is always the possibility that none of it matters, that is an equally plausible reading of Lynch if you ask me.

Lynch is a staple of American independent cinema, considering his masterful mixture of the experimental and traditional narrative.  Owning his film makes you look cool, and if you can quote them or provide a copy for a viewing party, that makes you even cooler.  Oh yeah, and Billy Ray Cyrus is in this movie

7.5.12

Nobody Can Speak For You, Understand?: Take Care Of My Cat (2001)


The continuation of my study of Korean cinema has led me to a rather unusual discover in relation the considerably dark and violent films I have previously encountered.  A clear counter to Attack the Gas Station! is what comes to mind after viewing Jeong Jae-eun’s Take Care of My Cat.  It is starkly different in the fact that not only is the film centered entirely on the experiences of five young twenty-somethings in Korea, but that it was also directed by a woman.  The technological savvy and excellent use of title cards within the film are only the most obvious of brilliant offerings throughout the film, as a whole it is a stellar film about coming to age and realizing the complexities of adulthood, yet also noting the necessity of clinging to certain aspects of youthful bliss.  While the film could have certainly been flashy and only preoccupied with pleasing its audience, Jeong’s film instead promotes a grander narrative about the state of Korean youth that is both straight forward and multifaceted.  It is careful to show the various diverse narratives that can exist amongst the closest of friends and raises the eternal question about the possibility of actions existing that do indeed benefit everyone involved.  Between the sweet sugar pop soundtrack and the nearly neon color of the palette, Take Care of My Cat delivers a reflective and provocative image of Korean youth that is tragically under viewed and more tragically overlooked in academic discourses on the emerging Korean cinema. 

Take Care of My Cat follows a group of young Korean women as they find themselves thrusted into an adult world, which demands their instantaneous success and acceptance of a whole new slew of social norms.  Despite their best efforts to contradict the expectations, each girl is forced to face their role in the grander clockwork of a very industrialized South Korea, or accept instant and incredibly negative failure.  The group consists of five girls, the first being the vain, if disillusioned Hae-joo (Lee Yo-won) who finds work as an intern for a brokerage firm.  She finds her access to money rewarding, although it becomes clear rather quickly that she has trouble attaining happiness at her current pay rate.  The group also consists of Tae-hee (Bae Doona) who aspires to be a writer, despite being stuck working for her parents for no income whatsoever.  There are also the two twins Bi-ryu (Lee Eun-shil) and Ohn-jo (Lee Eun-jo) who despite making profits from their small jewelry stand clearly are lost in a childlike mentality that allows them to make irrational small purchases which add up to large sums of money.  Finally, there is Seo Ji-young (Ok Ji-young) who is stuck watching over her ailing grandparents and is thus unable to gain a paying job, much to her own dismay and the condescending glances of her companions, particularly Hae-joo, who sees her every action as futile, particularly her desire to be a textile designer.  It is clear that despite her disadvantage, Ji-young is the most mature, particularly given her thoughtful present of a kitten to Hae-joo for her birthday, one she returns immediately claiming its dependent nature to be bothersome.  The groups unity ebbs and flows as they are left taking turns being successful, with the exception of Ji-young whose vow of silence after the discovery of her grandparents death leads her to being jailed, thus leaving the cat to move between the other friends in the group.  Ultimately, the film closes with the various girls reconsidering their friendship, realizing that it will never be as tightly bound as their final days of school.  Hae-joo continues her upward mobility, while Tae-hee and Ji-young run from their stalled lives to something promising in the city of Seoul.  The twins remain reliant on each other to remain stagnant.  Ultimately, the whole group does not evolve together, and it actually appears as though most of the girl’s regress, but to be honest is that not the way life goes for most people?  Take Care of My Cat would say yes, and for its frank reality check it deserves to be praised.

The social criticism available within Take Care of My Cat is vast and clearly accessible.  I desperately wanted to touch upon the various themes of the film, but there is a far more pressing thing to discuss when concerned with this film.  Although the film received great praise both natively and on a global scale, Take Care of My Cat continues to fall under the radar of popular film discourse and academic rhetoric.  Despite having a clear cult following, most film festivals and studies on Korean film, manage to overlook this seminal work.  While it may seem a bit obvious or confrontational, I cannot help but feel that its lack of success is due almost entirely to its female-centered themes and the fact that a woman directs the work.  I certainly understand that as a male of considerably well to do upbringing that I am not privileged to understand every detail of a film like Take Care of My Cat.   However, I am advanced enough intellectually to realize how pertinent the discourse of the film is on a global scale and, more importantly, how well executed the discussing is within this particular work.  A popular medium and academic world that is still ruled by older white males is likely to blame for this occurrence.  What popular discourse likely called “inaccessible” is code for something that viewers either do not care or do not desire to understand.  If anything, films like Take Care of My Cat should be celebrated, because more so than any other films, they actually cause viewers to acknowledge the world around them from new and important perspectives, and, God forbid, we actually change our belief system at its deepest foundations.  Ramblings aside, I strongly urge you to watch this and show it to your friends, it is criminal that it is so under viewed.

Part of spreading the popularity of this film comes with obtaining a copy, something that can be easily done on multiple websites on the interwebs.

6.5.12

Rolling Paint Cans And Questions Of Human Nature: Close-Up (1990)


As I noted in my original post for this blog, I find cinema to reflect society in uncanny ways almost to the point that it is a clear refabrication of our own reality.  While many films do not do this in a semiotic sense, given their fantastical elements or historical distancing, some films manage to merge this line so perfectly that the boundaries of factual reality and fictive narrative become blurry, and this is certainly the case for Abbas Kiarostami’s cinematic tour de force Close-Up.  A hybrid between a documented account of a poor Iranian attempting to pass as a famous director and an imagined revisiting with the imposter some years later leads to something heartbreakingly real about the nature of forgiveness, guilt and self-identity in a politically disparate country that cares little for the impoverished and misdirected.  Despite being released in 1990, Close-Up has a timeless nature about it that makes it instantly accessible to even the most burgeoning of moviegoer, a notion that is only intensified by the stagnant, yet masterfully composed cinematography, which is delivered most eloquently in the quite lengthy shot of an aerosol can rolling down a hill.  It is easy to call the film thought provoking, but it is something much greater than that and is incredibly contemplative and philosophically engaging.

Close-up, as noted in the introduction, is about a case of identity fraud which occurred involving a man of rather low class impersonating the great Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.  The incident begins when the Hossain Sabzian lying to a woman about his identity while riding on a public bus.  Her suspicions are quickly dismissed as the elderly woman notices Hossain reading a copy of Mokhmalbaf’s screenplay for The Cyclist.  Hossain/Mohsen furthers his credibility by claiming that he rides on public transportation as a means to find material for his upcoming films.  Enthralled by the interest of such a respectable director, the old woman invites Hossain/Mohsen to return to her house and meet her family.  Over a length of time, Hossain/Mohsen continually visits the family and claims to be interested in using their home in his next film and at one point convinces the family to give him a large sum of money for his next project.  It is not until one of the young male members of the family discovers a article about Makhmalbaf receiving an award recently, that the man attempting to pass as the famous director is not, in fact, who he says to be, particularly considering that he is much older than the director looks in the picture.  The film intercuts these encounters with courtroom footage involving the family criticizing Hossain for his behaviors, although through long confessionals it becomes quite clear that Hossain is not in a great state mentally, considering after a large amount of evidence against him, he still claims to be the director.  The film closes with an encounter between a journalist friend of the suspicious family member and his imposter, in a gutwrenchingly real scene of fandom and obsession, which involves taking photos of the Hossain for an article outing his lies.  At this point, it seems like a great melding of fictive ideas and factual statements, but what makes Kiarostami’s film that much more brilliant is that the cast members throughout the film are indeed played by their real-life counterparts, merging the factual and fictional into a new level of uncertainty. 

It is this choice by Kiarostami to use the actual persons of the historic event that makes it such a uniquely honest film.  If it were intended to be a fictional rethinking or a political diatribe the director could have easily hired actors to ham up or file down the performances to fit his agenda.  Set up in such a way, as is the case with Close-Up, it instead becomes an extension of documentary filmmaking that while forced, nonetheless, manages to mirror reality quite magnificently.  Furthermore, the questions of human identity that are interspersed throughout the film become that much more meaningful, when we as viewers find ourselves relating to the characters on a very real level, considering…well, the realness of each individual.  It also questions what role an artist plays in documenting an event, while the scene involving the rolling aerosol can may seem like a artistic insertion of modernist zeal, it allows viewers and even the journalist who kicks the can to question what mark they are making in such an event, and how clear such markings have on the outcome as a whole.  The addition of such a seemingly mundane scene, arguably proves to become one of the most important scenes in the film.  The most important part of the film, however, is its dealings with human nature and the ability to forgive.  The simple fact that Kiarostami was able to gather all the individuals again for such a reunion is powerful enough, but to get them to verbalize their desires for forgiveness and understanding on film is a statement to the possibility of society on a global scale.  It is clear why this film was such a global success; it is definitively one of the most positive outlooks into our future ever made

I could tell you that buying this film is necessary simply because it is in The Criterion Collection, however, it is far greater than that and is probably one of the films that is necessary to own, if you were limited to only a small selection of films.  It is by far one of the best films I have watched this year, and ever for that matter. 

5.5.12

Your Story Didn't Sound Quite Right: The Big Sleep (1946)

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Howard Hawks.  These names are all synonymous with classic Hollywood, particularly the best of its era.  Add a screenplay written by William Faulkner and this humble blogger has found himself something that he is certain to enjoy.  To call The Big Sleep enjoyable is to severely undersell it, as I have noted prior on this blog, The Big Sleep is by far a perfect film, from beginning to end.  Even considering that the film suffered from its share of censorship, it is flawless.  Bogart and Bacall's chemistry is explosive, the dialogue is witty and the cinematography is everything that a person loves about film noir.  I am becoming quite aware that Howard Hawks as a filmmaker is one of the best to ever come along.  He is not as prolific as a Kubrick or Welles, by any means, but his films are solid, enjoyable and timeless, a feat that is in my book near damn impossible.  Furthermore, I cannot help but to admire the diversity of Hawks as a filmmaker, whether it is a straight forward drama like The Big Sleep, or a loony comedy like Bringing Up Baby, it is assured that it will be a step above its competitors and well worth your time to engage with.  Also, it should be noted that Hawks name shows up on many a top one hundred list a lot, and deservedly so.

The Big Sleep is a definitive noir film and as such it has many of the signifiers of the genre.  The detective who traipses around ethics, a seductive woman with ulterior motives and a whole lot of shadows.  The detective in this film, is one Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) who has recently undertaken a a case of blackmail from the well-respected General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), relating to a gambling debt accrued by his daughter Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers).  Marlowe knowing full and well the implications of such a case, demands a considerable amount of money before agreeing to take the case.  However, as Marlowe becomes entrenched within the case it becomes clear quite quickly that he is not dealing with a simple case of blackmail.  Between the awkward advances of the young Sternwood, illicit dealings at bookshops and an eventual homicide, Marlowe's case becomes an incredibly convoluted mess.  This trouble is only exacerbated by his evolving feelings for the general's other daughter Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall).  It becomes clear to Marlowe that the only individual he can trust within the entire case is himself, often relying on his wits, masculinity and fluidity between the world of law and crime to gain advantages over his enemies.  After killing a fair share of people, getting mugged and sleeping with a handful of women, Marlowe eventually implicates all people involved within the crime, which by the end of the film is a considerable amount of individuals.  Fortunately, for Marlowe, his relationship with Vivian proves successful and the two are shown sharing a romantic gaze and the promise of partnership well after the closing of the case.  It is certainly unconventional in its film noir nature, but nonetheless indicative of its tradition.

The Big Sleep, is great.  It is a classic piece of cinema that deserves all the praise it has gained over the decades.  However, as a film scholar, I cannot help but to acknowledge the many problems that emerge within the film as a social text.  When considering that it was made in 1946, it is easy to explain many of the issues that emerge, but I plan to point them out for those who may overlook many of the issues.  Perhaps the most blatant issue within the film is the inherent issue of patriarchal dominance within the text. Marlowe's every action is deemed acceptable or praiseworthy, given his power as a white male. Such a position allows him to act in a violent manner to those around him, going so far as to slap women when they are caught in a lie.  He also is privileged with the ability to sleep with any women he desires, a thing he does on multiple occasions within the film, even demanding that one girl remove her glasses before they engage in the act.  Furthermore, the film as a whole is entrenched within notions of white wealth.  Excluding Marlowe and the mobsters he encounters, the remainder of the film's characters are well-to-do.  When it is apparent that their worst problems involve gambling, one has trouble empathizing with them considering that many people struggle to simply get by financially.  Perhaps it is this disconnect from the gritty underworld of traditional poverty and crime that makes the film seem so unlike other noir films.  The characters are privileged, their actions seem less justified and almost pathetic in nature.  To be fair, the illogical nature of the Sternwood family's existence helps to make Marlowe much more relateable, but even considering this he is a lecherous individual who only looks out for his personal interests.  With those critiques in mind, it would be easy to hate the movie, however, I promise you will still find it incredibly enthralling.

The Big Sleep is a backbone for any legitimate film collection, do yourself a favor and by a copy, it is rather cheap and has high rewatchability.

4.5.12

Alright! Everyone On Their Heads!: Attack The Gas Station! (1999)

This continued study of New  Korean Cinema only seems to be getting better, particularly with my recent viewing of Kim Sang-Jin's Attack the Gas Station!, a visceral and experimentally shot study of crime and urban life in Korea.  Set in the matter of two nights, the film explodes off the screen with kinetic energy unlike anything I have seen in sometime and is incredibly reminiscent of the works of both Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie.  Geared towards a youth audience Attack the Gas Station! is unapologetic in its narrative and visual leanings, and holds no qualms in showing graphic violence and dropping expletives.  However, where a film like Attack the Gas Station! seems to diverge from the previously mentioned directors in its underlying social commentary and depth of character development.  The film would have been incredibly watchable had the director provided no back story for the main character, but the decision to add such an element makes it a far more enjoyable movie than the reviews I read prior to viewing could have ever hoped to do.  While the copy I viewed suffered from terrible dubbing, the general gritty and violent nature of the film made this fact go away almost instantly and I found myself enthralled with the characters every action, no matter how degrading or socially unacceptable in may have been.  The violence in Attack the Gas Station! is not poetic and it is certainly not meant to be vengeful as has been the case for so many movies I have previously reviewed, it is simply there as a means of entertainment and once a viewer realizes this, they are allowed to let go of serious expectations and enjoy a sporadic and at times zany film.


Attack the Gas Station! follows four young punks who have taken it upon themselves to rob gas stations for their money, however, after a night of success at a particular station they decide to hit up the joint again with the hopes that their revenue will be similar.  However, this is not the case, and in a fit of confusion and rage they decide to manage the gas station themselves and take one hundred percent of the profits.  The gang's leader is No Mark (Lee Sung-Jae) who espouses "speak soft and carry a big stick" mentality that proves perfect for his position as the group clearly obeys his every word.  The group also includes Painter (Yu Ji-Tae) a quiet individual who clearly excels at defacing property.  There is also Rock Star (Kang Sung-Jin)  who is the most flamboyant of the group, with his leather pants and seemingly unending lines of curse words.  Finally, there is Mad Dog (Yu Oh-Sung), a crazed individual, as his name suggests, who has a fight to the death mentality, which is only emphasized by the continual presence of a large wooden stick that he uses as a means of enforcement.  Throughout the night the group, in a rather comedic manner, attempt to maintain the gas station, while both dealing with a diverse group of customers, while also assuring that the employees of the gas station do not escape from captivity.  The groups inability to run the station, leads to disgruntled customers and run-ins with local gang members as well as one delivery boy who is fed up with continually dropping food off to them at various times through the night.  We are led to believe that the group is engaging in such behavior simply as a means to rebel, but as flashbacks for each of the characters suggests, they have come to their situations as a result of outside forces oppressing them in various ways, and the ultimate result is that this lifestyle is the only thing they find success within.  The film ends in a huge fight scene that is tense and thrillling and truly has to be seen to be believed, but as any good film should, the members of the group discover something about themselves that transcends their personal lives.  Each walks away from the mess more mature and ready to integrate their unique lifestyles into more socially acceptable means. 

So, while I am careful to note the simplistic nature of the commentary within the film, I cannot express how well delivered the commentary is as a whole.  At first it appears to be a simple film about rebellion, but this quickly evolves into a commentary on adapting youth mentalities into a South Korea that continues to industrialize at a more rapid rate.  Multiple scenes in the film depict Painter destroying various signs the promote unity and work ethics within South Korea.  It is not until we realize that he was once an aspiring artist whose dreams were shattered by rhetoric of "real work" and "respectable" employment that his rage is explained.  Fortunately, by the films close painter has found a way in which to adapt his skills to assure gainful employment and thus fit into a vision of South Korea in which every person finds success.  While it could be easy to read such a narrative as inherently conservative, I would argue that this is by no means the case; instead it is rather liberal in its commentary on proper employment.  The other gang members find success as musicians, baseball players and drill instructors.  Attack the Gas Station! is not a film about what one cannot do with innate skills, but instead about promoting the cultivation of such skills in unique and profitable ways.  In fact, the film is incredibly critical of ideologies that dismiss individuals lack of social involvement and note the such rhetoric comes from both the upper and lower classes, as is evidenced by the various businessmen who dismiss No Mark and his friends, as well as the gang members who claim that the gang cannot excel beyond their petty turf wars.  Ultimately, the film reminds viewers that in order to prove successful, one must ignore social commentaries that are unfavorable and affect their own positive change, even if said change requires a night of thievery and debauchery to inspire the desire to move forward.

Attack the Gas Station! is something to be viewed fully and without interruption.  I cannot begin to recommend it enough, particularly to those individuals who find themselves fans of action films; to me this is one of the best in some time.  A copy is a must, also it appears as though there is a sequel.